Anti-Semitism Becomes Political Fodder in Alberta’s Legislature

June 29, 2020 – By JEREMY APPEL
(Courtesy Alberta Jewish News)

The Jewish Federations of Edmonton and Calgary say they expressed concerns privately with the provincial government after an appointee to a judicial vetting committee was revealed to have promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories online.

Cold Lake, Alta., lawyer Leighton Grey abruptly resigned from the Provincial Court Nominating Committee (PCNC) on June 19 after CBC Edmonton uncovered social media and blog posts that compared a future COVID vaccine to Auschwitz tattoos and called Black Lives Matter a “leftist lie” promoted by Jewish billionaire George Soros. Another post accused Soros of financially manipulating the European Court of Human Rights.

Cold Lake, Alberta lawyer, Leighton Grey
Cold Lake, Alberta lawyer, Leighton Grey

The PCNC was established by the previous government with the goal of enhancing diversity in the selection of provincial court judges. Its role is to vet and select judges who have already been screened by the Judicial Committee.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer purged the committee of its NDP appointees on April 29, replacing them with more conservative-oriented ones through an informal, closed process.

In response to inquiries from the Alberta Jewish News, the Edmonton Jewish Federation said it sent a letter to the government expressing its concerns, but declined to make its contents public.

“We are dealing with this privately as we do with most advocacy issues where we have a partner who we trust and have a good relationship with,” federation president Steven Shafir said, citing Premier Jason Kenney’s “long-standing friendship with the Jewish community and Israel.”

In a statement announcing Grey’s departure, Schweitzer called Grey a “successful Indigenous lawyer with an exemplary record of service.”

“I also do not make judgments on Mr. Grey’s ability to carry out his professional duties in practising law,” the minister said.

He also clarified that the resignation was Grey’s own decision, made to avoid serving as a distraction from the committee’s work.

“Work on the committee is far from a full-time job, and members are not required to surrender their right to personal views or commentary,” wrote Schweitzer.

Before Grey’s resignation, NDP MLA Irfan Sabir brought the House’s attention to another of his posts that suggested too many female judges were being appointed.

“Eight of the past 10 superior court justices appointed in Alberta were women. Today it was announced that five of seven judges appointed to our Provincial Court are women. If Lady Justice is truly blind, then why does she see gender?” wrote Grey.


Schweitzer responded by calling Sabir’s line of questioning “absolutely disgusting,” before listing off previous PCNC appointees who were NDP donors.

After Grey’s resignation, NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley asked the premier to explicitly condemn Grey’s remarks in the legislature.

Schweitzer responded by saying that Grey’s resignation was sufficient.

“Mr. Speaker, this individual resigned over a post that they made online. I’ve accepted that person’s resignation. I think that speaks for itself,” the minister said.

Opposition leader Rachel Notley issued a news release to highlight Kenney and Schweitzer’s refusal to outright condemn Grey’s remarks.

“It sends a dangerous signal to hateful extremists when the Premier of Alberta is silent when these opinions are being promoted by his own appointees,” said Notley.

“It should be extremely concerning to any supporter of human rights in Alberta that neither the Premier nor the Justice Minister would apologize for this appointment, or commit to ensuring that this will not happen again,” Notley said. “Jason Kenney must publicly condemn Leighton Grey’s comments, and apologize for his Justice Minister’s statement that prejudice has a place within a ‘diversity of views.’”

The next day in the legislature, Kenney said the Opposition “attacked an indigenous lawyer for his appointment.”

“That person made offensive comments. He’s no longer on the board.”


Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Alberta Jewish News.

Canadians Opposed to Annexation, Poll Suggests

By RON CSILLAG

A new survey suggests that three out of four Canadians want their government to oppose Israel’s proposed annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Apart from suggesting that 74 percent of Canadians want Ottawa to express opposition to Israel’s annexation proposal “in some form,” the survey also found that 42 percent want Canada to impose economic and/or diplomatic sanctions against Israel should the annexation plan proceed.

“There is very little support for Israeli annexation among the Canadian public,” the survey noted, adding that the poll “confirms” that Canada’s foreign policy “is out of touch with the preferences of Canadians.”

EKOS Research Associates conducted the national online survey of 1,009 Canadians from June 5 to 10 on behalf of three groups that oppose the annexation and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

The poll found that only 11 percent of respondents said Canada should support Israel’s annexation plans, and 15 percent said Canada should do nothing.

Among Liberal Party supporters, 42 percent favour sanctions, while 45 percent thought Canada should express opposition but take no further action. Only five percent of Liberals want Canada to support Israel’s plan, and eight percent would prefer Canada do nothing.

Conservatives were found to be most supportive of Israel’s annexation plan. Half of Conservative supporters think that Canada should either support the plan (27 percent) or do nothing (25 percent). Another 32 percent of Conservatives said Canada should express opposition, and 16 percent said Canada should impose sanctions.

Among Canadians aged 18 to 35, an “overwhelming majority” want Canada to oppose Israel’s plans, the poll suggested: 59 percent of respondents in that age group said Canada should impose sanctions on Israel, and 24 percent said Canada should express opposition but take no other action.

Imposing sanctions on Israel was the “clear preference” for a majority of those who support the NDP (68 percent); Green Party (59 percent), and Bloc Quebecois (54 percent).

Supporting sanctions on Israel was most popular with Canadians who have higher levels of education, but Canadians of all education levels favoured sanctions over the other options, the survey found.

The poll results “demonstrate that the Trudeau government would have strong majority support if it opposed the annexations, and considerable public support to go further and impose sanctions on Israel. In fact, from a political standpoint, it would be risky for the Trudeau government to stay quiet in the face of this violation of international law planned by Israel.”

Listed as investigators and authors of the survey are Michael Bueckert, Thomas Woodley, and Grafton Ross of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East; Sheryl Nestel and Stanislav Birko of Independent Jewish Voices Canada; and Ken McEvoy of United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

As with at least one other past survey conducted by pro-BDS groups, this latest one was dismissed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs as weighted to arrive at certain conclusions.

“Predictably,” questions were “intentionally biased to skew the answer,” Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of CIJA, told the CJR.

By “prejudicially” characterizing the lands in question as “Palestinian,” and stating that Israel plans to “formally incorporate” them, the poll’s questions “telegraph to the respondent that the territory is incontrovertibly Palestinian [and is] being stolen by Israel, and [is] not disputed.”

In doing so, “the poll seeks to exploit a generic tendency on the part of Canadians to express support for the perceived underdog,” Fogel noted.

Notwithstanding the “serious deficiencies” in the survey questions and the “dubious” motivations of the report’s sponsors, “a majority” of Canadians have indicated their opposition to any changes to Canada-Israel relations, Fogel said.

An extensive Environics survey conducted last year found a plurality of respondents endorsed Canada’s level of support for Israel, but a “significant” minority said it was not supportive enough.

However, that was before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to unilaterally annex about 30 percent of the West Bank by July 1.

The latest poll comes as more than 100 prominent Canadians – former diplomats and cabinet ministers, as well as rabbis, academics, authors, and human rights advocates – signed letters asking the government to forcefully oppose Israel’s proposed annexation.


Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag

Ron Csillag is editor of the Canadian Jewish Record

Letters to the Editor: Friday June 26, 2020

Regarding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council:

I honestly believe that Trudeau communicates well with the world. I commend him for his strong and effective leadership in this time of COVID crisis.

But I wonder if all the tax dollars and time spent to win a UN Security Council seat was really worth it.

As dictators and murderers in Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and Syria literally get away with murdering their own people, I ask myself, “why?” Why not use our tax dollars and time to stand up to these bully countries, and condemn those countries that vilify Israel?

In Israel, one can be gay and live freely. Not in Iran and the others. Let’s stand up to Iran on behalf of our fellow 57 Canadians who were killed when Iran shot down flight 752 in January.

Canada knows the truth: That Mahmoud Abbas heads the Palestinians’ “pay for slay” policy, in which he rewards terrorists’ families with salaries. Keep Abbas accountable!

I ask Trudeau respectfully: Let’s invest our tax dollars and time in the most constructive way.

Rabbi Yirmi Cohen 
Toronto

My Jewish Experience: Creating Allies in the Fight Against Anti-Black Racism

By AKILAH ALLEN-SILVERSTEIN

When people see my last name, “Silverstein,” there is no mistaking it: My Jewishness is obvious. But the question is, more often than not, “So, I guess you’re married to a Jew?” I am light-skinned and wear a Star of David, so the assumption that I could not be mixed race is odd. My favorite is when I’m asked, “How did that happen?” While I generally hold my tongue, I often want to respond, “how did your parents conceive you?” to point out how ridiculous that question is.

My parents with me and my sister, Kitchener, 1992; Sybil, Akilah, Barry, Asha

While I realize there isn’t an overwhelming number of people who look like me within the tight-knit Jewish community, we exist and we’re not going away.

The questions started even before I was born. “I don’t know if we can be seen in a restaurant together, and what would you do with the children?” My grandfather had – let’s call them “questions and concerns” – when my father, an Ashkenazi Jew, introduced my Black mother, who had emigrated from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, to his family.

My parent’s wedding, Guildwood, 1987, Sybil Allen & Barry Silverstein

I can comprehend his disappointment at her not being Jewish, but I can’t help but wonder that if she were white, would the concern of being “seen” have come up?

I was raised in the Caribbean in a predominantly Black society, and the only remnants of a Jewish community are a synagogue and cemetery from the 1700s on the sister island of Nevis. I visited Canada at least once a year and would spend lots of time with my father’s extended family. I have many wonderful memories of Passover seders, Chanukah celebrations and trips out to London, Ont. to visit with aunts, uncles and cousins.

Me, my sister and my cousins, Kitchener, 1995; Asha Allen-Silverstein, Drew Silverstein, Kate Silverstein, Akilah Allen-Silverstein

I have a wonderful relationship with my father and his family. Even my grandfather came around. After he passed away, I was overwhelmed helping to clean up his apartment, decorated with numerous photos of me, my sister, and her son, his first great-grandson, his absolute favourite.

Me and my grandfather, Toronto, 2014; William Silverstein, Akilah Allen-Silverstein
Me, my baby sister and my grandmother, Kitchener, 1992; Roma Zwickle, Asha, Akilah

When I returned to Canada and completed my undergraduate degree, I wanted to learn more and become more involved in the Jewish community. A Jewish coworker told me about Birthright Israel, and I was accepted on a trip in the spring of 2017.

I was nervous at first, assuming I would be the only Black participant. The voice in my head kept telling me I wasn’t Jewish enough. I had never gone to Hebrew school or had a bat mitzvah.

These fears were mostly unfounded. I wound up having a wonderful experience, and even celebrated my bat mitzvah on Masada. Meeting an Ethiopian Jewish woman and seeing many other ethnicities represented in Israel opened my eyes to the diversity of the Jewish people. And while I was the only Black participant on my bus, at least 15 others were from mixed marriages. I subsequently led a Birthright trip two years later.

Almog Tamim, Barak Berkowitz, Akilah Allen-Silverstein, Max Marmer (BirthRight, Israel, 2018)

My decision to lead a trip stemmed from my gratitude at being given such a wonderful gift, one that allowed me to develop a Jewish identity and be proud of my heritage in a way I did not understand before. I wanted to ensure no one feels like an outsider, and to remind them that being Jewish does not mean the same thing for everyone. I recently joined the Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada’s youth leadership counsel.

This is my story, but I’ve haven’t always felt as accepted as I let on. Many people in the community still don’t see me as Jewish, and when they do, it’s only because I’ve had to explain my existence.

Instances of blatant racism towards Black people are still far too prevalent. I was recently getting to know a new friend. She’s Jewish and has lived in Thornhill for 15 years after emigrating from Israel with her husband and son. She adapted quickly to the community and had many friends and relationships. But when she and her husband divorced, and a few years after she began dating a Black man, she was shocked by the hurtful and racist comments and responses she received from many Jewish friends who she had previously thought were open-minded, kind and accepting.

Late last year, I attended a diversity and inclusion workshop where a Jewish lawyer spent considerable time venting her frustration and shock towards the openly and unapologetic vocal racism her parents frequently expressed towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).

Why is this behaviour so troubling? As a community, we have suffered immense trauma, oppression, and discrimination in the form of antisemitism. What group understands better how propaganda, harmful stereotypes, and systematic forms of discrimination and dehumanization can lead to unimaginable horrors?

We have, in many ways, become an insular society that prides itself on protecting and preserving our cultural heritage and religious traditions. This is beautiful, and many aspects of such a tight-knit community fill the stories my father tells me of his upbringing in London’s Jewish community.

However, Ashkenazi Jews in North America have benefitted immensely from their “white-passing” privilege, ensuring that they have been able to bypass certain systemic forms of racism which have disenfranchised BIPOC. As a Black Jewish woman, I cannot help but feel hurt and frustrated at the overwhelming silence from the Jewish community on most issues of race and the overt perpetuation and participation of racist behaviours towards Black people in particular.

Our Jewish teaching of tikkun olam is a concept defined by acts of kindness to repair the world. It’s a fantastic calling and crucial responsibility to which I want my Jewish community to take the lead, and to call out and be true allies against any form of racism against BIPOC. 

While I have, for the most part, been made to feel welcome in many Jewish spaces, I often wonder if I were single and happened to be dating an Ashkenazi Jewish man, would his family accept me in time, as my grandfather had? Would my Blackness be an issue? Would someone in the family still be concerned about being seen with me in public?

I would be remiss not to mention that over the last few weeks, I have been inspired by the numerous posts, personal notes and a true commitment to listening, understanding and being part of the proactive change that I have seen from some of my Jewish peers.

I’m hopeful that meaningful change may come about as true allies are developed with friends who can support, fight for, and work to undo the systemic racism and oppression still facing BIPOC. As someone who proudly identifies as a Black Jewish woman, I am asking you to take a hard look in the mirror and decide which side of history you want to be on moving forward.

My dream is to see both of my communities united in the fight for equality, liberation and the right of self-determination for all.


Akilah Allen-Silverstein

Akilah Allen-Silverstein lives in Toronto. She is a Certified Financial Planner, passionate about community engagement, gardening, cooking, exploring the outdoors, and travelling.

BOOK REVIEW: The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate

Kenneth S. Stern, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate
New Jewish Press, 2020
296 pages

Reviewed by MIRA SUCHAROV

While international conflicts have been known to exhibit ripple effects far from their borders, nowhere is the microcosm of ideological tensions over Israel/Palestine more apparent these days than on university and college campuses.

In a smart, personal and engaging book, Kenneth S. Stern, director of Bard College’s Bard Center for the Study of Hate, takes us on a tour of today’s American campus Israel/Palestine debates in the context of a full-throated argument for free speech.

While Stern focuses on American college campuses, Canadians might read this through slightly different eyes, given that our respective laws around speech are not identical in their scope. Unlike the U.S. with its First Amendment provisions (which permits all speech except for direct incitement to violence – so-called “fighting words”), Canada does have hate-speech provisions, although hate speech cases are notoriously hard to prosecute in this country.

Kenneth Stern
Kenneth Stern

The book takes the reader through the polarized debate around antisemitism, anti-Zionism and different views of academic freedom, stemming from the controversial 2001 Durban conference on racism and the rise of the academic boycott movement against Israel. 

Stern describes how he founded an academic group called Alliance for Academic Freedom, devoted to opposing the academic boycott of Israel (a group in which I was involved from the ground up before I eventually resigned, my views having changed slightly; full disclosure, since he mentions me in the text).

In the contemporary culture wars, Stern’s is an argument against such current phenomena as “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” And perhaps surprising to some, given that he proclaims himself a Zionist in the book, Stern is concerned by a current chill on campus speech brought about by the incorporation of anti-Zionism into the contemporary antisemitism definition much used today.

It may also read as ironic, given that Stern was instrumental in drafting the definition that is now much debated, and which has been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and last year by Canada). But this is where the strength of the book lies: It is a principled discussion of free speech, whether or not one agrees with his threshold.

Stern takes us deftly through the debates around Donald Trump’s “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019”, which uses the IHRA definition to define what is acceptable to say on campus. Stern opposes using this definition to assess campus speech. “Decrying anti-Zionism at the UN or in bilateral relations or recognizing it for data collection is one thing,” he writes; “declaring anti-Zionism as antisemitic for campus application can only chill free speech.”

Where I think the book’s argument falls short is around much of what is known as the “deplatforming” debate: The robust opposition to having certain speakers come to campus. Stern sees speaker freedom as akin to the principle of free speech. But I would argue that Stern’s argument should provide more scaffolding about who deserves an invitation to a given campus, not only on one’s right to constitutionally protected speech. Campuses are distinct entities: a campus invitation comes with resources: advertisements, space, security, and so on. And such invitations also come with a certain amount of conferred prestige: a speaker invited to a university can put the event on their CV; not so if one simply stands on a soapbox in a public park and opines.

Stern’s view is that as long as campus officials or student groups follow proper procedures in inviting a speaker, any idea should be fair game for airing. His is an argument that relies on the marketplace of ideas to weed out bad ideas and elevate good ones.

But I might challenge the idea that campuses should be viewed as akin to unregulated markets. I would suggest that they should apply specific intellectual standards: They are institutions of learning, not simply open-air streets where ordinary speech laws should apply.

Others will wonder whether Stern’s view opposing safe spaces and trigger warnings lacks pedagogical compassion. And indeed, there is a bit of an inherent built-in tension in parts of his book, as when he recounts an evening around a dinner table with a group of students who noted that they felt so much more comfortable talking with him about the sensitive issues around Israel/Palestine than they do on campus, where they often meet vocal and vociferous opposition.

Readers might wonder whether the students’ appreciation stemmed from Stern actually having, over the course of that evening, provided a “safe space” for the exchange, however defined.

These quibbles suggest a book worth reading; a narrative worthy of wrestling and conversation.


Mira Sucharov

Mira Sucharov is professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her most recent books are Public Influence: A Guide to Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement (author) and Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates (co-editor)