Canadian government dishonest on KAIROS

By 
  • December 30, 2009
{mosimage}By linking KAIROS with anti-Semitic organizations, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has probably revealed more about the Conservative government than the church-based agency that has blindly (maybe naively) wandered into the government cross-hairs. None of it is flattering.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Dec. 18, Kenney told the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism that the government had implemented zero-tolerance standards for anti-Semitism. Laudable so far. But when Kenney rhymed off several organizations that lost their funding due to unacceptable practices, the list included KAIROS, the multi-faith partnership of church groups that includes the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It was stunning enough to hear KAIROS being linked to anti-Semitism but equally disturbing was the timing and forum for the smear. Eighteen days before Kenney aired Canada’s alleged dirty laundry halfway around the world (ah, for the days when domestic squabbles stayed at home), KAIROS was told it was being defunded due to new priorities at the Canadian International Development Agency. That message had been delivered to KAIROS through the office of International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda and repeated in Parliament. Now we learn Oda’s explanation was untrue, KAIROS was mislead, Parliament misinformed, and Kenney has the real truth, or today’s version of it.

It turns out KAIROS, no friend of the Conservative government, had been right all along: the decision to eliminate its federal funding had little to do with new criteria but was primarily motivated by politics. And that’s bad news for KAIROS. Adjusting programs to meet new funding guidelines is easier to accomplish than battling a government that’s known to bring brass knuckles to a fight.

Kenney went for the knockout when he linked KAIROS with anti-Semitism. KAIROS supports an independent Palestinian state while opposing West Bank occupation, Israeli settlements and the barrier wall. But so do many nations and organizations. Being a supporter of an independent Palestine or being critical of specific Israeli policy is not in itself anti Semitic. But it makes you an easy target.

KAIROS hasn’t helped its own cause by dabbling in foreign domestic politics and by associating with activists who have called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Officially, KAIROS opposes such harsh measures. But Kenney obviously doesn’t buy it and seems intent on clipping the wings of an organization whose politics conflict with official government policy. Thus, Kenney listed KAIROS among the ringleaders of an Israeli boycott campaign. KAIROS strongly denied the charge, but the damage was done.

If the government has evidence of anti-Semitic practices by KAIROS, it should confront KAIROS  executives and give them fair chance to respond, rather than smear them in Jerusalem. If there are legitimate grounds to defund KAIROS, the government should provide Parliament with full and honest disclosure of those reasons. Instead, KAIROS was mistreated at home and maligned abroad. After 35 years of promoting social justice and human rights around the world, KAIROS deserved better.

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