Canadian Jewish Congress

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The Canadian Jewish Congress was one of the main lobby groups for the Jewish community in the country, although it often competes with the more conservative B'nai Brith Canada in that regard. Its past co-presidents was Sylvain Abitbol and Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka and its chief executive officer is Bernie Farber.

The organization disbanded in July 2011 following a reorganization of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, of which the CJA became a subsidiary in 2007.


Founding and early history

While the CJC was founded at a convention held in Montreal in March 1919. Its creation had been discussed, and attempted for a number of years prior to that date. In 1915, the immediate predecessor to the CJC was formed by the Montreal chapter of Poalei Zion (workers of Zion), a working class Zionist organization. They were soon joined by 13 other organizations, mostly other chapters of Poalei Zion as well as the Arbeiter Ring in forming the Canadian Jewish Alliance. Despite this show of support, the Canadian Federation of Zionist Societies, run by the influential German Jew, Clarence de Sola, refused to support any democratic Jewish organization.

Despite the opposition of the Federation, the CJA moved forward with their plan to create a democratic Jewish Congress, they were further pushed ahead with the creation in 1918 of the American Jewish Congress. Finally, in 1919, over 25,000 Jews from across Canada voted for delegates to the first Convention of the CJC.

Groups as diverse as Clarence de Sola's Federation, Poalei Zion, Mizrachi (a religious Zionist organization) and the Arbeiter Ring were present at the convention. While there, they were addressed by the Solicitor General of Canada, and were entertained at Montreal City Hall, where a large Zionist flag was draped over the Mayor's chair.

The main decision at that meeting was the founding of the "Jewish Immigrant Aid Society" to assist Jewish settlers and refugees in Canada. Although they also passed motions expressing the Jewish community's loyalty to Canada and others declaring their support for the Balfour Declaration. The convention also elected Lyon Cohen, former President of the Montreal Clothing Manufacturers Union, their President.

Despite this auspicious start, the CJC fell into abeyance and was inactive until 1934. With the rise in anti-Semitism and restricted immigration policies in the 1930s, the CJC was re-convened in 1934 and held the Congress' second plenum in Toronto in January with Cohen's friend and close colleague, Samuel William Jacobs, a prominent Jewish leader and Member of Parliament becoming the revived Congress' first president.[1]

Post World War II

The CJC was active before and during World War II in lobbying the government (with limited success) to open the borders to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. After the war the CJC organized relief aid for Holocaust survivors who were being detained in Displaced Persons camps. Along with the efforts of Senator Arthur Roebuck and Rabbi Avraham Aharon Price, the CJC helped obtain the release of young, Jewish refugees from internment camps, bringing them to study in Toronto.

The Congress' dominant figure from 1939 to 1962 was its president, Samuel Bronfman who was elected president following Jacobs' death in 1938.

During the Cold War at Bronfman's urging, the CJC expelled the United Jewish Peoples' Order and other "left-leaning" Jewish organizations in 1951. At the time, the UJPO was one of the largest Jewish fraternal organizations in Canada. It would not be readmitted to the CJC until 1995.[2]

During the war between Israel and Lebanon in 1982, former Prime Minister Joe Clark issued a public rebuke to the CJC at its annual policy convention for its stance of unconditionally supporting the State of Israel in that war, regardless of what Israel had been accused of doing. During the speech, Clark was interrupted with heckles from the crowd and approximately 50 people left the room in protest. Near the end of his remarks, the audience began to sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. [3]

Recent history

In recent decades the CJC launched campaigns to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration, to pressure the Canadian government to prosecute allegiated National socialist "war criminals" who had settled in Canada, and to enact and use hate crimes legislation against anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers such as Ernst Zündel. The CJC also works to promote tolerance and understanding between religious and ethnic groups, promotes anti-racist work and other campaigns.

The CJC introduced significant changes to its internal organization in June 2007.[4] The previous system of electing representatives to the Board of Directors was discarded, and a new system was introduced wherein Board members will be chosen by indirect elections from "regional Congress representatives" and "delegates from Jewish federations". Congress CEO Bernie Farber supported the change, arguing that it would streamline a complicated process.[5] Others have argued that the new system will give disproportionate power to the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). One individual, described by Canadian Jewish News as a "close observer of Congress", has argued that CIJA is "stacking the deck" in a bid to take over the CJC.[6]

In recent years, the CJC has been criticized for not being representative of the Jewish community and having an increased emphasis on Israel advocacy despite a diversity of views within the Jewish community on Israel. Abraham Arnold, a longtime CJC activist and a member of the Order of Canada, opined that the CJC "seem to be spending more time in relation to Israel than in relation to anything else", has become increasingly Zionist, and has turned into a "top-down" group that discourages debate rather than the grassroots organization it once was.[7] Queen's University professor Gerald Tulchinsky who specializes in Jewish Canadian history has said that the CJC fails to resonate with a growing number of Jewish Canadians, particularly among those who question Israeli policy towards Palestinians.[7]


See also


  2. Ester Reiter & Roz Usiskin, Jewish Dissent in Canada: The United Jewish People's Order, Paper presented at the Forum on Jewish Dissent a conference of the Association of Canadian Jewish Studies (ACJS) in Winnipeg, May 30, 2004 and reprinted in Outlook
  3. The Domestic battleground : Canada and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ed. David Taras and David Goldberg
  4. Freeman Poritz, "Plenary brings change", Jewish Independent, 22 June 2007.
  5. Paul Lungen, "Congress prepares to elect new president", Canadian Jewish News, 16 April 2007.
  6. Paul Lungen, "Congress headed for joint presidency", Canadian Jewish News, 21 June 2007. The individual requested to remain anonymous; Lungen's article devoted three paragraphs to his perspective.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Stuart Laidlaw, "Has Jewish group forgotten its roots? Critics say Canadian Jewish Congress has clout in top circles, but not in community", Toronto Star, May 23, 2009