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Shimon Fogel

Ramallah as seen from peak in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem
photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, August 18, 2012

Although officials from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on June 24 of this year, they was at least one issue that they did not raise with the PA.

By May of this year, the media was rife with reports that Jamal Abu Rihan, a Palestinian blogger spent 36 days in a Palestinian Authority prison in the West Bank for demanding an end to corruption in the PA.
The Winnipeg Jewish Review asked Shimon Fogel, CEO of CIJA   whether CIJA raised the issue of the recent PA crackdown on journalists who exposed corruption in the PA and criticized Palestinian leaders. Fogel answered "No, that particular issue did not come up in our discussion."
Fogel wrote to the Winnipeg Jewish Review that in its meeting with Abbas the issue of corruption did arise “We [CIJA] did raise the issue of [the PA's] diminished credibility resulting from ...reports of corruption [in the PA]. They were dismissive and suggested that such allegations are baseless, stimulated by those hostile to the PA in an effort to undermine the PA leadership. They claim to have expended a lot of effort to eradicate previous corruption and that the PA prime minister was universally recognized for having managed a "clean operation". In general, the PA has a problem of accepting responsibility and demonstrating accountability.'
When asked whether CIJA had raised with the PA the allegations by one of Yassir Arafat's most trusted aides, Mohammed Rashid, that Abbas and other PA officials have been involved in the embezzlement of public funds, Fogel responded, " It was part of the conversation referred to above – but we did not speak of Rashid in particular."

The Winnipeg Jewish Review also asked Fogel whether CIJA is satisfied that the PA is in the process of developing a justice system that accords with Canadian principles of justice, since the Canadian government has been allocating extensive sums to the development of a proper functioning justice system.

Fogel answered, “We do not believe that a culture of "the rule of law", the independence of the judiciary and media and true accountability has taken root within Palestinian society, although there are individuals and groups working towards enhancing those attributes among Palestinians. So, it is not where it should be – or where Canadians had hoped it would be by now – but they are engaged in a process that is moving them closer to Canadian standards…at least in Judea and Samaria."

In his email correspondence Fogel noted that CIJA’ recent meeting with Abbas really does not represent any new change in policy. "It really does not represent a new development. We have had meetings with them previously – both here in Canada as well as in the region. As you know, it is important for us to understand what they are saying and what they are thinking. These encounters provide us with insight into their messaging, perspective and approach to diplomacy and advocacy and therefore, such meetings inform our own approach and strategic planning."
Fogel also added, "You should know that Canada has a desire to be more directly implicated in constructive efforts leading towards peace and we did convey that message to the Palestinians with whom we met."
When asked whether CIJA is satisfied that Canadian funds to the PA are being directed to their intended purposes, Fogel did not answer directly. He wrote in response that "We [CIJA] reminded them [the PA] of the extent of Canada's support and they expressed appreciation. We did note the progress the PA has made on the security front as a result of Canadian technical and financial support – particularly with respect to Operation Proteus. However, we expressed frustrations and disappointment on their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the extent of PA-sponsored and supported incitement in PA-controlled media, within the classroom and the glorification of individuals who had perpetrated terrorist acts. We also addressed failures to definitively amend the PLO Charter calling for Israel's destruction and the pre-conditions attached to negotiations. "
CIJA's meeting with Abbas has come under some criticism as Toronto filmmaker Ben Feferman sent out an email blast questioning CIJA's meeting with Fatah representatives, calling it an “expensive publicity stunt” in a recent email blast. [To read more of Feferman's criticism's click here:
 CIJA noted in the article that officials who met with Abbas were already in Israel to attend three conferences thus were presented with “a convenient opportunity to go to Ramallah.”
A Canadian Jewish News article in its July 6 issue quoted Fogel as saying that the Canadian government had “encouraged” CIJA “to take this kind of role.” It continued, “Fogel said CIJA will ‘formally communicate’ its findings to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shortly.”
Fogel told the Jewish Tribune that, although the Canadian government had not given CIJA a mandate to act as its intermediary with the Palestinian Authority, “in that regard, we have been asked to offer suggestions on how Canada might play a constructive role.”
Editor's note: The degree to which the Canadian government did or did not encourage CIJA to meet with Abbas is not something I anticipate will be fully aired in the media one way or another.
If CIJA officials were in Israel for other conferences, then it does not seem to this editor to be a waste of community resources for CIJA officials to meet with Abbas.
Having said that, it is disconcerting that CIJA seems to not have raised specifically the recent crackdown and arrest of journalists by the PA in its meeting with Abbas. If Canada is going to continue to allocate taxpayer monies to build the PA justice system then in my respectful view leaders of the Canadian Jewish community ought not shy away from raising issues of freedom of the media and freedom of expression which are central to the development of a a true democracy in the West Bank. In my view, there is no good reason for Canada to support the development of a Palestinian state if it is to become a non-democratic totalitarian terror state, rather that a rights abiding democracy. For this reason, the issue of the PA's suppression of internal critics is an issue that it is incumbent  on Canadian Jewish leaders to raise in future meetings with Palestinian officials, and to also request that Canadian officials raise same.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.