Say what you want – just don't expect taxpayers to pay
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
February 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
It's never smart to call a federal cabinet minister a “whore” – not when you depend on him for money. But Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, is a fearless man. At a recent anti-Israel rally, he referred to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney as a “professional whore” for supporting Israel.
He called Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff professional whores, too. A couple of years ago, when five children from Montreal were killed in the Lebanon war, he said Mr. Harper was “complicit in their killing.” At the Liberal convention at which Bob Rae ran for leader, he circulated a letter accusing Mr. Rae of being a racist Zionist, and pointing out that his wife is a Jew.
Last week, Mr. Kenney bit back. He asked his bureaucrats to yank the CAF's $447,000 grant. “They can say what they want within the parameters of our laws, but they shouldn't expect a priori funding.” Now the CAF is accusing Mr. Kenney of trying to stifle its right to democratic speech. According to executive director Mohamed Boudjenane, the government's real motive for punishing the CAF is most likely political. “They maybe decided to go after the Zionist vote, like Reisman and Schwartz and Tannenbaum – people who used to be Liberal.”
With a budget of more than $1-million a year, the Canadian Arab Federation depends heavily for its existence on taxpayers' money. It claims this funding is used entirely for programs that help newcomers adjust to Canadian society, and to fight racism and Islamophobia. “Our activity as an advocacy group has nothing to do with our political activity,” Mr. Boudjenane says.
But the CAF's website tells another story. The home page urges people to join protests against the “massacre on Gaza.” It links to dozens of anti-Israel articles, and gives prominent play to the winners of a recent essay contest on “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” The website was developed with a grant of $60,000 from the federal Department of Heritage.
The CAF is a prominent sponsor of anti-Israel demonstrations, which feature people waving Hamas and Hezbollah flags, and people calling for the state of Israel to be wiped off the planet. One video shows a woman pointing toward the camera and declaring: “Jewish child, you're going to f—— die. Hamas is coming for you.”
Although the CAF purports to speak for the community, it doesn't care for Muslims who don't share its views. Ali Mallah, the vice-president for Ontario, has repeatedly referred to members of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a moderate group, as “house Negroes.”
Free speech can be ugly. That's democracy. The question is not whether the CAF should be able to say whatever it wants. The question is whether the rest of us should be paying for it.
On top of the money it gets from Ottawa, the CAF also gets money from Ontario, Quebec and even the cash-strapped city of Toronto, which recently gave it $25,000 for a public media campaign to address the “misrepresentation” of Arabs and Muslims in the media. It got another $75,000 from Ontario's government to help victims of crime and to conduct a survey on discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. It and other groups also get income from conducting anti-racism education; the Canadian Islamic Congress (which is ideologically identical to the CAF), for instance, was invited by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to give “sensitivity” training to the people whose job it is to keep terrorists off airplanes.
Like other groups that purport to speak for immigrants and minorities, the CAF is highly skilled at grantsmanship. The grant proposals from these groups are full of jargon such as “racialized,” “ethnocultural youth” and “marginalized neighbourhoods.” Most would not exist at all without the government. The people who run them go to one another's conferences, serve on one another's boards, and approve one another's grants. It isn't clear how well they reflect the views of the groups they purport to represent, or how effective they are at helping immigrants. But they are quite effective at using the problems of immigrants to create jobs for themselves.
Most of these groups take it as a given that Canadian society is deeply flawed by racism and injustice. This dismal view of their adopted land permeates everything they do. Recently, I spoke with a young Muslim woman who took a leadership course run by an outfit called the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women. “They spent a lot of time talking about how racist Canada is,” she told me. “I found that a bit strange. Sure, there's racism in Canada. I've faced it. But I think that, if the government is funding such programs, they should be focusing more on the positive aspects of Canada.”
So why do such folks deserve our money? They don't. But this is Canada. Only in Canada can people enjoy the largesse of the state by attacking it.
For the record, the Muslim Canadian Congress doesn't get any public money. Neither does the Canadian Jewish Congress, the country's largest Jewish advocacy group. But according to Mr. Boudjenane, that money is a right. “Government cannot tell one group that they deserve tax money and another that they don't,” he insists. “We just want to be able to express our views like all citizens.”
The young Muslim woman has a different take. “Why not focus on your new home?” she says. “If you have to protest, do it on your own personal time.” She's tired of hearing what an awful, racist society this is. “I've had to work very hard here. But you know, I've had great opportunities.”