Tag Archives: Cheri DiNovo

United Church should come clean on anti-Palestinian accord

UCC222-300x480Toronto church Trinity-St. Paul’s shameful suppression of a Palestinian youth cultural event highlights anti-Palestinian rot festering in the United Church of Canada. It ought to also shine a light on a little discussed anti-Palestinian accord UCC leaders signed with Israel lobby groups five decades ago.

Under pressure from B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Defence League the Trinity-St. Paul Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts recently canceled a room booking “to celebrate the artistic and cultural contributions of Palestinians in the diaspora.” The Palestinian Youth Movement’s spoken word event was to “showcase the winners of the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship”, which the JDL and B’nai B’rith chose to target on the grounds the famous novelist was a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the early 1970s. After Kanafani and his 17-year old niece were assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut, Lebanon’s Daily Star labeled the novelist “a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages.”

As I detailed in this article Trinity-St. Paul’s spiritual leader is anti-Palestinian leftist Cheri DiNovo. Since publishing that piece the former NDP MPP admitted — to vicious anti-Palestinian/Islamophobe Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, of all people — that she forwarded B’nai B’rith’s concerns to the church’s board, which then cancelled the event. Dropping her progressive standing further, DiNovo unfriended a number of individuals on Facebook who politely questioned her role in suppressing the Palestinian cultural event.

To be fair to DiNovo she isn’t the only Progressive Except for Palestine voice in the UCC. “What happened at Trinity St. Paul’s is not isolated”, wrote Karen Rodman, an ordained UCC minister and prominent Palestine solidarity activist. Last year the UCC seminary at the University of Toronto’s Victoria University withdrew from a Palestinian Liberation Theology program with Reverend Naim Ateek. According to Rodman, work had been underway on Emmanuel College’s continuous learning initiative with Ateek for a year when pressure was brought to bear by Israeli nationalist groups.

Resolutions endorsed at UCC conventions in the 2000s called on Palestinians to recognize Israel as an ethnic/religious supremacist state. The 2009 motion called for “the emergent State of Palestine” to recognize “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within safe and secure borders.” In an interview after the 2009 convention Palestinian Canadian journalist Hanna Kawas complained the UCC was asking the victims of a European colonial movement to endorse the supremacist ideology that dispossessed them. In 2012 the UCC “advised against the use of ‘the language of apartheid’ when applied to Israel” and called for a solution to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return so long as it “maintains the demographic integrity of Israel.”

In another sign of the church hierarchy’s encouragement of a colonial ideology, Rodman was harassed and bullied for supporting Palestinian rights. Church officials purportedly called her a “terrorist” for traveling to the West Bank. In response to attacks and biased review process, Rodman filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) against the UCC for discriminating against her anti-Zionist worldview. Last year the HRTO granted Rodman a hearing, which awaits scheduling, to show her anti-Zionist worldview/creed is not just a political view.

(The UCC has supported labelling settlement goods and condemned other aspect of Israel’s occupation. But these resolutions have not been implemented. As an example, no congregation or UCC body implemented a 2012 resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting or supporting the occupation even though a resolution was passed at the subsequent General Council requesting implementation of the 2012 resolution.)

An anti-Palestinian deal UCC leaders brokered decades ago has influenced the church’s indifference to the plight of Palestinians. In the 1950s and 60s the UCC passed a number of resolutions upholding the rights of Palestinians, including those of the refugees to return to their homes. More significantly, the UCC’s influential magazine championed the Palestinian cause. With a circulation of 350,000 in the early 1970s, The Observer criticized Israeli human rights violations. But editor Rev. A.C. Forrest’s support for Palestinians prompted vicious attacks. Emboldened by the blow Israel delivered against pan-Arabism in the 1967 war, B’nai B’rith dubbed Forrest a “Haman”, “Pharaoh” and “anti-Semitic”.

In response, Forrest threatened to sue for libel. B’nai B’rith countersued. A high-profile battle between B’nai B’rith and the UCC ensued. But, new UCC leaders didn’t care much about Palestinians and opposed Forrest, as well as a pro-Palestinian resolution passed at the 1972 UCC convention. Moderator Bruce McLeod and General Secretary George Morris soon sought a “gentleman’s agreement” in which both the UCC and B’nai B’rith would drop the lawsuits. Couched in the language of interfaith sensitivity, the 1973 “peace pact” was about deterring criticism of Israel. As then Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) President Sol Kanee wrote in a private letter, “it would appear the United Church is determined to chart a more positive course with regard to Israel and the Jewish people, which we hope will be reflected in the ‘Observer.’”

Dozens of pages detail the B’nai B’rith-UCC battle at the Canadian Jewish Archives in Montréal. In one internal file CJC officials say only part of the B’nai B’rith-UCC agreement was published (a similar agreement is thought to have been made between the UCC and CJC and/or Canadian Council of Churches). Part of the “peace pact” published noted, “we recognize and appreciate the interests of Jews everywhere and of the United Church for the events in the Middle East and in the survival of Israel.”

As part of the agreement, the UCC seems to have committed to inform B’nai B’rith/CJC about Israel related affairs or even seek their consent before implementing policy approved by the grassroots. A 2009 Globe and Mail article reported that UCC general council officer Bruce Gregersen indicated that CJC president Bernie Farber “gave his blessing to the UCC resolution” on Israel.

Rodman and others have pushed the church hierarchy to reveal whether the anti-Palestinian agreement is still respected. But UCC leaders have failed to release the full agreement or say it is no longer being followed.

The agreement with B’nai B’rith/CJC has undercut grassroots initiatives within the church that challenge Canada’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession. But, the decision to succumb to B’nai B’rith’s disingenuous attacks 45 years ago has had another equally damaging impact on Palestinians. It has emboldened the anti-Palestinian group to make evermore outrageous demands.

After a half-century more of Israeli land theft and violence, B’nai B’rith demanded a Toronto church suppress an event because it included the name of a famous novelist driven from his home as a child and then blown up by Israel (a quintessential victim of terrorism). If Kanafani’s name “glorifies terrorists and murderers”, as B’nai B’rith claims, then what should we say of a group that defends every act of Israeli violence, including the assassination of a novelist and his niece?

If the UCC won’t have anything to do with a Palestinian youth group that mentions Kanafani’s name they sure better sever all ties to groups promoting Israeli “terrorists and murderers”.

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United Church suppresses Palestinian youth cultural event

 

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Israeli Consulate General in Toronto Galit Baram and Trinity-St. Paul Reverend Cheri DiNovo

The Jewish Defence League and B’nai Brith are boasting that they convinced the Trinity-St. Paul Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts to cancel a room booking “to celebrate the artistic and cultural contributions of Palestinians in the diaspora.” The Toronto United Church had agreed to provide space to the Palestinian Youth Movement for “an evening of spoken word, music and food” to “showcase the winners of the Ghassan Kanafani Resistance Arts Scholarship.” Planned for July 13, the event was suppressed after the anti-Palestinian groups complained it included the name of Ghassan Kanafani, a famous novelist who was a spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the early 1970s.

The church’s move is an outrage. An analogy would be if the Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts suppressed a social put on by student climate strikers that included a “David Suzuki Arts Scholarship” in response to complaints by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Or, maybe more apt, if the church suppressed an Indigenous Youth Voices event that included the “Ellen Gabriel Arts Scholarship” because the “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys complained that the Mohawk spokesperson during the “Oka Crisis” had justified violence.

It’s shocking that an organization prominently declaring that it is “seeking justice and peace” would concede to this pressure. But, it’s equally scandalous that progressives have accepted the anti-Palestinianism of Trinity-St. Paul’s spiritual leader.

The church is run by former NDP member of the Ontario Legislature Cheri DiNovo, who “had no involvement in the original decision and unequivocally supports the cancellation of the event”, according to a church board member. On March 14 of last year DiNovo met Israeli consular official Galit Baram who posted a photo with her to the “Israel in Toronto” Facebook page and wrote, “it’s always a good time catching up with our good friend and former MPP Cheri DiNovo. Great to see you again!”

In 2017 DiNovo met the co-chairs of the Knesset’s Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group Anat Berko and Yoel Hasson. A Lieutenant-Colonel in the IDF reserves, Berko openly disparaged African refugees and Palestinians. Berko put forward a bill to jail individuals who display Palestinian flags at demonstrations and in a 2016 Knesset debate made the ridiculous claim that the absence of the letter “P” in the Arabic alphabet meant Palestine did not exist since “no people would give itself a name it couldn’t pronounce.” (In response Richard Silverstein noted, “apparently, the fact that the word is spelled and pronounced with an ‘F’ (Falastin) in Arabic seems to have escaped her. It’s worth noting, too, that according to her logic, Israeli Jews do not exist either, since there is no letter ‘J’ in Hebrew.”)

DiNovo regularly appears at events organized by the anti-Palestinian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. She attended “an FSWC presentation on the anti-Israel boycott movement” in 2015 at Queen’s Park and participated in FSWC events in May and last November. She has also supported Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee events.

In 2010 DiNovo was one of 30 MPPs who supported a resolution condemning Israeli Apartheid Week at the Ontario Legislature. Afterwards she told the Toronto Star the word apartheid is “inflammatory” and “used inappropriately in the case of Israel” and that “Apartheid does not help the discussion.” Even NDP leader Andrea Horwath later dubbed the resolution condemning IAW “divisive by nature.”

In response to criticism of her anti-Palestinian position DiNovo doubled down. She defriended and erased the comments of dozens of individuals who criticized her on Facebook, prompting the creation of a number of Facebook groups by those defriended by DiNovo, which were then shut down after someone complained. In subsequent interviews DiNovo claimed she received a death threat for her anti-Palestinian vote and was quoted by the Jewish Tribune saying, “we Christians know our roots and we know, because we read our Scripture, that Jews are the Chosen People of the Chosen Land of Israel, so mazel tov.”

Despite her anti-Palestinianism, DiNovo remains popular with some on the left end of the NDP. Fightback, Momentum, Socialist Action and The Leap have collaborated with her recently.

During her ongoing vacation in South Africa DiNovo has repeatedly tweeted about the fight against apartheid there. On‏ July 2 she tweeted, “the history of apartheid copied from our own reservation system.” It’s good DiNovo is drawing the historic links between Canadian colonialism and South Africa, but I wonder if she is aware that many anti-apartheid leaders have compared the Palestinians plight to white rule (generally concluding it is worse)?

As DiNovo no doubt knows, the United Church actively contributed to Canadian Apartheid. I wonder if she’s concerned that her church is contributing to apartheid in Palestine today?

 

If you are outraged by the Trinity-St. Paul’s suppression of the Palestinian Youth Movement’s event please email: tsp@trinitystpauls.ca

 

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