Tag Archives: NDP

B’nai Brith’s shamefully attacks Niki Ashton

B’nai Brith claim to speak for Jews in general, but in reality defend Israel no matter what that country does.

The group’s recent attack against NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton was a brazen attempt to use the decimation of European Jewry to protect Israel from criticism and follows a formula used so often most now see its hypocrisy.

Last May the self-declared human rights organization slammed the NDP leadership contender for “Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists” because Ashton attended a rally for Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike where someone had a photo of an individual B’nai Brith calls a terrorist. But, that attack failed when Ashton refused to back down and actually became more forceful in her support of the Palestinian cause.

Since then Ashton has sent out emails to join the party to elect “a leader that will stand up for Palestinian human rights” and demanded an end to the “occupation of Palestinian lands,” blockade of Gaza and “abuse of Palestinians’ human rights.” She called for an outright ban on goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements and expressed some support for the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Ashton told Jacobin that “many inspiring activists across the country are doing great work on this front, decrying human rights abuses, decrying injustices, and putting forward a plan for change, including through the BDS movement. The NDP needs to be a strong voice in support of the work that so many activists are doing.”

In response to an Independent Jewish Voices/Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East questionnaire to the four NDP leadership candidates she said:

I support the important work of civil society in pursuing justice through non-violent means, including calls for boycotts and divestment. Similar tactics were used effectively against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, and BDS today can play a constructive role by encouraging a just resolution. It is the role of governments to respond to pressure from civil society and to be a force for positive change. In 1986, Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney responded to social movements by implementing sanctions against South Africa, and we face a similar ethical and moral responsibility to listen to those who are struggling for peace and justice.”

“Like any other country, sanctions against Israel should be considered when it consistently fails to meet international law and obligations, particularly in relation to the occupation which has denied rights to the Palestinian people for half a century. I support looking into targeted sanctions to put strategic pressure on the Israeli government.”

Ashton’s increasingly strident statements in support of the Palestinian cause obviously angered B’nai Brith. But, they kept quiet for three months, perhaps hoping they could find something worse than “terrorism” to connect her to. Having failed to deter Ashton from expressing support for the Palestinian cause by associating her with “terrorists,” B’nai Brith brought the Holocaust into the race. At the end of last month they put out a press release headlined: “NDP Leadership Candidate Endorsed by Holocaust-Denying Community Leader.” Ashton’s supposed transgression was having her picture taken with Nazih Khatatba at a campaign event in Toronto. B’nai Brith accuses Khatatba of defending armed Palestinian resistance and “engaging in Holocaust denial.”

The evidence presented of Khatatba’s Holocaust denial is a 15-second interview he gave at an event commemorating the Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe) last year. (In response to B’nai Brith’s press release, Khatatba posted on Facebook, “I recognize the genocide of more than six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. What I did say in the interview was that there were Jewish groups who experienced massacres in Europe and then went to the Middle East and perpetrated massacres there.”)

Presuming B’nai Brith’s translation is accurate and that relevant context wasn’t omitted from the video they produced of the interview, Khatatba’s comments were definitely historically inaccurate. The ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48, displacement of another 300,000 in 1967, the half-century illegal occupation of the West Bank, repeated assaults on Gaza, etc. are an immense injustice. Still, they don’t equal what the Nazis did to European Jewry.

Of course it’s not uncommon for social justice activists to make hyperbolic or historically inaccurate claims in their zeal to advance a cause. But, they are rarely accused of sinister intentions for doing so.

As I detail here, B’nai Brith has accepted or promoted more significant distortions of Jewish suffering when it served Israel’s aims. The group aggressively backed the pro-Israel Stephen Harper regime despite government officials repeatedly minimizing the Nazi Holocaust. In 2009 Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said “Israel Apartheid Days on university campuses like York sometimes begin to resemble pogroms,” and told a European audience that pro-Palestinian activism spurred anti-Jewish activities “even more dangerous than the old European anti-Semitism.” Similarly, in May 2008 Canwest reported: “Some of the criticism brewing in Canada against the state of Israel, including from some members of Parliament, is similar to the attitude of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned.”

In a backdoor way B’nai Brith’s reaction to Khatatba’s historically inaccurate comments explain them. When Zionists repeatedly use 70-year-old Jewish suffering in Europe to justify their ongoing oppression of Palestinians is it any wonder some Palestinians seek to minimize Nazi crimes against Jews?

The attack on Niki Ashton is a stark example of the “Holocaust Industry” Norman Finkelstein outlined 15 years ago. B’nai B’rith should be ashamed.

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The Left’s racism problem concerning Israel

Most progressives would agree that opposing all forms of racism is a key element of what makes them left wing. But it is not always straightforward how best to confront white privilege, avoid cultural appropriation, tackle colonial attitudes towards indigenous peoples or avoid being labelled anti-Jewish when working for Palestinian human rights. And in the later case, accusations of Left anti-Semitism actually mask a more significant racism problem on the Left.

In response to the recent controversy at Chicago’s Dyke March Toronto activist Alex Hundert tweeted “And to think ppl keep tryna ridicule me for calling out #antisemitism on the Left… #leftfail.” The self-declared radical linked to a Ha’aretz story headlined “Chicago ‘Dyke March‘ Bans Jewish Pride Flags: ‘They Made People Feel Unsafe’”.  But according to march organizersJewish Voices for Peace and Electronic Intifada the whole thing was a set-up and part of an orchestrated attack by a pro-Israel queer group. In one of many efforts to turn the Dyke March incident against critics of Israel and the left more generally, New York Times opinion section editor Bari Weiss opined that by echoing criticism of Israeli policy in recent years left Jews have opened the door to pogroms or genocide (“if history has taught the Jews anything it’s that this kind of contortion never ends well”), concluding that “anti-Semitism remains as much a problem on the far-left as it is on the alt-right.”

The Dyke March incident is not the first time Hundert has taken up this criticism of Left political movements. “Everytime I’m almost ready to start organizing again,” the former Upper Canada College student tweeted a couple months ago, “I see some stupid left antisemitism that reminds me I’m glad I switched to advocacy.” Hundert is echoing an increasingly common refrain. At the liberal end of the dominant media the CBC’s Neil MacDonald asked last year “Has the activist left decided anti-Semitism doesn’t exist?” while the far right Rebel denounced “Tom Mulcair, Olivia Chow and the NDP’s huge anti-Semitic problem”. For its part, B’nai Brith has specifically cited “far-left-winggroups”, alongside “anti-Israel agitators”, as a major source of anti-Semitic incidents in its annual audit. During the 2012 Québec student strike B’nai B’rith condemned protesters purported “hate …that has outraged the Jewish community.” A Canadian Jewish News editorial and front page cover about the NDP supporting the Leap Manifesto in 2016 suggests the Jewish community’s leading organ would likely cry “anti-Semitism” if the NDP elects a left-wing leader.

Internationally Zionist groups, media commentators and Blairites in the British Labour Party whipped up an “anti-Semitism” crisis last year to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Similar accusations were levelled earlier this year at leftist French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and previously against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Let me be clear: Anti-Jewish prejudice exists on the left. Many who bemoan “Zionist controlled governments” and other such formulations are referencing stereotypical tropes about Jewish control. Some ‘Jews as Jesus killers’ prejudice also lingers in a country with Christian (colonial) roots. Anti-Semitism should be condemned since all forms of ethnic/religious discrimination are wrong. Additionally, simplistic ethnic/religious explanations of power do a disservice to movements seeking to make the world better a place.

But, while it exists, left anti-Jewish prejudice should be put in context. Is there more anti-Jewish prejudice on the left than anti-black, indigenous, south Asian, Chinese, etc. racism? Or how about patriarchal attitudes? Or even class bias against “unskilled” workers? But, unlike indigenous or black people or women, Jews are not underrepresented in positions of influence on the Canadian Left, just as they are not underrepresented in the structures of power in this country.

So, what is going on with this focus on the left’s anti-Semitism? The answer is obvious. It is a way for supporters of Israel to shut down criticism of that country.

While one hears a great deal about the relatively marginal problem of left anti-Semitism, explicit Jewish/Israeli supremacism passes with little comment. NDP officials, for instance, continue to promote the openly racist Jewish National Fund. Five months after speaking at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington D.C., Hélène Laverdière participated in a November 2016 JNF tree planting ceremony in Jerusalem. During a visit to Israel with Canada’s Governor General the NDP’s foreign critic attended a ceremony with JNF World Chairman Danny Atar. In 2011 Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter donned a JNF hat as he planted a tree at a JNF garden. Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer was honoured at a 2006 JNF Negev Dinner in Winnipeg and cabinet minister Christine Melnick received the same honour in 2011. During a 2010 trip to Israel subsequent Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger signed an accord with the JNF while water stewardship minister Melnick spoke at the opening ceremony for a park built in Jaffa by the JNF, Tel Aviv Foundation and Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable. (In MayMelnick won a B’nai Brith Zionist action figures prize for writing a piece about a friend who helped conquer East Jerusalem and then later joined the JNF).

In 2013 Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a JNF Ottawa fundraiser, even lauding “the great work that’s [the JNF] done in making the desert bloom.” May’s comment erased the existence of the indigenous Palestinians and promoted an explicitly racist institution that has Judaized historically Arab areas and continues to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in its land use policies, as the UN, US State Department and the organization’s own website make clear.

While less flagrantly supremacist than supporting the JNF, most left politicians, representatives and commentators express support for a “Jewish state”. From a Palestinian, or internationalist, perspective this is a decidedly racist characterization and goes against hundreds of years of left support for a secular state.

In an effort to appease critics, some left organizations have even stated formally that opposing a Jewish supremacist state is itself a form of discrimination. After being raked over the coals for refusing a politicized resolution calling on it to align with a pro-Israel group in promoting Holocaust Education Week, the Ryerson Student Union recently adopted the spurious “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism” as part of its definition of anti-Jewish prejudice. The Protocol conflatesopposition to political Zionism with anti-Jewish prejudice or, in other words, it says it is anti-Semitic to oppose a “Jewish state”. Promoted by Students Supporting Israel and Stand With Us Canada, the student union’s move was immediately applauded by staunch Israeli nationalist National Postcolumnist Barbara Kay.

Even individuals and groups focused on challenging racism often provide an exemption for explicit Jewish/Israeli racism. In January one of Toronto’s leading anti-racist writers, Desmond Cole, spoke at a forum on “increased racist and xenophobic attacks” in the time of Trump with three individuals (Bernie Farber, Karen Mock and Warren Kinsella) who have ties to the only (to my knowledge) explicitly racist institution sanctioned by the Canadian state to give tax write-offs: the JNF.

After I recently wrote about Warren Kinsella speaking at a Jewish Defense League meeting in 2009, it came to light that a moderator made the former Canada-Israel Committee board member part of a private Toronto Facebook group set up to oppose overtly racist groups like the JDL. In a sign he still condones explicit racism, last year Kinsella condemned a Green Party of Canada resolution calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to rescind the JNF’s charitable status because of its “discrimination against non-Jews in Israel.” (Imagine someone who spoke at a KKK meeting or defended them being invited to a private antiracist Facebook group.) The sober reality is that large swaths of the left still accept, even promote, explicit Jewish/Israeli racism.

When Hundert, Macdonald, B’nai Brith etc. attack the left for being anti-Jewish they reinforce an ideological climate that still sees many labour leaders, NGO representatives, left politicians etc. remaining silent in the face of substantial Canadian support for the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism, precisely because they fear being labeled “anti-Semitic”. Whatever one’s motives in launching these attacks on anti-Semitism, their effect is to deter Canadians from condemning our foreign minister for calling Israel a “close friend”, opposing Palestinian rights at the UN, delivering aid to prop up Israel’s illegal occupation and subsidizing charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada and Israel