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Benjamin Shinewald

BENJAMIN SHINEWALD: From Unity to Diversity: Why our Community is fracturing and Why it may be a Good Thing

by Rhonda Spivak, April 11, 2016


Benjamin Shinewald, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, gave an interesting presentation at Limmud 2016 on the topic of "From Unity to diversity: Why our Community is Fracturing and Why it May be a good thing.


Shinewald who now leads the Building Owners & Managers Association of Canada, noted that before there was 2000 years of Jewish diversity, but that "begins to become more focused" and become more unified with the rise of Zionism, the Holocaust, the Establishment of Israel and the Six Day war. Shinewald indicated that before 1948, Jews were pre-occupied with their own survival first, "then with values such as tolerance and prosperity." After 1948, "Jews value Zionism and/or Judaism, Israel and/or Torah, Customs and Culture, Hebrew and/or Yiddish/Ladino /Judeo-Arabic/Amharic/Ge’ez." As time went on, Shinewald indicated that the pre-eminence of Israel risen in Jewish consciousness to the point that one can begin to ask, "Has Israel displaced Judaism itself? In North America, Jewish literacy and education has declined, whereas Israel advocacy has risen. Shinewald noted that this trend is expressed by quoting a rabbi who noted that for many younger Jews, "The singing of Hatikvah is just as important as the singing of Kol Nidre."  A deep and wide consensus around the State of Israel emerged but the relationship between "universal Jewish values and Israel," has never been really addressed, Shinewald pointed out


Shinewald characterized Canadian PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau as having supported "universal Jewish Values" (embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for example), and noted Trudeau had appointed the first Jewish cabinet minister and the first judge of the Jewish Supreme Court of Canada. However, "Trudeau was less engaged in two key areas of concern to the Jewish community, Nazi War criminals and Israel," Shinewald stated.


According to Shinewald, PM Brian Mulroney was "Ying" to Trudeau's "Yang. He was "very strongly Zionist but less focused on "universal Jewish values." Liberal PM Jean Chretien's government abstained from opposing one-sided anti-Israel UN resolutions (thought this was changed by Paul Martin), however there were some "wins" for the Jewish community that went underappreciated in that Chretien was the first sitting Canadian prime minister to pay an official visit to Israel and Auschwitz and took action against Nazi War criminals, and signed a Canada-Israel free trade agreement.


 Shinewald explained how during this time, "the new Antisemitsim begins to take hold, focusing on Israel. " As Shinewald outlined, "Antisemitism shifts from the right to the left," and the Jewish community has a "sense of being under siege especially on campuses."  During this time Federal NDP MP's such as Svend Robinson and Libby Davis exhibit anti-Israel behavior.


Shinewald noted that in the Conservative party, Jason Kenney forges deep ties in the Jewish community, and Jews who had up to this time been suspicious of the Conservatives shift over to them, and the Harper's Conservatives win in areas with a large Jewish vote in Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Montreal, and the issue of Israel "becomes partisan politics." Shinewald noted that at this time some Jews began to see the Conservatives as Zionist (and they also have an evangelical Zionist base). Harper has a strong personal Zionism, and Israel [not Jews] is the focus of the Left's antisemitism. "These four factors coalesce and lead to "the most agressively Zionist PM in Canadian history." "Harper situates himself as the most pro-Israel leader in the world...The opposition plays catch up," but that this is really "wedge politics in a hyper partisan era" and according to Shinewald, this period is characterized by "the decline of universal Jewish values, the rise of Israel in the new Jewish consensus, and the marginalization of non-conservative Jewish voices."


However, in Shinewald's view, during this Harper period, Israel in the Jewish community "is in its earliest stages of losing its stickiness. There is a small but growing and vocal unease with Israel policy, but not with Israel itself. Some especially in the younger generation re-engage with 'universal Jewish values', and assert critical or 'progressive Zionism. Others are drifting away forever."


According to Shinewald, "Justin Trudeau largely defuses Harper's partisan divide, and Jewish Liberals regain their voice and their pride. The Liberals win back or retain most Jewish ridings [throughout Canada." In the early stages of Justin trudea's term, Shinewald noted that support for the Liberals in the Jewish community is "somewhat tentative" but that these are early days and the Liberals have four years to prove themselves to the Jewish community, so there is plenty of time to solidify their gains.


In summation, Shinewald concluded that we have witnessed " Jewish unity" when the Jewish community feels threatened or when Israelis under attack. "But politicized tribes are emerging and becoming entrenched, i.e. " the conservative/Likud/religious vs Liberal/Labour/Traditional/Socially engaged." Moreover, as Shinewald outlined, "assimilation is a driver for Jewish politics. Assimilation [i.e. those Jews who leave the scene altogether] means that Jewish politics is defined by "the most politically engaged and the most politically shrill."


Shinewald noted that Jewish professional and communal leaders are faced with a daunting challenge: how do you lead, fundraise for and represent a fractured community?" He raised the issue of what Israel's role is in Jewish continuity. 'Maybe it's time for Israel to keep Disapora Jewry alive? He spoke about a terrific program Shin Shineem, where Israeli high school graduates defer military service and come to a community, are attached to a school, and synagogue and summer camp, and run programming). and in this way Israel supports Jewish continuity.


Shinewald also pointed out that just as their is fracturing in the Jewish community, there "is the same fracturing in Israel itself." He ended the lecture by posing some questions to ponder:


Is Israel the salvation after all?

Is Israel's future secure? If not, then what?

Are Canadian Jews truly secure without Israel?

Can Judaism and Israel survive without each other?

Which is more important to our survival as Jews, Israel or Judaism?


More about Benjamin Shinewald: He was awarded an Action Canada Fellowship and named “one of Canada’s best and brightest emerging leaders” and a Goldmann Fellowship for being a part of “a new generation of Jewish communal leadership.” He frequently comments in leading newspapers and has been as a panelist on Al Jazeera. Benjamin holds degrees from the University of Manitoba, the London School of Economics and the University of Toronto.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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