Tag Archives: B’nai Brith

Israel lobby’s racist attacks against Left-wing Toronto restaurant

 

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Foodbendors sign

The Israel lobby has waged a remarkably successful campaign to bankrupt a small left-wing Toronto restaurant. Despite claiming to fight bigotry, it is the Israeli nationalists who have committed the surest racism and arguably taken the most anti-Jewish positions.

In response to pressure from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai B’rith, Jewish Defence League (JDL), etc. delivery services Uber, Ritual, Door Dash and others have dropped Foodbendors in recent days. A number of institutional customers also announced they would no longer buy from the restaurant. Foodbendors’ highly active Instagram account was taken down. Its money processor also held back some payments for orders and a Gofundme campaign that quickly raised $2700 to defend the restaurant was deactivated. An investigation of their business license has begun, an individual launched a $750,000 defamation suit against the owner and she is also being dragged before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

This devastating assault is being waged against a restaurant that has strongly advocated for Black Lives Matter and Indigenous rights as well as against patriarchy and Canadian imperialism. Its long Canada Day statement noted, “Canada backs every coup of elected socialist leaders led by Washington and continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia where they will be used to perpetuate war and famine in Yemen.”

In the fall the unabashedly left-wing restaurant painted “I love Gaza” in its window on the busy Bloor street. This prompted a backlash from the anti-Palestinian crowd and put Foodbenders on the radar of those looking to squash any sign of solidarity with the long-beleaguered Palestinians. Amidst recent Black Lives Matter protests, the restaurant had a dust-up with pro-police forces when they put up a sign in front of their shop saying, “No Justice, No Peace, F*ck the Police!” Then they faced criticism for a “Happy KKKanada day” sign on July 1. Preferring targets that are already offside with elements of the establishment (think Jeremy Corbyn), the Israel lobby groups saw a chance to deliver a blow when owner Kimberly Hawkins posted to Instagram, “Open Now – 8 PM for non-racist shoppers #Bloordale #Bloorstreet, #Toronto, #Open, #ftp [fuck the police] #FreePalestine and #ZionistsNotWelcome.” The anti-Palestinian lobby claimed the #ZionistsNotWelcome hashtag discriminated against Jews.

To her credit Hawkins didn’t back down. She clarified that Jews were indeed welcome and that she does not believe “criticism of the Zionist political ideology, Israel or the Greater Israel Project, or pointing out its racist supremacist foundations amounts to criticism of the Jewish people or even Israeli citizens.”

Whether one believes Hawkins’ restaurant has been unfairly attacked or Toronto Jewry stigmatized by the Foodbendors owner, the primary victims of any suppression of discussion of Zionism or “free Palestine” are those locked in the Gaza prison or in the occupied West Bank. In the Toronto conflict the clearest act of hate was carried out by JDL thugs scrubbing a Palestinian Lives Matter marking from the sidewalk and, similar to what Jewish supremacist settlers do to Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, a woman painting the symbol on the Israeli flag onto Foodbenders window.

The Israel lobby groups have also engaged in essentialist language that if taken to its logical conclusion basically blames all Jews for a European colonial movement that dispossessed Palestinians.

Critics of the restaurant have said that Hawkins uses the term “Zionism” or “Zionists” as a euphemism for “Jew” or “Jewish”, which she flatly denies. Writing in the Toronto Star, self-professed progressive Emma Teitel responds to those who say using the word Zionist with a disparaging adjective “isn’t anti-Semitic, because Zionism doesn’t equal Judaism. But this position is a semantic fallacy. Zionism in modern Jewish terms is synonymous with a belief that the state of Israel has a right to exist. By this definition a great many Jews today are Zionists. When an activist group or a shop owner or whoever attaches anti-Semitic tropes to an adjective, Zionist, that millions of Jews wear, they’re engaging in anti-Semitism plain and simple.”

While some genuinely anti-Semitic people do what Teitel claims, there has to be a way to distinguish between those who support the idea of a religious/ethnic state, which is at the core of the Zionist philosophy, and those who support secular states. Many people, Jews included, believe that a state shouldn’t favour one religion or ethnic group over another. Those who demand a secular state in Canada but support a Jewish state in Israel are inconsistent at best and racist at worst (against Palestinians who live under that state’s control).

In their statements about Foodbendors, CIJA, B’nai B’rith and International Legal Forum directly conflate Jewish and Zionist. CIJA notes, “a recent study of Jewish Canadians confirms that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians are Zionists, and the term can be used to describe our community.”

Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism, the Theodore Herzl-led Zionist movement was also spurred by the Christian, nationalist and imperialist ideologies sweeping Europe at the time. After two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism finally took root among some Jews after two centuries of active Protestant Zionism. “Christian proto-Zionists [existed] in England 300 years before modern Jewish Zionism emerged,” notes Evangelics and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism. Until the mid-1800s Zionism was an almost entirely non-Jewish movement that reflected the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

Another factor driving Jewish Zionism was the nationalism sweeping Europe in the late 1800s. Germany, Italy and a number of eastern European states were all established during this period.

Alongside nationalist and biblical literalist influences, Zionism took root at the height of European imperialism. In the lead-up to World War I the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony.)

Similar to Europe, Zionism’s roots in Canada are Christian, not Jewish. Early Canadian support for Zionism was based on more literal readings of the Bible and tied to this country’s status as a dominion of the British Empire, which in the latter half of the nineteenth century began to see Zionism as a potential vehicle to strengthen its geostrategic position in the region. At the time of Confederation, Canada’s preeminent Christian Zionist was Henry Wentworth Monk. Monk called for the British Empire to establish a “dominion of Israel” similar to the dominion of Canada. In the 1978 book Canada and Palestine, Zachariah Kay notes, “Monk believed that Palestine was the logical center of the British Empire, and could help form a confederation of the English-speaking world.”

By CIJA, B’nai B’rith, JDL, etc… logic, Jewry in its entirety are responsible for this colonial movement and its dispossession of Palestinians. In fact, if one makes that claim they can rightly be accused of anti-Semitism because individual Jews and Canada’s Jewish community are clearly not responsible for what the Zionist movement or Israel does. Of course, individual Jews and Jewish organizations can be complicit in Israeli crimes if they support that country, but that is because of their actions, not who they are.

The Israel lobby’s racist and essentialist ideas need to be contested and their effort to bankrupt a progressive Toronto restaurant resisted.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel

Jewish Defence League attacks pro-Palestine restaurant

 

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Why the official silence about Toronto’s most powerful extreme right group? Is it because we live in a political culture where Palestinian lives don’t matter?

Recently an individual with the Jewish Defence League (JDL) was photographed defacing a pro-Palestinian storefront with supremacist graffiti in broad daylight. Nothing has happened to them but the anti-racist victim has faced negative consequences.

On Sunday JDL thugs held a rally in front of Foodbenders, a sandwich shop that has “I Love Gaza” painted on its window. During their hate fest they scrubbed a Palestinian Lives Matter marking from the sidewalk and, similar to what Jewish supremacist settlers do to Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, someone painted the symbol on the Israeli flag onto the restaurant window. Alongside painting Stars of David on her storefront, Kimberly Hawkins has faced a bevy of online abuse. The Foodbenders owner has been called a “dirty Palestinian whore” and told “Palestine sucks I will burn your business down” and “I hope your family gets trapped inside the restaurant when it burns.”

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Hawkins has faced these attacks since an Instagram post of hers began circulating last week that stated, “Open Now – 8 PM for non-racist shoppers #Bloordale #Bloorstreet, #Toronto, #Open, #ftp #FreePalestine and #ZionistsNotWelcome.” The police seem to have ignored the whole affair, perhaps because a few weeks earlier Foodbenders was embroiled in a controversy over a sign that read “No Justice, No Peace, F*ck the Police!”

The anti-Palestinian lobby pounced on the #ZionistsNotWelcome hashtag and demanded food delivery services boycott the store. Submitting to the pressure, Uber Eats, Ritual and DoorDash have cancelled their contract with the restaurant. (While “for non-racist shoppers” and “#ZionistsNotWelcome” are entirely legitimate statements, they are near impossible to enforce and it is questionable to block someone with racist views from purchasing a sandwich, as Hawkins immediately explained.)

The media has all but ignored the JDL’s hate, as have the groups and individuals who claim to monitor the far right in Canada. The double standard is stark. When individuals have covered or painted over Black Lives Matter symbols the incidents have been widely reported and interpreted as racist. A couple in Contra Costa, California, were charged with a hate crime for painting over a BLM marking on the street. The Foodbender’s case is far worse. The subjugation of Palestinians is crueller than the oppression of Black people in North America and the JDLers chose to deface the property with the symbol of Palestinians’ oppressors.

Over the past decade JDL Toronto has built itself up by aggressively harassing Palestinian solidarity activists. Facebook has banned JDL Canada’s account, classifying it a “dangerous organization”. In 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against a number of JDL members who were thought to be plotting to bomb Palestine House in Mississauga and in 2017 JDL Toronto members organized a mob that attacked protesters at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington DC. In the worst incident, a 55-year-old Palestinian-American teacher was punched, kicked and hit with flagpoles. Bruised across his body, Kamal Nayfeh needed 18 stitches around his eye.

In November JDL supporters attacked peaceful pro-Palestinian activists protesting a presentation by Israeli military reservists at York University. One of the victims was reportedly knocked unconscious.

In the US the FBI labeled the JDL a “right-wing terrorist group” in 2001 after its members were convicted in a series of acts of terror, including the killing of the regional director of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and a plot to assassinate a congressman. A member of the JDL’s sister organization in Israel killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre 20 years ago.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai B’rith, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and a slew of other politicians have all condemned Foodbenders. Simultaneously, they have ignored the JDL’s racism, further emboldening Toronto’s most powerful far right organization. It seems, for them, Palestinian lives do not matter.

 

Please take one minute to send an email to major Toronto media to ask them why they have not covered this outrageous attack against a pro-Palestinian restaurant.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel

Canada’s Security Council defeat is a win for Palestine

Black Festival Fall Promotional Twitter Post (4)

Canada’s defeat in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council is a major victory for Palestinian solidarity. It also puts Canada’s Israel lobby on the defensive.

Israeli politicians and commentators have begun to publicly bemoan the loss. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, told the Jerusalem Post, “we are disappointed that Canada didn’t make it, both because we have close ties with the country and because of the campaign that the Palestinians ran against Canada.” In another story in that paper headlined “With annexation looming, Canada’s UNSC upset is bad news for Israel, US” Deputy Managing Editor Tovah Lazaroff labels Canada’s loss “a sharp reminder of the type of diplomatic price tag Israel’s allies can suffer on the international stage.”

Inside Canada the Security Council defeat is a blow to the Israel lobby. While the Canadian media has generally minimized the impact Canada’s anti-Palestinian position had on the vote, the subject is being raised. In a Journal de Québec column titled “Why did Canada suffer a humiliating defeat at the UN?” Norman Lester writes, “it is the support of the Trudeau Liberal government for Israel, like that of Harper before him, that is probably the main reason for Ottawa’s two successive setbacks. Ireland and Norway have more balanced policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than Canada.” He concludes the article by noting, “Canada has no chance of returning to the Security Council in the foreseeable future unless there is a radical change in its position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

By acquiescing almost entirely to the ‘Israel no matter what’ outlook of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai B’rith, the Trudeau government undercut its bid for a seat on the UN’s highest decision-making body. The Israel lobby’s point people in the Liberal caucus, Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, are no doubt hoping to avoid too much blowback for their role in this embarrassment. Housefather ought to be prodded on his contribution to the Trudeau government’s anti-Palestinian voting record at the UN since he repeatedly boasted that it was more pro-Israel than Stephen Harper’s.

Canada’s voting record at the UN was at the heart of the grassroots No Canada on the UN Security Council campaign. An open letter launching the campaign from the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute noted, “since coming to power the Trudeau government has voted against more than fifty UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights backed by the overwhelming majority of member states.” A subsequent open letter was signed by over 100 civil society groups and dozens of prominent individuals urging countries to vote against Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat due to its anti-Palestinian positions. That letter organized by Just Peace Advocates stated, “the Canadian government for at least a decade and a half has consistently isolated itself against world opinion on Palestinian rights at the UN. … Continuing this pattern, Canada ‘sided with Israel by voting No’ on most UN votes on the Question of Palestine in December. Three of these were Canada’s votes on Palestinian Refugees, on UNRWA and on illegal settlements, each distinguishing Canada as in direct opposition to the ‘Yes’ votes of Ireland and Norway.”

Just Peace Advocates organized 1,300 individuals to email all UN ambassadors asking them to vote for Ireland and Norway instead of Canada for the Security Council. In a sign of the campaign’s impact, Canada’s permanent representative to the UN Marc André Blanchard responded with a letter to all UN ambassadors defending Canada’s policy on Palestinian rights.

Not only has Canada’s voting record on Palestinian rights undercut its standing within the General Assembly, the Canadian public doesn’t want the government pursuing anti-Palestinian positions. A recent Ekos poll found that 74% of Canadians wanted Ottawa to express opposition to Israel’s plan to formally annex a large swath of the West Bank with 42% of the public desiring some form of economic and/or diplomatic sanction against Israel if it moves forward with annexation. “The Trudeau government has not only isolated Canada from international opinion regarding Palestinian rights at the UN, but its positions contravene the wishes of most Canadians regarding the long-beleaguered Palestinians,” explained Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates.

While the impact of the loss shouldn’t be exaggerated, Justin Trudeau’s brand is linked to the idea that he is liked internationally. Additionally, the Liberals’ base supports the UN and the international body is closely connected with how they market their foreign policy.

Kowtowing to CIJA, B’nai B’rith and Israeli nationalists such as Housefather, Levitt, etc. on Palestinian rights at the UN helped scuttle Canada’s Security Council bid — that’s a fact Trudeau and the Liberals must face. More important, the international community’s rejection of a government enthralled to the Israel lobby weakens Israel diplomatically and is a victory for Palestine solidarity.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Justin Trudeau

Palestinian solidarity unsettles Canadian diplomats

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The Palestinian solidarity movement is unsettling Canada’s diplomatic apparatus. In the final week of their multi-year campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council they’ve been forced to respond to a strong, well-documented, campaign in defence of Palestinian rights.

Yesterday, Canada’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, delivered a letter to all UN ambassadors defending Canadian policy on Palestinian rights. Blanchard was responding to an Open Letter organized by Just Peace Advocates signed by more than 100 organizations and dozens of prominent individuals. Over the past week more than 1000 individuals have used that letter as a template to contact all 193 UN ambassador to ask them to vote for Ireland and Norway instead of Canada for two seats available on the Security Council.

Canada’s ambassador claims the Just Peace Advocates’ letter contains “significant inaccuracies”, but he doesn’t identify a single one of those “inaccuracies” (Blanchard probably hoped his letter wouldn’t be put online).

 

 

Here is the Palestinian solidarity letter sent to all UN ambassadors:

“As humanity reels from the Covid-19 pandemic, you will soon select the world’s representatives on the UN’s highest decision-making body. As organizations and individuals advocating in Canada and elsewhere for a just peace in Palestine/Israel, we respectfully ask you to reject Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
As you choose seats on the Security Council between the bids of Canada, Ireland and Norway for the two Western Europe and Other States, the UN’s historic contribution to Palestinian dispossession and responsibility to protect their rights must be front of mind. In these uncertain times, Palestinians are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 due to Israel’s military occupation and violations of UN resolutions.
The Canadian government for at least a decade and a half has consistently isolated itself against world opinion on Palestinian rights at the UN. Since coming to power – after the dubious record of the Harper government – the Trudeau government has voted against more than fifty UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights that were backed by the overwhelming majority of member states. Continuing this pattern, Canada “sided with Israel by voting No” on most UN votes on the Question of Palestine in December. Three of these were Canada’s votes on Palestinian Refugees, on UNRWA and on illegal settlements, each distinguishing Canada as in direct opposition to the “Yes” votes of Ireland and Norway.
The Canadian government has refused to abide by 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, calling on member states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied in 1967.” On the contrary, Ottawa extends economic and trade assistance to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
Canada has repeatedly sided with Israel. Ottawa justified Israel’s killing of “Great March of Return” protesters in Gaza and has sought to deter the International Criminal Court from investigating Israeli war crimes. In fact, Canada’s foreign affairs minister announced that should it win a seat on the UNSC, it would act as an “asset for Israel” on the Council.
When deciding who represents the international community on the UN’s highest decision-making body, we urge you to consider the UN-established rights of the long-suffering Palestinians, and to vote for Ireland and Norway, which have better records on the matter than Canada.”

In reality, the letter only touches on the current government’s anti-Palestinian record. They’ve also celebrated Canadians who fight in the Israeli military, threatened to cut off funding to the International Criminal Court for investigating Israeli crimes, protected Israeli settlement wine producers, added Palestinian organizations to Canada’s terrorism list, adopted a definition of antisemitism explicitly designed to marginalize those who criticize Palestinian dispossession and repeatedly slandered the pro-Palestinian movement. None of this is secret. In fact, Liberal MP and former chair of the government’s Justice and Human Rights Committee, Anthony Housefather, has repeatedly boasted that the Trudeau government’s voting record at the UN was more anti-Palestinian than the Stephen Harper government!

The Trudeau government has almost entirely acquiesced to Housefather, B’nai B’rith, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the rest of the Israel lobby’s positions. But, they understand that there is sympathy for Palestinians within the UN General Assembly. And they need those individuals to vote for Canada’s Security Council bid if they don’t want to suffer an embarrassing defeat.

To be forced to respond at this late hour in their Security Council campaign represents a setback to the Liberals. But, we won’t know how significant the damage is until after next week’ vote. In the meantime please send a letter to all UN ambassadors calling on them to vote for Canada’s competitors, Norway and Ireland, for the two non-permanent Security Council spots open for Western countries.

As Just Peace Advocates’ Karen Rodman has pointed out, “the letter is seeking to pull at the heartstrings of the individuals who cast the secret ballots for the Security Council seat. We want to remind UN ambassadors that Canada has consistently isolated itself against world opinion when it comes to the long-suffering Palestinians.”

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, Justin Trudeau, Middle East

Israel lobby in Canada

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The Trudeau government has been campaigning aggressively for a seat on the Security Council, but its bid to win a place on the UN’s most powerful decision-making body will be hampered by Canada’s decidedly anti-Palestinian voting record. Despite claiming to support the “international rules based order”, the Trudeau government has voted against more than 50 resolutions upholding Palestinian rights. The extent to which the Liberals have mimicked the Stephen Harper Conservative’s position regarding General Assembly resolutions, which are little more than symbolic acts of solidarity with the long-beleaguered Palestinians, highlights the power of the Israel lobby in Canada.

Together the United Jewish Appeal/Combined Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Windsor, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver and Atlantic Canada raise over $100 million annually and have about $1 billion in assets. For half a century UJA Toronto has organized an annual Walk with Israel and the Montréal branch organizes an annual Israel Day march. Many thousands march each year. The lobbying arm of the UJA/CJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has over 40 staff and a $10 million budget. In addition, B’nai B’rith has a handful of offices across the country. For its part, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Canada’s budget is $7-10 million annually. These groups work closely with StandWithUs Canada, CAMERA, Honest Reporting Canada and other (often extreme right wing) Israeli nationalist political organizations. Dozens of registered Canadian charities, ranging from the Jewish National Fund to Christians United for Israel also engage in at least some pro-Israel campaigning.

Since 2013 the chief fundraiser for the Trudeau Liberals has been Stephen Bronfman, scion of an arch Israeli nationalist family. Bronfman has millions invested in Israeli technology companies and over the years the Bronfman clan has secured arms for Israeli forces and supported its military in other ways.

Other notable Canadian moguls have long histories of ensuring ties between Israel and Canada.

Worth more than $3 billion prior to his death, David Azrieli was among the richest Canadians. In his youth he served in the paramilitary Haganah group during the 1948 war. His unit was responsible for the Battle of Jerusalem, including forcibly displacing 10,000 Palestinians.  Azrieli was also a real estate developer in Israel and in 2011 he made a controversial donation to Im Tirtzu, a hardline Israeli-nationalist organization (deemed a “fascist” group by an Israeli court).

Worth $1.6 billion, Gerald Schwartz and his wife Heather Reisman created the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides millions of dollars annually for non-Israelis who fight in the IDF.

In recent years Canadian-Israeli billionaire Sylvan Adams has plowed tens of millions of dollars into various sports and cultural initiatives to rebrand Israel.

Other Canadian billionaires Larry Tanenbaum, Mark Scheinberg, David Cheriton, Daryl Katz, Seymour Schulich, as well as the Zekelman, Reichmann and Sherman families, all back Israel.

In “A story of failed re-engagement: Canada and Iran, 2015–2018” University of Ottawa professor Thomas Juneau highlighted the Israel lobby’s role in deterring the government from re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran:

“Initially, Cabinet and most caucus supported re-engagement. Dion, who was actively lobbied by Bombardier (whose headquarters were in his riding) and the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, was especially keen. Other senior ministers such as Freeland (International Trade) and Harjit Sajjan (Defence) also supported. With time, however, opposition within caucus grew. It was led by Michael Levitt, the influential MP for York-Center and chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, and also included Anthony Housefather (MP for Mount-Royal). These MPs had support from former minister Irwin Cotler, who had long argued for harsher policies towards Iran.”

Juneau continued, “other interviewees also highlighted the differences in organization among pressure groups. Between the tabling of the motion [to oppose reengaging with Iran] and the vote four days later, groups opposing reengagement, such as the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, rapidly launched an effective campaign to pressure MPs. Groups favoring reengagement, however, such as the Iranian Canadian Congress, were unable to match these lobbying efforts.”

For a movement defending open racism and colonialism the Israel lobby wields a unique and powerful stick: The ability to play victim and smear those advocating for justice as racist.

The Liberals ousted high-profile Imam Hassan Guillet as a candidate to run for the party in 2019 after B’nai B’rith attacked him for challenging Israeli expansionism. The winner of the Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel riding nomination gained global notoriety for his sermon at the memorial for the victims of the 2017 Québec City mosque attack, but when B’nai B’rith twisted his pro-Palestinian statements to imply he was anti-Semitic the Liberals dumped their star candidate.

Similarly, when members of the extremist Jewish Defence League attacked peaceful pro-Palestinian activists protesting a presentation by Israeli military reservists at York University Trudeau sided with the thugs crying anti-Semitism. Following a statement by B’nai B’rith, CIJA and the Israel lobby’s point person in the Liberal government, Michael Levitt, Trudeau denounced “anti-Semitism” by pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

The influence of CIJA, B’nai B’rith, Bronfman, Schwartz, etc. largely explains the Trudeau government’s anti-Palestinian voting record at the UN. Whether that will scuttle Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council is to be determined.

But, we should hope so. Please join over 100 organizations and dozens of prominent individuals that have signed an open letter calling on UN member states to vote for Canada’s competitors, Norway and Ireland, for the two non-permanent Security Council spots open for Western countries.

 

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Filed under Israel, Justin Trudeau, Middle East

Real hate taught inside Toronto school, not scrawled outside

Supporters of a private Toronto school that publicly promotes racism against Palestinians, flies an Israeli flag and then complains of “anti-Semitism” when pro-Palestinian graffiti is scrawled on its walls should give their heads a shake.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith labeled messages scrawled on Leo Baeck Day School “hateful” and “anti-Semitic”, but fair-minded individuals should be more concerned with the hatred taught inside the school.

Recently someone wrote “Free Palestine” and“Long Live Palestine” on the school’s sign and flagpole. On a picture of a rally with Israeli flags at or near Leo Baeck (reports differ) someone wrote “Long Life [sic] to the Hamas.”

Saying it received a call to its “Anti-Hate Hotline”, B’nai Brith claimed the school was “defaced  with antisemitic epithets”. FSWC and CIJA also put out statements denouncing “hatred”. A number of city councillors and MPs repeated their message with Mayor John Tory writing, “there is no place for hate” in Toronto.

But none of these groups or politicians mentioned the hate taught inside the school itself.

Leo Baeck is a bastion indoctrination and activism that meets most of the criteria of anti-Palestinian racism, as defined by the UK’s Jewish Voice for Labour.

An Israeli flag flies in front of the school and its publicity says it “instills” a “love of Israel” and  “a deep and meaningful connection to … the State of Israel” among students. The school has an Israel Engagement Committee and in 2012 it received United Jewish Appeal Toronto’s inaugural Israel Engagement Community Award. That same year the Israeli Consul General in Toronto, DJ Schneiweiss, attended the launch of a new campus at Leo Baeck.

A 2012 Canadian Jewish News article titled “Leo Baeck adopts  more Israel-centric curriculum” quoted the head of the school saying “one of the reasons people choose our school is a commitment to the State of Israel.” But, principal Eric Petersie told the paper, graduates felt unprepared to respond to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on university campuses so the school increased its Israeli teachings.

Leo Baeck was the first school to join UJA Federation Toronto’s shinshinim (emissary) program, which began in 2007. Partly funded by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the program sends young Israelis to interact with Canadian students and staff. Last year the school hosted Idan Aharon and Roni Alkalay for three days a week. According to the Canadian Jewish News, “one of the ways Leo Baeck and the Young Emissary Program ensure that students understand the realities of Israel is by re-introducing the previous year’s shinshinim to students by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.”

The school promotes the Israeli military in other ways. Last year’s Grade 8 class organized a school-wide fundraiser to support Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel and a choir “paid tribute  to Israel’s fallen heroes.”

In another crude form of anti-Palestinianism, Leo Baeck works with the explicitly racist  Jewish National Fund, which excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. Some “students took  virtual walk across Israel in school thanks to JNF map and guidance”, noted a 2015 tweet.  But, the JNF map  shown to the nine and ten-year-olds encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza, effectively denying Palestinians the right to a state on even 22 percent of their historic homeland. In all likelihood, Leo Baeck works with JNF Canada’s Education Department, which has produced puzzles and board games to convince young minds of its colonialist worldview, and organizes celebrations of JNF day  at Jewish schools.

While B’nai Brith, FSWC and CIJA’s statements on the graffiti present the school as sacrosanct, apolitical, terrain, they didn’t object when a politician used it as a backdrop to express his anti-Palestinian bonafides. During a 2012 tour of Leo Baeck then Liberal Liberal party leadership contender Justin Trudeau criticized Iran, celebrated Israel and distanced himself from his brother Alexandre’s support for Palestinians.

Over the past year the Canadian Jewish News has published at least three stories about the growing attention devoted to Israel education at Jewish schools. A 2017 cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”

When a school engages in partisan political activity in support of a foreign country, when it supports racism and intolerance against an oppressed people, when it indoctrinates children in these views, surely it cannot be surprised that some would be upset, and might illustrate their displeasure.

One can debate the merits of writing political graffiti on school grounds, but what news reports described was certainly not anti-Semitic.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Uncategorized

Does Ford Nation include white nationalists, pro-Israel groups?

Pro-Israel politics make for strange bedfellows.

B’nai Brith (BB) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) must be concerned about the furor over Doug Ford’s ties to fringe Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy. Last month the prominent white supremacist participated in a BB support rally and the two pro-Israel groups smeared Dimitri Lascaris when he called on them to publicly reject Goldy. And in a twist highlighting the anti-Palestinianism in mainstream Canadian politics, the media’s favoured critic of Ford’s ties to Goldy, Bernie Farber, championed the CIJA/BB onslaught on Lascaris.

Last week Goldy was photographed with Ontario’s new premier at his Ford Fest barbecue. For three days after the photo emerged Ford refused to distance himself from the white nationalist “journalist”. In a bizarre bid to deflect criticism, Ford responded to questions about his support for Goldy by telling the Ontario legislature an NDP MPP supported the Palestinian led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (presumably this was a way of accusing the NDP of anti-Semitism).

Goldy is a problem for BB and CIJA. They’d prefer not to criticize someone who is supportive of Israel and popular with their most aggressive anti-Arab/Muslim Israeli nationalist supporters. But, Goldy is toxic to the media and most Jews probably consider her views distasteful. In April, for instance, Goldy promoted a 1937 book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which repeatedly attacks Jews and called for eliminating the “Jewish threat”.

More immediately, the attention focused on Goldy should embarrass CIJA and BB since three weeks ago they launched an unprecedented smear  campaign against pro-Palestinian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris in part because he criticized their refusal to denounce Goldy’s attendance at a BB support rally. On August 29 the white supremacist mayoral candidate was photographed with individuals counter protesting a rally opposed to BB smearing the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). In the lead-up and aftermath of that protest, BB, CIJA, Liberal MP Michael Levitt and others condemned those rallying in support of CUPW. In response, Lascaris repeatedly called on them to distance themselves from two BB supporters who produced a post-rally video praising Goldy and calling for the death penalty for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs. In one tweet Lascaris wrote:

Mary Forrest, one of the B’nai Brith supporters who called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh and Muslim MPs, poses outside B’nai Brith’s office with Faith Goldy, who promoted a fascist book calling for elimination of the ‘Jewish menace’.”

In another he stated:

White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating ‘the Jewish menace’. Goldy was warmly received by B’nai Brith supporters last week. And B’nai Brith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?”

BB, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from Goldy or the two BB supporters’ who made death threats against politicians. As I detail here and here, CIJA and BB responded to Lascaris highlighting their dalliance with racist extremists by distorting an innocuous tweet about two anti-Palestinian Liberal MPs and then called on politicians to denounce his “anti-Semitism”.

In a ‘how do you sleep at night’ double standard, an individual widely quoted criticizing Ford’s association with Goldy jumped full throttle into the CIJA/BB smear campaign against Lascaris. Former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber re-tweeted statements tarring Lascaris by Liberal MP Marco Mendicino and JSpaceCanada, which he is a spokesperson for. Chair of the newly formed Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Farber added a personalized tweet condemning Lascaris’ “antisemitism pure and simple.”

Lascaris’ rationale for pressing BB, CIJA and Levitt to disassociate from Goldy was that they aligned with her supporters by attacking those rallying in defence of CUPW. Lascaris should have added Farber to his list of targets. The long-time pro-Israel lobbyist criticized those who rallied in support of CUPW, but remained silent about the aggressive, racist, Goldy supporting counter protest.

After the display of solidarity with CUPW Farber re-tweeted Levitt’s criticism of the protest at BB’s office. He wrote, “I agree with Michael Levitt. I know a number of elderly Holocaust survivors in this neighbourhood who were taken aback perhaps even traumatized by this protest. It saddens me deeply that dialogue is replaced by perceived intimidation.” The next day he followed up his ‘those levelling smears are the victims’ tweet with a declaration on the “unsettling demonstration in front of B’nai Brith Canada.” In the 400-word statement he ignores the racist, Goldy-supporting Israeli nationalists and repeatedly describes CUPW supporters as “intimidating”.

But in reality, it was the counter rally of BB supporters that was threatening. And a self-proclaimed “antiracist” like Farber should have been “unsettled” by the barrage of Islamophobic comments made by BB supporters, not to mention their embrace of Goldy. To this day he appears to have stayed silent about Goldy joining the BB supporters.

For two decades Farber was a leader in the anti-Palestinian movement. Since the Canadian Jewish Congress disbanded in 2011 Farber has worked to redress the Islamophobia he stoked while working for that organization, but he continues to take his cues from stridently anti-Palestinian groups.

For their part, BB and CIJA failed to criticize Ford’s ties to Goldy. Only after the premier finally distanced himself from the white supremacist mayoral candidate did they tweet about the furor. BB and CIJA are wary of challenging Ford partly because many of their supporters voted for him (a Canadian Jewish News headline noted, “Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations”). Additionally, they support Ford’s anti-Palestinian positions. In one of his first moves after being elected Ford announced that he would seek to ban the annual Al Quds (Jerusalem) Palestinian solidarity event.

The Ford-Goldy-BB-CIJA dalliance highlights the growing links between bigoted white nationalist, right-wing politics and Israeli nationalist campaigners. It’s a relationship that anti-racist Palestinian solidarity activists should expose whenever possible.

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Pro-Palestinian campaigner smeared by Canadian politicians

On Thursday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of other Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister. But instead of condemning those who called for racialized politicians to face the “guillotine” or “stoning”, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian politicians smeared the individual drawing attention to the death threats.

And on the weekend NDP leaders participated in this unprecedented multi-party smear campaign against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At the behest of CIJA, MP Hélène Laverdière called Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Jagmeet Singh inferred as much.

Here’s the background: After an August 29 demonstration opposing B’nai B’rith’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Lascaris called  on Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, CIJA, and others who have recently defended B’nai B’rith, to publicly repudiate two of that group’s supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to be killed in a video detailing  their participation in a counter protest to the rally against B’nai B’rith. On Thursday Lascaris tweeted about the two B’nai B’rith supporters who “called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau & Liberal MPs Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra & Maryam Monsef” and asked Levitt and Housefather to “to denounce” the threats “but shamefully, they’ve said nothing.” Then Lascaris tweeted: “Apparently Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.”

In this tweet about Housefather and Levitt prioritizing the defence of Israeli crimes above their own party, Lascaris could also have cited the two Liberal MPs’ response to Trudeau questioning whether Israeli forces should have shot Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani in Gaza. The day after Trudeau’s May 16 comment Housefather and Levitt issued a joint statement dissociating themselves from the Prime Minister’s mealy-mouthed criticism of Israeli actions. Conservative Senator Linda Frum described it as “distancing themselves from their own government”, Globe and Mail reporter Robert Fife said they “broke with Mr. Trudeau’s criticism of Israel” and Housefather himself noted in July that he was “disappointed… with the recent statement on Gaza … [so] Levitt and I released our own statement.”The Housefather/Levitt statement claimed “the terrorist organisation Hamas bears direct moral responsibility and culpability” when Israeli troops shoot peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctors.

So, clearly the tweet by Lascaris was a fair comment/criticism of the action/inaction of two MPs and their apparent disloyalty to their own political party. Regardless, in our upside down world where those who defend racist policies in another country are supported even when they cry “racism” against those fighting that discrimination, CIJA saw Lascaris’ innocuous tweet as an opportunity to attack him and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). In response CIJA tweeted: “Yesterday, CJPME Chair Dimitri Lascaris accused Jewish MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt of being disloyal to Canada. This is the literal definition of antisemitism under the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition. Will CJPME publicly retract & apologize for this antisemitic smear?”

Soon thereafter a slew of MPs, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Trudeau jumped to Housefather and Levitt’s defence or directly smeared Lascaris. NDP foreign critic Laverdière tweeted: “I consider Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather to be my friends as well as colleagues, & I condemn the anti-Semitic comments directed against them by Dimitri Lascaris. We can have legitimate disagreements on Canadian foreign policy without questioning anyone’s loyalty to Canada.”

Employing slightly more restrained language, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also joined the anti-Palestinian lunacy. He tweeted: “Antisemitism has no place in Canada. I know what it’s like to experience racism & discrimination, and to have my loyalty to Canada questioned. Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, I stand with you today.”

But, it’s worse than that. While Laverdière, Singh and others found time to label Lascaris racist, they’ve never seen fit to question Levitt and Housefather’s ties to an explicitly racist institution. The York Centre MP is a former board  member ofthe Jewish National Fund and participated  in an event with that organization in Israel last year while Housefather did an event with the JNF  in May. The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to  benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” (During a visit to Israel in 2016 Laverdière participated in a ceremony  put on by the head of the JNF.)

Even if Lascaris had written what Trudeau, Laverdière, etc. claim, it shouldn’t be particularly controversial. Leavitt and Housefather are fairly open about the centrality of Israel to their politics. In July Housefather describes himself as a “huge supporter of Israel” and “one of the foremost advocates on behalf of support for Israel.”On August 28 he wrote in a Canadian Jewish News article that “like many in our community, there is nothing more upsetting to me than when the UN unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation.” In that same piece Housefather noted how he “works tirelessly to have Israel’s back” and boasted that the current Liberal government has the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government at the UN. The Montréal MP wrote, “we have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”

For his part, Levitt chairs the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, has by far the most official parliamentary contact with Israel lobby group CIJA, travels regularly to Israel, attends events with the Israeli AmbassadorConsul  General, Tel Aviv Mayor, etc., attends “walks with Israel”, says he “stands with Israel”, lobbied Canada to withdraw its logo from the 2016 World Social Forum in Montréal because of criticism of Israel, lobbied to have the Canadian Food Inspection Agency improperly label wines from illegal Israeli settlements, co-founded the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee “to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians”, etc.

Since 2016 Lascaris has been repeatedly smeared by Israel lobby groups. In August of that year he led a push within the Green Party to support elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. A resolution he proposed at their convention sparked a backlash that saw party leader Elizabeth May demand a convention redo to rescind the resolution, which Lascaris successfully defended.

Lascaris’ effective activism is a problem for the Israel lobby. So are his credentials.Lascaris was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2012 and the next year Canadian Business Magazine dubbed him one of the 50 most influential people in Canadian business, labelling him the “fiercest legal  advocate for shareholder rights.” In 2016 he quit a lucrative law career to devote himself to activism and journalism on issues ranging from climate change to Canadian foreign policy.

Singh and Laverdière should apologize for participating in CIJA’s scurrilous attack on a leading social justice campaigner. And shame on all the Canadian politicians who have fallen for this sickening smear campaign!

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Doug Ford, Israel, the ‘Jewish vote’ and Palestinian solidarity

How will the election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario effect the pro-Palestinian movement?

In one of his first post-election moves Ford announced that he would seek to ban an annual Palestinian solidarity event. After the recent Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day protest brought over 500 people out in Toronto, Ford tweeted, “our government will take action to ensure that events like Al Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.” Ignoring how Israel has been killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians — 124 to 0 in the latest round in Gaza — the premier-elect added in a subsequent tweet: “Blatantly racist or anti-Semitic ideology should never be permitted on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, or anywhere else in our province.”

Ford’s move isn’t surprising since he’s previously campaigned against Palestinian solidarity activism. During his stint on city council Ford sought to defund Toronto’s Pride Parade because Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was allowed to march alongside hundreds of other groups.”We don’t support hate groups, that’s our view. If they want to march in the parade, then we won’t fund them,” said the councillor.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Jewish Defence League and B’nai B’rith immediately applauded or re-tweeted Ford’s call to ban Jerusalem Day protests (as did Canada’s leading Christian Zionist activist and noted opponent of sexual education, Charles McVety, who celebrated Ford’s election by tweeting, “praise God who heard our prayers and delivered victory for the sake of our children.”) During the election campaign B’nai B’rith, JDL and CIJA — to differing degrees — sought to undermine Ford’s main rivals by weaponizing claims of “anti-Semitism” against the NDP. The JDL’s Twitter account repeatedly alleged the NDP was anti-Semitic while B’nai B’rith’s Twitter did the same and its officials participated in a Conservative Party press conference to denounce the NDP’s candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, Tasleem Riaz, for allegedly posting an Adolf Hitler meme on Facebook five years earlier. More circumspect, CIJA-organized election debates that highlighted NDP candidates’ criticism of Israel and the influential lobby group stayed mum while the Conservatives and right-wing press repeatedly claimed the NDP were anti-Semitic.

Israeli nationalist Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy wrote a handful of columns criticizing NDP candidates’ purported anti-Israel views and accusing them of being anti-Jewish. So did far-right Rebel Media and the Canadian Jewish News repeatedly mentioned NDP candidates’ support for Palestinian rights in its election coverage. A CJN response to a column detailing Ford’s bigotry called “the NDP, a party rife with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish candidates who promote the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) narrative.”

But it was obvious to anyone familiar with Ford’s history or who followed the election closely that he was the flag bearer for racist sentiment. In the CJN Bernie Farber wrote a piece titled “The depth of Doug Ford’s bigotry,” which highlighted his stereotyping of Jews. For its part, Ricochet ran a story titled “Why Canada’s white supremacists want Doug Ford to win” and Press Progress published stories titled “This White Nationalist Says Doug Ford is Sending Him Anti-Immigrant ‘Dog Whistle’ Messages,” “Pastors Who Preached Homophobic and Anti-Semitic Views Endorse Doug Ford,” “Ontario PC candidate Andrew Lawton: gender and racial discrimination should be legal,” etc.

Softer in tone, a number of corporate media outlets published stories making similar points. “Among Doug Ford’s PCs, yet another candidate with bigoted views emerges,” noted a Toronto Star headline.

Despite associating with racists and stereotyping Jews, Ford was backed (at least implicitly) by the dominant Israeli nationalist Jewish organizations. He also appears to have won the bulk of Toronto’s sizable Jewish vote. A CJN headline noted, “Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations.” In Thornhill, the riding with the highest concentration of Jews in Ontario, Conservative candidate Gila Martow defeated her nearest rival by an astounding 29,000 to 9,000 votes.

Unfortunately a sizable portion of Ontario’s Jewish lobby groups have shifted to the right. This could be due to a decline in real anti-Semitism or ties to an increasingly racist and right-wing Israeli public (in recent days hundreds protested against an Arab family moving into a Jewish neighborhood in Afula, an Israeli pool admitted to maintaining separate swim times for Bedouin and Jews and a Likud member of the Knesset claimed “the whole Jewish race is the greatest human capital, and the smartest”). Whatever the reason, every person, including Jews, who believe in justice for all, must confront this reality.

So, how will all this play out for the Palestinian solidarity movement?

The election of Doug Ford has already highlighted the Jewish establishment’s preference for a Conservative “populist” over social democrats associated with Palestinian rights. It should also strengthen the link between Israel campaigning and bigoted, right-wing, politics. This will ultimately be a good thing for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

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Flying Israeli flag in high school causes hatred and division

Should “Jewish Heritage Month” be used as a cover for Israeli nationalism and to suppress Palestinian protest?

A recent incident at a Toronto high school demonstrates the depravity of the pro-Israel lobby. It also illustrates their use of Canadian cultural and “diversity” initiatives to promote a country that declares itself to be the exact opposite of diverse.

Amidst the recent slaughter of nonviolent protesters in Gaza, a half-century illegal occupation of the West Bank and weekly bombings in Syria, an Israeli flag marked with “Jewish Heritage Month” was hoisted in the main foyer of Forest Hill Collegiate Institute. After a couple days the flag created by Israeli nationalist students was moved – possibly due to complaints from other students – to a less prominent location where Jewish Heritage Month events were taking place. In response, B’nai Brith, Hasbara Fellowships, Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) all claimed persecution. “Discrimination has absolutely no place in our schools”, noted a CIJA spokesperson with regards to moving the Israeli flag to a less prominent location in the school. For their part, the Wiesenthal Center said our “objective is to ensure that TDSB [Toronto District School Board] adheres to its own values of equity and inclusivity for all students” while B’nai Brith’s press release decried the “Jewish students who have had their heritage denigrated.” That group then published a story titled “Forest Hill Collegiate Has History of Alienating Jewish Students, Former Pupil Says.”

After the uproar, the flag was returned to the Forest Hill Collegiate Institute’s main foyer and the TDSB apologized. At an assembly to discuss the matter, in which the principal and TDSB representative spokestanding behind a podium adorned with an Israeli flag, a student apparently yelled “Free Palestine”. B’nai Brith immediately denounced the brave, internationalist-minded highschooler, tweeting: “This morning, before an assembly about the removal of a #JewishHeritageMonth banner at Forest Hill Collegiate, a student yelled ‘Free Palestine’ during the morning announcements. We have been assured that this was not approved by the school and that an investigation is underway.”

In another Twitter post, B’nai Brith claimed the Israeli flag flap made a “mockery of Canada’s first Jewish Heritage Month.” Their statement highlights a mindset that views gaining official sanction of cultural initiatives as a way to strengthen their campaign to support a violent, European colonial outpost in the Middle East.

Earlier this year the House of Commons unanimously adopted May as “Jewish Heritage Month”. The motion was sponsored by York Centre MP Michael Levitt who is chair of the Canada IsraelInterparliamentary Group and a former board member of the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. Two weeks ago the Liberal MP issued a statement, partly rebutting the prime minister, that blamed “Hamas incitement” for Israeli forces shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani.

The bill’s other sponsor was Linda Frum. Last year the Conservative Party senator called Iran “one of themost malign nations in the world” and labeled a Palestinian-Canadian 2014 art exhibit at Ottawa’s city hall “a taxpayer-funded tribute to a Palestinian terrorist” and “the murder of innocent civilians.”

Leaving aside the background of those driving the initiative, the likely political effect of creating Jewish Heritage Month should have been obvious. The Canadian Jewish News report on the House of Commons resolution noted that May was chosen to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month because of the “various events on the Jewish calendar, including the UJA Walk for Israel, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Music Week and Israel’s Independence Day.” Similarly, when Ontario adopted May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2012 United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto president Ted Sokolsky linked it to the group’s Israel campaigning. He said, “this announcement will call for an extra celebration at this year’s UJA Walk with Israel, which for 45 years has taken place in May.”

Despite the initiative being steeped in colonialist politics, the NDP voted in favor of the bill creating Jewish Heritage Month. During discussion of the motion NDP MPs, Jenny Kwan and Randall Garrissonclaimed it would enhance cultural/religious understanding. Garrisson said, “Jewish heritage month will help contribute to better understanding of just how diverse we Canadians are, and in doing so contribute to building a Canada free from hatred and division.”

Of course, this would be a laudable goal, but putting up an Israeli flag in a public high school while that country is murdering unarmed Palestinian demonstrators can only cause hatred and division. And it is an affront to thousands of Jewish-Canadians who do not support Israel.

The flag flap at Forest Hill Collegiate illustrates how pro-Israel groups have weaponized Jewish cultural initiatives to amplify their anti-Palestinianism. Those who seek justice for Palestinians need to recognize this fact and figure out ways to push back.

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