UPDATED: MP Under Fire for Saying Israel Demolished COVID Centre

July 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A Hamilton, Ont. member of Parliament is under Twitter fire by Israel’s Embassy and Jewish groups for claiming that Israeli forces demolished a badly-needed COVID testing facility in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

Matthew Green, the NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, tweeted on July 19 that “hundreds” have contacted him with “serious concernsover the Israeli gov’s military stoppage of a #COVID testing centre in #Hebron #Palestine.”

He added: “I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic.”

B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa were quick to respond, accusing the rookie MP of spreading “a lie” about the incident.

“Matthew Green perpetuated a falsehood about #Israel demolishing a #Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre,” CIJA said in its response. “That is a lie. Mr. Green should delete his tweet and apologize.

“MPs have a responsibility to deal in facts and verify that what they are spreading on social media is true,” the organization added.

B’nai Brith Canada took to the social media platform to accuse Green of “amplifying lies about Israel.

“A Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre was not demolished,” B’nai Brith stated. “Do your homework before sharing conspiracy theories with your base. While you are at it, kindly delete this tweet & apologize for spreading false claims.”

B’nai Brith also challenged Green to defend his claim in the media.

“If he stands behind this awful and inaccurate tweet, why won’t he defend it in the media? Time to take it down and admit you were wrong,” B’nai Brith said.

As of July 24, the tweet was still up.

The former city councillor did not respond to calls about his statement, including an e-mailed request from the CJR.

Israel’s Embassy in Canada on July 23 tweeted that the facility in question was not in Hebron but in Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts ofJerusalem’s Old City, and that it was “illegally operating.”

The Embassy said it was operating without required municipal permits, and pointed out that there are several health centers close to Silwan that provide free COVID services to anyone.

“There are dozens of health facilities within a 5km radius of Silwan (excluding 7!! major hospitals) legally administering #COVID19tests and treatment to ALL, regardless of religion/cultural background,” the Embassy tweeted.

“Like Canada and its municipalities, lawful permits are required to build new structures, especially ones that administer health care.

“Just as it would not be acceptable for an unauthorized makeshift ‘testing’ facility to be constructed in someone’s front yard in Hamilton, it is also the case in Israel,” the Embassy’s statement added. “Israel and its municipalities will continue to make all possible efforts to fight this virus, regardless of religious and cultural differences in its legally functioning clinics and hospitals.”

One source told the CJR that Israel shut down an unapproved COVID testing centre operating in Silwan on April 14.

On July 23, the Jerusalem Post reported a building was torn down in Hebron, but it was a prospective private car dealership.

Civil Administration bulldozers arrived at the site “and demolished the illegally built structure” on July 21, the Post reported.

“When the civil administration told the Palestinian businessman who built the structure that they intended to tear it down, he informed the Hebron municipality that he was donating the illegally built structure for ‘public services,’” the Post reported.

A source told the CJR that after a stop work order was issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories(COGAT), the owner put up a sign advertising the planned construction of acoronavirus testing site in an effort to slowor halt the demolition.

“Contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” an unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the newspaper. “Also, it was not a health clinic. That’s a total lie.

“We condemn the cynical use of a global crisis at the expense of the Palestinians in Hebron,” he added.

In a tweet on July 22, COGAT stated: “False claims have been made recently that the Civil Administration & the Hebron District Coordination and Liaison Office have demolished or intend to demolish a building site in Hebron designated for COVID-19 testing. Any such reports are unequivocally false & without basis.”

Israel’s Embassy also noted that “clinics/hospitals in Israel, including in Jerusalem, have administered over 166,000 tests per million people to date. These facilities are staffed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians without discrimination.”

The above expands and clarifies a previous version of this story.

Vulnerable Communities Get Boost to Combat Hate Crimes

July 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Programs aimed at combating hate crimes are getting a $1.7 million boost from the provincial government.

That’s what Premier Doug Ford’s government is making available in the latest distribution under the Safer and Vital Communities program.

Over the next two years, non-profit community agencies and First Nation band councils with a focus on hate crime will be able to apply for money in conjunction with local police departments and other community agencies.

In a news release announcing the fund, Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, said the funds are an effort to find creative ways of dealing with the problem.

“Our government has zero tolerance for hate, racism and discrimination in all forms,” Jones said. “Effective solutions cannot come from government alone and the Safer and Vital Communities grant will allow community-based organizations to be full partners in the fight against hate in Ontario.”

To be eligible, groups must address hate-motivated crime in their community through programs and strategies. Applications could include recreational programs that positively affect the development of children and youth, raising awareness of hate-motivated crimes, as well as the improvement of security infrastructure. Successful applicants and projects will be announced in the winter of 2021.

Applications are open until Sept. 16.

The Safer Communities program operates on a two-year cycle. The last time grants were made to agencies such as Agincourt Community Services Association, Canadian Mental Association in Peel-Dufferin, Community Living Essex County, London Abused Women’s Centre and others.

The program was launched in 2004.

In a news release, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Toronto chair Barbara Bank welcomed the money as an “investment which will make a meaningful difference in the lives of all Ontarians who visit their local houses of worship or community centres which collectively spend millions of dollars every year on security costs.

“It is vital that all levels of government recognize that safety and security should not be a burden on vulnerable groups alone,” stated Bank. “As Canadians, we must ensure that all communities – no matter their race, religion, sex, or orientation – can carry out their communal activities without fear for their safety.”

The funding announcement “follows sustained [Jewish] community advocacy on the issue of community security.”

CIJA reminded that in 2018, Jewish Canadians formed one percent of Canada’s population but were the target of nearly 20 percent of all hate crimes in the country.

Editorial: Jewish Leaders Must Act Now

As reported in the Canadian Jewish Record this week, Halton Regional Police released a report this month of a vandalized monument in the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville. According to the CJR:

“Someone had painted ‘Nazi war monument’ on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

“Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.”

The debate surrounding this unit continued long after the end of the war. Apologists have claimed that the unit was formed to fight against the Soviets, and that its being under Nazi command was a historical anomaly.

But beyond doubt is that the 14th Waffen SS Division was under Nazi charge. Indeed, it was considered such a gem within SS paramilitary squads that SS leader Heinrich Himmler personally visited the division in 1944 to laud members’ willingness to rid Galicia of a “dirty blemish…namely the Jews.”

Despite the damage to it, the cenotaph is exactly what the graffiti described: A “Nazi war monument.” Unfortunately, when news of the vandalism was released, Halton police mistakenly claimed that the crime was being investigated under Canada’s anti-hate laws.

Social media erupted, and Halton Police Chief Steven Tanner wisely clarified: “The Nazi Party/SS are by no means a protected group under any hate crime related legislation,” he stated. “The most unfortunate part of all of this is that any such monument would exist in the first place.”

Also unfortunate was the stances of mainstream Jewish advocacy groups. The CJR has been unable to find a single mention of this incident in the news section of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ website.

Meantime, it seemed to take prodding from no less an august publication as The Nation for B’nai Brith Canada to issue a statement.

“There is no place for monuments in our society that glorify military units, political organizations or individuals who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II,” the organization told The Nation on July 21. “B’nai Brith Canada calls for such monuments to be removed and for comprehensive education efforts to accurately portray the historical record of those individuals and organizations involved.”

Asked the next day whether B’nai Brith would issue a statement to the CJR, the group sent the following from CEO Michael Mostyn:

“B’nai Brith Canada calls for the removal of any monuments glorifying military units, political organizations or individuals that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II. There is no place for such monuments in Canada.

“Regarding the specific cenotaph in Oakville, Ont., we are in the process of reaching out to other groups affected by this monument in the hopes of achieving real progress on this issue.

“At a bare minimum, comprehensive education efforts are needed to shine the light of historical accuracy on Nazi collaborators and their crimes.”

As of July 22, however, this statement was not on B’nai Brith’s website.

And Friends of Simon Wiesenthal would only go as far as to say the monument was a “blight” and “insults” the memory of Canadian soldiers who fought the Nazis. But FSWC was strangely quiet on removing the monument.

We expect more from our Jewish leadership. Jewish advocacy groups quite rightly spoke out strongly and took decisive legal and human rights actions against the owner of Toronto’s Foodbenders eatery, who recently engaged in ugly antisemitic tropes.

But the glorification of actual Nazis, all of whom, no matter where in Europe they fought, aided in the murder of six million Jews, seems to be a bit of an afterthought.

Complacency (or reluctance to raise voices) in the face of Nazi glorification is not an option, especially for Jews. It’s time for everyone to speak out and demand this and other monuments paying tribute to Nazi collaborators be removed once and for all.

AMIA Bombing Remembered in Canada, but Justice Lags

July 20, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A quarter century after 85 people died in the terrorist bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina, two of Canada’s major Jewish organizations and some leading politicians continue to demand justice for the victims.

No one was ever charged or convicted for the July 18, 1994 attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) centre in downtown Buenos Aires – a fact many believe means that the scars from the event can never heal.

“We have seen a quarter century of justice denied in this case,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a July 16 YouTube commemoration of the attack. “An entire generation has passed without a single perpetrator being brought to justice for this crime.”

On the morning of July 18, 1994, a van loaded with explosives was driven at the front entrance of the seven-storey headquarters of the Argentina-Israel Mutual Association in the capital, Buenos Aires.

The AMIA building housed all of Jewish Argentina’s major organizations, as well as a theatre, library and a job bank. It was where community members went to arrange a funeral, and it housed the precious records of a hundred years of Jewish life in the country.

When the dust cleared, 85 people had been killed and 300 injured. It remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in Argentina’s modern history.

It is widely believed to have been carried out by terrorists linked to Iran, with suspected involvement from Argentina’s then-president Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian descent (last year, a court cleared Menem of covering up the attack, but the court jailed the retired judge who led the investigation into the bombing, along with an ex-intelligence chief).

Alberto Nisman, a state prosecutor who tried to investigate the incident, was murdered in 2015 on the day he was expected to testify before Argentina’s congress that the attack was carried out by Hezbollah terrorists, with help from Argentine accomplices.

The current government of Argentina continues to push, without success, for a full accounting from the previous regime. Despite that failure, the country’s ambassador to Canada told the B’nai Brith memorial the incident has not been forgotten.

“This was a disgusting and cursed attack,” Eugenio Curia said. “This was a real crime against humanity.

“Our government has been pledging its commitment to find the people responsible for this attack,” he added. “The idea is to prosecute and condemn the people responsible for this, but we need other state friends to achieve this.”

That commitment to pursue some form of justice for the victims of the attack was echoed by Canadian politicians taking part in the event.

Peter Kent, Conservative MP for Thornhill, said it is clear the government of Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Hezbollah were involved in the attack. Despite this, he accused the Liberal government of continuing to stall on a Conservative motion to have the IRGC declared a terrorist organization.

Earlier this year B’nai Brith launched a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to force action on the issue. It accuses the government of “failure to carry out the will of Parliament.”

For Manitoba Conservative MP Marty Morantz, that determination is important in facing up to the wave of antisemitism sweeping the world today.

“Antisemitism has not gone away and is unfortunately on the rise today,” he said. “We must be clear that there is no room in Canada for this kind of intolerance and discrimination.”

Away from political outrage, the attack remains a vivid scar on the memory of people who lived through it.

Anita Weinstein, for example, told the B’nai Brith event she had walked into the building that morning heading for her second floor office at the front of the structure.

“A few minutes later, I remembered I had to see a colleague at the rear of the building, and that made the great difference for me,” she said. “As soon as I got there we heard a loud explosion and material started to fall from the ceiling. There was an intense darkness and cloud of dust that covered us and we could hear panic and shouting everywhere.”

In a separate commemoration event on Facebook, representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) remembered the attack as the event that changed the world for Argentine Jews.

Nico Slobinski and Graciela Najenson both work for CIJA in Winnipeg now. In 1994, however, they lived in Buenos Aires and felt the pain of the attack.

“There was a cloud of dust and smoke that could be seen for miles that day,” Soblinski recalled. “That same dark cloud that descended on downtown Buenos Aires descended on all of us.”

Soblinski said he lost close family friends among the 85 dead, and recalled how the attack added to his family’s desire to seek a safer home in the world.

“We had many conversations around the dinner table about this new, pervasive feeling we now had that we were no longer safe in this place we had called home for four generations,” he said.

Najenson recalled the Jewish community’s new obsession with security after the attack, and the effect that had on her.

“We had to realize that now there were always barricades in front of the building that were there to protect us, but this was not the way we should live,” she said.

In 2014, Yitzhak Aviran, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina from 1993 to 2000, said that the perpetrators of the attack had, for the most part, been eliminated by Israeli security forces operating abroad.