Martow Apologizes for ‘Hurt’ to Muslims in Video Flap

By RON CSILLAG

A Jewish MPP and an Islamic centre in her riding have kissed and made up following two days of pointed verbiage.

On May 19, Gila Martow, Conservative MPP for Thornhill, apologized for “any hurt she caused to the community of the Jaffari Community Centre.”

Thornhill MPP Gila Martow (Photo via Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

In a joint statement, Martow and the Centre, known as the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) of Toronto, together with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said they have “engaged in meaningful dialogue and conversation” after a video was recorded outside the Centre three days earlier.

The video, later uploaded to YouTube, contained several anti-Zionist statements.

The Muslim organizations said someone had made an “unauthorized” video in the parking lot of the Jaffari Centre, located at 9000 Bathurst St. in Thornhill Woods. The COVID crisis has closed the Centre since March 3.

The man who made and uploaded the video, Firas Al Najim, is co-manager of Canadian Defenders For Human Rights (CD4HR), a pro-Palestinian group.

In the nine-minute video, made during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Al Najim used a loudspeaker to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer, followed by a speech. According to a transcript of the speech by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Al Najim said a “majority” of the Jaffari Centre’s members support an Islamic prohibition of doing business with Zionists.

According to the transcript, Al Najim referred to Israel as “the illegitimate Zionist regime.”

He also mentioned the “nakbah,” the Arab word for “catastrophe,” referencing the creation of Israel and subsequent displacement of Palestinians.*

In an earlier statement, Martow said the video also contained anti-Semitic “tropes.”

The incident caused social media to light up.

Al Najim “is not affiliated with the ISIJ and the video was not sanctioned by the organization,” said the joint statement. “The ISIJ does not permit trespassing.”

Both Muslim groups said they “wish to reaffirm their commitment to stand against all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism, as they stand with their Jewish brothers and sisters against intolerance.”

The conciliatory tone was in sharp contrast to earlier sentiments. On May 17, Martow issued a statement saying it was “unfortunate” that Al Najim “would use a prayer for victims of COVID-19 to promote intolerance and misinformation about international legal issues.”

Martow said she hopes his message of “intolerance and misinformation is not shared by the membership and families of the Jaffari Centre. I look forward to meaningful dialogue with them in the near future.”

The next day, the Jaffari Centre replied that it had been unaware of Al Najim, and his presence. “We do not know the individual who recorded himself on our premises,” said ISIJ of Toronto vice president Shafiq Ebrahim. “The individual came to our premises without our authorization and we did not request nor allow this recording to occur,” he added.

The statement said the centre was “deeply concerned” with Martow’s press release, which “which cast speculative insinuations about the Jaffari community.” Had Martow “taken the time to contact the [centre], she would have learned that the individual came onto the premises without authorization.”

The day after that, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said Martow should have undertaken the “appropriate diligence that a reasonable person would have expected by actually calling the Jaffari Centre.”

The NCCM called on Martow to apologize for her “problematic” press release, and to issue “a clarifying statement.”

In the subsequent joint statement, Martow thanked representatives of the NCCM and ISIJ “for their understanding and willingness to confront intolerance.” She also said she would contact organizations directly “should any further unfortunate incidents occur,” and issued an apology.

All three parties “will continue to engage in productive dialogue and continue to demonstrate to all communities that we are stronger when united,” the joint statement said.

Al Najim is known for making and posting several videos of himself over the years, including one in front of a Toronto synagogue, another on the route of the Walk for Israel, and one at the offices of the Canadian Jewish News.

The plot thickened on May 20, when Al Nasim tweeted that the Jaffari Centre “lied” in claiming not to know him, and “dissociated” itself from him “out of fear of the Zionist politician Gila Martow & the Zionist influential bullying network.”

He said he had permission to come to the Centre and that he is “embedded in the community.” He promised a “detailed release soon.”

Asked to comment on Al Najim’s claims, Ebrahim referred the CJR to the Centre’s May 17 press release.

In online posts, supporters of Martow disputed the Jaffari Centre’s claim that it did not know Al Najim. They said Al Najim was one of 45 individuals who made deputations at the City of Vaughan in a zoning issue involving the Centre in 2018, and that the Centre puts its name to a letter Al Najim wrote last year to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau protesting Canada’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

*The above clarifies the meaning of the term “nakbah.”