I am a proud anti-racist and advocate for human rights, yet I now find myself in a situation familiar to so many defenders of the human rights of Palestinians: I am being defamed as an anti-Semite by pro-Israel organizations and pro-Israel politicians, including Canada’s own Prime Minister.
Let me state unequivocally that I oppose and condemn antisemitism. Indeed, I oppose and condemn all forms of racism. I am humbled to belong to a principled global solidarity movement against the occupation of Palestine. That wonderful and growing movement includes many brothers and sisters from the Jewish community. We are resolute that fighting all racism is necessary to realize any hope for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.
I have visited and reported on Israel and occupied Palestine. I have born witness to Palestinian suffering. This has moved me to seek an end to the oppression of Palestinians, which the Canadian government tries to sweep under the carpet.
Over the last decade, pro-Israel organizations in Western nations have attempted methodically to expand the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel and of its advocates. Previously, antisemitism was understood as prejudice and hatred of Jews, their religion, their culture and their religious institutions. The nation-state of Israel was not part of the equation.
Canada just signed on to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. In 2016, the Western-dominated IHRA adopted a “working definition” of antisemitism that is “non-legally binding.” That definition includes vague language that “manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” The IHRA definition also states that “contemporary examples of antisemitism… could, taking into account the overall context, include… accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” [My emphasis.]
This sweeping language has become a weapon in the hands of pro-Israel groups and individuals: deploying it enables them to denounce any critic of Israel as anti-Semitic in order to disrupt, deter, marginalize and even criminalize Palestinian rights activism.
We must not allow such campaigns to diminish our determination to end Israel’s illegal, violent and deeply oppressive occupation and treatment of Palestinians, which has endured for over half a century.
Because international support for the Israeli government is rapidly waning – including among Jews in the United States – Israel’s government and pro-Israel organizations around the world have built new alliances with influential people who support Israel as a Jewish state, including figures who dislike or even hate Jews as a people. They have changed the definition of antisemitism to reflect these new alliances.
These disreputable Israeli supporters include Christian Zionist evangelicals who pray for the day that Christ returns and Christianity rules the earth – resulting in the disappearance of Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. Two such prominent Christian evangelical leaders were invited to speak at the recent opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Some pro-Israel groups now welcome flat-out racists and neo-Nazis who admire the hyper-militarized, racist regime Israel has become, because these racists see apartheid Israel as a model nation to be emulated elsewhere. In Canada, one such figure is Faith Goldy, a white supremacist who recently promoted a fascist book calling for the “elimination of Jews.” Goldy nevertheless professes to be pro-Israel.
The new IHRA definition of antisemitism has been used viciously against prominent figures such as Britain’s Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn — not because Corbyn bears any hostility toward the Jewish people, but because he openly supports Palestinian rights. That same definition is now being used against me.
Let’s return to August 29th and the events that sparked this libelous charge against me. I helped organize a pro-Palestinian rights demonstration at the head office of B’nai Brith Canada because of B’nai Brith’s attack on the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). B’nai Brith targeted CUPW because CUPW supports the BDS movement and has also expressed support for the Palestinian Postal Services Workers Union.
The Jewish Defence League Canada (JDL), a violent, anti-Arab and Islamophobic hate group, organized a counter-protest in support of CUPW. Faith Goldy showed up at the JDL counter-protest and was greeted warmly by a number of the counter-protesters, including JDL boss Meir Weinstein.
Immediately following our demonstration and the JDL counter-protest, two B’nai Brith supporters recorded and posted on Facebook a video gushing over Faith Goldy. In that video, they called for the death penalty to be imposed on Prime Minister Trudeau, certain Liberal MPs who are Muslim and/or persons of colour, and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, stating:
“I just think we should bring in the death penalty. And that would resolve a lot of problems… Justin Trudeau, be the first one to go. I’d love to see him. And Monsef. And Iqra Khalid. And Ahmed Hussein. And Omar Alghabra… And Singh, Singh, let’s make him sing, you know, as he walks toward the gullotine!”
After I publicly exposed this heinous, racist, death-wish video, I called on B’nai Brith, the Center for Israel & Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Liberal MPs Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather to denounce the video’s authors and Faith Goldy. They failed to do so.
After days of their silence, I 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.”
The ferocious reaction, in hindsight, was predictable, but I was admittedly naïve. CIJA and B’nai Brith deflected attention from the death threats against the Prime Minister and other MPs and from the racism of supporters of Israel, and screamed “antisemitism” at me because the MPs I tweeted about were Jewish.
To be sure, there are other Canadian MPs who are supportive of Israel, but Levitt and Housefather are Israel’s most outspoken defenders in Canada’s Parliament, and they do not hesitate to advertise themselves as such. They are also major supporters of B’nai Brith. In addition, promptly following the conclusion of our protest at B’nai Brith’s offices, Levitt had specifically condemned our rally in support of CUPW without once mentioning the presence of Faith Goldy or other hate-mongers at the JDL-organized counter-protest. Shamefully, in May of this year, Levitt and Housefather criticized their own party leader, Justin Trudeau, for his mild rebuke of Israel after an Israeli sniper shot Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani while Loubani was attempting to treat unarmed Gazans being shot by Israeli snipers. These snipers have now murdered over 160 unarmed Gazans in the past six months, including children, medics and journalists.
I readily acknowledge that allegations of divided loyalties have been hurled against Jewish persons by real anti-Semites. I certainly agree that false and racist claims of divided loyalties that are made against Jewish persons must be denounced and opposed. But as the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism makes clear, not all such claims are anti-Semitic, and when evaluating such claims for potential antisemitism, one must take into account the overall context. As the context here makes abundantly clear, my criticism of Levitt and Housefather has nothing to do with their ethnicity or religion, and everything to do with their extensive record of unqualified and enthusiastic support for Israel’s murderous, racist regime.
Ultimately, this case raises deeply disturbing questions about what our country has become, and what it is becoming. How does the Trudeau government claim with a straight face that it will ‘always stand up for human rights’ even as it lavishes support on Israel’s killing machine? How can it claim that Canada is a land of free speech and tolerance when Trudeau smears a Palestinian rights defender as a racist while remaining silent about real racists like Faith Goldy and the JDL? How can the individual who drew attention to a death wish targeting the Prime Minister become the target of the Prime Minister’s slanderous accusation? And perhaps most importantly, how can it be in Canada’s interests for its elected officials to side – again and again — with injustice and oppression?
What is happening to me demonstrates why all good Canadians should demand that human rights be applied universally. We must recognize that the fight against antisemitism and other forms of racism is undermined when critics of Israel become the targets of official condemnation. This case is yet another stark lesson that the weaponization of the definition of antisemitism is leading us down a dark tunnel.
I will nonetheless continue to advocate vigorously for justice for the Palestinian people, and for all victims of racism.
Not even a Prime Minister’s smear will deter me from doing so.