The politicians and media in Québec are widely unhappy about Amira Elghawaby’s appointment as the federal government’s representative to combat Islamophobia. Progressives should also be critical of Elghawaby, but for different reasons.
Last week the Liberals appointed Elghawaby Canada’s first ever special representative on combating Islamophobia. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre immediately opposed her appointment. Concurrently large swaths of Québec’s political and media class have whipped themselves into an embarassing frenzy over some of Elghawaby’s altogether uncontroversial statements.
The only person I’ve seen question Elghawaby’s appointment from an internationalist, anti-racist, perspective is Ghada Sasa. The Palestinian McMaster University PhD candidate pointed out that Elghawaby was a founding board member of the anti-Palestinian Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) and continues to play footsie with anti-Muslim Zionist groups. Sasa tweeted, “Canada chose Amira Elghawaby as its 1st representative to fight Islamophobia. Note she helped found the ‘pro-apartheid’ Canadian Anti-Hate Network, working with Bernie Farber who Yves Engler dubbed ‘among Canada’s leading anti-Palestinian hate mongers.’ She’s no ally to us Muslims.” Sasa further noted that Elghawaby is “Retweeting support from these hate groups too. Unreal.” Elghawaby retweeted endorsements of her appointment from apartheid lobbyists B’nai B’rith, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, which have all been Islamophobic (B’nai B’rith regularly hypes “Islamic terror” and promoted the xenophobic backlash against the term “Islamophobia” in bill M-103, which called for collecting data on hate crimes and studying the issue of “eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” In 2018 B’nai B’rith sponsored an event in Vancouver with openly anti-Muslim former Breitbart News editor Ben Shapiro.)
Elghawaby was a founding board member of CAHN with Bernie Farber, a long-time leader in Canada’s apartheid lobby. Elghawaby also co-authored op-eds with Farber and participated in public events with him. As I detailed, Farber recently smeared antiracist, social justice, protesters who rallied against Israel settler colonial NGO Regavim.
It’s not only Farber. CAHN researchers Dan Collen and Étienne Quintal work for United Jewish Appeal Toronto, which organizes Canada’s largest annual apartheid celebration (Walk with Israel) and sponsors Canada’s most influential apartheid lobby group (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs). Collen recently reaffirmed his anti-Palestinianism by demanding the media erase all those victimized by the brutal occupation when discussing Jewish victims. He angrily quote tweeted journalist Ayman Ayman writing, “Just a reminder, as the Western media now begins to urgently and extensively cover the attacks in Jerusalem, in which at least 8 Israelis were killed, that 30 Palestinians (9 on Thursday alone) have been killed in 2023.” Collen complained, “Not even after a mass shooting, in a Synagogue, targeting Jewish people, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, will a major American network’s anchor allow Jews a full day to mourn the victims.” Imagine calling yourself progressive and arguing the US media is biased in favor of the Palestinians?
The killing Collen references took place in an illegal settlement and were carried out by a Palestinian whose grandfather was murdered by a Zionist settler. The killings took place outdoors a day after Israeli troops massacred nine Palestinians in Jenin.
Whatever her personal views, Elghawaby has accommodated herself to anti-Palestinianism. Progressives should defend her – and the special envoy position – from unhinged Conservative and right-wing Quebec nationalist criticism. But it’s hard not to be wary of someone appointed to combat Islamophobia that Bernie Farber calls “probably the finest appointment that the prime minister could have made.”