Left to right: Jewish Federation’s Shelley Rivkin, CJPAC’s Kara Mintzberg and CIJA’s Nico Slobinsky spoke at an online event June 17 on topics including how individuals can help fight antisemitism in Canada. (PR photos)
Representatives from three Jewish communal agencies spoke at an online event June 17 on topics including online hate, adoption of the Working Definition of Antisemitism, strengthening supports for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and how individuals can help fight antisemitism in Canada.
Shelley Rivkin, vice-president of local and global engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Kara Mintzberg, B.C. regional director for the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), and Nico Slobinsky, director of the Pacific region of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), spoke about how their agencies are confronting the surge in antisemitism, as well as a range of other topics.
Dafna Silberstein, associate director of the Jewish Federation’s Israel and global engagement department, opened the evening.
“We are here tonight to understand the Canadian political process and learn how you can become more involved, how we can become engaged with a range of issues that matters to you and to our community, and to learn what our community organizations are doing to combat antisemitism,” she said.
Rivkin described Federation’s role as “our community’s primary convener.”
“We are an umbrella organization that represents over 25 organizations locally and an additional number of organizations, approximately 10, in our partnership region [in Israel’s Galil Panhandle] and globally,” said Rivkin.
Federation is the central fundraising arm of the community and runs programs and partners with other agencies to care for the most vulnerable. About one in six Jewish British Columbians lives in poverty, she said, including 13.4% of Jewish children. Federation is also critically involved in supporting Jewish day schools and ensuring continued provincial support for those institutions, she added.
Antisemitic incidents and threats have spiked in recent weeks, coincident with the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Rivkin said the relationships Federation has built with other ethnocultural agencies and communities have proven valuable.
“We have a long history of working side-by-side with other ethnocultural communities,” she said. “These relationships and the supports that we provide are very important so that, when we stand up and speak out on behalf of other ethnocultural organizations, we’re building the bridges and relationships so that they will stand up and speak out on our behalf. Especially this past month, we’ve been very proactive in reaching out to the Indigenous community and the Muslim communities, both of whom faced significant losses over this past month.”
Rivkin also noted Federation’s substantial investment – about $1 million annually – in community security.
“Hate crimes against our community remain one of the highest reported crimes in Canada,” she said. “That was why, in 2016, we made the decision to invest in a director of security that is available and responsive to all of our community organizations, in particular those organizations that have stand-alone facilities.”
Slobinsky explained that CIJA represents hundreds of thousands of voices affiliated with Jewish federations across the country.
“Combating antisemitism, educating Canadians about the central role that Israel plays in Jewish life, strengthening the ties between Canada and Israel and ensuring that Jewish voices are represented in the discussion on a range of issues is some of the long-term work that CIJA does,” he said.
Because of CIJA’s lobbying, he said, the federal government has announced an emergency summit on combating antisemitism, to be led by former justice minister Irwin Cotler.
CIJA also promotes the adoption by governments of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition on Antisemitism, which Slobinsky calls “the gold standard definition for antisemitism” and a vital tool in fighting antisemitism in Canada and around the world.
“For the first time in our history, we have a definition [of antisemitism] that we as a community champion, that the Canadian government has adopted and now Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec have adopted,” Slobinsky said. “It’s a very useful tool to work with our elected officials, law enforcement, our partners in other communities, when they ask us what is antisemitism, how do you experience antisemitism, how it manifests.… We are defining what our own discrimination, our own oppression, looks like.”
CIJA is also calling on federal and provincial governments to increase supports for existing hate crime teams in British Columbia and to initiate teams to investigate and prosecute hate crimes in jurisdictions where investigation teams do not yet exist.
Of CJPAC, Mintzberg said: “We are all about political engagement.”
“Our focus is on getting our community interested and involved in politics through volunteering and building relationships with elected officials,” she said. CJPAC, she emphasized, is not involved in lobbying or advocacy; that’s CIJA’s job. “We create programs that reflect the mandate of engagement and highlight the importance of getting involved in Canada’s political process.”
Jewish voters have a significant presence in only about 10 of the country’s 338 ridings. Especially during elections, Mintzberg said, CJPAC acts as a “political concierge,” connecting volunteers with candidates. As Canada is currently governed by a minority government, an election could come at any time. She calls on community members to step up now and be prepared when that call comes.
Mintzberg asked that people pledge to volunteer in the next election and participate in a free, one-hour online training course, which can be accessed via cjpac.ca. Slobinsky invited participants to visit cija.ca/takeaction to find ways to mobilize against antisemitism and support other topics on CIJA’s agenda.