By Yves Engler
Montréal is a bastion of Israeli nationalist ideology. People of conscience must disrupt their activities, confronting the reality of Palestinian dispossession and apartheid.
At the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, three weeks ago, Montréal-born Sylvan Adams told the Jerusalem Post, “Israel belongs to all Jews. Israeli born, or Israeli immigrants such as my wife and myself, but also to each and every Jew in the Diaspora. Israel belongs to all of us.”
The Montréal-born billionaire’s perspective may appeal to Jewish supremacists but how about non-Jews who’ve lived there for dozens of generations? Or the refugees Israel expelled to create a “Jewish state”? And is the territory that belongs to a Montréal Jew the 1948 border, the land Israel has controlled for a half century, or many times bigger as some Zionists have claimed?
Adams is a proponent of what B’Tselem has labeled “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” (an area in which Jews are a minority). He aggressively promotes what Israel’s leading human rights group, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and many others have labeled an apartheid state.
Adams funds various projects promoting apartheid. He instigated an initiative with the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund and helped with a think tank led by Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel that promotes the Abraham Accords, which seek to normalize relations between the occupying power and regional governments. Last month he told the evangelical site ALL ISRAEL NEWS, “the Evangelical Christians are probably better friends of ours than many American Jews and even Israeli Jews who take Israel for granted. We have no better friends in the entire world.”
Adams’ most noteworthy contribution to the “regime of Jewish supremacy” has been to spend large sums on headline-grabbing sports and cultural events in the hopes of whitewashing Israeli racism and violence. On Monday Adams told the Jerusalem Post, “I am not trying to convince the haters and the antisemites,” but rather sway the largely uninformed and apolitical. His aim is to portray Israel as a “normal modern Western country” that is “open, tolerant, and diverse, and free, and democratic.”
In recent years, Adams has plowed tens of millions of dollars into Israeli bike racing initiatives as well as a Madonna performance, space launch and Argentina football match. “My projects are intended to reach out to really large audiences”, Adams told The Times of Israel. “If we take the Giro as an example, because bike racing takes place outdoors, they got to see the entirety of our country from Acre in the north all the way down to Eilat in the south, and in an unvarnished way — without preaching to them. We’re just reaching out to sports fans and saying: Here we are, this is what we look like.” Beyond whitewashing apartheid and colonial violence, Adams said his “second goal is to engender national pride and happiness and cohesion amongst our people.”
On Sunday, September 11, 25 of us rallied against the participation of the Adams’ sponsored Israel – Premier Tech team in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. During the bike race, Adams was directly challenged on his support for apartheid. Ultimately, he jogged away from questioners.
Adams grew up in Montréal and his family made hundreds of millions of dollars in Québec and Canadian real estate (he’s reportedly worth US$1.7 billion). But now he’s using this wealth to push back against those opposed to the brutal siege of Gaza and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. His Israeli nationalism is pathological and deeply rooted in Montréal.
Adams has contributed to a number of charities in Montréal that raise money for projects in Israel. Montréal is home to “Canadian Friends” of Hebrew University, Tel-Aviv University, Technion and Ben-Gurion University. It’s also home to a charity supporting non-Israelis who join the IDF and Canadian Friends of Yad L’Achim, which campaigns against Jewish and Palestinian/Muslim intermarriage.
With the public subsidizing about half the cost of private schooling in Québec, nearly 50% of Jewish children in Montréal attend Jewish schools. In 2016 Adams donated $15 million to Herzliah High School. On its website the Montréal school boasts of its “Israel Engagement initiative”, which “focusses on three key areas: Appreciating our homeland. Engaging with Israel. Advocating for Israel”. They teach the kids about the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and “most important, students will develop skills and strategies to advocate for Israel at CEGEP [college], on university campuses and beyond.”
A number of Montréal schools actively promote the Israeli military. Montréal’s largest Jewish school, Hebrew Academy, shows movies that celebrate the Israeli military; students send gifts to IDF bases; Israeli emissaries lead kindergarten classes in “fun IDF programs”.
An April 2020 article from the school website notes, “following a nod to HA alumni serving in the IDF and a prayer for Chayalei Tzahal [IDF] by School Rabbi Eddie Shostak, Head of School Dr. Laura Segall relayed that her parents both served in the IDF.” That month, Hebrew Academy also posted a video to its Facebook page of alumni currently serving in the IDF. Under the caption “A meaningful video featuring our HA alumni who are serving in the Israel Defense Forces,” a half-dozen alumni spend 12 minutes telling students about the importance of serving in the armed forces of the Israeli state.
The school considers joining the IDF a special accomplishment. Last year Hebrew Academy posted a picture of three young men to its Facebook page with the caption: “Mazel tov to class of 2018 alumni Michael Kuperstok, Nathan Bebuzru and Yehuda Besner who are enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces this week. We are beyond proud of you!”
In the paper “Good Jewish Citizens: Israel or Zionist education the key to saving North American Jewish Identity?” Bonnie K. Goodman holds up Montréal Jewish schooling as a successful model. “To combat the crisis,” Goodman writes, “American Jews might look up north to Montreal, Quebec. The second-largest Jewish community in Canada has the lowest intermarriage rates and the highest number of students attending day schools and summer camps.
The city is also home to an Israel engagement program arming their high school graduating class with the tools necessary to confront the anti-Israel college world and advocate for Israel. The curriculum creates a Zionist education that fosters its graduates to not only be knowledgeable Jews but good citizens versed in one of the most critical elements of Civil Judaism support and ties to Israel.”
Those of us who understand the truth about Israel have a responsibility to counter nationalist lies and promotion of apartheid every opportunity that presents itself, here in Montréal or wherever we live.