While I will talk about anything politically on here, I normally do not discuss matters to do with the Middle East, because in my experience, any attempt at discussing that rationally unfortunately eventually leads one to either getting called a “pro-Zionist” or an “anti-Semitic”. I am going to make an exception here today to discuss something that I find particularly galling: federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s reasoning given over in Jerusalem for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) cutting funding to KAIROS Canada, a multi-denominational Christian aid group that works for social justice causes.
According to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the reason that KAIROS Canada funding was cut was that the organization was anti-Semitic:
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has accused Christian aid group KAIROS of being anti-Semitic and disclosed that’s why the group suddenly lost its federal funding. In a speech in Jerusalem about what he said was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government’s leading position combatting the enemies of Israel, Kenney lumped KAIROS – a Toronto-based ecumenical group that works for social justice abroad – in with what he described as other anti-Semitic organizations. “We have de-funded organizations, most recently, like KAIROS who are taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel, he told the Global Forum for combatting anti-Semitism.
KAIROS says Kenney doesn’t know what he’s talking about:
(Executive director) Mary Corkery denied that KAIROS favours a boycott of Israel or advocated divesting funds from Israeli corporations. “We have taken positions that critique actions of the Israeli government, as have people in many organizations,” Corkery said. “We have raised issues that we think cause suffering among people. But we have never spoken out against the state of Israel or tried to harm Israel.”
What apparently has happened is Jason Kenney and the Conservatives didn’t like KAIROS being critical of certain Israel government actions, but as KAIROS says, that’s way different then being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, or should be:
Corkery said Kenney’s statement was based on incorrect information about her group’s positions and raises serious questions about the politicization of the aid process by the Conservative government. “If any group that criticizes an action by the government of Israel is called anti-Semitic by the government of Canada, that’s very serious.” “You cannot label someone anti-Semitic because they criticize a government,” she said.”That’s outrageous”. The public needs to have a national debate about this approach to handling aid funding, Corkery said.
Remember, the initial reasoning given for its cutting to funding given was an entirely different reason then this:
..International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda told the public and Parliament the group lost its funding because of shifting priorities at the Canadian International Development Agency.
You might also note this was what Oda told to Parliament, but Jason Kenney decided to let the cat out of the bag and lay the charge KAIROS is considered anti-Semitic elsewhere, and when Parliament was out of session on its Christmas break. Normally, whether you agree with their stances on this issue or not, the Conservative government has been rather upfront about its support of Israel when it announces stuff like this (the funding cuts to the Canadian Arab Federation for example). In this case, Kenney decided to do it overseas (where he undoubtedly hoped it wouldn’t get noticed by the Canadian press) and when Parliament was out of session.
Why would someone like Kenney and this government be so subtle about this announcement? I suggest it might have to do with this –
The Christian churches and organizations that support KAIROS and who are members include:
The Anglican Church of Canada
The Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
The Presbyterian Church in Canada
The United Church of Canada (the church I’m a member of)
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Canadian Religious Conference
The Mennonite Central Committee of Canada
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF)
That list would include Canada’s seven largest Christian denominations, and is a mixture of theologically conservative, moderate, and liberal Christian groups and organizations. In my opinion, Jason Kenney is suggesting that those organizations are overtly/covertly supporting anti-Israel/anti-Semitic policies through KAIROS, so its little wonder that he didn’t come out in Parliament blaring about the group being anti-Semitic, as that would have caused an uproar amongst those member organizations and more importantly, the members of those Christian churches (he decided he’d use it as a way of scoring points overseas with an Israeli crowd however).
I’m hoping that the member churches leaders of those Christian denominations and organizations, now that we know what the “real” reason is for the KAIROS funding cuts, will make an effort to put pressure on the Conservatives to reverse this wrong and dangerous decision, and also urge their parishioners to write to their local MP and/or Prime minister Harper, urging him and his government to reverse this outrageous decision.
NOTE: KAIROS has a petition at their site that you can sign and send to the Feds.
UPDATE: Here is KAIROS Canada’s section on Israel-Palestine. More importantly, here is the group’s most recent economic advocacy measures from January 2008 for the region. Of particular interest are these 2 sections:
A. Boycott of all Israeli goods
Some organizations have called for a boycott of all Israeli products..KAIROS does not recommend a general boycott of Israeli goods for a number of reasons: In South Africa, South Africans themselves called for a boycott, recognizing that even though it might have immediate negative repercussions for their employment, it had the potential to effect lasting change over the long term. Israeli civil society has made no such call. Secondly, boycotts need to be focused and clear. A general boycott of Israeli goods could be seen to be undermining the right of the state of Israel to exist. KAIROS has always been clear that we support the legitimate right of the Israeli people to a safe and secure state. Third, there is strong likelihood that a significant number of the businesses that do business with producers in the State of Israel would self-identify as Jewish owned and operated businesses. A general boycott of their products sold in Canada could be confused as a boycott directed at Jewish business, which would be contrary to KAIROS’ and its members respect for and solidarity with the Jewish community in Canada.
B. Economic sanctions against the state of Israel
..the issue of sanctions is complex and has prompted much discussion within church circles over the years…The WCC (ed. note: World Council of Churches) has done extensive thinking on the topic of sanctions and has created a set of criteria to help churches decide on the applicability of sanctions. Using these criteria, it does not advise its members to press for sanctions against Israel. Instead, it recommends that churches develop a variety of other methods to press for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.
Recommendation: That KAIROS not support any use of sanctions against Israel.
So, KAIROS has told its member churches it neither supports a boycott of Israel, nor does it support sanctions. Jason Kenney needs to explain himself where he got the idea in his head that they did so.
UPDATE 2 @ 12:00 pm: Ah, BigCityLib has a good find -Charles MvVety’s gang at the Canadian Christian College – an ultra-conservative bunch – has been going after KAIROS for a long time. Here’s a recent clip of McVety denouncing the KAIROS organization as “leftist ideologues”.
As I said over there, It’s quite a wide Christian segment that Charles McVety is calling “leftist ideologues”. It shows how much of an ultra right-wing Christian theology he embraces. This is one of Harper’s strongest allies on the religious right, and may partially also explain the recent funding cuts decision, as BCL says the Toronto Sun article on this hints at.
UPDATE 3 @ 4:35 pm: KAIROS Canada responds to Kenney. New blogpost on that here.