by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 8, Safar, 1443)
In a landmark ruling last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld lawyer Alexander Dimitri Lascaris’ case against B’nai Brith (BB). The court ordered the pro-Israeli outfit to pay $15,000 in damages inclusive of disbursements and HST to Mr. Lascaris for defamation.
BB calls itself a human rights organization but it seems to focus on targeting people who criticize Zionist Israel’s policies. It uses the broad brush of anti-Semitism to tar non-Jewish critics of Israel. For Jewish people, it uses the expression “self-hating Jew”.
The pro-Israeli outfit had attempted to have Mr. Lascaris’ case dismissed but the honourable judges disagreed. The court ruled that BB’s argument of free speech and fair comment that was in the public interest was not valid.
The background to the case leading to defamation needs to be recalled. In April-May, 2016, Mr. Lascaris visited Israel to meet with and interview Eritrean refugees connected to a legal case (the visit was unrelated to the case at the Court of Appeal).
During his visit, Mr. Lascaris met with Mr. Muhammad Alayan, a lawyer and author in East Jerusalem who wanted to discuss a human rights matter. During their meeting, Mr. Alayan narrated that one of his children, Bahaa, had been a political activist in East Jerusalem. To draw attention to the plight of Palestinians, Bahaa and fellow activists formed the largest ever human reading chain around the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
After the peaceful reading chain, Bahaa had been repeatedly questioned and harassed by Israeli intelligence officials. In October 2015, he learned that his son had been killed by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem. The Israelis alleged, and this was widely reported in the Israeli media, that his son had attacked and killed three Israeli settlers on a bus with a knife.
The father had seen no evidence to support the allegations against his son and he did not believe them. Further, he stated that he believed his son had been killed by Israeli forces extrajudicially. His son’s body was never returned to the family. Other families had suffered similar experiences. The only offer made by the Israeli authorities was that if returned, the bodies must be buried within one hour and without any independent examination.
Naturally Mr. Alayan rejected this offer. Within 24 hours of rejecting the offer, Israeli authorities ordered the demolition of Mr. Alayan’s family home and his family was now homeless, living in a tent on their property. Regardless of his sons alleged actions, Mr. Alayan stated that he believed they were being subjected to collective punishment and this would constitute a violation of international law. Mr. Alayan asked Mr. Lascaris, as a human rights lawyer, to speak out on his family’s behalf and authorized him to disclose everything he had relayed, as he had nothing to hide.
The Israeli media reported that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had issued a statement which specifically noted that Bahaa was “one of the resistance fighters who engaged in an operation at a Zionist bus station in Jerusalem”.
Mr. Lascaris conducted his own research into what Mr. Alayan had told him. On May 1, 2016, he posted two Facebook comments. In the first post, he articulated what Mr. Alayan told him, that Bahaa had been killed extrajudicially, and posted a link to an article supporting this narrative. Mr. Lascaris also criticized the use of collective punishment in general, and against the Alayan family in particular, and stated that “whatever Bahaa Alayan may or may not have done, the Israeli government’s treatment of Muhammad Alayan [the father] is an outrage.”
In another post the same day, Mr. Lascaris posted a photo of himself with Mr. Alayan. He referred back to his “preceding post”, and restated that Bahaa had been killed extrajudicially and that his body had not been returned to the family.
As Justice Critic for the Green Party, in May 2016, Mr. Lascaris decided to advance a policy resolution calling on the party to support the use of peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to bring an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. This led B’nai Brith to launch a campaign against Mr. Lascaris, the Green Party, its leader Elizabeth May and others related to the BDS Resolution.
BB posted several statements on its website accusing supporters of BDS Resolution of being anti-Semites. The pro-Israeli outfit also alleged that one group involved in drafting the BDS Resolution had engaged in Holocaust denial and promoted anti-Semitism. In August 2016, BB informed Ms. May that it intended to release an “investigation” it had conducted about Mr. Lascaris and was going to make serious accusations against him. On August 4, 2016, the day before commencement of the Green Party’s biannual convention, BB published an article entitled “Green Party Justice Critic Advocates on Behalf of Terrorists”. It also published his photo with Mr. Alayan and several screen shots of his Facebook page.
The first sentence of the article stated “Dimitri Lascaris, official Justice Critic of the Green Party of Canada, has used social media to advocate on behalf of terrorists who have murdered Israeli civilians, a B’nai Brith Canada investigation has revealed.” It demanded that Ms. May remove Mr. Lascaris from his position even though he was not contacted for his comment before BB published its allegations.
In an interview on August 10, 2016, Mr. Lascaris discussed the BDS Resolution and responded to B’nai Brith’s allegations that he had advocated on behalf of terrorists. He said: “I don’t know, and I don’t purport to know, whether in fact [Bahaa Alayan] committed the crimes of which he is accused. And if he actually attacked innocent civilians, I condemn that. I do not condone any attacks by anybody on any innocent civilians or civilian infrastructure. That’s against international law. It’s an atrocity. And it’s not to be tolerated.”
Despite unequivocal condemnation of attacks on innocent civilians, B’nai Brith was not satisfied. Further, Green Party leader Ms. May seemed to buckle under pressure. When Mr. Lascaris and others criticized British Columbia Green Party leader for condemning BDS resolution, they were asked by Ms. May to apologise. Upon refusal, Mr. Lascaris was removed from his position as Justice Critic.
B’nai Brith praised his removal and drew attention to its own campaign for his removal. It stated that the group had “previously urged … Elizabeth May to dismiss Lascaris as justice critic after it exposed that he advocated on behalf of terrorists who murdered three Israeli civilians in Jerusalem.” This outrageous allegation was made despite Mr. Lascaris’ unequivocal condemnation of killing of civilians several weeks earlier.
Then on December 20, 2016, BB published a ‘year in review’ article, wherein it again stated that it had exposed Mr. Lascaris for using “social media to evoke sympathy for a Palestinian terrorist.” On or about April 3, 2017, Mr. Lascaris discovered another publication on BB’s Twitter account, stating: “Dimitri Lascaris resorts to supporting #terrorists in his desperation to delegitimize the State of #Israel”. The tweet also contained a link to BB’s August 4, 2016 article, which accused Mr. Lascaris of being an “advocate on behalf of terrorists”.
After these persistent allegations, Mr. Lascaris served notice upon B’nai Brith regarding the defamatory publications under s. 5(1) of the Libel and Slander Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.12 and demanded retraction. The pro-Israeli outfit refused. It was this stage that Mr. Lascaris served a statement of claim around July 4, 2017. B’nai Brith vowed to defend its position pleading justification, qualified privilege, fair comment, and notice-based defences under the Libel and Slander Act.
A motion judge dismissed Mr. Lascaris’ action on June 28, 2018. Thereupon he lodged an appeal at the Ontario Court of Appeal. The ruling in favour of Mr. Lascaris was handed down on September 7, 2021.
Will B’nai Brith learn anything from this humiliation and end its scandalous allegations against peace-loving Canadians who criticize Israeli atrocities against Palestinians? Only time will tell but since the court ruling, BB seems to have gone mum. It is perhaps hoping that with time people will forget its humiliation and it can resume its attacks on critics of Israeli policies.