MK Chikli in Ottawa, Anti-NGO Bill, and Parliament’s Study of Israel-Palestine
By Ben Murane, Executive Director

Israel’s government is testing Canada’s resolve. Since the start of this Israeli government’s rule, Israel-Canada relations have been under increasing strain.

But the past two weeks have been even more consequential for Canada-Israel relations.

The backdrop has been the judicial overhaul and controversial remarks by new Israeli ministers, which have been an obvious but amorphous threat to “shared values” between our two countries. For example, in late March as Netanyahu’s deputies advanced the judicial overhaul, Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly communicated to her Israeli counterpart “Canada’s support of democracy, the rule of law and the institutions that uphold them.” Just a week before and a week after, various Canadian government spokespeople including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned comments by Israeli Minister Bezalel Smotrich, opposed the heavy-handed raid by Israeli forces in the Al-Aqsa mosque, and called for de-escalation on all sides.

But it wasn’t until the past week when Israeli government actions suddenly and unexpectedly directly affected Canadians.

Israel’s anti-NGO bill directly targets Canadian taxpayer dollars

First, last week we learned that an alarming bill was scheduled to move ahead in the Knesset that would ultimately eliminate many Israeli civil society NGOs. The bill would strip nonprofit status from NGOs accepting foreign government funding and tax them at 65%.

You might not know that actually Canada is the second-largest funder of peacebuilding and people-to-people projects in Israel-Palestine. After the Jewish-Arab violence in May 2021, the Trudeau government devoted nearly $5 million to such projects alongside other humanitarian and security aid to Israel and the Palestinians. This puts Canada at the top of the crosshairs of this bill.

If enacted, this bill would result in Israel confiscating millions of Canadian taxpayer dollars going towards Canadian-selected partners. Taxed at 65%, such a rate would inevitably lead to the closure of each NGO that had accepted Canadian funding. Such a diplomatic crisis would have innumerable ripple effects among the Canadian public, most certainly and rightfully bad for Israel’s standing in Canadian public opinion.

Luckily over last weekend, an outpouring of international alarm by the US and many European countries – as well as the New Israel Fund and our allies – led Prime Minister Netanyahu to shelve the anti-NGO bill for now. We remain vigilant for whenever this legislation might suddenly reappear.

Israel’s controversial Minister of Diaspora Affairs lands in Canada

Then there has been the diplomatic debacle of an Israeli far-right minister meeting with Canadian far-right leaders. Last week news reports revealed that firebrand Israeli Minister Amichai Chikli would be speaking in Canada this week for far-right Christian groups — a fundraiser for Dr. Charles McVety’s college and an Ottawa meeting hosted by Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis. The news of Chikli’s speaking engagements surprised not just Canada’s government, but also Jewish groups and even the Israeli embassy itself.

MP Ya’ara Saks of York Centre riding said to Haaretz that it was upsetting “to learn that an Israeli cabinet member is coming to Canada to be part of a fundraising event for an organization that has a clear pro-life, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda that flirts with the extreme right and with neo-Nazi views.”

That might be reason enough to worry about fraying Israel-Canada partnership, except Chikli himself is hardly a model for compatible Canadian values. Chikli is a well-known Likud firebrand with a history of incendiary remarks and is currently Israel’s Minister for Diaspora Affairs. He has described he Tel Aviv Pride Parade a “disgraceful vulgarity” and Palestinians as “a barbaric society.” Last week, he drew global condemnations for doubling-down on his defense of Elon Musk’s antisemitic diatribes about George Soros.

After his visit was discovered, Chikli quickly added meetings with more mainstream political leaders and Jewish organizations.

However that rightly hasn’t prevented the rebukes of Canada’s government for flouting protocol, as well as our own objections alongside JSpace Canada and Israeli expat group UnXeptable. (Want to participate in what UnXeptable is planning during Chikli’s visit to Toronto this Thursday? Join this WhatsApp group.)

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Committee will study Israel and Palestine

Amidst all of this turbulence, Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee unexpectedly advanced a motion by NDP foreign affairs critic MP Heather McPherson to hold a “study” of Canadian policy on peacemaking, human rights, and regional changes later this fall.

As reported by the Canadian Jewish News, this study passed with support from NDP, Liberal, and Bloc lawmakers over the objections of right-wing Jewish groups and politicians. That should come as no surprise, since right-leaning Jewish groups probably do not believe this is a good time for Israel’s most objectionable personalities and policies to be placed under the microscope.

Such a study hasn’t been conducted on Canada’s policy towards Israel-Palestine in recent memory. Over four sessions, a variety of experts will educate MPs and the public about the reality on the ground. As I told the Canadian Jewish News, this study could be a really good thing, especially if Canadians get to hear directly from human rights and peace advocates about what Canada can do constructively.

Back in November of last year I co-authored a warning in The Hill Times with our board member Esther Enkin predicting that Israel’s changes would test Israeli-Canadian shared values. Clearly that is indeed happening now.

That’s why it is gratifying to see the Canadian government and Members of Parliament standing up for democracy and against extremism. Indeed, we have encouraged our supporters like you to speak to your elected representatives and thank those taking principled stances. I was so pleased to recently deliver dozens and dozens of hand-signed thank you letters to Minister Joly, MP Saks, and MP McPherson.

There is a chasm opening within Israeli-Canadian shared values, driven by the extreme-right lurch of Israel’s new government. The right course of action for Canada’s government is to reaffirm and stand by democratic values without blinking. I know that this extremist government won’t last – and that it is the defenders of Israel’s democracy who are carrying the torch of our shared values until that day.