President Obama wants to…

a) Do his job
b) Eat a cookie
c) Give you a hug
d) Ignore the truth, forget history, and destroy Jerusalem

(the answer is D…)

At least it is, according to B’nai Brith Canada (yes… Canada), who has taken the time to inform us that President Obama (whose President? Oh right… a different country’s) has “plans to divide the Jewish capital of Israel.”

Here we go again with B’nai Brith. They always seem to pop up at the most interesting times to add an element of confusion to whatever is going on.

Just in time for Tisha b’Av, this ominous email, titled “President Obama wants to…” arrived in my inbox yesterday morning:

In response to U.S. President Obama’s plans to divide the Jewish capital of Israel, B’nai Brith Canada launched a national ad campaign that reveals the truth about Jerusalem.

B’nai Brith Canada, a self-funded advocacy organization, requires your help in the fight for truth.

Written in the tone of a conspiracy theorist, the email suggests that there are secret machinations afoot to subvert the so-called “truths about Jerusalem,” in an attempt to cut off Jews from the city. You can see the full advertisement here. I’m not even sure where to start on this one, so how about the following simple points:

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has proposed the notion that there are neighbourhoods in Jerusalem that will not be part of Israel as part of a final border agreement. Most Israelis accept this, and talk about it openly as if it is just a matter of time until the details are ironed out. So why is B’nai Brith making it look like this is an evil, liberal American agenda? The conservative government of Israel is on the same page…

2. Why is a self-proclaimed Canadian “Jewish human rights organization” running a national campaign in Canada to oppose the American president’s viewpoint which happens to be relatively in line with the Israeli government’s viewpoint? I’m having trouble connecting the dots here…

3. Take a look at the full ad. B’nai Brith has framed this all within the context of Tisha b’Av, as if to suggest that President Obama is bringing calamity upon the Jewish people on par with the destruction of the Temples. This is a misappropriation of our religious tradition to further one organization’s own political agenda, and is wholly inappropriate.

4. The ad argues that “only under Israel’s jurisdiction, did all faiths regain the right to worship” in Jerusalem. B’nai Brith seems to forget that even under Israeli jurisdiction, not everyone has the right to worship in Jerusalem. Perhaps as a Jewish human rights organization, they should spend some time focusing on the rights of Jews to pray in Jerusalem…

While the historical facts B’nai Brith uses in their ad are indeed true, there’s just one problem: they’re just that… historical. B’nai Brith conveniently ignores present facts and present truths. This ad is divorced from current realities. It doesn’t recognize the widely accepted reality that any viable two-state solution will include negotiations regarding Jerusalem (again – something that Netanyahu himself speaks of).

As a human rights organization that is supposedly concerned with Jerusalem, perhaps B’nai Brith should focus on some real human rights issues, and confront some of the current truths and realities about Jerusalem instead of trying to advance a weak political agenda. Here are two simple suggestions:

1. Poverty in Jerusalem. Most of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish children live below the poverty line, and the city’s poverty rate is twice the national average.

2. Religious Pluralism. As the New Israel Fund eloquently notes, “one would think that, having finally achieved a Jewish homeland in Israel, Jews could practice their religion – or not – untroubled by government interference.” Of course, anyone with their eye on Israeli news knows this isn’t the case.

So what’s up, B’nai Brith? Will you continue to languish in the ashes of the destroyed Temples, or will you rise up and acknowledge the realities of 21st century Israel?


  1. Larry Kaufman says:

    You, as a Canadian, know much more than I do about B’nai Brith Canada — and I don’t know about B’nai Brith USA either. But the impression I have had is that BB USA, more than perhaps any other Jewish mass membership organization, has been struggling to find something worthwhile to do, especially after spinning off ADL, Hillel, and its women’s affiliate. So let me assume that BB Canada is in much the same plight, and is gasping at straws, or manufacturing articficial straws.

    Your blog post appears in the same time frame as a lot of posts (including mine) on the demise of the American Jewish Congress — some would say its self-destruction, others would cite its irrelevance, and all of us could point to its duplication of the work of other organizations — e.g., ADL, the other AJC, JCUA — although the case could also be made that they were duplicating it.

    Meanwhile, we U.S. Jews know precious little about our landsleit north of the border, and I thank you for being our teacher and guide.

    1. Jesse says:

      Well said, Larry. It’s unfortunate that B’nai Brith (at least in Canada) has devolved into its current state, as it is one of the legacy organizations that actually has many concrete successes it can point to.

      What irritates me the most is that there appears to be no standard within the organization of what it stands for, what its priorities are, and how it wants to relate to the public. It just sends out press releases every now and then that usually oppose some event or seek to stir up fear at the “rising tide of antisemitism.”

      I would heartily recommend that if you want to know more about the landsleit north of the border, you should look elsewhere than B’nai Brith. There’s too much doom and gloom emanating from them.

      So I’m not all dark and depressed myself, here’s an example of a really exciting development in Canadian Jewish life: This community is particularly significant, given Canadian Jewry’s historical lack of a strong progressive community.

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