Muslim Group Slams Appointment of Canadian Jews

By Sheldon Gordon

Published October 28, 2005, issue of October 28, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

TORONTO — The Canadian Islamic Congress is criticizing the appointment of two prominent Jewish men to important federal posts, describing them as “bad news” for Muslims.

The Islamic Congress, the most prominent organization claiming to represent Canada’s 750,000-person Muslim community, is objecting to the appointments of Leo Kolber, 76, and Jonathan Schneiderman, 43. Kolber, a former senator and a longtime adviser to the Bronfman family, was named recently to chair a federal advisory panel on national security. In August 2004, Schneiderman, who earlier served as a regional president of B’nai Brith Canada, was tapped to be an adviser to Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

Mohamed Elmasry, the Cairo-born president of the Islamic Congress, told reporters that both men are “strong pro-Israel voices” whose appointments have made Canadian Muslims nervous. The criticisms were the latest in a series of statements by Islamic Congress leaders that have outraged the Jewish community. The organization is believed to have about 50,000 members.

“With the Muslim community’s vulnerability to negative attention since 9/11… there is understandable nervousness at the news that two of Canada’s most active supporters of Israeli domestic and foreign policy will now have key voices in Canadian security and foreign policy decisions,” Elmasry said. Kolber dismissed the criticism, telling the Forward: “You just have to look at the source.” He declined further comment, saying he was waiting to be briefed on his duties on the advisory panel.

Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada, slammed Elmasry: “He is effectively saying that Jews ought to be automatically excluded from holding positions within government… because of a supposed inherent bias against all Muslims. It is time for those in the Muslim community for whom Elmasry claims to speak [to] stand up and say this individual does not represent them.”

“What is it precisely that makes these individuals unsuitable?” asked Len Rudner, national director of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress. “Is it because they are, in the characterization of Mr. Elmasry, pro-Israel? Or is it because they are Jewish?”

Leo Adler, Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director of national affairs, suggested that the public try to have Elmasry dismissed from his post at University of Warerloo, where he is a computer-engineering professor. Claiming that his objections had nothing to do with religion, Elmasry insisted that his organization would oppose non-Jews who have “strong pro-Israeli track records.”

The Muslim leader issued his criticisms even though, in addition to Kolber, the Canadian government also named to the federal advisory panel two prominent Arab Canadian professors who were born in the Middle East. As for Schneiderman, his new job at the Foreign Ministry focuses on Canadian-American relations and not on Middle East policy.

Kolber, who was a longtime adviser to late liquor baron and Jewish philanthropist Samuel Bronfman and to his sons, Edgar Sr. and Charles, has been a strong supporter of Israel since its founding and has been a close friend of Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres for five decades. Kolber’s son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren reside in Israel.

Despite such ties, Kolber has been publicly critical of Israel. At a 2003 B’nai Brith dinner honoring him, he criticized Israeli reprisals against Palestinian civilians. He also condemned Jerusalem for supporting settlement construction and for deciding to construct the West Bank security fence.

Alex Swan, spokesman for Propaganda Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, defended the choice. It was Swan who had appointed Kolber.

“The suggestion that Muslims should be concerned is groundless, and that kind of language is not helpful at a time when we’re trying to promote dialogue between communities,” Swan said.

Elmasry previously accused Jewish organizations of not doing enough to fight Canada’s post-9/11 anti-terrorism legislation, which Muslim groups saw as a threat to civil liberties. His most provocative comments came during a television program in October 2004 when he said that all Israeli adults were legitimate targets for Palestinian suicide bombers, since “from 18 on, they are part of the soldiers, even if they have civilian clothes.”

The statement triggered such uproar, including criticism from other Muslim groups, that Elmasry later apologized and offered his resignation. However, the Islamic Congress declined to accept it, saying in a news release that “one unintentional mistake does not wipe out an exemplary record of more than 30 years.”

Elmasry is not the only Islamic Congress leader to offend the Jewish community. In early 2004, Wahida Valiente, the organization’s vice president, wrote an article stating that “the Jewish idea of being ‘chosen’ not only institutionalized racism, but also set a terrible precedent for human history in general, where racial superiority claims became the norm, the divisive standard by which all others, those not like us, were to be judged and treated.”

After the Canadian Jewish Congress protested, Valiente sent the organization a letter acknowledging that her interpretation of the term “chosen people” was “inconsistent with its meaning in the scriptures of the Old Testament.”

At the time, Ed Morgan, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that his organization would continue to work with Canada’s other Muslim and Arab organizations but not with the Islamic Congress.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.