The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), formerly the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, was founded in 2004 as the principal advocacy, oversight and co-ordinating body for a number of Jewish Canadian organizations including the Canada-Israel Committee (and the Quebec-Israel Committee), the Canadian Jewish Congress/United Jewish Appeal and National Jewish Campus Life. Today, CIJA is the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada-United Israel Appeal.
In 2011, CIJA assumed its current name following an 18-month restructuring process in which the functions of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, Quebec-Israel Committee, National Jewish Campus Life and the University Outreach Committee were consolidated.
CIJA's Chief Executive Officer was Hershell Ezrin, who served in that position until his retirement at the end of 2010. The group's current CEO is Shimon Fogel, former CEO of the Canada-Israel Committee.
CIJA maintains offices in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Jerusalem.
The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, an interdenominational body of Rabbis from across the country, provides support and advice to CIJA on behalf of Canadian synagogues. The Caucus is chaired by Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Montreal.
CIJA's lobbying and outreach efforts have included meetings and functions that attract high-ranking members of the Canadian government, including the Prime Minister, and it has financed trips to Israel for Canadian officials and thought leaders. CIJA's creation has been criticized as an attempt to "corporatize" the funding structure of Jewish community organizations and tie them to pro-Israel lobbying.
CIJA's CEO, Shimon Fogel, explained the logic behind the new advocacy structure in a 2012 column in the Jerusalem Post:
CIJA has regularly condemned acts of vandalism targeting places of worship and faith-based schools in Canada, including acts committed against Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim institutions.
CIJA has been actively involved in the public debate surrounding the balance between protecting free speech and preventing the spread of hate speech. In 2012, in response to concerns toward Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (hate speech on the internet), CIJA proposed two options to achieve a reasonable balance. The first entailed reforming the existing act, including through measures to increase evidentiary standards, allow for early rejection of inadmissible Section 13 complaints, and discourage frivolous claims (including the assigning of costs to those who launch vexatious complaints). The second option would repeal Section 13 altogether, and assign responsibility for online hate speech exclusively to a more responsive criminal justice system.
In October 2012, CIJA called on the Government of Canada to cancel its proposed plan to cut part-time prison chaplains, which would include all Rabbis and other non-Christian chaplains.
In June 2013, CIJA wrote to the Quebec Soccer Federation, calling on the organization to cancel its ban on Sikh turbans during soccer matches. At the same time, CIJA wrote to FIFA, calling on the international soccer regulator to issue a statement permitting the use of religious headgear on the soccer pitch. On June 15th, 2013, the Quebec Soccer Federation cancelled its ban on turbans.
CIJA has fought boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel in Canada. In August 2012, CIJA campaigned against a United Church of Canada (UCC) boycott of Israeli settlements. At the time, CIJA's CEO Shimon Fogel distinguished between criticism of Israeli policies and initiatives that single out the Jewish state for economic coercion:
CIJA operates the website BuycottIsrael.com, which alerts consumers to Israeli products that are being targeted for boycott by anti-Israel activists and provides details on where those products can be purchased in North America.
For years, CIJA has been at the forefront of efforts to increase Canadian sanctions against Iran, as a diplomatic response to Tehran's violations of UN resolutions and IAEA directives. In 2012, CIJA's CEO, Shimon Fogel, warned of the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran:
In April 2008, Iran objected to CIJA receiving non-governmental organization accreditation for a United Nations conference on racism; CIJA withdrew its accreditation request.
CIJA has regularly spoken out against the phenomenon of rising violence and intimidation against Christians in parts of the Middle East and Africa. In January 2012, a CIJA spokesperson wrote: