by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441)
Free speech is supposedly the holy grail of western liberal democracies. Western politicians regularly berate countries in Asia and Africa or China for suppressing free speech. Anti-government protests abroad are not only projected but often financed by western governments and their organizations, especially in the US.
Under the rubric of free speech, Islamophobia rages even in multicultural Canada but free speech seems to hit a brick wall when it comes to Israeli crimes. This is not speculation. Pro-Israel groups are pushing to impose, through acts of parliament, the definition proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA definition equates criticism of Israel or Zionism with anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a hate crime in Canada.
Alarmed by abuse of the definition he crafted in 2016, Kenneth Stern, a US attorney, has now spoken out against its use to police free speech. In testifying before US Congress in 2017, he noted that what he crafted for the IHRA was intended solely as a working definition to help researchers track anti-Semitism. He was testifying at Congressional hearings into Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. In opposing the legislation, Stern warned that it “is a hate speech code which, if enacted, will do much damage to the university and to the Jewish students proponents seek to protect.”
In an op-ed piece in the British daily, The Guardian (December 13, 2019), Stern was even more explicit and wrote: “I drafted the definition of antisemitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it”. It is important to quote him in some detail to clarify what he had intended when he crafted the IHRA definition. Stern commented on the executive order US President Donald Trump signed in early December 2019 intended, ostensibly to afford protection to Jewish students under title VI of the US Civil Rights Act.
“Fifteen years ago, as the American Jewish Committee’s antisemitism expert, I was the lead drafter of what was then called the ‘working definition of antisemitism’. It was created primarily so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude. That way antisemitism could be monitored better over time and across borders.
“It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week. This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.”
Undeterred by Stern’s warnings, the pro-Israel lobby in Canada is pushing the IHRA definition through municipalities as well as the Ontario provincial assembly. At least 10 municipalities across Canada among them Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal have rejected this definition.
In the spring of 2019, the Canadian federal government accepted the IHRA definition as part of its anti-racism strategy. While the definition informs the government’s approach to anti-Semitism, it is not legally binding.
This, however, is not the case in Ontario where the provincial assembly is dominated by the right-wing Conservative Party. Their predecessors, the Liberals were just as anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel. MPPs have plunged into pushing the IHRA definition to turn it into law. This has gone in tandem with a frontal assault on pro-Palestinian voices, especially the annual Al-Quds Day rally that attracts thousands of people each Ramadan.
In tandem with pro-Israel groups, two Conservative MPPs introduced Bill 168, titled, ‘The Combating Anti-Semitism Act’. Its sponsors are Will Bouma and Robin Martin. Bouma has cited the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as an example of ‘anti-Semitism’. Bouma has not uttered a word about the illegal US-led sanctions against Iran, Venezuela, Syria and a host of other countries that Canada has hitched on to but in Israel’s case, he has gone ballistic.
After second reading, the bill is now before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy. In their messages, pro-Israel groups have made no secret of their determination to push through this definition into law.
In the forefront of this frontal assault on free speech are groups like B’nai Brith and the Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Members of the far-right extremist group, the Jewish Defence League (JDL), provides street muscle to intimidate and threaten opponents of Israeli policies.
The case of Foodbenders, a Toronto restaurant run by Kim Hawkins, illustrates these Zionist tactics. She put a Palestinian flag outside her restaurant and posted a huge sign that read, “I Love Gaza”. She also posted on her Instagram page #Zionistsnotwelcome#. Racists were also asked not to patronize her restaurant.
The pro-Israel lobby immediately pounced on this. They denounced Ms. Hawkins as an ‘anti-Semite’. JDL came out in force in front of her restaurant threatening and intimidating her. Vile Islamophobic graffiti was sprayed on the sidewalk fronting her store. A woman identified as Tamara Foster spray-painted the star of David on her restaurant front glass.
Far from condemning such blatant racism and intimidation, the pro-Israel lobby attacked Ms. Hawkins. She is neither Muslim nor Palestinian but is passionate about defending Palestinian rights. They accused her of being an anti-Semite.
B’nai Brith and CIJA claim to be defenders of human rights but as Sid Ryan, former President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), pointed out on his Facebook page (July 22), they are “phony human rights organizations.” He castigated them for never speaking out about Israeli atrocities against Palestinians including children.
“Now it’s come to light they have little to say about Canadian monuments built to glorify Nazi butchers by Nazi collaborators across the country. However, these so-called paragons of human rights have no problem in teaming up to use their massive resources and tax-free dollars to bankrupt the pro-Palestinian owner of a small sandwich store restaurant in Toronto. At the same time, they turned a blind eye to the violence and vandalism of a bunch of goons in the Jewish Defence League who defaced the property and threatened the staff of the small restaurant. The hypocrisy of these organisations knows no bounds.”
Canadian writer and journalist Yves Engler wrote on his blog: “Banned in the US and Israel, JDL participates in the annual Walk for Israel organized by United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto. JDL has also been allowed to recruit in Jewish high schools and during Israel’s 2014 destruction of Gaza the JDL and B’nai B’rith co-sponsored a counter-demonstration and the group provided ‘security’ for a Canadians for Israel rally.”
JDL is a violent extremist group. Its members openly assault critics of Israeli crimes. In March 2017, JDL thugs punched and kicked 55-year-old Palestinian professor Kamal Nayfeh. He was participating in a protest rally outside the AIPAC convention in Washington DC. The assailants included JDL members from Toronto!
“Yosef Steynovitz, 32, of Thornhill, Ont., was charged with assault with significant bodily injury, which is a felony…” the Canadian Jewish News reported in a story on March 26, 2017. Rami Lubranicki, an American member of JDL, was also charged in the assault.
Reflecting Zionist tactics, immediately after the Washington DC assault on Nayfeh, the Canadian JDL chief Meir Weinstein alleged that the victims had insulted and assaulted JDL members. The latter, according to Weinstein, had merely “acted in self-defense”. But he also boasted in the video “that it’s not wise to lay not even a finger on any of us… and we made it very clear the days of Jews being attacked and being docile are long over.”
There are other troubling aspects to JDL modus operandi that works in tandem with B’nai Brith and CIJA. In a story from May 8, 2017, the Canadian Jewish News carried the following headline: “JDL partners with Soldiers of Odin on ‘Ad hoc’ basis”. This group, Soldiers of Odin (SOO) promotes white supremacist ideology.
Despite JDL’s open alliance with racists, Toronto City Hall invited Weinstein as an “expert witness” in November 2017 when it held hearings into banning “hate rallies” on city or provincial property. Led by City counsellor James Pasternak, under the guise of banning ‘hate-groups’, the motion’s purpose was aimed solely at banning the annual Al-Quds Day rally. No other group such as Soldiers of Odin or JDL—the real hate-mongers—was mentioned. Inviting Weinstein as an “expert witness” clearly reflected the city’s anti-Muslim agenda.
Toronto City Hall is not alone in reflecting such anti-Muslim bias. Last November when students at York University held a peaceful rally outside Herut Canada meeting at campus, JDL members assaulted one of the protesters causing serious injury and concussion. Speakers at the meeting were Israeli reservists. Not only did the police refuse to press charges against JDL assailants whose violent assault was captured on video camera, even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jumped into the fray parroting Zionist propaganda lines that “violence and racist chants” were directed at Jewish students, and blamed “anti-Semitism.” Herut Canada’s thinly disguised attempt at recruiting soldiers for the Israeli army, illegal at university campuses, was conveniently glossed over.
The pro-Israel lobby’s attacks on Foodbenders and its owner, Kim Hawkins are meant to divert attention from Israel’s annexation plans. Further, the lobby wants to deny Canadians the right to criticize Israel’s well-documented crimes against the Palestinian people that even the International Criminal Court wants to investigate. It is disturbing to note that Canadian politicians instead of upholding the principles enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would succumb to the pressure of a lobby acting to promote the interests of a foreign entity.