Palestine House

Palestine House

What Happened

In January 2012, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced that funding for Palestine House would not be renewed after March 31. Kenney cited concerns that Palestine House was an extremist institution and a supporter of terrorists and terrorism. Critics argued that it was another case of silencing a critic of the Harper government’s policies on Israel and Palestine.


Established by the joint efforts of various Canadian associations that work on Palestinian issues, Palestine House first opened its doors in 1994. Between 1994 and 2012, it provided language and settlement services to new immigrants such as counselling on immigration, family problems, citizenship, legal matters and housing.

For these services, Palestine House received annual funding from the Canadian government, with $950,000 received in 2011.

Kenney makes accusations

According to reports, in December 2011, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney wrote to Palestine House, expressing concerns that Palestine House had taken positions that could be seen as “extremist” or supportive of “terrorists” and “terrorism”.

Kenney mentioned three causes for concern in particular:

  1. The Palestine House website included a “map” that showed a Palestinian state not just in the occupied Palestinian territories, but also covering the land of Israel proper.
  2. An October 2011 event where Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been abducted by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza, was exchanged for the freeing of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners by Israel. The exchange included a “convicted terrorist and at least one individual who murdered two Canadian citizens” and Kenney allegedly claimed that Palestine House supported their release.
  3. Palestine House hosted an event in March 2010 with Abdul Bari Atwan, a London-based journalist. Kenney claimed that Atwan had said, back in 2007, that he would celebrate if Iranian missiles hit Israel.

Palestine House responded to Kenney’s concerns in a letter to him on December 28

  1. The “map” is a logo showing the outline of the ancestral land of the Palestinians. The logo can be abandoned if the Minister still has a problem with it.
  2. The event which took place in October released many political prisoners and Palestine House said that did not support any particular prisoner.
  3. Palestine House was not aware of Atwan’s 2007 statement and “does not support” this statement.  

Kenney cuts Palestine House

On January 31, 2012, Minister Kenney told Palestine House that the organization’s funding, which ran out on March 31, 2012, would not be renewed.

Kenney’s spokesperson, Kesra Nejastian, accused Palestine House of promoting extreme positions that undermine social cohesion. “We can no longer justify subsidizing such an organization with tax dollars, particularly to provide integration services for newcomers to Canada,” said Nejastian.

Palestine House spokesperson Samir Jabbour argued that the organization’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were “in line with universal values of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The cuts, amounting to nearly $1 million, ended Palestine House’s language and settlement services for new immigrants, and several employees had to be laid off. Jabour maintained that the organization would nonetheless continue to be supportive of Canada’s Palestinian community.

Another case of silencing

Firas Saleh, the Executive Director of Palestine House, suggested the funding cut relate to the organization’s disagreement with the Harper government’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We are just the latest victim of the government’s vendetta against anyone who dares question Israeli policies,” he said.

Saleh’s opinion is shared by high-profile lawyer Barbara Jackman, who took Kenney to court for his 2010 axing of funding to the Canadian Arab Federation.

Jackman told Torstars’s Haroon Siddiqui “Palestine House, and also the Canadian Arab Federation, have long provided ESL and other immigrant settlement services – a completely apolitical activity – and both were doing a good job. Their funding was cut not because they were not doing the job or not delivering the services but because this government, and this minister, in particular, do not like their political views,” said Jackman.

The Harper government has been accused of attempting to silence other critics of its positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Canadian organizations Kairos, Alternatives, Rights & Democracy, as well as Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mustafa Barghouti and British MP George Galloway. The Toronto Coalition to Stop the War mobilized to defend Palestine House, mentioning a list of organizations that have suffered similar cuts for their position on Palestine and Israeli policies.

 

Relevant Dates:

  • 1994: The Palestine House Educational and Cultural Center (Palestine House) is opened.
  • 1994-2011: Palestine House receives yearly funding from the federal government to provide language and settlement services to new immigrants as well as for counselling services concerning family problems, immigration, citizenship, legal matters and housing.
  • December 2011: Minister Jason Kenney writes to Palestine House, citing three reasons that make him concerned that Palestine House is an “extremist organization” and supportive of “terrorists” and “terrorism.”
  • December 2011: Palestine House responds to Minister Jason Kenney, addressing each concern.
  • January 31, 2012: Minister Kenney announces to Palestine House that the government will not renew the center’s funding, which ends on March 31. These cuts amount to nearly a $1 million loss, ending the language and settlement services for new immigrants, and putting 20 people out of work.
  • February 2012: Critics say Kenney’s actions fit a pattern of attacking organizations that disagree with the Harper government.

 

Role or Position

The Palestine House Educational and Cultural Centre (Palestine House) is a charity that serves as the educational, cultural and social center for Canada’s Palestinian community, especially in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Implications and Consequences

  • Free Speech: Palestine House’s funding was cut because of its political positions towards Israel’s policies and its support for Palestinian rights, with none of the accusations of “extremism” having been proved. Despite its positive track record of serving immigrant communities, Palestine House was defunded for what are clearly ideological reasons.
  • Free Speech:  Those involved in the Palestine House program feel that the government is trying to shut anyone up who “dares question Israeli policies” set by the government. The cuts to Palestine House are part of a broader trend:  the government also silenced other groups such as Kairos and the Canadian Arab Federation for their positions on Israeli policies.   
  • Democracy: Palestine House provided ESL as well as immigrant settlement services, helping newly-arrived immigrants adapt to Canadian society. As such, they provided an essential service for the integration of a disadvantaged population into Canadian society. Because Palestine House relied on federal funding to operate, these cuts jeopardize its ability to efficiently deliver such services that contribute to the construction of a plural and tolerant Canada.
  • Transparency: Despite the response Palestine House gave to the government regarding the three concerns Kenney cited in support of the cuts, the government went ahead and cut funding without further explanation. The lack of other reasons provided, besides the three that had been already addressed by Palestine House, lead to questioning the transparency and of the ideological basis for the decision.

Published: 16 July 2012