Nov. 19, 2020
By STEVE ARNOLD
An Ajax councillor has apologized for citing Israeli “oppression” of Palestinians as justification for naming a local street after a Nazi warship commander.
“I would like to apologize for any comments I made that were hurtful to yourself and the Jewish Community,” Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) said in an email exchange with Ajax resident Adam Wiseman. “That was not my intention.”
Khan made the controversial statement Monday in a lengthy debate over a motion to change the name Langsdorff Drive to that of an Allied veteran of the Second World War. The motion to change the name passed four to three.
During that discussion, Khan declared: “One word I have heard repeated consistently today is reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation. I’ve been having calls from people in [his ward] who are Palestinian and have no hope of reconciliation, as they are currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel and they are concerned about how we will address this today.”
The next day, Wiseman, who started a petition calling for the street’s name change, asked that Khan apologize.
“I understood your comment about the ‘Jewish state of Israel currently oppressing Palestinians’ as justification for not changing the street name as though you are implying that yourself and the Palestinian community believe Jews deserve this sort of affront,” Wiseman wrote. “(I)f that was your intention then I am requesting an on the record apology to the Jewish community in Ajax.”
At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Captain Hans Langsdorff, a career officer of Nazi Germany’s navy and commander of the warship Admiral Graf Spee.
An attempt to name one street in Ajax for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year.
In addition to challenging Khan’s statement, Wiseman also had a testy email exchange with Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier, who opposed the renaming motion.
Wiseman wanted the mayor to condemn antisemitism but Collier replied that Langsdorff was an honourable man who deserved to be remembered.
Collier noted a passage from a book titled Command Decisions: Langsdorff and the Battle of the River Plate: “All Langsdorff’s actions as captain of the Graf Spee show that he was a decent, honourable and compassionate man.”
Wiseman responded that in his message to Collier, he had used Langsdorff’s own words from his suicide note, in which he praised Adolf Hitler as a “prophet,” not the “conjecture” of an author writing decades after the events.
Holding Langsdorff up as anything other than a loyal officer of the German navy cheapened the memory of Germans who actively opposed the Nazi regime, Wiseman added.
Wiseman said he was “absolutely disappointed about this email both in tone and content.”
In a later email to the CJR, he added the mayor should have called out an antisemitic statement the moment it happened.
“I am definitely not pleased with the mayor,” he wrote. “It is after all his council and I feel the comment should have been addressed in the moment. The best way to fight antisemitism is to call it out immediately and without apology.”