Is Dimitri Lascaris really anti-Semitic?

Any Canadian who tries to defend human rights for Palestinians knows that they run the risk of being called “anti-Semitic”.  But when Prime Minister Trudeau (l) called out Dimitri Lascaris (r) a well known Palestinian human rights activist, accusing him of “vile anti-Semitic smears”  a lot of people took notice. Is Lascaris guilty as charged, or is he being unfairly smeared by the Prime Minister? Read more.

Human rights activist and lawyer Dimitri Lascaris has been a thorn in the side of the Canadian political establishment for some time, particularly on the issue of human rights for Palestinians.

Some would characterize his style as “brash” or “in your face”. Lascaris had a bitter falling out with Elizabeth May over her refusal to back a Green Party resolution to support BDS, and he has accused NDP leader Jagmeet Singh of derailing a different resolution critical of Israel at the recent NDP convention. He has been involved in legal battles against Canadian Zionist organizations like Bnai Brith, and even taken the Canadian government to court over its continued practice of allowing goods made in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to enter Canada labelled as “Made in Israel.”

But he really stirred up a hornet’s nest a few weeks ago by a tweet in which he challenged Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt over the fact that they seemed more interested in defending Israel than in defending Canada.

Prime Minister Trudeau immediately responded by sending a tweet of his own, denouncing what he called Lascaris’ “vile anti-Semitic smear”.

trudeau against lascaris

All other party leaders, including Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May and Andrew Scheer jumped in with comparable condemnations of Lascaris’ tweet.

On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), wrote an alarmist memo to all his members:

“Events over the past 72 hours have sharply exposed some of the difficulties and opportunities our community faces.” he wrote. “On Thursday, Dimitri Lascaris tweeted an appalling attack on two Jewish MPs, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather. He openly suggested that Michael and Anthony are disloyal to our country, placing the interests of “apartheid Israel” above those of the Government of Canada. This is a textbook example of antisemitism.”

Sensing blood, Bnai Brith and CIJA have even pressed forward the idea that MP’s should boycott Lascaris as well as any delegations from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, a pro-Palestinian group which Lascaris chairs, as long as he is associated with it.

Dual loyalties?

Is it ever acceptable to accuse an MP of being more loyal to a foreign government than to Canada? In fact, such calls are not all that infrequent. MP’s are routinely challenged over conflicts of interest when they take trips on the dime of foreign governments. Recently such questions were raised in the case of MP’s who took free trips to China. And many Canadians argued that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper sabotaged our chance at a seat on the UN security council by putting Israel’s interests ahead of Canada’s.

However, the fact that Housefather and Levitt are Jewish make the charge a sensitive one, as historically anti-Semites have used the allegation of “disloyalty” as a way to attack and undermine Jews. Lascaris should have known this. His ad hominem attack on their motives and loyalties may have been heavy handed, and injudicious. But anti-Semitic?

Is Lascaris anti-Semitic, insensitive, or just provocative?

Lascaris was interviewed by Bernie Bellan, Editor of The Jewish Post and News in Winnipeg a few days after Trudeau’s tweet. The video of the interview is available here: What did Dimitri Lascaris do to elicit unanimous condemnation from Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, & Jagmeet Singh? Lascaris stoutly defended his tweets, claiming that he is not anti-Semitic and that his issue is not with Jews, but with Canadian policies which support Israel.

A review of Lascaris’ website shows over a hundred blog posts going back to January 2017. Two repeated themes come back over and over – Trudeau’s inadequate response to climate change, and human rights for Palestinians. Ditto for his very active Facebook Page.

He is a very vocal advocate of BDS, the movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, and very critical of both Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh for not endorsing it. But I could find no whiff of any animus against Jews. So, unless harsh criticism of Israel is automatically labelled anti-semitism, it would be very difficult to establish a pattern of anti-Semitism.

Lascaris has responded at some length to the Prime Minister’s charges in an angry and defiant article. “Let me state unequivocally that I oppose and condemn anti-Semitism,” he says. “indeed, I oppose and condemn all forms of racism.”

lascaris declaration

What have we learned?

While his tweet may have been insensitive, any intimation that Lascaris himself is anti-Semitic appears to be ill informed and perhaps even politically motivated. It would appear that a number of political leaders who have been sharply criticized by Lascaris in the past are not willing to come to his defense in the face of Trudeau’s attack.

The incident also shows the powerful capability of the Israel lobby (including CIJA and Bnai Brith) to wrong foot a well known Canadian defender of human rights for Palestinians. Their deep connections to all political parties – including the Prime Minister – allows them to quickly gain advantage by playing on the fears of Canadians that criticism of Israel might be motivated by a barely hidden anti-Semitism.

This incident reinforces CTIP’s contention that activists hoping to move Canadian policy towards human rights for Palestinians need to be extremely careful in their choice of actions and words. In particular, we need to recognize how easily the fears of Canadian Jews (and indeed of all Canadians) can be exploited. While some Canadians might feel that those Jewish fears and Jewish sensitivities have been exaggerated, and indeed even manipulated, they are real nonetheless, and need to be taken into consideration.

CTIP’s motto is “raise the issue while lowering the temperature”.  Harsh words only serve to heighten the sense of insecurity and reduce the possibility of reasonable dialogue.

________________________________________________________

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We invite brief comments (under 100 words) from readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at membership.ctip@gmail.com.

19 comments

  1. The easy answer of course: Dimitri Lascaris is not anti-Semitic. The harder answer is to the question: why would leaders of the three largest federal parties in Canada pile-up on Lascaris, an obvious defender of human and natural rights, in such a disgraceful display? Many will proffer different responses but it remains a stain on Canada’s body politic that we can not seem to have an independent foreign policy based on what is good for Canada and most Canadians. Until we do, we will continue to witness sorry episodes.

    Please visit and consider signing an “Open Letter in Support of Human Rights Activist Dimitri Lascaris” https://goo.gl/forms/iklicnjUvilpZJSH3

  2. The whole lot of them from the PM down to the Liberal backbench MPs are either stupid or insincere and the other parties are close behind or worse. They gobble up Zionist contributions ( remember Trudeau and the late Barry Sherman) and take free junkets to Israel due to the parliament’s lousey ethics standards.

    I had a one on One with Dion back in May/2016. I lost his letter to me but still have my reply.

    Let me state that while there are wonderful Jews in this world the ones behind the present government operate like Putin in the Levant.

    Dear Mr. Dion:

    I am sorry to say that your explanation of the BDS issue which happened to arrive on my 81st birthday left me feeling quite disappointed with my government which my wife and I voted for and financially supported and otherwise appears to represent our interests. Well I discovered later that on the same day some other rather important entities shared what you deemed my distorted opinion. By your reckoning some you might say are Jews practicing an iteration of antisemitism. Then there are others you might consider “off-the-wall” like Amnesty International and The United Church of Canada.

    You: Israel is a steadfast ally and Canada supports its right to live in peace and security with its neighbours.

    On that score you could state the same for Mr. Putin’s Russia which along with Netanyahu’s Israel are about the only two territorially kleptocratic states today breaking the UN’s sacred rule against acquiring neighbouring land by force. Oh it’s just an occupation? Of course, just like Canada and its First Nations. So everlasting occupation should be cherished like everlasting life. Mr.Dion, this conundrum is rather bewildering.

    I have seen much in my now long stay and recall the joy when Nelson Mandela enjoyed the benefits of BDS so generously bestowed by Canada and others. South Africa was a democracy under the likes of P. W. Botha except it left a few people out. Like Palestinians, black South Africans never had a diaspora supporting them around the world.

    The Palestine/Israel problem certainly has complexities but it is definitely a David and Goliath matter not helped by others piling on the looser. As you suggested I read quite a bit of Hansard and concluded that the unquestioning acceptance of cliches about the State of Israel such as its origin and its present occupation of of the West Bank betrays a shocking level of ignorance among Canada’s leadership. It suggests that we have no right to roll our eyes at the Republican Circus south of the border. From what I read in Hansard it appeared that Charlie Angus came closer to reality and sound principles than anyone else.

    Your view of hate and antisemitism is just what Natanyahu and the huge gang of Russians from Yisrael Beiteinu, the main West Bank occupiers are pushing. A fish diet is great but I suggest you avoid red herring. Why not look up some Jews in Mont Royal who are critical of Israeli Apartheid policies and get them to inform you better. Remember what the bible says about seeking truth. It even applies to agnostics like me.

    In the end BDS is a market place tool which anyone espousing human rights must accept. The alternative is terrorism and sabotage. Over my time I have seen it applied to coffee, grapes and Apartheid. As for the Palestinians, I believe the Geneva Convention allows them more drastic options.

    Mr Dion Canadians just came through a decade with a Government out to manage information to the point where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was getting side-swiped. We voted for your party to repair the damage. You let us down in Spades. Time for major repair.

    Bob Pflug

  3. Peter, this is bang on. The allegations of antisemitism are unfounded and disingenuous, yet, nonetheless, advocates for Palestinian rights need to be careful and moderate in their choice of words and action. On a related note, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on CIJA’s plan to launch a national campaign to get Canadian governments and police to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which, in the organization’s view, explicitly confirms that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

    1. Hey Kevin, thanks for your comment. As you know, Trudeau has already declared himself to be in favour of Zionism (or at least, against Anti-Zionism). I think you are right that attempts will be made here, as in the UK, to adopt the IHRA definition. My thought is that we need to be very clear on our own definition, and not just oppose that one.

  4. It is very easy to get yourself branded as an anti-semite. Even a Jew can do it. I have been labelled a “self hating Jew” just for using the word “Palestinian” when discussing non-Jewish residents of areas under Israeli control. I believe that this is a diversionary tactic intended to distract us from the terribly unjust treatment of Palestinians by getting us to talk about the concerned critic instead of the real problem.

    I note that there are at least 7 people in our Parliament who are identified as Jews. Lascaris seems to have selected two because of what they do and say, not because of their religion.

    I personally would not have said what he said because I do not know how to measure degrees of interest and could not say that a person was more interested in one topic than another. I consider what he said to be unscientific but not antisemitic.

    We should not allow ourselves to be distracted. This forum exists to talk about the way Palestinians are treated by Israel, not about Dimitri Lascaris.

  5. No, Peter, based on your analys and a careful reading of the record, Mr Lascaris is in no way antisemitic. He has been caught up in an argument over antisemetism in the context of Israel and Palestine: first by being openly accused of antisemitism and supporter of terrorism by Bnai Brith for his support of Palestinian rights; then by auing Bnai Brith for defamation which was lost on a technicality; then by leading a protest against Bnai brith for their labelling the CupW and many others as both antisemitic and terror supporting for showing solidarity with Palestinians; then by being met with a counterprotest by pro Israel activists led by the JDL an admitted racist org banned in the US for terrorism; then by receiving further criticism for his efforts by these two MPS to which he responded not for being disloyal to Canada but more committed to “apartheid ” Israel than to the PM and his colleagues ( who had in the past been threatened with hanging from JDL supporters). Yes a lot of tough language and both sides but no grounds for accusations of antisemitism.

    Anti semitism is defined as ” extreme prjudice, discrimination, criticism and illegal actions against Jews as a people ethnicity and religion. ” The attempt to conflate any criticism of Israel with antisemitism including in the IHRA definition with its 11 examples, is a tried and true method of the unequivocal pro Israel lobby like Bnai Brith and Cjia – and much more extremely Aipac in the USA, to defame and silence those politicians ready to stand up for Palestinians and work towards an acceptable international 2 state solution which is Canada’s official policy of engagement on the issue. Examples abound of the use of the antisemitism smear. The most egregious was with respect to Pres Obama for his attempts to negotiate peace not convenient to Netanyahu whose ministers and supporters both supported or used the anti semetism smear in trying to undermine his initiative; the moat conteadictory examplec is against Jewish orgs and individuals critical of Israel when such people are called self hating Jews or worse kapos and estranged frm the mainline Jewish community.

    Antisemetism accusations are unfortunately all too often the first act of the pro Iarael lobby. But this comes in the absence of any sensible analysis of the Israel Palestine situation and discussion of how to get to a solution.. The pro Israel lobby is unable to give any any tangible support for Cdn policy for a two state solution even if it would be helpful for Canada in securing a seat on the UNSC which Harper completely blew with his Unrwserved support of Israel. Bb reserves utter condemnation for any actions or statements that Cda might use to criticize Israel (including BB demand to the PM for an apology for his mild concern at the Gaza killings) where criticism of Israel is totally absent and condemnation of the Arab Palestinian position is the focus. Anti semetism has been especially accelerated to condemn BDS and all its supporters.

    The reaction of Anrew Scheer to this situation is not surprising since his party is an uncritical supporter of Israel and a total critic of Palestine.under its former and current boss and now is even revisiting the mistake of former leader Clark in committing to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Somewhat surprised by the PM s tweet and the Ndp critic who should recognize no antisemetism in what is a spirited exchange of policies on Israel Palestine going forward. They should also recognize that every politician from the PM on down have been accused of conflicts of interest or being more devoted to unCanadian values than Canadian ones – recent exchanges over immigration without necessary reference to a particular group. Similarly, there is also the question of araboislamophobia to consider which these two parties opposed in their comnitment to MS103 (in which interestingly BB Can tried to narrow the definition even as it tries to widen the definition of anti semetism to include any criticism of Israel.) Suspect that the tweet might not have been written by the PM since it is very nonreflective and too close to the unfounded antisemitism accusations put forward by the po Israel liobby; the use of the word “vile” is not eeally a PMJT word preference. Hopefully a further explanation if not an apology will be forthcoming.

    Hopefully this controversy will pass and the parties can get together to discuss Israel and Palestine in a more measured and progressive looking for greater consensus a solution for Canada to support such as two states with their capitals in West and East Jerusalem and taking up the Michael Bell idea for int of the holy sites.of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Perhaps then these controversies over the antisemitism can be left aside in thr search for a real solution. For Israel and Palestine..

  6. Peter, I think that your analysis raises important questions for the tactics and strategies of the Palestinian solidarity movement. These are critically important issues that merit careful reflection. During the past week, I have also had the benefit of advice and counsel from allies in the Palestinian solidarity movement, including from members of the Jewish community. I plan to address these issues in an article over the next week or so. I will post that article on my website and will provide a link to it in the comments section of this piece once my article has been published. Peace and solidarity, Dimitri.

    1. Dimitri and Peter, The tweet at issue as I read doesn’t question these MPs Canadian loyalties, rather their party loyalties, no? This is no minor distinction.

      1. Excellent point, Robert. However his tweet is being twisted and presented as if it were anti-Semitic. Some people might be confused by this, and others will actually be scared.

  7. I’m beginning to wonder if Canada’s political elite are not a glorified group of quislings, fearful that even discussing Canada’s apparent support for atrocities conducted by Israel on Palestinians might stir more questions about how these same folks continue to treat Canada’s own “Palestinians”, our indigenous Canadians.

    Will Trudeau call me “vile” for pointing out that despite all his rhetoric about a new day of hope and opportunity for a million human beings, most of whom are locked on reserves without water clean enough to even wash with.

    That Scheer, Singh and May all leapt into harmonious chorus with the Prime Minister, heaving the chilling “anti-semite” tag at Lascaris, speaks volumes about the crisis of politics in Canada, a country once seen as a beacon of hope for the desperate and the value of striving to ensure peace and harmony between people of diverse peoples on the basis of our much valued and lauded multiculturalism.

    Why is it that the leaders of four of Canada’s political parties, essentially Canada’s political elite go into hate filled auto-drive to condemn anyone who speaks about the fact none of our emperors are wearing any clothes?

    1. Hey Allan, I assume your last question is rhetorical. But I think that, stripped of its rhetorical flourish, is a serious one. Why do all our political leaders jump to defend Israel? And more importantly, what has to be done to change that reflex? We have to stop wringing our hands about it and figuring out a strategy to change it.

      1. Good questions Peter. I can only speak from my own experience having grown up here in Canada during an era -50s and ’60s – when just about the only news Canadians received of Israel was the serene, sun drenched, peaceful view from high above yet another new Kibbutz filled with shiny-faced, happy young people turning desert into communal garden space as an expression of their ever-lasting support for their religion/culture.

        It was certainly an ideal image that I had bought lock, stock and barrel as we looked hopefully at any good yarn that distracted us from the rhetoric of the Ike-Nikita mutual nuclear destruction aspect of the then very Cold War.

        It wasn’t until much later, the ’70s and ’80s when a “voice in the wilderness” of world media, owned by none other than Yasser Arafat started echoing across the occasional CBC broadcast.

        It wasn’t long before Arafat was narrated into a radical troublemaker box by Israel and much of the western world’s compliant media. But, by then some of the fruits of Israel’s public relations successes like the near dream like Kibbutz existence, were already starting to wilt on the vine as we learned that some of those wonderful gardens were actually on stolen lands..

        Sorry, but I don’t have any “strategy” yet to offer, but will repeat by contention that Canada certainly has it’s own history of moving people out of the way by less than pleasant or cooperative means to make room for a new privileged elite.

        I’m not arguing the two are identical issues, but both do share not a few similarities, the most important being neither has been properly acknowledged nor addressed.

      2. Hey Allan,
        I certainly see the parallel between the two situations (Canada and Israel as settler nations), and perhaps that works at some subconscious level for some of our politicians, but I really doubt Canada’s attitude toward the Israel/Palestine situation is shaped by our own colonial history in any significant way.
        In my view much more important are things like (a) the memory of the holocaust (b) fear of Islamic fundamentalism/terrorism (c) concern over what might happen to Jews in Israel if Israel were not to have a strong army to defend itself (d) concern over not wanting to cause undue friction with Trump on this issue when other Canada US issues are at stake (e) the ability of the Israel lobby to mobilise Jewish votes and money for a political party.

  8. Thank you Peter. Can you please elaborate on these items that are important in your view?

    (a) the memory of the holocaust: In fact, what has happened to Jews, is happening exactly the same to Palestinians in a detrimental manner by the Israeli government. History taught them nothing – no Lessons have learnt.

    (b) Fear of Islamic fundamentalism/terrorism: Fundamentalism exist in every society but terrorism on the other hand has political/ideological objectives that is fabricated by the governments which nourishes on injustice, violence and unlawful use of force against people, property to achieve its goals. Who is committing such crimes and terrorism in Palestine?

    (c) concern over what might happen to Jews in Israel if Israel were not to have a strong army to defend itself: Defending is one thing but killing and occupation is other. Who should be defending itself in Palestine? Do we have answers?

    I agree that raising the issue while lowering the temperature is a good policy but for those Palestinians who lost their homeland, their parents, their children, and their properties and no right for return still believe that occupation is wrong, prejudice is immoral and murder is a crime in the eyes of humans and in the eyes of God. Do we have any justice for them?

    1. Hey Muazzam, thanks for your comment. There is no doubt in my mind about where justice lies on this issue. But when I started out getting interested in the Israel/Palestine issue ten years ago, I was not clear about which side I was on. That took through 7 or 8 trips to the region, including to Israel/West Bank/Gaza/Jordan/Lebanon and many debates and conversations.

      In my view the question of what happened and right and wrong is now mostly settled.

      But its a big challenge to communicate that to many people who have never been there (and who probably never will go). In my experience, the best way to change Canadian minds is NOT to start off by using strong words, (apartheid, genocide, fascism, keptocratic, etc. etc.) even if I personally feel some of them apply.

      I try to be “firm on the principles” while being very “soft on the words”. I think that works better than angry denunciations (even if justified).

      I have now given over a hundred presentations to more than a thousand Canadians. Mostly not to those who define themselves as “Palestinian human rights activists” but to a wider range of people who are “interested” but not committed/convinced.

      I see that being very cautions – “raising the issue while lowering the temperature” works for them. It encourages them to ask questions.

      I understand why Palestinians feel hurt/angry/resentful, etc. But if they want to change the hearts and minds of Canadians (as I do), they have to make sure their own emotion does not get in the way of having a good conversation. That means learning to listen politely to people who may have views that you feel are completely unfair/unfounded/unjustified and being prepared to discuss them.

      Its a lot easier to yell at people than to talk with them. But it isn’t very effective.

  9. Peter, thanks for spearheading this discussion, and for stressing the need to understand the sensitivities of the individuals and groups involved. That’s what you do so well.

    The CTIP motto “raise the issue while lowering the temperature” and in your words being “firm on the principles while being soft on the words” are great tools. This is the basis of the brave discussion needed for learning when participants start with polarized positions based on habit, fear or outrage that threaten to derail the thoughtful openness needed to digest new facts and reconsider previously unquestioned biases.

    Thank you!

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