Portrait of prominent Israel defender who attacked me

Reuben Poupko & Stephen Harper

The chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Québec recently assaulted me and then claimed to be the victim of my aggression. Reuben Poupko’s lie was defamatory.

After I called UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer an “anti-Palestinian bigot” who “promotes religious and ethnic supremacy in Israel” I was punched, illegally detained and had my glasses broken. As I detailed immediately after the incident, my phone was also confiscated, and they attempted to erase the video of my assault.

I was also defamed. After shoving me out of the room Poupko told some (or all) in the audience I assaulted him. Poupko probably concocted the tale to paper over the fact that he slugged me hard in the stomach. The apartheid apologist’s lie was reported in The Suburban by staunch pro-Israel journalist Joel Goldenberg in a story headlined “Rabbi pressing charges for assault at Hillel Neuer speech”. Goldenberg described seeing Poupko and others remove me aggressively from the room but that “during the ensuing melee, Rabbi Reuben Poupko told The Suburban the activist punched him in the stomach. The Rabbi said the activist was Yves Engler, known for his pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia in the early 2000s.” Probably at Poupko’s request, the story was quickly removed from The Suburban’s site (I have screenshots).

While a month later he hasn’t pressed charges, Poupko’s false claim may have incited violence. A few minutes into my illegal detention, a fiftyish man in a blue shirt (who appears in my video) came outside and began muttering that I had assaulted his rabbi. While I was seated and cornered by a group of muscular men, he came over and punched me in the head, which gave me a bruise that was still visible a week later. Continuing to ramble about me hitting Poupko, the man tried to hit me again but was restrained.

For Poupko and CIJA the opportunity to charge a Palestine solidarity activist for assaulting a rabbi at a synagogue would be a gift. Even if they thought there was only a small chance of a conviction, they would have pressed charges and publicized the incident. I believe the reason they haven’t done so is because I registered for the public lecture and no one asked me to leave before I was grabbed and shoved for raising my voice. That’s illegal. So was taking my phone and wallet, throwing me down, detaining me for 20 minutes and punching me. Poupko’s directive to security — fortunately unheeded — to “take him outside and kick him in the head” is a stunning window into the Israel lobbyist’s psyche.

The video I recovered (after downloading a program to retrieve permanently deleted phone files) and Goldenberg’s first-hand account provides evidence of their aggression. The security cameras at the venue, which lawyer Dimitri Lascaris has requested be saved, would confirm Poupko’s and others’ violence. By pressing charges, Poupko would have to either admit what he did or lie under oath. He’d also need a number of individuals to perjure themselves.

One of Montréal’s leading apartheid activists, Poupko co-chairs CIJA-Quebec. Canada’s most influential Israel lobby group, CIJA is the advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations.

Poupko is quoted regularly in Montréal’s English media. A half dozen outlets reported on his ‘humanitarian’ trip to Ukraine in March. The Montréal Gazette quoted him denouncing Russia’s invasion as “an evil act, a murderous act, and it needs to be condemned by all good people. But not only is this an assault on Ukraine and its people, it is an assault on the world order. This is a horrible precedent and, if it is allowed to stand, it emboldens like-minded people in other parts of the world.”

But Poupko defends Israel’s occupation and violence. Three weeks into Israel’s 2009 onslaught on Gaza he told the Gazette that Israel killing 1,400 Palestinians was “appropriate and reasonable”. After Israeli commandos killed 10 activists to enforce the illegal blockade of Gaza the next year Poupko co-authored an op-ed calling the international outrage “an unabashed exploitation of ‘human rights’ language and discourse in an attempt to blacken Israel. … Enough with the hypocrisy. Condemn the militants, not Israel’s defensive actions against them.” Israeli commandos murdered ten Turkish activists when they boarded a humanitarian ship in international waters challenging a deadly blockade of a small strip of land populated by Palestinians mostly ethnically cleansed from their homes in 1948.

In 2012 Poupko wrote an op-ed attacking the United Church for standing with Palestinians. Two years later he defended Israel’s killing of 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children, in Gaza. He wrote in the Gazette that “Hamas wants dead Palestinians almost as much as it wants dead Israelis.”

Poupko promotes teenagers who seek to humiliate Palestinians. In a 2020 video about Montrealers in the Israeli military he said their “commitment to serve in IDF is of such profound significance and such an elegant statement of all they’ve learned and committed to.” For Poupko Montréal teenagers going to a faraway land to oversee an illegal occupation is “really wonderful” and a “commitment to the ideals we learned from our parents.”

Poupko justifies Israeli violence. He’s also prepared to inflict violence on people who challenge his anti-Palestinian outlook.

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