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On Andrew Cohen’s regrettable “progressive” journey

By Doğan Akman


Andrew Cohen is a writer and a professor of journalism at Carleton University. He has published scholarly books.


On Saturday March 18, 2023,(p.09) he published an opinion piece titled Deafening Silence-In Israel’s hour of crisis, in which he wrote, “It has come to this: In Israel’s hour of crisis, as thousands fill the streets protesting the assault on democracy and human rights etc. mainstream Jews in Canada are unseen and unheard. They have been orphaned, by timid, tepid leadership out of step with their views. This is the unspeakable silence of the Canadian Jewish establishment”,


He alleges but does not substantiate his allegations. Obviously, he believes that his article as a whole substantiates his position, but clearly it does no such thing.


He then proceeds to rely on the results of a sclerotic survey sponsored by JSpaceCanada (JSC) and the New Israel Fund Canada (NIFC) to his key points.


The Globe and Mail published the opinion with a huge headline and devoted a whole page to an article that did actually need an entire page so as to be able to insert a large picture of the agitated opponents of the proposals made by the Netanyahu government.


This is same newspaper that refers to the members of Palestinian terrorist organisations (classified as such by Canada) as “militants” who kill or maim innocent people in Israel and get financially rewarded for it by the Palestinian Authority.


This is the same newspaper which published over a dozen biased pieces against Israel between January 4 and June 30, 2021, before, during, and after the 11 day Gaza war triggered by Hamas following a record of Hamas-initiated attacks. For the full record of the paper’s shoddy treatment of Israel in this context I refer the reader to the archives of Honest Reporting Canada for that period, before and after.


The fact that the author is Jewish, and denigrates the Canadian ”Jewish Establishment”, might have been a bonus for the paper to publish it.


When I was growing up in Istanbul, I was taught that, one must not publicly badmouth or criticise one’s own people-in the present context-Jews, Jewish communities and their civic organisations, in and out of Turkiye and naturally, in Israel.


If you had a problem with or a concern about any matter involving the Jewish community or one or more, or all of its organizations or something that occurred in Israel, you were expected to do it discreetly, out of the sight and hearing of strangers, by speaking with or writing to the appropriate person(s) and/or organisation(s) to get a full understanding as to whether and how this concern or problem is being or will be handled, and where appropriate, make constructive suggestions.


Even if the concern could not be addressed in this manner, Jews in Turkiye abided by the old saying: “If you have nothing good to say publicly, say nothing or as little as possible”.


And indeed, CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), one of the organisations of the so–called Jewish Establishment, did precisely that about the recent events in Israel which Professor Cohen addresses in his opinion piece. And the reasons which led the organisation to remain silent cannot be impugned without proper knowledge of what transpired during the organisation’s face-to-face meetings with Israeli politicians and officials.


CIJA’s CEO Mr. Shimon Koffler Fogel in an e-mail to CJN wrote: “While marginal groups may heckle from the side-lines, in fact, not only has [CIJA access but it has] used its privileged position to meet with senior Israeli officials in both the government and opposition sides. Indeed, such encounters took place just a week ago [I estimate that to be the end of February-beginning of March], when a CIJA leadership mission did not travel to Israel, nor has that been the first intervention since the Netanyahu-led coalition formed the current government. Our ongoing consultations with communities across the country put us in a unique position to convey concerns, share our perspective, and offer suggestions on how Israel can most constructively move forward. ’Quiet’ neither means silence nor agreement, rather it speaks to a more effective, nuanced and responsible way of sharing concerns and offering suggestions.” Quoted by Lila Sarick, New Survey shows Canadian Jews dissatisfied with current Israeli Government’s proposals CJN, March 9, 2023.


Furthermore, “Canadian Jewish Federations, which organisations are the largest most representative organisations of Jewish communities from coast to coast… have for months been in direct dialogue with Israeli officials across the political spectrum, via CIJA and partner Jewish organisations around the globe”. Yair Szlezak, Adam Minsky, Ezra Shanken, On Israel, Canadian Jews must embrace unity, not uniformity in The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2023 p.04. A compelling read. And a salutary one for Professor Cohen.


Whatever the shortcomings of CIJA may be, surely in the light of the foregoing evidence Professor Cohen’s assertion that the Jewish establishment is silent, unresponsive to the situation is contrary to the available evidence unless this is his way of calling someone a liar. It is certainly not silent where it matters most-in Israel.


At all events, Professor Cohen is silent about the abominable behaviour of JSpaceCanada (JSC) and the New Israel Fund Canada (NIFC) and others who have urged the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs to intervene in the domestic affairs of Israel by calling her Israeli counterpart to lecture him about a number of “ill-conceived” proposed reforms. Dylan Robertson, Melanie Joly calls out Israel judiciary reform and unilateral actions that undermine peace, The Canadian Press, March 17, 2023; also reported by CBC


When was the last time the self-designated “progressive” Jewish organisations marched in the streets of Ottawa to protest against the sharp rise in antisemitism- antisemitic crimes and incidents in Canada, publicly calling the Government of Canada to task for its ongoing failures or unwillingness to address these problems effectively? And better still, when did the progressives ever call on the Israeli government to publicly lecture, reproach and recriminate against the government of Canada for its failures to address these problems effectively?


The results of the survey were published on March 6, 2023, under the imprimatur of JSC and NIFC. It is titled UNITED IN OPPOSITION: Canadian Jews Oppose Policies Proposed by the Israeli Government, Survey Results, March 6, 2023; Lila Sarick, New survey shows Canadian Jews dissatisfied with current Israeli government’s proposals, published in the CJN, March 9, 2023.


The survey was designed by a Toronto professor of sociology (“researching professor”) who oversaw the project, and, presumably wrote the final report. I say presumably, because he did not issue a final report under his own signature. EKOS Research Associates conducted the survey.


Professor Cohen relied on this survey to support his contentions. He wrote, “A comprehensive survey by EKOS Research Associates finds that Canadian Jews overwhelmingly oppose changes to Israel’s High Court and other proposed measures, such as banning gay pride parades and imposing gender segregation in public spaces.” A comprehensive survey? Surely not. Based on my reading of it, I suggest the phrase “a very needy one “describes it more accurately.


Professor Cohen then writes; “That is just, one survey, commissioned by [JSC] and [NIFC]. Still provides a fair baseline representation of Jewish community perspectives in issues of vital importance to the approximately 404,000 Canadians who identify as Jewish by religion or ethnicity”.


What does ethnic Jewish mean? What are the similarities and the material differences between Jews who self-identify in this alternative manner? What about Jews who identify as Zionist or non-Zionist?


Professor Cohen omits the ending of one of the two versions of the same sentence where the first sentence that starts with: This is just one survey,” and carries on “more surveys are needed to corroborate the findings”.


The survey report does not provide the source of the population figure. Nor does it project into it, the numbers of respondents whose answers stated that they did not know or did not answer; did not care one way or another, or disagreed with the statement or question.


In the circumstances, there is no evidence to sustain the assertion of the survey report that “all the issues covered by the survey are of vital importance to the Jewish community of Canada “.


The professor then proceeds: “If this is a correct reading of Jewish attitudes, CIJA is ignoring them even if Mr. Fogel insists otherwise”. Hence, despite the big IF, he carries on to question the veracity of Mr. Fogel’s statement but does not bother to inform the reader of his reasons for doing so.


Professor Cohen does not have anything I can see to justify his cheap shots against CIJA and Mr. Fogel, or for that to justify his sensationalist wording of the title and sub-title of his piece.


I hasten to state that I have no personal knowledge of the operations of CIJA and I have not communicated with any of its executives.


Going back to the survey, the validity and reliability of the survey are undermined by a number of methodological problems such as: 1.The selection of the sample which was surveyed; 2.The wording of some questions which raise the issue as to whether all the respondents interpreted it consistently; 3. The source and nature of the respondents’ legal knowledge and expertise of required to answer the particular questions of legal nature.


The following illustrate of each of these problem:


1. The 288 persons (respondents) are said to have been members of a panel whose size, composition and characteristics are not provided. They were self-selected and were paid for their participation in the survey.


Surely, on the strength of the information provided about the selection of the respondents, these 288 persons who are merely identified by gender, age and place of residence, shown as, Ontario, Quebec and the rest of Canada (ROC) could not be said to represent the entire Canadian Jewish community of over 400,000 people.


2. The survey asks the respondents’ degree of emotional attachment to Israel. The question reads: “How emotionally attached would you say you are to Israel?” The report states that the percentage of respondents who are attached to Israel is 74%.


However, the accompanying graph shows that 34% of the respondents are “much attached”, 40% are “somewhat attached”, 15% are “not very attached” and 10% are “not at all attached”.


The problems in interpreting these answers are obvious, namely:


What does the phrase “somewhat attached” mean? What is the degree and nature of such attachment? The respondents were not provided with a definition of the phrase nor asked to give their own definitions of the phrase. In the circumstances, we don’t know whether or not the respondents were consistent in their understanding of the phrase “somewhat attached”. And then what about persons who are not emotionally but intellectually attached in various degrees?


In these circumstances, surely the 74% cannot be said to be a reliable one particularly since the “much attached” group represent a minority of the respondents.


3. What is the worth of an opinion expressed by the respondents as to whether they oppose or support in specified degrees/ neither oppose nor support/ does not know or does not provide an answer- the statement “Making it easier for the government to reverse Supreme Court decisions” where the respondents’ legal qualifications and experience in comparative constitutional law are unknown? Surely one has to be legally qualified and familiar with different systems of law and knowledge of the kind of decision involved to be able to give a meaningful answer. And how would the respondents interpret the phrase “making it easier”?


Surely, Professor Cohen must have better things to do than to write a divisive aggressive article about Canadian Jewish organizations and one in particular; and thereby feed more fire between or among some of these, at a time when the rates of antisemitism in the U.S. and Canada are running high and getting higher.


The so-called “progressive” organisations, academics and journalists should let Israelis sort out their problems among themselves while governed by the legitimate democratically elected government of the day.


Instead please focus on what is already happening and more of what is likely going to happen in and to Canada and the kind of Canada we will have to live with in the future, and the kind of Canada which our children will inherit.


If the current state of affairs with respect to the current government’s single-minded pursuit of identity politics with some prejudicial consequences to the Jewish community; the current policies and practices concerning refugees, legal and illegal immigrants; chronic low domestic natality rate; the poor management of the economy, and the ongoing fake fight against antisemitism continue, I fear Canada becoming later become one of the countries whose countries citizenship will no longer be as valued as it has been.


And as genealogical research taught me, when a country is experiencing serious domestic problems or conflicts, the Jews are the first to get scapegoated and get it in the neck. Hence, in number instances, along with other pieces of information one could time and trace the forced historical migrations of our forebears.


As someone, whose name I forget, once put it “Internal bickering, outlandish calamitous claims, street protests that entice our enemies, and a half-veiled conceit of self-righteousness, will not serve the Jews well. It never has.”

 

Doğan Akman holds a B.Sc. in sociology an M.A. in sociology – criminology and an LL.B. After holding some academic appointments, he switched to law, carried on as a Stipendiary Magistrate (later re-designated Provincial Court) in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. He eventually decided to join the Federal Department of Justice where he first practiced criminal law and then moved into civil litigation. Prior to and since his retirement Doğan published academic work in peer-reviewed journals, as well as writing for TheJ.ca and CAEF and for the blogs in Times of Israel and Israpundit.

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