B’nai Brith suffers embarassing defeat in Winnipeg over Linda Sarsour event

winnipeg bowman sarsour.png

B’nai Brith Canada lobbyists convinced Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman to argue that American activist Linda Sarsour should not be allowed to speak at an event organized by the city’s Social Planning Council. B’nai Brith claimed she is anti-Semitic. But the Council stood its ground, Sarsour did not make anti-Semitic remarks, and the event was a huge success. See CTIP video interview with a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada in Winnipeg about what we can learn from the experience. Read more.

B’nai Brith, a radical pro-Israel lobby group suffered a spectacular defeat recently by unwisely overplaying the “anti-Semitism card” in an attempt to prevent a human rights activist from speaking at a public event in Winnipeg. The organization pulled out all the stops against Linda Sarsour, well known as one of the co-organizers of the huge Women’s march in Washington, by launching a “Sarsour not welcome in Winnipeg” petition and issuing an aggressive press release.

At first, the campaign seemed to be working. Under pressure, the Seven Oaks school division which was to provide the venue cancelled the event. B’nai Brith was jubilant. “B’nai Brith Canada lauds Seven Oaks for deciding not to provide a platform to Sarsour’s brand of indefensible hatred,” crowed Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada.

When organizers found a new location for the event, B’nai Brith doubled down. It joined with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg to convince Brian Bowman, the Mayor of Winnipeg to call for Sarsour to be removed from the agenda. Flanked by representatives from B’nai Brith and The Jewish Federation, Mayor Bowman read a prepared statement which claimed it was not “appropriate to provide this individual a public platform to further propagate anti-Semitic views and hate.” He called on the Social Planning Council to cancel their invitation to Sarsour.

Counter campaign

But it didn’t work. A counter campaign began quickly, contesting the description of Sarsour as “anti-Semitic”, and urging the Social Planning Council to stand its ground. Many organizations wrote to both the Mayor and to Kate Kelher, Executive director of the Social Planning Council, urging that the event continue as planned. In the end, the Social Planning Council held a joint a press conference with Sarsour announcing that the Council was not backing down. 


Not backing down. Before the event, the Social Planning Council, along with several other Winnipeg organizations, held a press conference with Linda Sarsour explaining their intention to proceed.

Social media was annoyed over B’nai Brith’s clumsy usage of allegations of anti-Semitism as a smokescreen for trying to shut down an activist who has been openly critical of Israel. Even the Winnipeg Free Press objected to the Mayor’s call on the basis of free speech.

One very effective intervention was an interview on CBC radio with Rabbi David Mivasair who knows Linda Sarsour personally. He has also had experience with B’nai Brith leading him to believe that the organization manipulated the mayor.

Aftermath and lessons learned

In the end, the event was a huge sold out success.  In fact, Sarsour even joked that the controversy around her must have increased attendance.

CTIP spoke to Harold Shuster of Winnipeg about the event and its aftermath. (Apologies for the quality of the video. The image occasionally freezes, but Mr. Shuster’s voice comes through loud and clear.)

CTIP does agree that anti-Semitism is a reality and believes the Mayor is right to be concerned about it. But he should be wary of being drawn into a debate by those who would use the “anti-Semitism” label as a way of shutting down legitimate criticisms of Israel.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) encourages and promotes a thoughtful discussion among Canadians on the Israel/Palestine issue, including a well informed and sensitive discussion about solutions. CTIP encourages serious people who disagree with any column to make comment. Disagreements respectfully offered are welcome. To learn more about what CTIP does, contact us at chair.ctip@gmail.com.




  1. Music to my ears!

    Not coincidentally, based on Dr. Naim Ateek’s Winnipeg lecture, B’Nai Brith disingenuously levelled charges of anti-Semitism against Canadian Friends of Sabeel, which is currently suing BB over the affair.

    Likewise, Mostyn “crowed”, falsely of course, “St. Michael’s College in Toronto has already cancelled his lecture there.” The last stop in Canon Ateek’s trip was St. Michael’s!

    All this of course is tragic as BB yet again diminishes the meaning of real anti-Semitism.

    The success of bringing Ms. Sarsour to Winnipeg is a well-won victory over the moral bankruptcy and power of such organizations.

  2. Certainly Bnai births uncompromising use of antisemitism charges and smears against legitimate human rights critics of Israel is increasingly failing, although BBCanada may feel that just raising this antisemitism spectre helps to stifle debate incl over remediative policy sols. The are still trying after all with Roger Waters al Quds march and many others including direct interference in school discussions and demonization of certainteachers. BBCan ignores the fact that these same criticisms are made by millions including Jews inside Israel and the diaspora and therefore are a further indication that they cannot be antisemitic. I am happy to report however that after being blocked on twitter by BB Canada, I am now back in direct contact. Maybe this will help to engage BBCanada in a proper debate about Israel and,Palestine including the proposition that only a 2 state soln ot free Palestine and Israel can keep the latterJewish democratic and civilized.

  3. It is worthwhile following the link to read B’Nai Brith’s criticism of Ms Sarsour because it reveals the way they see the world. In particular, they say “She rejects the legitimacy of Zionism, a belief by the vast majority of Jews that simply entitles them [to] self-determination on their indigenous and ancestral lands”. They can say this without seeming to notice that Zionism denies Palestinians self-determination on their indigenous and ancestral lands. They are blind to the fact that many groups can identify Palestine as their indigenous and ancestral land. Even the Hebrew Bible makes it clear that the Jews were never alone in Palestine.

  4. This is an accurate description of how BB Canada sees the Israel Palestine conflict: maximal Israeli demands to all of Palestine Eretz Israel with no provisions for Palestnians in terms of an independent state or even equality within Israel between Arabs and Jews. BBCan cannot even support a 2 state solution which is the international Canadian position as the only path to keeping Israel Jewish and democratic and civilized. Certainly a 1 state non sectarian non ethno religious equality situation is beyond their purview because it would end Israel as a Jewish state. Meanwhile BbCanada fails to make a case for 6.6 m Jews dominating a more rapidly increasing 6.6 m. ARAB Palestinians and therefore the unacceptable status quo. Their only strategy is to attack Israeli critics and their proposals as anti semites and to call on and insist that the Canadian govt give 100% support to Israel.

  5. Stephen Chappell

    It appears that this is the second defeat in recent weeks for B’nai Brith, since as indicated in your last post Peter, they have been denied intervener status in the case of the labeling of wines from the West Bank, which will be heard later this month in Federal Court.

  6. ~ The Chosen People ~

    There seems to be a great deal of global concern about the boycott of Israeli trade at this time, and this never ending subject of Anti-Semitism, so let’s make something perfectly clear: Zionism is not Judaism. Equating Zionism with Judaism is a misconception that’s been propagated so widely, and for so long, that even many Jews cannot discern the difference. It’s this fantasy of a “Chosen People”.

    Zionism is exactly the same as Nazism when you get right down to it. You can change the label and the characters in the game, but the mindset remains exactly the same: A race of “Imaginary Superior Beings” out to dominate the world through fascism.

    Zionism, and all of these fascist ideologies we’ve seen, is a construct of the psychopathic mind. It is a mental disorder, sick minds in concert with other sick minds, in an orchestra of the criminally insane. It’s an illness that’s infecting the entire world at this point in history, and it’s literally destroying Israel from within, and the rest of the world without.

    Zionism is a parasite, a deadly cancer, hiding behind Judaism and defaming it. It is the root of all this hatred and Anti-Semitism we see in the world today: Another race of “Imaginary Superior Beings”, attacking others, proclaiming their superiority over all of humanity, and screaming “Terrorist” – “Anti-Semitism”, and calling for the destruction of anyone who doesn’t bow down to their ideology.

    Zionists are the true Anti-Semites, out to destroy Judaism, Islam and Christianity, replacing these religions, and global political structure with the Zionist New World Order. They are the true Anti-Christians and Anti-Semites combined. The labels change throughout history, but the mindset behind these ideologies, the sickness, persists. Zionism propagates fear, hatred and division, nothing but darkness.

    There are no “Chosen People”. The worth of a soul will only be measured by how much it has loved, nothing more nothing less. The choice is yours alone. Labels, however they choose to define themselves, will not save you.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Markle, for sharing your views. I know many Jews who support Zionism who would not see themselves at all in your remarks.

      I do agree that Zionism is a form of nationalism or tribalism. Putting the needs of your own “tribe” over those of others is a very old human characteristic, I think. That is the basis of racism which is probably endemic to human society.

      Our challenge is to overcome racism and push our societies toward tolerance, human rights and equality.

      At CTIP we don’t think that using harsh words is conducive to a thoughtful discussion. I urge you to consider the merits of the CTIP motto – “Be firm on the principles, but soft on the language”.

Comments are closed.