In December 2016, when NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was a member of Ontario’s legislature, he admirably opposed an anti-BDS motion promoted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Despite his opposition, however, Mr. Singh felt it necessary to pay homage to CIJA before explaining his reasons for voting against the motion, “Before I begin, I also want to acknowledge CIJA’s tremendous work. They are a paramount [sic] of professionalism in the way they conduct themselves and the way they advocate their position and I want to acknowledge that as well.”
For those of us who in this country advocate for Palestinian rights, such spectacles of deference to CIJA come as no surprise. For years, CIJA has skillfully deployed its massive lobbying resources to cultivate relationships with politicians across the political spectrum.
The Hill Times has repeatedly recognized CIJA’s CEO Shimon Fogel as one of the top 100 lobbyists in Canada, while Embassy Magazine has ranked him among the 50 most important people influencing Canadian foreign policy. Fogel is by no means the only lobbyist in the employ of CIJA. According to CIJA’s filings with the Office of Canada’s Lobbying Commissioner, CIJA employs no less than 15 registered lobbyists:
1. Dan-Michael Abecassis – Director of Public Relations (Quebec), no public offices held;
2. Alyssa Blank – political researcher, no public offices held (NPO);
3. David Cooper – Vice President, Government Relations, no public offices held;
4. Shimon Fogel – CEO, no public offices held;
5. Matthew Goodwin – Associate Director, University & Provincial Government Relations, no public
6. Allyson Grant – Director of Government Relations and Ottawa Public Affairs, no public offices held;
7. Ryan Hartman – Community Security (has held public office);
8. Sophie Helpard – Associate Director of Government Relations (ON), no public offices held;
9. Richard Marceau – Vice President of External Affairs & Gen Counsel (has held public office);
10. Steve McDonald – Director of Policy & Strategic Communication, no public offices held;
11 Martin Sampson – Vice President of Communications & Marketing, no public offices held;
12. Jonathan Schneiderman – Vice President of Development & Public Affairs (has held public office);
13. Noah Shack – Vice President for GTA, no public offices held;
14. Nico Slobinsky – Director of Pacific Region, no public offices held;
15. Eta Yudin – Vice President for Quebec, no public offices held.
Just what are all these paid lobbyists up to? To explore the subject, I examined the reports CIJA filed with the Office of Canada’s Lobbying Commissioner during the past 12 months. The results of my research were rather revealing, but that research also raised troubling questions about the nature and extent of CIJA’s advocacy. CIJA’s filings show that, within the past 12 months, its lobbying activities have far surpassed those of other major lobbying organizations in Canada. The table below shows the Monthly Communications Reports filed from May 24, 2018 to May 23, 2019:
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers 121
Canadian Chamber of Commerce 105
Canadian Bankers Association 54
Moreover, within the past 12 months, CIJA lobbied, on at least one occasion, a total of 46 different Members of Parliament (MPs). Those MPs included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who was pictured meeting with CIJA officials in July 2018), six other Ministers in the Liberal cabinet and the leaders of the Conservative Party and the NDP.
The table below identifies the Ministers and opposition party leaders whom CIJA lobbied within the past 12 months. The column on the right shows the number of reportable communications that CIJA had during the past 12 months with each of those officials:
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister 2
Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade 2
Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage 2
Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs 1
Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport 1
Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration 1
David Lametti, Minister of Justice 1
The table below identifies the MPs other than Ministers and opposition party leaders whom CIJA lobbied at least twice during the past 12 months. Again, the column on the right shows the number of reportable communications that CIJA had during that period with each of those MPs:
Michael Levitt (Liberal) 14
Marco Mendicino (Liberal) 12
Anthony Housefather (Liberal) 8
Murray Rankin (NDP) 6
Guy Caron (NDP) 3
Peter Kent (Conservative) 3
Tracey Ramsey (NDP) 2
Candice Bergen (Conservative) 2
Marc Miller (Liberal) 2
Ali Ehsassi (Liberal) 2
Randal Garrison (NDP) 2
Greg Fergus (Liberal) 2
Based on the figures above, it appears that CIJA’s go-to MP during the past year was the Liberal Party’s Michael Levitt. He is Chair of the Canada-Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group and of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. In those capacities, Levitt can and does play a key role in promoting Israel’s agenda within the Canadian government.
To give but one example, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been fomenting a war between the United States and Iran. Due in no small part to Israeli-Saudi warmongering, the US and Iran now stand at the precipice of a potentially catastrophic conflict. In early-May 2019, at this particularly dangerous time in US-Iran relations, Levitt played a starring role in “Iran Accountability Week.” During that week, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development heard “riveting testimony on the brutal Iranian regime’s complete disregard for human rights, and the subjugation of women and minorities.” According to Levitt, the Iranian leaders who “thrive and profit from corruption and impunity” must be held accountable.
Meanwhile, the committee Levitt chairs has invited no Palestinians to speak of the daily humiliation and oppression they endure at the hands of Israel’s military, nor has it heard “riveting testimony” from any of the countless Yemenis whose lives have been devastated by the Saudi regime to which Justin Trudeau’s government sells deadly weapons.
As for corruption and impunity, well, there is plenty of that to be found within the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Levitt and CIJA support so enthusiastically. But I digress.
An analysis of CIJA’s filings with the Office of Canada’s Lobbying Commissioner also reveals that CIJA overwhelmingly focuses its activities on the party in power. Sixty-eight percent of CIJA’s communications with MPs during the past 12 months were with Liberals, whereas a mere 13% of those communications were with Conservatives.
Interestingly, CIJA communicated more often with NDP MPs than with Conservative MPs: during the past 12 months, 19% of CIJA’s reportable communications were with members of the NDP caucus. During the past 12 months, CIJA did not disclose any reportable communications with MPs from the Bloc Quebecois or the Green Party.
Also notable is the attention CIJA pays to Senator Linda Frum. During the past 12 months, CIJA lobbied Frum far more than it lobbied all other Senators combined (ISG stands for Independent Senators Group):
Linda Frum (Conservative) 14
Peter Boehm (ISG) (Com. FA &Int Trade) 1
Fabian Manning (Conservative) 1
Michael McDonald (Conservative) 1
Mohammed Ravalia (ISG) 1
David Richards (unaffiliated) 1
David Wells (Conservative) 1
Frum is a veritable fountain of Israeli propaganda. During the month of May alone, Frum posted no less than 26 pro-Israel comments on her Twitter feed. In several of those tweets, she falsely accused the anti-racist BDS Movement of being anti-Semitic. In another of those tweets, Frum praised the dogs used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Frum seems blissfully unaware that, last year, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a report in which it condemned the IDF for setting dogs on elderly Palestinians and teenagers in their own homes.
CIJA’s federal lobbying activities are by no means confined to Members of the Parliament and Senate. During the past 12 months, CIJA reported over 90 communications with 50 other government officials. The table below identifies the federal government officials with whom CIJA had at least three reportable communications during the past 12 months:
Director of Operations, Global Affairs Can. 22
Chief of Staff, House of Commons 6
Policy Advisor &Parl Sec Min of Heritage 5
Staff, House of Commons 4
Principal Secretary to PM (PMO) 3
Parliamentary Affairs Advisor 3
Dir. of Parl Affairs, Global Affairs Canada 3
Chief of Staff, Global Affairs Canada 3
During the past 12 months, CIJA reported communications with four officials within the Prime Minister’s Office, including three communications with Gerald Butts, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister who resigned earlier this year.
What is most striking, however, is CIJA’s focus on Dahlia Stein, the Director of Operations of Global Affairs Canada. Ms. Stein was one of 12 officials from Global Affairs Canada with whom CIJA had reportable communications during the past 12 months. During that period, CIJA had more reportable communications by far with Ms. Stein than with any other government official, including Levitt and Frum.
Moreover, no registered lobbyist has lobbied Ms. Stein nearly as much as CIJA has. During the past 12 months, Ms. Stein was lobbied on 34 separate occasions. Nearly two-thirds of reportable communications with Ms. Stein during that period emanated from CIJA. The registered lobby organization that had the second-highest number of reportable communications with Ms. Stein was Match International Centre, with a mere four communications. Match International Centre is an NGO that seeks “the empowerment of women and the practical enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms through civil, political, economic, social and cultural justice.”
Why is CIJA so focused on Ms. Stein? All that we can glean from CIJA’s reports is that its 22 reportable communications with Ms. Stein during the past 12 months related to “international relations.” Due to the paucity of information contained within CIJA’s reports, I called Ms. Stein to inquire about the substance of her many communications with CIJA. I have left her a voicemail and await her response (I don’t expect one). In the interim, I invite CIJA to make fulsome disclosure to the public of its communications with Ms. Stein.
Finally, we should bear in mind that this analysis is confined to CIJA’s lobbying of federal government officials. Its lobbying activities extend, however, to provincial and municipal officials around the country. In light of CIJA’s vast and opaque lobbying operations, it should surprise no one that our government is hopelessly biased in favour of Israel.
Dmitri Lascaris is a Canadian Lawyer specializing in Human Rights Law. He has successfully represented al-Quds Committee against Zionist attempts to prevent the Annual Quds Day rally from being held in Toronto.