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President Joel Lazer Cancels Interview After Dissenters’ Views Published

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The pro-Israel community in Winnipeg had many questions they hoped would be answered by Jewish Federation President Joel Lazer, but he decided against doing the interview. (Image: JFW)

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For over a year – before TheJ.ca went national – we have been trying to arrange an interview with the President of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Joel Lazer. After all, when he assumed the lofty office towards the end of 2019, he provided interviews to other Winnipeg-based Jewish publications, and since then to other, secular outlets. From what I’ve learned, he’s not a boisterous type, soft-spoken, and quietly praised for his skills as a backroom organizer for fundraising and good causes.

My interest at first, aside from wanting to give him an opportunity to address the pro-Israel audience of this platform, was to get him to elaborate on some of his comments. For instance, the Winnipeg Jewish Review reported “one of the things he would like to accomplish as President is “to make the community more cohesive.” Which elements in the community, I wondered, did he want to reach out to, and how?

He was also quoted as saying “I think there is room for improvement in sharing information, resources and acting together for the common good of the community, which is living with Jewish values.” So a natural question would be, what ideas for improvement did he want to implement?

The story also reported he said, “He explains that he became a member of the CIJA Board two years ago and is still on CIJA’s Board. “That’s independent of being on the board of the Federation,” he notes.”

“I think CIJA does good work. We are going to utilize CIJA as much as we can. They are a resource for our benefit.”

That caught my eye, and warranted further explanation in my mind, not that I could find much information about whatever CIJA is. In particular, I was interested in exactly how Joel Lazer thought CIJA was going to help the pro-Israel community in Winnipeg, and why he seemingly believed it was not being used to full potential before he came along.

And so, began the chase. 

At various times I emailed Lazer, called and left voice messages at his chartered accountant firm Lazer Grant LLP, asking to arrange an interview, just as he had granted other media. I dropped reminders to Federation officials in emails and in conversations that I had requested an interview with their President. There was almost a breakthrough last summer, when Adam Levy contacted me on August 13. He is the Communications and Public Relations director for Federation.    

“I understand that you recently reached out to Joel for an interview. He has requested a list of the questions you would like to ask him. Can you please send them to me?”

This was a bit out of the ordinary, in my experience as a journalist. I have over the years interviewed on radio, TV and for publication many city councillors, the Mayor of Winnipeg, MLAs, Premiers, cabinet ministers, MP’s and Senators. None had ever asked for the questions in advance.

I explained to Levy, “With my media experience, in a conversational setting there will be no “list of questions” for Joel, but more generally the topics would include his experience in his term thus far, the effects of the pandemic on JFW, community strengths, Jewish education, antisemitism in the community, and relations with the various levels of government.”

It took two weeks for Levy to respond, claiming “Joel is on vacation until later in September so unfortunately he is unavailable for an interview prior to then. Once he returns, I will let him know that you reached out again regarding an interview.”

Despite having provided an outline of the interview subjects, I never got any further response to my request.

As outlined in the pages of TheJ.ca, various serious issues have arisen in Winnipeg relating to antisemitism and anti-Israel activism, and on occasion I would email Levy and JFW CEO Elaine Goldstine, receiving no replies to substantive questions I posed. (There was a single exception about the banning of Chanukah candles from store shelves by the Pallister government Covid restrictions – where I was told “there isn’t much to add.” That didn’t stop Federation from taking credit for “many conversations over the course of the last several days which lead to this outcome.”)

Now, one of the roles of the media is to be a watchdog. And to be frank, the secular media is not in the business of looking out for the Jewish community.

On issues of say, Federation policy towards anti-Israel speakers coming to town like Linda Sarsour, or accounting for how donation dollars are allocated and spent, or about community security, CJOB talk show hosts or CBC/Free Press general assignment reporters simply don’t care about the local Federation being held accountable. 

That’s the job of the Jewish media. And that’s why I felt it was important for Joel Lazer to go on the record on those issues. So I persisted, and then, a breakthrough again – or so I thought. 

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Joel Lazer bylined a newsletter sent to the Federation email list on June 4, as outlined in part in this story.  His commentary included a vague apology because of the fallout from a Federation-led newspaper ad that soured influential donors, and he wanted to stem the complaints.

When I read his commentary, I noted he said: “My door is always open – your constructive criticism and any suggestions you have for us to function more effectively are always welcome… I am happy to discuss any of the above or discuss how you might become more involved…” and he listed his email address and his phone numbers.

So, I dialed the number, and lo and behold, Joel Lazer actually answered. And I introduced myself and said, ‘Hey, I’m taking you up on your offer, let’s get that interview arranged’. He was flustered and finally decided he could be available… in about ten days time. I emailed a confirmation explaining, “the focus will generally be about the contents of your message to the community today, as well as some elaboration regarding antisemitism in Winnipeg and political leadership.”

On June 10 we published a follow-up story regarding “A Message From Our President”, reflecting some harsh criticism sent directly to Lazer by community members and provided to this newspaper. With an interview already scheduled, he was going to have every chance to respond to the issues that have been raised about Federation as a representative of Jews in this city and grassroots concerns about the safety of Jews in Winnipeg. The story got a lot of attention within Federation, with at least 50 views and forwarded links by this past Monday afternoon. The only person who contacted me with a comment or complaint about it – was Joel Lazer.

“I am writing to inform you that I am cancelling the interview which we had previously scheduled for this Wednesday. You will recall the interview was to be about the President’s message I issued on June 4. Upon reviewing the article titled “Message From Jewish Federation President Fails To Quell Winnipeg Community Backlash”, published on June 10, it is clear your opinion is formed. Therefore, no further communication is necessary.”

Well, it wasn’t my opinion that was formed already, it was the opinion of the concerned Jews who had contacted him directly and shared with us what they thought.  Me? I was waiting to hear him out.

And while Lazer tried to narrow the scope of the interview to justify refusing to be questioned by the Jewish media, in fact my confirmation email stated it would “generally be about the contents of your message to the community today, as well as some elaboration regarding antisemitism in Winnipeg and political leadership.”

In other words, where the rubber meets the road.

After all, he’s the one who wrote to the community that while they should also be contacting elected officials about the surge in antisemitism, in his case, “I, as a private citizen, have reached out to four politicians and none have replied.”

If the President of the organized Jewish community admits he got zero replies to his pleadings to public officials on our behalf, it’s logical to ask him why he thinks that’s the case – and who hasn’t responded to him.

"I think there is room for improvement in sharing information,” said Joel Lazer in December 2019. As of June 17, 2021, there’s been no evidence of improvement in Federation’s social media performance, with a pair of tweets made June 1 promoting the “essential op-ed” of CIJA CEO Shimon Kofler about “rising antisemitism in Canada” garnering zero responses, zero retweets and a single ‘like’. (Image: Twitter)

The long-desired interview with Joel Lazer was going to give him a chance to address some of the questions he and his staff have been asked for the last year, and provide clarity on matters such as their support for Black Lives Matter, countering the rising Nakba Day movement, and the role of CIJA in the Winnipeg community.

He still has that chance, of course. As I have offered on 2 recent occasions, Federation once again has the opportunity to respond in this publication.

Readers, and donors to the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg , can judge for themselves if the questions published here – just some that have been asked before, and a few follow-ups – deserved to be answered by Joel Lazer in our now-scuttled interview. We can set his June 4 statement aside for now.

A)  BLM march support – June 6 2020, I wrote to Joel Lazer and Elaine Goldstine:

–  Will any statements about (the request in a petition) that Federation express support for BLM provide the community with background information about the antisemitic foundation of the movement and its allegiance with anti-Israel entities? Here is how I described it in correspondence earlier this week to your Adam Levy: “The Black Lives Matter movement is at the center of the protests and it is well established that a core belief they promote is that Israel is a white supremacist state, thereby whipping up antisemitism. BLM is also working hand in glove with the BDS movement and Antifa in the US, supporting each others’ methods and objectives to demonize Zionism as a racist philosophy.”

On June 8 2020, Adam Levy responded for them: “It is our understanding that Black Lives Matter is a grassroots movement and is not an organized movement with a central body setting policy. It is true that some Black Lives Matter groups have not been supportive of Israel – however, Black Lives Matter Winnipeg is not such a group and thus we did not have an issue supporting the demonstration.”

TheJ.ca follow-up Q: What evidence did Federation have to discover that the Winnipeg BLM group was literally, the ONLY one in North America that did not express anti-Israel or antisemitic sentiments? The group had 5 organizers, were they asked? 

Why did Federation characterize the known antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric and BDS activities of BLM as a mere “groups have not been supportive of Israel”?

The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, led by CEO Elaine Goldstine and Public Relations director Adam Levy, made no mention of the documented antisemitic and anti-Zionist activities of Black Lives Matter activists when they urged the community to join the BLM march in Winnipeg last June. (Photo: JFW)

B)  CIJA funding: On December 28 2020, I wrote to Adam Levy, who also serves as the local CIJA representative:

–  I am trying to understand the funding elements of your organization (CIJA)… I am unclear is that funding is allocated regionally (in other words, the JFW underwrites CIJA locally), or if this is done via a block grant through the national Federation organization. Is there any documentation online regarding your funding locally and nationally, such as budgets etc? Can you shed some light on the funding mechanisms and in particular, how much funding is received directly from either the JFW or from the national Federation body? If there are other funding sources such as novelty sales or “in memorium” dedications, etc., could you please provide some details.

On December 29, Levy auto-replied:Thank you for your email, I am currently out of the office. I will return on Tuesday, December 29, and will reply to your message upon my return.”

(I reminded him on January 22, 2021, mentioning  “If there’s some problem with putting the answers into an email can you perhaps give me a call to discuss this” and got no reply.)

TheJ.ca follow-up Q:  I have found that UJA Toronto disclosed online how much of their donations are directed to CIJA. Can the information for Winnipeg be released as requested so donors and the community can be properly informed?

C)  Nakba and CMHR: On Friday May 14 I wrote to Lazer and Levy about countering proposals to enter the false and antisemitic Nakba narrative into the Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg:

–  The CEO (said) she did not know if the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg had been in contact with CMHR about this proposal from Rana Abdulla and CJPME…

1) Has the Federation ever contacted the museum about the Nakba or any other potential exhibit since it opened?

2) If so, when was that contact made, and who was representing Federation in those discussions?

3) If Federation did not contact the Museum, can you tell me if CIJA had done so regarding the Nakba (or other) exhibit concepts?

4) If so, when was this done and who was in communication with the Museum?

5) Has Federation or CIJA had any communication or discussion with Rana Abdulla or other proponents of the Nakba exhibit proposal?

(There has been no reply from Lazer or Levy.)

TheJ.ca follow-up Q: In the absence of a response to the previous questions, has the Federation board or CIJA debated or adopted a policy to avoid confronting the expansion and legitimization in Winnipeg of false Nakba narratives in media, education and institutions like the CMHR? How will your organizations include Israeli-Canadians, so they can have a say in dealing with the undermining of their personal national origins and legitimacy?  

In conclusion, there were a few other questions that have been asked, but for now, the above is a fair representation of the nature and tone of the correspondence, and the types of issues we have raised with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. 

Joel Lazer and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg is welcome to provide the answers, which we will publish next week (if received before our deadline, otherwise, they will be published the week after in time for Canada Day.)   

Marty Gold is the Editor-in -Chief of TheJ.ca. Known for investigative reporting, he has specialized in covering municipal and provincial politics, and a wide range of sports and entertainment, in newspapers, magazines, online, and on his first love, radio. His business and consulting experience includes live events and sales, workplace safety, documentary productions, PR, and telecommunications in Vancouver, Los Angeles and across Canada, and as a contestant on CBC-TV Dragons Den.

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Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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