Tag: Freedom of religion


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Egyptian Historian: Drop the Palestinians, Normalize With Israel: Ari Soffer, Arutz Sheva, June 1, 2015— A prominent Egyptian historian took to national television last week to make an unusually open and robust case for Egypt to "drop the Palestinian cause and normalize relations with Israel."

Egypt's Religious Freedom Farce: Oren Kessler, National Interest, May 21, 2015 — President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt presents himself as an Islamic reformer.

Egyptian Bishop: Security Services Complicit in Anti-Christian Violence: Raymond Ibrahim, Coptic Solidarity, May 4, 2015 — In a 25-minute interview on Arabic satellite TV with Dr. Mona Roman, Coptic Christian Bishop Agathon fully exposed the plight of his Christian flock in Minya, Egypt—a region that has a large Coptic minority that is steadily under attack.

The Last Seven Jews in Egypt: Mina Thabet, Real Clear World, May 15, 2015 — Egyptian Jews are having to face the ugly truth that their community appears bound to vanish.


On Topic Links


Israel and Egypt Grow Closer, but Anti-Semitism Remains Part of the Equation: Sean Savage, JNS, June 8, 2015

Egypt Dismisses Human Rights Report as Politicized, Biased: Jerusalem Post, June 9, 2015

Why I Am Suing Al Jazeera: An Open Letter From Mohamed Fahmy: Egyptian Streets, June 3, 2015

Turkey: Muslim Brothers' Protector: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, June 9, 2015





Ari Soffer                                                                                                            

Arutz Sheva, June 1, 2015


A prominent Egyptian historian took to national television last week to make an unusually open and robust case for Egypt to "drop the Palestinian cause and normalize relations with Israel." In a lengthy interview with Egypt's Mehwar TV on May 28 – segments of which were translated by MEMRI – historian Maged Farag insisted it was time for Egyptians to leave "the old ideology and cultural heritage on which we were raised" – namely, rabid anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism – in favor of a more rational focus on Egypt's own national interests.


"What I'm saying is that we should pay attention to the interests of our country," he told his interviewer. "There are no such things as eternal enmity or eternal love. There are only eternal interests. We should identify our country's interest. Churchill once said that he was ready to cooperate with the Devil in the interest of his country. As a man who knows a little bit about history and about international relations, I believe that it is in our interest to maintain normal relations with Israel."


Noting that in practice there already is close cooperation on security, political and other issues between the two countries' respective governments, Farag asserted: "The state is not the problem. The problem lies with the people, who still live the old ideology and the cultural heritage on which we were raised. Our generation was raised upon hatred and upon these people being barbaric…" Indeed, despite Israel and Egypt successfully maintaining an official peace treaty since 1979, popular sentiment inside Egypt is still largely – though not exclusively – anti-Israel. Anti-Semitism is also rife in the country, which is the most populous Arab state in the world.  Egypt was home to around 80,000 Jews in 1948, but expelled most of them and seized their property as part of a wider campaign of ethnic-cleansing carried out by Arab states in "revenge" for the defeat of Arab armies by the nascent State of Israel in 1948.


Key to that outdated mentality was Egypt's continued support for the "Palestinian cause," Farag posited. Since Egypt had achieved a just peace with the State of Israel, there was no rational or logical reason for it to maintain any hostility towards the Jewish state, he said – particularly when the Palestinians themselves "have no interest" in actually ending the conflict, short of annihilating Israel altogether. "For over 70 years, the Palestinian cause has brought upon Egypt and the Egyptians nothing but harm, destruction, and expense. We have been preoccupied all our lives with the Palestinian cause. "The Palestinian cause is Palestinian," he continued. "Egypt's problem has been resolved."


Referring to the Sinai Peninsula – which Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War, and handed over to Egypt as part of their 1979 peace treaty – he added: "The occupied land has been liberated. End of story, as far as I'm concerned. Let us now live and care about the interests of my country." "Am I supposed to shackle myself to the Palestinian cause? Let the (Palestinians) resolve it… We have tried to help them many times." "They don't think it is in their interest," he said of the Palestinians themselves. "They don't want to resolve their own problem."


Farag also brushed off criticism of a recent visit he paid to Israel, during which he posted pictures of himself at famous Muslim, Christian and Jewish sites, as well as other Israeli attractions. He retorted that he was "not afraid" of openly visiting a neighboring country, and noted that many other Egyptians work and have relations with Israel and Israelis, but simply don't admit to it. "I still don't understand what the big deal is. I met many Egyptians there, and many Egyptians have visited Israel. I don't understand why my visit there made people so angry," he said.


Farag also busted a common Egyptian myth that a large sign exists outside of Israel's Knesset declaring the country's attempt to expand "from the Nile to the Euphrates." "This is not true. There is no such thing," he informed viewers. "We all know that this is not true, but people keep saying this to heat up the hostility."


His vision for Israeli-Egyptian relations is one of total cooperation – citing by way of example the relationship between Germany and France, who until the latter half of the twentieth century had been at war on and off for hundreds of years. "Normal relations require, first of all, cultural exchange," he explained. "I must not fear the other. So long as I fear the other, nothing good can develop. We should not fear (Israel). We should visit there. There should be tourist exchange, and economic exchange. There are Israeli companies that specialize in modern drip irrigation. They have very advanced irrigation technology. We have a water problem. We have a shortage of water. Why can't we take advantage of their technology, of their thought, and of the results of their research?”


"They used this technology to cultivate the desert, so why can't we use it here? Why can't I benefit from someone who used to be my enemy? I'm not looking to force him to become my friend. I want him as a partner in developing agriculture and industry in Egypt." Challenged by his interviewer as to how Egyptian schools should teach about the numerous wars between Israel and Egypt, he stated simply: "We should teach that there were wars in '48, '56, '67, and '73, and that these wars came to an end, that we signed a peace treaty, and we should set our eyes on the future. That's it.  Israel exists, whether we like it or not, and it will continue to exist, whether we like it or not. So let's just accept this."                                        






Oren Kessler                                                                                                                                  

National Interest, May 21, 2015


President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt presents himself as an Islamic reformer. He has challenged the sheikhs of Al-Azhar University—Sunni Islam’s preeminent religious institution—to promote moderation, and took the bold step (by Egyptian standards) of wishing worshippers a merry Christmas in Cairo’s Coptic cathedral. The moves are commendable, but do little to alter an unfortunate reality: while Egypt’s penal code prohibits “insulting heavenly religions or those following it,” the law is enforced for just one faith: Sunni Islam.


Egypt takes religion seriously. By law, Egyptians are only allowed to practice one of the three recognized monotheistic religions: Islam (implicitly Sunni Islam—the faith of the overwhelming majority), Christianity (representing some ten percent of the population) and Judaism (today, Egypt has exactly seven Jews, down from 75,000 in 1947). Still, Egyptians may only practice the creed they’re born into—the government does not recognize Muslim conversions to Christianity, and conversion from either faith to Judaism is nonexistent—unless the target faith is Islam.


The latest annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, issued earlier this month, found that while the majority of Egypt’s blasphemy charges were levied against members of the Sunni majority, the bulk of prison sentences were doled out to Christians, followed by Shiite Muslims and atheists.


In June 2014, shortly after Sisi’s election, a court in Luxor sentenced four Christians to up to six years in prison for posting photos to Facebook deemed insulting to Islam. The same month, a journalist (a Muslim who had begun practicing Christianity in an unrecognized conversion) was given five years in jail for supposedly offending Islam by reporting on anti-Christian violence in Upper Egypt (some of the charges were later dropped, but he remains imprisoned). The punishments for these alleged verbal slights against Islam come as mob attacks against Coptic churches regularly go unpunished.


Meanwhile, slander of the Jewish faith and its adherents is a fixture of contemporary Egyptian life. Anecdotal and statistical evidence puts Egypt in the running for the world’s most anti-Semitic nation: with 98 percent of the public expressing unfavorable opinions of Jews, it exceeds even the accomplished records of its Arab neighbors. The story of Egyptian Judeophobia is a long one, but today, Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are mainstays of Cairo book kiosks, and foreign journalists are beaten and sexually assaulted on imaginary charges of being Jewish. Mainstream, otherwise liberal actors appear in grotesque Judeophobic entertainment, and Sisi’s election nearly a year ago has done nothing to slow the flow of anti-Jewish calumnies on public and private television.


Jews and Christians, however, at least enjoy the nominal right to live according to their beliefs. Woe to anyone who follows neither of the three state-approved faiths: atheism remains grounds for ostracism, and members of Egypt’s Shia community are treated like lepers. Late last year, the Religious Endowments Ministry launched a campaign to warn imams of the “growing threat” of the Baha’i creed, lest citizens fall prey to “deviant thoughts that destroy the minds of young people.” Baha'is—at most a few thousands out of the country’s 82 million people—“threaten Islam specifically and Egyptian society in general,” the ministry said, which last month expanded the campaign to counter atheism and Shia Islam.


Egypt is, by any measure, a conservative country. A comprehensive Pew poll conducted in 2013 found three-quarters of the country’s Muslims want to live under sharia, while an earlier survey found eight in ten endorse stoning adulterers and maiming thieves. Nearly nine in ten favor the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. Views among Christians, while less austere, are also less than liberal. Marriage is only through the Church, while divorce requires permission from the Coptic Pope and is exceedingly rare. Even when granted, divorced parties are almost always prevented from remarrying.


Egypt’s Sunni Muslims need not worry—the country’s demographics ensure their faith will forever exert a stronger cultural pull than any other. Still, it’s bad enough that Egypt gives its citizens three religions to choose from. A government claiming to uphold religious diversity must do more to protect those choosing the unpopular creed or none at all. One of best gauges of a country’s freedom is the security the majority affords minorities. For Sisi’s Egypt to credibly claim the mantle of religious pluralism, it must extend that protection equally.                





SECURITY SERVICES COMPLICIT IN ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE                                                 

Raymond Ibrahim

Coptic Solidarity, May 4, 2015


In a 25-minute interview on Arabic satellite TV with Dr. Mona Roman, Coptic Christian Bishop Agathon fully exposed the plight of his Christian flock in Minya, Egypt—a region that has a large Coptic minority that is steadily under attack. While several important points were made, most notable was that the Egyptian State itself is often behind the persecution of and discrimination against Christians.


According to the frustrated-sounding bishop, local governmental authorities—including the State Security apparatus—are not just ignoring the attacks on Copts, but are often the very ones behind them. For example, when the Copts were having a serious council meeting with government officials about the possibility of building a church, one of the authorities actually contacted the Islamic sheikhs of the village asking whether they "stand with the Coptic church or with the State?" If the latter, each Muslim household was instructed to send one family member to protest against the proposed building of a church—so that security can then point to the mob and, as usual, just tell the Copts, "Sorry, no can do."


Other times, State Security is complicit: Male and female Christian minors—currently 21 from just Minya alone said the Coptic leader—are habitually abducted by surrounding Muslims. At the moment, the youngest Christian girl abducted had just started elementary school. Whenever any of these attacks occur, Copts, working with the church, prepare bundles of documents, including photos and other verifications, incriminating the culprits. These then are placed into the hands of top officials, to make sure they don't get "lost" or "misplaced" by underlings. The bishop named many of these top people—at no small risk to himself—and said he even put such proofs and documents into the hands of the Director of Intelligence himself. "Absolutely nothing was done," said the despondent Christian.


He discussed the difficulties that Copts encounter whenever they want to build a church—due to their dearth, some of the current churches serve tens of thousands of Christians—or even make simple repairs. By way of example, he explained how the Virgin Mary Church in Safaniya village has no bathrooms or running water. Christians "tried time and time again to get approval to build bathrooms, to no avail." The bishop lamented how elderly and sick people sometimes urinate on themselves during service, while mothers must change their crying babies' diapers right on the pews. In response, authorities told the bishop to "Go and ask the Muslims of your region if they will approve the building of a church, or bathroom, or anything—and if they do, so will we."


It should be noted that Islamic law specifically bans the construction or repair of churches. Clearly frustrated, the bishop added: "We as Copts are human beings. And envy takes us when we see our Muslim brothers build mosques where they will, how they will, at any place and at any time. And the State helps them! But as for us, we cannot build anything and that which is already open is being closed…. We, the Copts, are citizens with rights; and we see Muslims get whatever they want, while we are always prevented."


The Coptic bishop also said that sometimes Christians are punished whenever they go and "bother" authorities about their treatment. For example, when a Coptic delegation went to make a formal complaint, one of them was immediately kidnapped. His kidnappers demanded and received 120,000 Egyptian pounds for his release. Police were notified—even told where the exchange of money for hostage was to take place—but did absolutely nothing. The bishop referred to this incident as a "punishment" while Dr. Roman, the Coptic hostess, called Minya, Egypt a "State of Retribution" against those Copts who dare refuse to suffer quietly," adding, "Al-Minya is apparently not an Egyptian province; it is governed by ISIS."


Finally, Bishop Agathon made clear the despondency he and the average Christian in Egypt feel, repeatedly saying that, no matter which official they talk to, "nothing will change." If anything, the plight of Egypt's Christians has gone "from bad to worse," said the bishop: "We hear beautiful words but no solution." Dr. Roman concluded by imploring Egyptian President Sisi, saying: "I've said it before: President Sisi is very meticulous and aware of the nation's issues. Why, then, is it that the Coptic plight in Minya is being ignored? Why is he turning a blind eye toward it?" Bishop Agathon concluded by saying that "Copts are between a state anvil and aggressor hammers," meaning that, the state serves only to keep its Christian citizens in place while Islamic radicals pound away at them.                                  




THE LAST SEVEN JEWS IN EGYPT                                                                                         

Mina Thabet                                              

Real Clear World, May 15, 2015


Egyptian Jews are having to face the ugly truth that their community appears bound to vanish. As recently as 1947, Egypt's Jewish community numbered up to 80,000. Today, by most accounts, there are just seven Egyptian Jews left, most of whom are elderly women in need of daily medical care. The last time I met Nadia Haroun, one of the last survivors of Egypt's Jewish community, was in November 2013. I remember that day because I met her at the same time as her older sister Magda, the community's leader.

Jews represent the oldest religious community in Egypt, which has faced a wave of propaganda, defamation and hate speech over the years. That legacy is still felt today through stereotypes and slurs that persist in everyday language. I was criticized for writing an article in Arabic entitled, "We are sorry, Jews." Some wondered how a Christian could defend Jews, who some blame for taking part in the crucifixion of Jesus. Ironically, many of those critics are Muslims extremists, some of whom themselves discriminate against Christians.


Unfortunately, Egyptian history is full of violations of the essential rights of minorities and vulnerable groups. On Nov. 2, 1945, anti-British, anti-Zionist (and anti-Jewish) demonstrations took place in Cairo on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. A synagogue was burned down, 27 Torah scrolls were desecrated, and among the buildings damaged or destroyed were a soup kitchen, a home for the elderly, a shelter for poor transients, the Jewish hospital, the quarters of the Art Society and several Jewish public buildings.


After the 1948 war, a hostile environment against Jews worsened, as they were suspected of acting as a "fifth column" for Israel. After the 1952 coup, Jews were subject to detention, deportation and sequestration. In the mid-1950s, then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser initiated his policy of nationalization, which had a devastating impact on the Jewish community, as it controlled a broad sector of the Egyptian economy. American diplomats noted that sequestration decisions were filed against 539 Jews by name and 105 companies, in addition to Jews covered in the sequential orders filed against British and French nationals.


In November 1956, the regime modified its citizenship and nationality laws in order to keep Jews and other minorities from becoming Egyptian citizens. The situation became more complicated at the end of November, when at least 500 Egyptian and stateless Jews had been expelled from Egypt, not including a considerable number of Jewish citizens from Britain and France. Most of the them were heads of families, and they were ordered to leave the country within days. In most cases, the individual served with a deportation order was responsible for supporting his family, so all members of the family would have to leave the country. This measure led to the mass migration of Jews, who nearly vanished from Egypt.


A small number of Jewish families stayed in Egypt, among them leftist activist Chehata Haroun and his family. According to Haroun's daughter, Magda, when her father tried to fly her older sister to Paris for medical treatment, Egyptian authorities would only approve an exit visa with no return, so his daughter died without treatment and he never left the country. When he died in 2001, his family had to bring in a French rabbi to perform the ritual prayer for him, because there was no rabbi in Egypt. The same happened with Nadia, who died in March 2014. I had the honor of attending her funeral. Egyptian state officials did not attend, even though they typically attend funerals of Al-Azhar sheikhs or bishops from the Coptic Church. Nadia left her older sister Magda alone to carry the burden of Egypt's Jewish community.


On the first anniversary of Nadia's death, Magda went to her older sister's grave along with her current Christian husband and her Muslim daughters from a previous marriage to perform their rites. She found that a group of youth had desecrated her sister's grave. They also insulted her and Judaism. I can't imagine how Magda felt about that. It's very hard for anyone to see their beloved insulted in life and death, just because they had a different religion.


Despite the fact that Egypt has some of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world, they have been left vulnerable to desecration and vandalism. Cemeteries are not the only neglected part of Jewish legacy in Egypt. According to Magda, there are about 12 Jewish synagogues in Cairo and Alexandria left without maintenance. The majority were closed because there is no one left to pray there. There are also registers belonging to Egypt's Jewish community, which are part of history that need to be digitalized and safeguarded. The original written Torah also needs to be restored and kept in a museum, along with other parts of this dying community's heritage.


Magda once told me about her deepest fear – that after she is gone, what remains of Egypt's Jewish heritage will be lost. I remember her comments at her sister's funeral. She looked in my eye and said, "'It's your history, Mina.' Then she turned to one of her friends and said, 'It's your history, Mohamed.'"


About six decades of propaganda and hate speech finally led to the end of this country's Jewish community. The same hate speech led to the forced evictions of the Baha'i from Sohag in 2009. The same hate speech led to the brutal murder of four Shia men in June 2013. The same hate speech led to a swell of sectarian violence against Christians, with dozens of churches burned down, and dozens more Christian homes and stores looted since 2011.


Hate speech and lack of equal protection under the law inside create a hostile environment for minorities. Since 2011, at least 40 incidents of sectarian violence have occurred in Egypt. Most of these followed hate speech, which incited the perpetrators to commit the attacks. Since 2011, sectarian violence has taken the lives of at least 100 Egyptians, where the absence of accountability and protection for vulnerable groups has become all too common. We should learn from our mistakes. We should start preserving our Jewish heritage and restore our synagogues. We should face down hate speech and discrimination. We should stop sectarian violence and bring its perpetrators to justice.






On Topic


Israel and Egypt Grow Closer, but Anti-Semitism Remains Part of the Equation: Sean Savage, JNS, June 8, 2015 —As the Middle East grapples with the fallout of the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions and the rise of terror groups like Islamic State, Arab states have sought increased cooperation with Israel in areas such as military and intelligence in order to confront ongoing threats.

Egypt Dismisses Human Rights Report as Politicized, Biased: Jerusalem Post, June 9, 2015—The Egyptian government on Tuesday dismissed a report that accused it of widespread human rights violations as politicized and lacking in objectivity and accuracy.

Why I Am Suing Al Jazeera: An Open Letter From Mohamed Fahmy: Egyptian Streets, June 3, 2015—In June 2014, Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, which he is currently appealing, on charges of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, broadcasting false news and operating without an equipment and operational license.

Turkey: Muslim Brothers' Protector: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, June 9, 2015 —What do Syria, Egypt and Libya have common? They are all at various degrees of cold war with Turkey, which they accuse of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamist terrorists in their countries.











The genocidal atrocities being perpetrated daily on the Yazidi people by the Islamic State  have vanished from media radar.   They have been targeted by the IS  for death, forced conversion and sexual slavery. The killing, the torture of thousands; the abduction of girls as young as eight, raped, sold, used as sex slaves by IS fighters, continues unabated. 

Last Friday morning a group met with Yazidis at the Zionist Centre on Marlee, to hear their story and to help raise public awareness of their plight. Participating was Dr. Mordechai Kedar, renowned Arab and Middle East expert, whose cutting edge ideas and leadership abilities have led many to call him the Winston Churchill of our day.  A professor at Bar Ilan University, he also served for many years in the  IDF's Intelligence, specializing on all facets of Islam.  He was in town for a series of lectures.

Hearing Mirza Ismail talk about his people, was eerily reminiscent of the history of the  Jewish people.  He is Chairman of the  Yezidi Human Rights Organization International.  Like the Jews, the Yezidis are an ancient  people, dating back 6,000 years.  Their origin is in the heart of Mesopotamia, the birth place of civilization. They have been attacked again and again over the centuries by Islamic forces, "just because we have a different culture and religion".  Today they are on the verge of annihilation.  "And the world is silent", he told the group in despair.  The Yazidis have an ancient monotheistic religion that is neither Christian nor Muslim.

The present plight of the Yazidis is disturbingly similar to what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust. They were persecuted and targeted for  genocide simply because they were Jews and were abandoned by the world.  This time the enemy is wearing black hoods instead of brown shirts.

There are 500,000 -700,000 Yazidis, largely based in Northern Iraq in the province of Nineveh and Mt. Sinjar. But they are also in Syria , Turkey, Iran, Russia, Georgia and Armenia, forced to flee their ancient homelands.  Some are also in the US and about 85 families live in Canada.

In August, 2014, ISIS attacked and took over the Kurdish controlled town of Sinjhar, driving more than 50,00 Yazidis out of their homes and fleeing for their lives to Sinjar Mountain.  An estimated 10,000 men have been executed and as many as 7,000 women and girls have been made sex slaves and sold.  Four hundred escaped and told horrific tales of brutality; multiple rape – 20 to 30 times daily – beatings, being forced to give blood to wounded ISIS fighters. 

Eyewitnesses report stories of beheadings, rape and children dying of starvation and dehydration. William Devlin, a New York pastor who visited in January, called the present situation of more than 300,000 refugees "genocidal and insane" in dire need of humanitarian aid. In the camp "hospitals" there are no doctors.  "For the Yazidis there is no doctors without borders", Merza told the group.  Why in the 21st Century, everybody knows, but nobody cares about our lives?" Furthermore, they are treated "with no respect" by the Muslim UN workers in the camps, he said.

Twelve thousand are still on Mt. Sinjar, totally isolated, lacking food, water and "most important," said Mirza, "arms.  "The US and Europe are giving arms to the Kurds to give to the Yazidis, but they don't.  The world thinks the Kurds are protecting them, but they don't give them any support." Mirza connected Dr. Kedar by telephone to a Yazidi on Mt. Sinjar. They spoke in Arabic.  I could hear the desperation in his voice over the speaker phone. "The world is not taking them seriously.  They have no power because they are not sufficiently organized," said Dr. Kedar.  He proceeded to tell them how to "package" themselves to get the attention of the media and the world.  "If you are not on the media, you don't exist," he said.  Later he arranged a meeting for them with the Indian Consul General.

"Our voices must be their voices," said JIMENA's (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) president, Gina Waldman.  "Their plight must be our plight."


We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org




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Dancing the Diversity PolkaBarbara Kay, National Post, Sept. 4, 2013—Of all Canada’s political party leaders, Pauline Marois may well be Canada’s clumsiest communicator. Almost every pronouncement she makes about language and Quebec culture — little else seems to preoccupy her — draws both internal and external critical fire.
Quebec’s Disgraceful ‘Values Charter’Charles Bybelezer, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 8, 2013—Last week, a Quebec government spokesperson revealed that the Canadian province’s premier, Pauline Marois, received emergency treatment in September at Montreal’s Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital.
France’s ‘Beautiful Notion’ of Secularism is not a Model for QuebecJack Jedwab, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 3, 2013—For a romantic getaway you can’t beat France. It’s a great place to visit, but as a member of a religious minority it doesn’t appear these days to be the best place to live.
Charter of Values Hints that Quebec Having Second Thoughts Over Mad Dash for ImmigrantsTristin Hopper, National Post, Oct. 9, 2013—Ever since its birth rate plunged in the 1960s, Quebec has, like the rest of Canada, been on a mad dash to fill its ranks with immigrants from the rest of the French-speaking world.
On Topic Links
Quebec's Values Charter Forcing Rethink of Catholicism, Religious IdentityMichelle Gagnon, CBC News, Oct 02, 2013
Parti Quebecois Considers Removing Crucifix from Legislature : Ishmael N. Daro, O.Canada.com, Oct. 9, 2013
Charter Of Quebec Values Would Harm Economy, Drive Away Top Talent: Federation Of Quebec Chambers Of CommerceKatherine Wilton, The Gazette September 25, 2013

Barbara Kay
National Post, Sept. 4, 2013
Of all Canada’s political party leaders, Pauline Marois may well be Canada’s clumsiest communicator. Almost every pronouncement she makes about language and Quebec culture — little else seems to preoccupy her — draws both internal and external critical fire. It’s hard to know what motivates Marois’s proposed projects, such as the now floundering Bill 14, which would so further constrict Bill 101’s already severe French-language protections that it became an international scandal. Is it racism, or a Macchiavellian strategy to whip up anti-Quebec sentiment, which could raise ethnic wagon-circling to “winning conditions” referendum fervour?
Indeed criticism from those in the rest of Canada or from federalist Quebecers may be to Marois what the death penalty is to jihadists: a reward for their martyrdom to a sacred cause. The more opprobrium she receives from outsiders, the more sympathetic she is to “family.” If opprobrium is what Marois wants, she is getting it in spades — internally and externally — for her latest caper, her government’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values. The Charter would reportedly ban anyone in public service from wearing religious symbols like turbans, hijabs, kippas or ostentatious religious jewellery. To many observers, this project confirms what they have always suspected: that Marois is a blatant racist.
Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard called such a potential ban “unreasonable.” That was kind compared to denunciations from outside the province from pundits and politicians alike. On Sunday, Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the proposed text was a “violation” of Canadian ethics, and invited any Quebecers committed to religiously significant garb to come on down to Calgary, where “diversity” is celebrated.
Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne weighed in as well, expanding on “diversity” and “inclusiveness” as sources of strength for Ontario. Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister Michael Coteau had previously boasted that “Ontario’s diversity and freedom of expression and religion is a model to the world.”
I must confess — I realize what follows will earn me the multiculturalism Party Pooper of the Year award — that if I hear the words “diversity” and “inclusiveness” one more time from a misty-eyed politician, I may have to take a Gravol and apply a cold cloth to my forehead. Even worse, I find myself tempted to defend Mme Marois, a politician for whom I have very little respect, and whose government I hope will soon fall.
I don’t know whether Marois is a racist. I do know that multiculturalism presents problems that many other politicians are too politically correct to address. Diversity and inclusiveness are abstract terms. Regular prayer sessions in schools, in which girls sit at the back and are excluded when they are menstruating, is a fact. Kitschy endorsements of diversity and inclusiveness are not useful in dealing with such situations.
As has been pointed out by other observers, Quebec’s intellectuals and influence-makers take their philosophical positions about society more from collectivist European models than from the British tradition of privileging individual rights. France, a country to which many Quebec intellectuals look for inspiration, has in recent years taken a very tough-love approach to multiculturalism. They banned the hijab in schools years ago and ban the niqab now. Is France a racist society? Or simply a society whose cultural tradition confers greater social value in a uniform public identity than in identifiable cultural silos that fragment an atmosphere of civic unity?
Make no mistake. The proposed Quebec Charter of Secular Values is not about kippas, pendant crosses or hijabs. It is, in my opinion, about the niqab. Two years ago, to my regret, Bill 94, a bill proposed by the provincial Liberals that would have banned face cover in the giving and getting of public service, died in gestation.
The Quebec government then, and now, made it clear that while diversity and inclusiveness are fine ideals, there are limits to what any society based in democratic principles can tolerate. There are red lines that cannot be crossed in the name of diversity. Face cover is one of them, so I think all this talk of other accessories is just camouflage for the real target.
So yes, the proposed Charter goes way too far. Yes, the optics are terrible and portray this government as unfriendly to those not of the heritage culture. Yes, yes, yes to all that. But in spite of all the things that are wrong with the Charter, the fears that are driving it are neither evil nor even unrealistic. What is unrealistic is to assume that dancing the diversity-and-inclusiveness polka is the answer to multiculturalism’s inherent risks.


Charles Bybelezer
Jerusalem Post, Oct. 8, 2013
Last week, a Quebec government spokesperson revealed that the Canadian province’s premier, Pauline Marois, received emergency treatment in September at Montreal’s Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital. More commonly referred to by locals simply as “The Jewish,” the hospital was established in 1934, primarily by Jews, at a time when it was difficult for members of the Jewish community to pursue careers in medicine due to the enforcement of quotas at various universities limiting their enrollment numbers and opportunities thereafter. Nevertheless, the hospital has always been open to service all patients regardless of religion, race or ethnic background. Today, it remains Quebec’s most diverse hospital.
It is therefore strikingly ironic – and patently hypocritical – that Marois sought treatment at the hospital, given her status as the leader of the Parti Quebecois, which currently forms the provincial minority government and which recently announced it would be advancing legislation – the “Charter of Quebec Values” – which, if passed, would ban all public sector employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols at work, including kippas, hijabs, turbans, “large” crosses, etc. As part of the Quebec Medicare system, the Jewish General Hospital would be required to abide by any such mandate. Yet it is nearly certain that at least one of the doctors who treated Marois – perhaps even saved her life – wore what she and her party apparently deem unacceptable workplace garb.
The Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values is part and parcel of an increasingly rampant, worldwide movement – especially and tragically so in Europe, where the enactment of legislation restricting Jewish freedoms preceded the community’s mass extermination on the continent mere decades ago – to ban male circumcision as well as the ritual slaughter of animals; both common Jewish and, for that matter, Islamic religious practices.
Canada’s federal government – led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper – has rightfully vowed to review the constitutionality of any such law (were it ever to come into effect), with Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney recently asserting that, “If it’s determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously.” Still, the gravity of the situation calls for the immediate implementation of assertive peremptory measures.
Just as Israel called last week on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to annul a resolution against circumcision, the government should likewise instruct its emissaries to Quebec to openly denounce the plan, as well as lobby members of the Quebec National Assembly to defeat the initiative. (As the Parti Quebecois leads a minority government, it would need the support of parliamentarians from other parties to pass the Charter.) This sort of campaign should generally be spearheaded by the organized Canadian Jewish community; however, to date, there has been scant, if any, public condemnation of the proposal on its part.
For example, The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations system in Canada, responded to the announcement by releasing a tepid statement merely pointing out the obvious, namely that “The proposed Charter of Quebec Values… is at odds with the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proposed Charter undermines the very sense of unity within Quebec society that it claims to uphold.”
Nowhere in CIJA’s three-paragraph statement is there any explicit denunciation of the proposal, nor is any attention paid to how it will infringe specifically on the province’s Jewish population (on whose behalf CIJA is supposed to be advocating). Nor does the Center address the fact that the intended legislation also aims to revise Quebec’s human rights act in order to negate the highlighted contradiction at the provincial level.
The Center also made the peculiar choice of issuing a joint statement, in conjunction with the Civic Education Society – located about 3,500 kilometers away from Quebec in the province of British Columbia – whose mandate is to create “A World of Multicultural Harmony.”
To its credit, CIJA commendably encouraged Quebec Jewry to participate in large numbers in a recently held demonstration against the proposed Charter, presumably so that the community’s “voice” could be heard. Unfortunately, the rally was organized by the Rassemblement des citoyens et citoyennes engagé(e)s pour un Québec ouvert (The Assembly of Citizens [both masculine and feminine] for an Open Quebec), another multicultural entity. The Jewish community’s message was thus no doubt largely drowned out amid the sea of “humanity.”
However, it is imperative to emphasize the Judeo-centric nature of this critical issue given that Quebec society is, in large part, notoriously anti-Israel, often a mask for flat-out anti-Semitism. The overt anti-Israelism of many prominent Quebecois figures is shocking. The most notable of these Israel-haters is Amir Khadir, a member of the provincial government best known for spearheading a boycott of a Montreal-based shoe store, called Le Marcheur, because two percent of the boutique’s inventory comprised Israeli-made apparel.
For 18 months, the store’s courageous owner, Mr. Yves Archambault, a native francophone with no previous ties to the Jewish community or to Israel, refused to yield in the face of malicious weekly demonstrations outside his shop, which decimated his bottom line. All the while, and despite his disgusting involvement in the hate campaign, opinion polls consistently found Khadir to be Quebec’s most popular politician.
There is also a seemingly endless pool of anti-Israel media personalities in Quebec, inarguably led by Stephane Gendron, who, when not bashing the Jewish state on radio or television, doubles as mayor of Huntingdon, a small town located 75 kilometers from Montreal. Among other things, Gendron has described Israel, on his French-language talk show, as an apartheid regime that does not deserve to exist, and Israelis as modern-day Nazis.
Over the past year, two other high-profile French-language radio hosts have come under intense fire for their anti- Israel/Jewish statements. First, Benoit Dutrizac breached the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s code of ethics when he called on listeners to honk their horns while passing through a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Montreal on Rosh Hashanah to protest a bylaw against noisy outdoor activity on the High Holy Days. Dutrizac said the spiteful act was necessary to send a message to the Jews that they would not be permitted to dictate how Quebecers live in their “own” society.
Two months later, Jacques Fabi was widely condemned for failing to confront an Arab caller into his show who compared Israelis to dogs and hailed the Holocaust as the most beautiful event in history. Fabi eventually piped up – explaining that he found the behavior of Montreal’s Jewish community “annoying.”
With this kind of venom being spewed across Quebec’s airwaves, it is not surprising that polls show that support for the “Quebec Charter of Values” is growing among the public.
In a recent survey conducted by SOM, one of the largest polling firms in Quebec, 66 percent of respondents said they approved of the initiative, a figure which peaked at 71% among native francophones, who comprise 80% of the province’s population. (It is worthwhile noting that CIJA’s website wrongly contends, perhaps inadvertently, that “an increasing number of Quebecers firmly oppose the unreasonable measures set forth by the [provincial] government”).
It is impossible to contextualize the Quebec government’s initiative without briefly examining another of the province’s controversial laws, the “Charter of the French Language,” arguably the most xenophobic, insular and “provincial” legislation in the Western world.
Commonly referred to as Bill 101, the law, among other restrictions, bans the display of uniquely English-language signs throughout the province, as well as bilingual signs in which the English (or any language other than French) font is more than one-third the size of its mandatory French counterpart. (Imagine, for a moment, the uproar that would ensue if ever Israel were to adopt similar conditions on the use of Arabic.)
Today, the Office québécois de la langue française (The Quebec Office of the French Language) – also known to the province’s Anglophones as the “language police” or “tongue troopers” – is tasked with enforcing the law, with a taxpayer-derived budget of tens of millions of dollars. This entity is so extremely dedicated to its work that every few years some absurd incident garners it global media attention.
This past February, Montreal’s well known Buonanotte restaurant made worldwide headlines after the tongue troopers found it in violation of Bill 101; its menu contained words such as “pasta,” “pesce,” “antipasti” and “calamari.” The restaurant was even cited for including Italian words on the menu for which there are no French equivalents.
Amid this political and social environment, Quebec’s Jewish population has decreased by 25% – from over 120,000 to roughly 90,000 – since the Quebec nationalist/separatist movement rose to prominence in the mid-1970s. And if the “Charter of Quebec Values” is allowed to pass, it is not unreasonable to expect a second mass exodus of Jews from the province.
The Quebec government cannot be allowed to add to its anti-democratic and intolerant resume by banning forms of religious expression as it previously did with linguistic freedom. It is our duty as Jews to vehemently condemn, and fight tooth and nail against, the proposed legislation in order to preserve not only the broad rights of Quebec’s many minority groups, but also our specific heritage and customs as well.
Charles Bybelezer, former CIJR Publications Chairman, made aliyah last year and now works as a correspondent for i24 News, a recently launched international news network that broadcasts out of Israel.


Jack Jedwab
Globe and Mail, Oct. 3, 2013
For a romantic getaway you can’t beat France. It’s a great place to visit, but as a member of a religious minority it doesn’t appear these days to be the best place to live. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois recently pointed to France as a model for Quebec (and presumably for all of Canada) in its approach to diversity. The French national doctrine of secularism seems to be a source of inspiration for the Premier’s proposed Charter of Values.
While cautiously acknowledging imperfection in the French system, Ms. Marois prefers it to the British approach to diversity which she recently characterized as a source of severe social unrest and violence. While presumably not wanting to comment on the Quebec debate during a visit to the province last week, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici described French secularism as a “beautiful notion” that creates unity – not division. The terms he used resemble those being employed by the Quebec government to describe its Values Charter. The Quebec government conveniently chooses to ignore the deep inter-ethnic divisions around the Charter debate as reflected in public opinion surveys.
Underlying the French secularist ideology is the notion that it is the visible public expression of religious differences that causes one to experience discrimination. Presumably in the absence of such display the tensions will magically disappear. In effect the victim of discrimination is to blame because the victimizer was provoked into such behaviour by the sight of someone wearing a hijab, turban or keepa in the public domain. If it were true that the so-called “beautiful notion” of secularism reduced religious discrimination you might think that the proud French government would generate some supportive empirical evidence to that effect. This could be helpful to Ms. Marois the next time she chooses to publicly share her insight and expertise on comparative policies and practices in the area of migration and identity.
Unfortunately for Ms. Marois and Mr. Moscovici, the evidence on the French model points to a very different conclusion. Surveys conducted in June, 2012, by Eurobarometer (the polling arm of the European Commission) put France on top of the list amongst the 27 countries of the European Union as regards the extent to which its own population feel there is discrimination in society based on religion or beliefs. Two in three French citizens surveyed see such discrimination as widespread compared with half of the U.K. population. As regards discrimination outside the workplace on the basis of religion or beliefs France (55 per cent) records the highest percentage in the EU of people feeling it is widespread. France doesn’t do much better around the perception of ethnic discrimination outside the workplace with yet another EU record 76 per cent seeing it as widespread.
Yet more recent evidence further challenges Mr. Moscovici’s observation about the success of secularism. A March, 2013, study from one of France’s most reputable research firms (TNS-Sofres) conducted for the country’s human rights commission offers a very gloomy portrait of a fractured society that is profoundly divided over issues of identity, immigration and diversity. As regards national identity the report concludes that “far from being a source of unity, French identity is one of the principal sources of division.” The report does reveal that the majority of the French population is proud of its country’s secularism policy. This is likely proof that if you repeat something often enough people believe even with a lack of supporting evidence about its merits. Constant repetition by French officials about the wonders of secularism has likely fostered such a relatively uncritical outlook. The French illusion of unity via secularism is not backed up by causal demonstrations of a salient effect on intercultural harmony and cohesion.
With its proposed Charter of Values, the Parti Québécois wishes to borrow something from the French experience and transfer it onto Quebec accompanied by some of the same rhetoric around the potential for social harmony. Underlying the rhetoric the debate in Quebec thus far suggests that the government proposal is motivated by the politics of division and not by a genuine desire to promote harmony.
Jack Jedwab is executive vice-president of the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration



Tristin Hopper
National Post, Oct. 9, 2013
Ever since its birth rate plunged in the 1960s, Quebec has, like the rest of Canada, been on a mad dash to fill its ranks with immigrants from the rest of the French-speaking world. With the publication Tuesday [Oct 8] of its proposed Charter of Quebec Values banning the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public employees, the Parti Québécois government affirmed its readiness to play politics with minority rights.
Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville spoke of equality and fairness and said the proposals “promote social peace, harmony and cohesion in an increasingly diverse Quebec.”
But from the slogan chosen to promote the Charter to the diagram illustrating which religious symbols the government judges conspicuous, Pauline Marois’ PQ government is fostering an us-versus-them mentality.
Now, after tens of thousands of Moroccans, Tunisians and Algerians have answered the call — North Africans make up the largest block of newcomers to la belle province — the Parti Quebecois’ controversial Charter of Values hints at a government having second thoughts. “The perception of the government’s message is ‘We want you here, as long as you stay completely invisible,’ ” said Haroun Bouazzi with the Association of Muslims & Arabs for Quebec Secularism.
Until the 1950s, Quebec had one of the highest birth rates in the industrialized world. But after the Quiet Revolution, a sudden reversal of the province’s conservative, ultra-religious sensibilities precipitated a decline in fertility demographers have since described as “spectacular.” Quebec now has “one of the lowest birthrates in the world,” says the provincial Ministry of Immigration. The response has been to scour the planet for “young people with skills and a knowledge of French.”
In the 1950s, foreign-born citizens made up only 5.6% of the total population; the number is now more than 11%. “Quebec’s focus has been on getting immigrants who are able to speak French, and one of the places that such immigration comes from is North Africa,” said Jack Jedwab, executive vice-president of the Canadian Institute of Identities & Migration.
As far back as 2006, Arabs were the fastest-growing minority group in Quebec, their numbers having jumped 48.6% in only five years. By 2010, African immigrants represented 36.8% of all new Quebec arrivals, nearly as much as the total number of newcomers yielded by Europe and the Americas together.
 “The immigrants speak French, but you’ll also get a certain percentage that are religious, and within that group you’ll get some hijab wearers and a tiny, tiny group of people who wear the burka,” said Mr. Jedwab.
Asia/the Middle East is the No. 2 source of Quebec immigrants, yielding more than 65,000 new Quebeckers in 2007-11. Since 1981, for instance, the province has seen its Sikh population more than double to about 10,000. Under the proposed charter, civil servants would be banned from wearing Sikh turbans.
Critics of the new document argue it will badly affect Quebec’s ability to attract new immigrants, or even retain many of those already there. Quebec has the highest rate of immigrant unemployment in Canada.
Indeed, Jews, one of the groups targeted by the charter through a ban on yarmulkes, have been fleeing political instability in the province since the 1960s. From a 1971 peak of about 120,000, there were only 85,105 Jews in Quebec in 2011, according to the voluntary National Household Survey.
It was perhaps with this in mind that this week Quebec’s Combined Jewish Appeal launched its new slogan, “I’m here. For good.” Although Mr. Jedwab said he doubts the ability of the minority PQ government to turn the controversial charter into law, the “ironic outcome” of the proposal is it already seems to be pushing religious minorities away from integration. “It’s encouraging people to wear hijabs and kippahs, and so forth, as a response to the government,” he said. Mr. Bouazzi noted there is a real risk if the charter is enacted, Muslims would avoid the hijab ban by sending their children to private schools or even opening Muslim-specific hospitals.  “If we find ourselves separating into religion-specific enclaves, we think that’s really a shame for Quebec,” he said.



Quebec's Values Charter Forcing Rethink of Catholicism, Religious IdentityMichelle Gagnon, CBC News, Oct 02, 2013—To believe the polls, a new chapter of Quebec history may well be in the making, though it's one that looks to be borrowing heavily on its abandoned past.
Parti Quebecois Considers Removing Crucifix from Legislature: ReportIshmael N. Daro, O.Canada.com, Oct. 9, 2013
After weeks of sustained criticism, the Quebec government is not retreating from its proposed values charter that would ban religious symbols and clothing from government jobs and offices if passed into law.
Charter Of Quebec Values Would Harm Economy, Drive Away Top Talent: Federation Of Quebec Chambers Of CommerceKatherine Wilton, The Gazette September 25, 2013 — The proposed Charter of Quebec Values will harm the province's economic development and create social tensions that will make it difficult to attract top talent from around the world, the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec says.




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