Anti-Semitism claim shocks KAIROS

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  • December 30, 2009
{mosimage}KAIROS and it’s supporters have reacted with shock, dismay, anger and bewilderment at being called anti-Semitic by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney at a conference in Jerusalem.

“We have de-funded organizations, most recently, like KAIROS who are taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel, Kenney told the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism Dec. 16.

Not only is Kenney’s statement false it makes a mockery of the explanation CIDA Minister Bev Oda gave for defunding KAIROS’s international development work, said KAIROS executive director Mary Corkery.

Oda told Corkery on Nov. 30 that KAIROS no longer fit CIDA’s new priorities — economic growth, children and youth and food security.

“We are not anti-Semitic,” Corkery said.

KAIROS policies on Middle East peace specifically rule out sanctions and boycotts, though the multi-faith social justice organization would advocate divestment in companies doing business in the West Bank and Gaza if it was shown those investments supported violence in the region and the companies were unwilling to review their investments in the region, Corkery said.

KAIROS now has two explanations from two different ministers for why its proposal to extend a 35-year funding relationship another four years was turned down.

“CIDA has the right to set priorities, there’s no question about that,” Corkery told The Catholic Register. “But it looks like there was a highly politicized decision that wasn’t about those things at all.”

KAIROS drew attention to its policies on Israel with a 2005 conference it co-sponsored with the United Church of Canada and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem. The fact that sanctions and divestment were discussed at the conference caused the Canadian Jewish Congress to temporarily withdraw from Christian-Jewish dialogue in Canada.

KAIROS’s continued association with Sabeel has drawn the attention of the Canada-Israel Committee and Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor. Canada-Israel Committee spokesperson Sarah Freedman refused to say whether her organization had ever asked the government to cut funding to KAIROS.

“The CIC has been very supportive of CIDA funding being used to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians by doing development work in the Middle East,” Freedman said. “Canadian money to do international development should be spent on doing development, not on doing domestic advocacy.”

Canada-Israel Committee CEO Shimon Fogel told The Canadian Jewish News he is happy Ottawa decided to cut KAIROS funding, and charged that the organization had diverted CIDA funds into anti-Israel political advocacy.

“I like to believe that the government factored this consideration into its calculations,” he said.

Sabeel director Rev. Naim Ateek said KAIROS money was earmarked for Bible study, women’s discussion groups and lectures on non-violence.

“Anti-Semitism has become a weapon that is used against not only us, but against other people,” said Ateek, an Anglican priest.

Corkery likens the charge to communist baiting in the 1950s.

“Go back to (Brazilian bishop) Dom Helder Camara who said: ‘When I feed the poor they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry they call me a communist.’ To call someone anti-Semitic at this moment is belying the question of what is development.”

While the KAIROS international program has never been a high priority for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, as a KAIROS member the bishops are watching to see how the government will square its divergent explanations for the decision, said CCCB associate general secretary Bede Hubbard.

“We’re watching and we’re monitoring to see if there are other explanations forthcoming,” he said.

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation, which represents 90 Canadian development agencies, has written to Oda demanding an explanation of the KAIROS decision.

“Kenney is effectively accusing Canadian churches of being anti-Semitic. We are shocked that such a serious charge would be so carelessly and erroneously leveled against a member of CCIC,” wrote CCIC president Gerry Barr and chair Karen Takacs in an open letter to Oda.

Communications staff for Kenney did not return calls from The Catholic Register.

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