On August 7th, twenty Jews living in Montreal gathered in the lobby of the Federation CJA (Combined Jewish Appeal) building to denounce the ongoing massacre and siege on Gaza as well as the organized Jewish community’s complicity in it. We hung a banner that read “Massacre à Gaza: CIJA is complicit,” distributed flyers explaining the reasons for our presence, and read a Yiddish resistance poem, ‘Es Brent.’
The informal group we were part of articulated the following key positions via a press release, flyer, and presentations on Thursday afternoon: we oppose Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza and stand in solidarity with Palestinian resistance to Israel’s colonialism and apartheid; we denounce the role that Jewish community organizations play in supporting Israel’s violence; we reject the logic of Zionism and its conflation with Jewishness; we oppose anti-Semitism, as well as racism towards Arabs and Muslims, and we echo calls for decolonization from the Americas to Palestine.
On August 8, the morning after our action, the CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) and Federation CJA published an intentionally misleading press release that neither acknowledged nor engaged with the issue of internal Jewish community dissent on Israel. The statement was riddled with empty accusations, unsubstantiated claims, and racist anti-Palestinian rhetoric. While we can only speak for our own personal involvements and motivations for taking part in this action, we feel compelled to respond to the inaccuracies being spread by the the CIJA and CJA.
First and foremost, CIJA’s blatantly racist and Islamophobic rhetoric must be denounced. They disingenuously and absurdly contend that Israel is “fighting against the Palestinian shackles of international Islamism that has been wreaking absolute havoc all over the world,” and that they are supporting “the legitimacy of Israel’s fight against Islamic terrorism.” For CIJA, no Palestinian response to Israeli colonialism is justifiable, and all Palestinian people are a threat. This anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric is foundational to Israel’s justification for the collective punishment of Palestinians living in Gaza, and the racist ideology that dehumanizes Palestinians to justify the political project of Zionism.
ERASING OUR JEWISHNESS
In CIJA’s press release, the fact that we are Jewish people and that we are part of the Montreal Jewish community is completed erased. CIJA claims that we were there to “incite hatred against Jews in Quebec” but the fact of the matter is that we are committed to confronting anti-Semitism where it exists. Accusations of anti-Semitism are consistently employed by CIJA and the CJA in this cynical manner to silence criticism of Israel; in the process, those of us who oppose the state of Israel are made to disappear as Jewish people.
By refusing to acknowledge our existence as an organized group of Jewish people, CIJA is continuing their campaign of intimidation within the Jewish community, silencing all dissent on the issue of colonialism in Palestine. CIJA refuses to acknowledge that we are Jews because its aggressive politics on Palestine and its control of the organized Jewish community require that all criticism of Israel originates from anti-Semites. Anti-zionist Jews are an inconvenient fact. The claim that we have aligned ourselves with “militants in Montreal looking to establish a … climate of hate and violence here in Montreal” is simply false and by making such claims, CIJA actively marginalizes those working to uproot real forms of anti-Semitism.
What is most concerning to us is the CIJA’s characterization of the information we disseminated regarding the assault on Gaza as “unfounded allegations.” Over 1900 Palestinians have been killed, an estimated 10,000 have been seriously injured, and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes since the start of the current offensive. Of the casualties, 80% have been civilians. Together, Israel’s three major offensives in Gaza since 2009 have killed more than 3,400 Palestinians. This newest assault has also destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure (hospitals, universities, schools, power plants), and is taking place in the context of a devastating seven-year-long air, land, and sea blockade. CIJA and CJA may disagree with our analysis, but these basic facts are simply not in dispute and the characterization of them as ‘unfounded’ is disingenuous at best.
CIJA also suggests that by highlighting their complicity in Israel’s actions, we are spreading “misinformation” about their organization. However, the record is very clear. Since the 1970s, Federation CJA has been a formal affiliate of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental organization that advocates pan-Jewish entitlement to Palestine and aids Israel’s domestic Judaization programs. Through their partnership with the Jewish Agency, the North American federations are implicated both in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and in the dissemination of Israeli state propaganda. CIJA, the Federation’s self-described “advocacy arm,” was explicitly created to pursue lobbying in Canada on behalf of Israel. Whether fundraising for Israel, or conducting political advocacy such as press work and rallies, the CJA and CIJA are formally partnered with the state of Israel and are complicit in its actions.
DENYING SETTLER COLONIALISM
As CIJA and the CJA continue to deny their complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, it is unfortunate – yet unsurprising – that they also use their press release as a forum to deny the ongoing genocide against indigenous peoples on this continent as well as our collective role as settlers here on Mohawk territory. But then again, any recognition of the ongoing processes of land theft, dispossession, occupation, and colonisation imposed by Quebec and Canada on indigenous nations would require these community institutions to address similar processes in Israel. The fact that these institutions adamantly refuse to do so is one of the many reasons why we gathered on Thursday: to make clear that a segment of Montreal’s Jewish community opposes settler colonialism both at home and abroad.
While CIJA can certainly erase us from their press release, it cannot so easily erase us from the Jewish community. We will continue to organize against both CIJA and the CJA so long as they continue to aid and cheer on the killing and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. We encourage others within the Jewish community to participate in efforts to disrupt these organizations’ claims to speak on behalf of all Jews. We feel a sense of affinity with recent efforts of Jews confronting Jewish institutions that claim to speak for all of us, especially those grounded in anti-colonial politics.
David Zinman and Sam Bick are settlers on occupied Kanien’kehá:ka territory (Montreal) and are part of a group of Jews who draw inspiration from legacies of Jewish resistance to racism and colonialism, structures they both currently benefit from as Eastern European-descended Jews.