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Is it Israel or Not? A Local Conservative Causes Some Confusion Around Kairos

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Screen shot of Wanda Webber's comment on Kairos, prompted by my own playful "NOT" as a comment on some Conservative sound bite.
Screen shot of Wanda Webber's comment on Kairos, prompted by my own playful "NOT" as a comment on some Conservative sound bite.

I’m Facebook friends with Wanda Webber, the federal Conservative candidate for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour. We work at the same school.

Something on Wanda’s wall caught my eye the other day. Referring to Kairos, the church-based foreign aid organization that was denied funding in the NOT-gate scandal, Wanda wrote:

“It is a religious-based organization which has received funding for 37 yrs from our federal gov't. From what I've read, its funding was withdrawn because the organization had changed its original mandate and has become higly (sic) politically active. It's (sic) stance on Israel is counter to Canada's stance." (my emphasis)

Now, I’m used to reading Conservative sound bites in my news feed from Wanda, which I often find kind of interesting in terms of learning how the Harperite mind works. This one struck me as odd however, since (unless I’m mistaken) the Conservatives have never officially stated that Kairos’s stance on Israel had anything to do with their loss of funding.

Sure, there was that speech Jason Kenney gave in Jerusalem where he bragged about cutting funding to organizations that the Conservatives consider anti-semitic, in which he named Kairos specifically, calling them a leader in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign Israeli goods (which of course in no way equates to anti-semitism; several Jewish individuals and organizations also endorse BDS). But then Kenney wrote a letter to the Toronto Star in which he quite clearly claims that what Kairos may think about Israel had nothing to do with its funding cut:

“While I disagree with the nature of KAIROS’s militant stance toward the Jewish homeland, that is not the reason their request for taxpayer funding was denied. International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda – not me – is responsible for the Canada International Development Agency. And she has been clear that a cost-sharing program with KAIROS was not approved because it did not meet CIDA’s current priorities, such as increased food aid.”

Well then. The Conservative Party’s representative for a federal riding has stated quasi-publicly that Kairos’s views on Israel did indeed play into the decision. What gives?

I e-mailed Wanda to ask if she would be interviewed for this blog. Here’s her response:

Hello, Ben:
My comments come directly from the Kairos website. Check it out and see what you think.


Kairos’s website doesn’t have any statements about changing its mandate, or its position on Israel being counter to the government’s, so I called their Toronto office for an opinion. John Lewis, Kairos’ Human Rights Program Coordinator, told me that his organization’s stance on Israel is “in lock-step with Canadian foreign policy” regarding Palestine and Israel.

“Just yesterday I checked the foreign affairs website on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…they talk about a two-state solution, they talk about sovereignty for Palestinians, their right to self-determination, to have an independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state – that’s exactly the Kairos policy,” said Lewis.

“Canada doesn’t recognize the…Israeli unilateral annexation of Jerusalem; again, exactly in line with Kairos policy,” he added.

Lewis also refuted Webber’s claim, taken from a set of Conservative media talking points released last week, that Kairos had somehow changed its mandate to focus less on aid and more on political advocacy.

“Some people see international development as political activity regardless of what you do,” Lewis said. 

In fact, says Lewis, “I would turn that statement on its head…the way that this file has been handled has made it political, and that has not been the fault of Kairos.”

As well, he notes, Kairos has never been told directly by any government official that its stance on Palestine played into the funding decision.

“No comments like that have ever been made to Kairos…In fact, no real, genuine explanation about why our funding was cut has ever been given,” says Lewis.

So…what to make of Webber’s statement? Here are two possibilities:

1) Her post was in error. She was not stating the official government position in saying that Kairos’s views on Israel are the reason they were de-funded. This is the most likely scenario: Wanda of course is a Conservative candidate, not a minister; she’s never been elected to office (and frankly she has a pretty slim chance in her riding). I’m awaiting a response from Bev Oda’s office, which I don’t really expect to get, on whether this is indeed the Conservatives’ position. [UPDATE: Bev Oda's press secretary replied only to say that "The Minister's statements in the House are clear."]

2) Wanda actually does know something the rest of us don’t about the official decision to de-fund Kairos. This is possible; personally I don’t know to what degree candidates are party insiders or how much classified information they have access to. This scenario is less likely considering the tight ship the Conservatives run when it comes to releasing information, though, especially on such a high-profile issue.

Of course, I could ask Wanda if she’d agree to an interview, but she seems to be ignoring my requests even with the questions sent to her in advance (see the full conversation below). This is unfortunate as she hasn't shied away from discussing politics with me before. She probably figures she can do this because I’m not the Chronicle-Herald, the CBC, or even The Coast and because the Conservatives figure they won’t lose any votes on this issue because no one cares if they force cancellation of projects like a legal clinic for rape survivors in the Congo or leadership training for women riskng their lives to protect human rights in Colombia. (Instead, it seems, we’re subsidizing some of Canada’s wealthiest mining companies so they can undertake ‘corporate social responsibility’ projects.)

The door’s still open, though, if she’d like to respond to this post.


Full Facebook-message conversation with Wanda Webber:

February 23rd, 1:28 p.m.

Hi Wanda - I'm writing to you in my capacity as a news writer and blogger for the Halifax Media Co-op. I just tried to phone you but I realized I don't have your phone number (though I may have at one point?). I'm interested in the comment you made on your 'wall' about Kairos. I just spoke to someone at Kairos in Toronto and I'd like to get your response to his comments as a local Conservative candidate.
My number is 455-1723 if you're able to call me - I will be out later but could call you back as well if you send me your phone number.
Hope you're enjoying your break,

February 24th, 2:45 p.m.

Hello, Ben:
My comments come directly from the Kairos website. Check it out and see what you think.

February 24th, 2:57 p.m.

I've looked fairly extensively: perhaps you could forward me a more specific link?
I'm going to write about it regardless, so I would like to give you a chance to have your say if you'll be interviewed.

February 24th, 3:27 p.m.

PS These are some of the questions I'd like to ask you:

Kairos says they were never told that their stance on Israel had anything to do with the rejection of their funding proposal. Why do you mention this?

In fact, Kairos said their policy on the Israeli Palestinian conflict was "in lock-step" with the government of Canada's policy (I can give you more details on the phone). Can you tell me more in detail what about it is counter to Canada's stance?

You said that your understanding of the issue was according to what you had read. Where did you read about it? Just in the media or something from your party?

Do you think it’s accurate that they’re anti-semitic, as Jason Kenney strongly implied in his speech in 2009?


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