Liberal MP Affirms Friendship with Jewish Community

Nov. 12, 2020 

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—One year after he was elected, Montreal-area Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi welcomed the opportunity to finally put to rest Conservative allegations that he is antisemitic and a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Sameer Zuberi
Photo credit: Bernard Thibodeau

“That’s completely false and wrong; it’s inconsistent with who I am and my record,” Zuberi told a videoconference hosted by Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom on Nov. 3. “…The Conservative attack is a red herring. If it were actually true, I would not be doing what I am doing now.”

On the eve of the contested Liberal nomination meeting in the Pierrefonds-Dollard riding in September 2019, the Conservative Party issued a press release describing Zuberi as having an “antisemitic past” and “promoted conspiracy theories” about 9/11.

The release also denounced Zuberi, who is Muslim, as a “radical activist” when he was a student leader at Concordia University in the early 2000s.

Zuberi, 41, who won the nomination over five other contenders, denied the allegations at the time, but went further in explaining why they were inaccurate and hurtful in response to a question during the virtual Temple event.

First, he emphasized that he comes from a mixed background. His father emigrated from Pakistan in the 1970s and his mother is a third-generation Canadian from Brockville, Ont.

An aunt converted to Judaism, and she, his uncle and their children – Zuberi’s cousins – observe kashruth and Shabbat. “I participated in that from a young age. My parents always reminded me that we have Christians and Jews in our family. Since the cradle, that has always been my world view and why I have worked so hard to create understanding among communities,” he said.

Zuberi, who was active in the Canadian Muslim Forum and worked as the diversity and engagement officer in McGill University’s faculty of medicine before running in the October 2019 federal election, said he has been devoted to bridge-building throughout his life.

Well before he considered entering politics, Zuberi said he attended a Shalom Hartman Institute program in Jerusalem to gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience. There, he “learned from rabbis, thought leaders and civil society in an unvarnished way.”

He said he “cares deeply for the Jewish community and respects the Jews of Canada and the world.”

Addressing the specific Conservative charges, which were never retracted, Zuberi said to characterize him as a “9/11 truther could not be further from the truth. I have constantly denounced terrorism and Osama bin Laden…I am on the record dozens of times.”

The Conservatives reproduced an exchange on Zuberi’s Facebook page from May 3, 2011, just after bin Laden was assassinated, to back up their allegation. Zuberi responded to a comment posted that whether bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 was still “a matter of public debate,” but cautioned the commenter against subscribing to theories that confirmed their views.

Zuberi points out that on that day, he had a letter published in the Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette in which he wrote that “the death of Osama bin Laden is a welcome event.” The thrust of the letter was that, 10 years after 9/11, “it was time to turn a new page and move on to something else,” he explained.

As for the accusation that as a Concordia Student Union vice-president, he supported the suspension of the Jewish student club Hillel in late 2002 because it was accused of disseminating Israel Defense Forces recruitment materials, Zuberi said that, “at that time, I am on the record that Hillel should not be suspended. I dug up that statement and shared it publicly.”

The Temple’s Rabbi Lisa Grushcow’s association with Zuberi goes back to before he entered federal politics. She said they worked together on interfaith and intercultural projects, and collaborated during the fight against Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law. He has taken part in the Temple’s Muslim Awareness Week and other programming, she said.

“Sameer has consistently been a friend of our community,” she said.

Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism

Lawmakers from five countries have joined forces to launch an international effort to fight online antisemitism.

The Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism includes legislators from Canada, Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Anthony Housefather
Anthony Housefather

The effort involves two Canadian MPs: Liberal Anthony Housefather from Montreal, and Conservative Marty Morantz from Winnipeg, as well as former Toronto Liberal MP Michael Levitt, now President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.*

“Over the last several years, there has been an alarming increase in antisemitic incidents across the globe, with many originating online,” a Sept. 29 statement from Housefather’s office states. “As social media posts do not stop at international borders, members of the national legislatures of Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have come together across party lines to launch the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.”

Marty Morantz
Marty Morantz

Task force members include: Member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White, Israel); Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Democrat, United States); Congressman Ted Deutch (Democrat, United States); Congressman Chris Smith (Republican, United States), Member of Parliament Josh Burns (Labour, Australia); Member of Parliament Dave Sharma (Liberal, Australia); Member of Parliament Andrew Percy (Conservative, United Kingdom); Member of Parliament Alex Sobel (Labour and Cooperative, United Kingdom), and the two Canadians MPs.

The launch of the task force follows campaigns working to expose online antisemitism, including the #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate campaign that served as a global call to action to combat the virulent antisemitism that goes unaddressed or inadequately addressed on social media platforms.

The task force has the following goals:

• Establishing consistent messaging and policy from Parliaments and legislatures around the world in order to hold social media platforms, including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Google, accountable;

• The adoption and publication of transparent policies related to hate speech;

• Raising awareness about antisemitism on social media platforms and its consequences in order to acknowledge the tremendous responsibility that comes with the power the platforms hold;

• Emphasizing that if one minority cannot be protected by hate speech policies, then none can be. This Task Force will therefore serve as a means for protecting all minority groups from online hate;Underscoring that the fight against antisemitism is a non-partisan consensus in democratic countries.

Online hate, including antisemitic animus, “is growing exponentially,” stated Housefather. “Posts are viewed across national borders and impact people in many jurisdictions. Social media platforms have failed to adequately address hatred on their own. But they cannot be expected to create different policies in every separate country. By working together, we can create international definitions and recommendations for regulating social media platforms that can then be reviewed and hopefully implemented by each individual country.”

Stated Morantz: “Online hate is an abhorrent reality on social media platforms. I am honoured to work on a bipartisan basis with my Canadian colleagues, as well as international colleagues, to find solutions that keep all those safe who might suffer from online hate, antisemitism and discrimination.”

Said Cotler-Wunsh, daughter of former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, “Always and at this time in particular, as we stand united in fighting a global pandemic, another virus rages that requires global collaboration and cooperation. By working with multi-partisan allies in parliaments around the world, we hope to create best practices and real change in holding the social media giants accountable to the hatred that exists on their platforms. It is imperative that we work together to expose the double standards.”

* The above updates Canadian members of the task force.