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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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