Saks Calls on O’Toole to Condemn ‘Vile’ Theories; Conservative Tweets Hail Party’s Record; O’Toole Calls Out Liberals on IRGC

Dec. 17, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Newly-minted Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) has written to Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole asking that he condemn “vile antisemitic theories” surrounding billionaire philanthropist George Soros “promoted” by some Conservative MPs.

Yaara Saks
Yaara Saks

“Since the onset of the pandemic, several members of your caucus have promoted baseless conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric,” Saks wrote in her letter to O’Toole on Dec. 14.

“I refer to the misinformation around George Soros and the vile antisemitic theories about the World Economic Forum. To date, you have yet to publicly denounce this behaviour or reprimand your members,” Saks wrote.

The latest episode took place in the House of Commons on Dec. 8 when someone called out “George Soros” as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was speaking.

Following question period, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said it was Conservative member John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfill) who had shouted Soros’s name.

“Maybe he wants to explain what he said here in the chamber,” Alghabra said.

Soros is a frequent lightning rod for antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. A Hungarian Holocaust survivor, he’s a heavy funder of liberal causes and a favourite target of the far-right, which accuses him of helping fellow financiers plot a global takeover in a “new world order.”

Freeland wrote about Soros during her previous career as a journalist and has met with him since entering politics.

After being accused by Alghabra, Brassard was defiant.

John Brassard
John Brassard

“There was nothing in what I said that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they are doing in this situation lightly,” he told the House.

“I encourage you, Mr. Speaker, to listen to what was said. There was nothing in there that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they have to say.”

In August, British Columbia Conservative MP Kerri-Lynne Findlay apologized after retweeting a video of Freeland interviewing Soros when she was a journalist with the Financial Times in 2009.

Findlay said Freeland’s closeness with Soros should alarm every Canadian, and that Freeland listened to him “like student to teacher.”

Findlay said she had “thoughtlessly” shared the video, whose source “promotes hateful conspiracy theories…I have removed the tweets and apologize.”

In her letter, which does not mention Brassard or Findlay by name, Saks said “this kind of misinformation amplifies the rise in antisemitism and antisemitic conspiracies that have arisen during the COVID pandemic and that Jewish Canadians know all too well. It threatens the safety of Jewish Canadians and subjects them to hostility, prejudice, and discrimination, but its ultimate result is the erosion of public trust in democracy. As Members of Parliament, we have an obligation to take a stand to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are upheld. The failure to address antisemitism within your caucus remains unacceptable.”

Saks, who won York Centre in October’s byelection, called on the Tory leader “to condemn this antisemitic rhetoric and uphold the rights and trust of Canadians.”

Erin O'Toole
Erin O’Toole

Neither O’Toole nor Brassard returned the CJR’s requests for comment. As of this writing, Saks’ office says it has not had a reply from O’Toole.

The day after Saks sent her letter, Winnipeg-area Conservative MP Marty Morantz issued a series of tweets championing his party’s support for Israel and Canadian Jewry:

• “Conservatives have unequivocally supported Canada’s Jewish community and the state of Israel. Any statement to the contrary is misleading and wrong.

• “Under our Conservative leadership, Canada became the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). As Chair, Canada committed to an ambitious campaign to raise Holocaust awareness and fight antisemitism at home and abroad.

• “I’m proud to work with elected officials from around the world as part of an Online Antisemitism Taskforce. Our taskforce aims to work with online platforms like Facebook and Twitter so that hateful antisemitic comments are treated as hate speech and dealt with appropriately.

• “Let’s look at the Liberal record. The Liberals voted against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly and committed new funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. This is an organization whose schools have been used as storage facilities for Hamas rockets to be used against Israeli civilians, and whose facilities have served as breeding grounds for anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments. The Liberals have doubled down on these anti-Israel activities, even after badly losing their [bid for a UN Security Council seat],” Morantz tweeted.

And in a conference call with ethno-cultural media earlier this month, O’Toole took the Liberal government to task for failing to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity.

O’Toole reminded reporters that in 2018, the House of Commons passed a Conservative motion supporting the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group, “and the Liberals themselves voted for it, and then they did nothing on it.” 

The Liberals “have dragged their feet for several years. It will really take a change in government to have this issue taken seriously,” he said.

In 2012, under the Stephen Harper government, Canada listed a subgroup of the IRGC, the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization.

Get Tough With Social Media, Say Global Lawmakers

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Jewish advocacy agencies are calling for stiff fines, cuts in government spending for online advertising, and new regulations to force social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to get tough with online hatemongers.

B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) and other organizations told a panel of international lawmakers recently that getting tough is the only way to get the tech giants to help drain the cesspool of online antisemitism polluting their platforms.

The groups made their points during the first public hearing of the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism. That body, comprised of lawmakers from Canada, the United States, Israel, Great Britain and Australia, launched in September to deal with the growing problem of online hate.

“In the crisis we are facing now this issue has become all the more pervasive,” said Michael Levitt, CEO of FSWC. “We are seeing antisemitism being weaponized now under the thinly-veiled guise of anti-Zionism.”

One suggested tactic is to form an agency like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a voluntary, self-regulatory body created by the country’s private broadcasters to deal with viewer complaints about news and entertainment programs.

Another is to make directors and officers of social media companies personally responsible for allowing their platforms to be used for hate speech.

“The platforms offer an unprecedented opportunity to spread antisemitism,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC Canada’s campaign against antisemitism. “They have to be held responsible for the material they publish.”

In a news release following its presentation, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said after years of pressure, “there have been some clear signs that social media platforms are gradually coming around,” but the problem is far from solved.

What’s needed, said Mostyn, is greater transparency and a chance to provide input to their policies.

“If necessary, governments and civil society must exert a leadership role. The Jewish community is absolutely ready to contribute to these efforts,” he said.

In its testimony, B’nai Brith argued a key to combating online hate and antisemitism is to define the problem for a global audience. One such tool is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism. That definition has been adopted by several Canadian municipalities, the federal government, and recently in Ontario.

B’nai Brith also argued antisemitism should be seen as an issue of human rights, not simply one of religious freedom. Many of its current forms must be understood as “hatred and demonization of the State of Israel that exceeds the boundaries of legitimate policy criticism.”

“A clear legal and policy framework – domestically and internationally – is required to bring coherence to efforts to take down hate.”

Agencies around the world have noted shocking rises in antisemitism, often driven by driven by conspiracy theories about Jews being responsible for the COVID pandemic. In Canada B’nai Brith has noted an 11 per cent rise in online antisemitism and harassment that often advocates genocide.

Social media companies haven’t been ignoring the problem. Earlier this year, for example, Twitter began flagging some tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump for violating policies that ban threats of harm against an identifiable group.

And last month, Facebook announced a new policy banning Holocaust denial.

In an email exchange, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform found and removed nearly 90 percent of hate speech content before being reported, and in the first quarter of 2020, took action against 9.6 million postings.

Over the last year, “we’ve conducted 14 strategic network disruptions to remove 23 different banned organizations, over half of which supported white supremacy,” the spokesperson said.

In Canada, the company’s work has included a $500,000 program announced earlier this year for the Global Network Against Hate, in partnership with Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism.

Other Canadian participants in the task force include Members of Parliament Anthony Housefather (Liberal), Marty Morantz (Conservative) and Randall Garrison (NDP). Israel is represented by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White).

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.

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.