Fury grows over anti-Semitism charge, 19Dec09 December 21, 2009

by Les Whittington, Ottowa Bureau thestar.com -  19 December 2009


OTTAWA–The United Church of Canada and other Canadian churches are demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper explain why one of his cabinet ministers accused them of being anti-Semitic.

The United, Catholic and Anglican churches are part of KAIROS, an aid group that was shocked to hear Immigration Minister Jason Kenney say its funding was lifted as part of the Conservatives’ effort to cut off anti-Semitic organizations.

“It’s a horrible charge to make, and to do it with so little thought cheapens the reality of anti-Semitism in the world and diminishes the very careful attention that it deserves,” said United Church spokesperson Bruce Gregersen. “We’re quite disappointed in the government on this.

“The policies of KAIROS have all been approved by the collective board of KAIROS, so in a sense what Mr. Kenney is doing is accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic and I think that’s really unfortunate,” Gregersen said in an interview.

Sam Carrière, director of communications for the Anglican Church of Canada, said the church supports a statement released Friday by KAIROS, which condemned Kenney’s remarks as false and warned the Harper government against letting politics dominate Ottawa’s foreign aid priorities.

Besides the United and Anglican churches, Toronto-based KAIROS’s members include the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Mennonite Central Committee – Canada.

Working with 21 partner organizations around the world, KAIROS sponsors projects promoting social and economic justice in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Canada’s development community appeared stunned after Kenney, in a speech in Jerusalem, cited Ottawa’s decision to end 35 years of funding for KAIROS as an example of the Conservatives’ push to cut funding for anti-Semitic groups.

KAIROS was “defunded,” Kenney said, because it took a leadership role in “the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel.

“Minister Kenney’s charge against KAIROS is false,” the group said in its public response.

KAIROS has raised questions about Israeli government policies but rejected the idea of a national boycott against Israel two years ago, its executives pointed out.

“To label KAIROS’s criticism of Israeli government actions as `anti-Semitic’ silences dissent and honours no one,” the statement said. “KAIROS has a clear position of support for the legitimate right of the Israeli people to a safe and secure state.”

After its request for $7 million in funding over four years was turned down last month, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda told KAIROS it was because the group did not fit the government’s priorities of food security, helping youths and economic growth.

The Toronto-based group Friday called on Ottawa to restore its funding and explain the discrepancy between Oda’s and Kenney’s comments.

“Minister Kenney’s statement, in a highly charged environment, raises very disturbing questions about the integrity of Canadian development aid decisions,” KAIROS said.

Oda and Kenney were not available for interviews Friday. Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s director of communications, explained the decision by citing several non-government sources of information on Middle East political issues going back to 2006 that were critical of KAIROS’s activities.

Gerry Barr, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said Kenney’s remarks have compromised the integrity of the Canadian International Development Agency’s entire foreign aid funding operation.

“Any aid manager will now be looking two or three times to see what is on the table and wondering what is underneath,” he said.

Liberal and New Democrat MPs said Oda should be brought before a House of Commons committee to explain the KAIROS decision.

“There needs to be a larger discussion about CIDA’s decision-making than merely what’s happened to KAIROS, but KAIROS would be the classic example,” said the Liberals’ John McKay.

Based on KAIROS’s experience, McKay said, a non-governmental organization “could be absolutely welded to the ‘priorities’ of the government as stated by Minister Oda, but if you fall outside of the government’s particular dictum of political correctness, you’re toast.”

See related article:
BNC Welcomes the Kairos Palestine Document of Leading Christian Palestinians , 11 December 2009

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