Israel lobby warning to Canadian politicians – “If you criticize Israel, we will call you antisemitic”

Ontario MPP Joel Harden came under intense criticism for an interview he did last year with OFIP chair, Peter Larson on National Truth and Reconciliation Day. He compared colonialism in Canada to that of Israel. Now, a year later the Israel lobby is “shocked, shocked” to discover the interview and has accused him of “antisemitism”. It put enough pressure on the Ontario NDP that Harden chose to apologise for some of his remarks. It’s a stark warning to other politicians. Read more…

In the wake of intense criticism from CIJA and elsewhere, NDP MPP Joel Harden was forced to apologise for the use of “antisemitic stereotypes” in an interview with OFIP last year. B’nai Brith Canada even demanded that Harden be expelled from the NDP caucus.

In the interview, Harden was very critical of Israel for its brutal treatment of Palestinians, and drew a parallel between Canadian and Israeli settler colonialism. (The interview took place at the time of Truth and Reconciliation Day in 2021).

His strong criticism of Israel apparently angered the lobby, including CIJA and B’nai Brith Canada.

But instead of challenging Harden on what he said about Israel, or trying to defend Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, or disputing whether “settler colonialism” is an appropriate paradigm for understanding Israel, they chose instead to accuse him of “antisemitism”.

This, notwithstanding the fact that Harden was quite clear during the interview in his opposition to antisemitism. (Ed. Note: OFIP basic principles include “Rejection of all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia”. We would not have run any interview which disseminates antisemitism.)

When asked about whether his outspoken support for Palestinian rights was an issue while campaigning, Harden said it rarely came up – even when he would sometimes wear a button supporting Palestinian human rights. And if that provoked a conversation with Jewish constituents who feel strongly in support of Israel, Harden explained that he was quite willing to have a respectful discusson about why he felt that we should call out Israel for its human rights abuses.

CIJA and others made it appear that Harden was roaming around his Ottawa Center constituency looking for Jews to challenge why they support Israel. They even claimed that Harden was “blaming Jews as a collectivity” for Israeli actions, a complete distortion.

But it served its purpose. Faced with the chorus of criticism, Harden chose to apologize, and continues to serve in the NDP caucus. (British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, apologised but lost his job anyway after repeated attacks over his alleged antisemitism undermined his leadership.)

Politicians beware

The Israel lobby’s attack on Harden is meant to be a clear warning to other politicians: “You criticize Israel at your own risk”. The lobby likes to claim that its OK to criticize Israel, of course, but… just try it and see what happens.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada issued a statement strenuously objecting to the villification of Harden and declaring that he deserves support.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada has issued a strong statement of support for Harden based on his record over many years

In part, the IJV statement defended Harden’s record of fighting anti-semitism while also fighting for human rights for Palestinians.

“Joel Harden has a clear record on fighting antisemitism throughout his political career. He is also proudly a strong defender of Palestinian human rights. These two facts are not mutually exclusive, yet the same pro-Israel groups attacking Harden right now would like to lead people to believe that advocating publicly for Palestine constitutes antisemitism. This is why they’re pushing so hard for institutions and governments to adopt the divisive IHRA antisemitism definition, which equates antisemitism with criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause.“, read the statement in part.

What next?

Until this week, Harden was seen to be one of the front runners for the leadership of the Ontario NDP. Harden has now apologised for using “anti-semitic stereotypes” in the interview. That should put the issue to bed – but it may not.

Some elements of the lobby seem to still be out for more. David Cooper, Vice-President of CIJA and Andrea Freedman, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa wrote a joint letter demanding that Harden be stripped of his responsibilities at Queens Park.

The controversy has increased viewership of the year old interview with Harden by tenfold.

For anyone who has not seen the full 24 minute interview with Harden, it is available here. When it was originally made, over a year ago, it had been seen by barely two or three hundred people. Now, thanks to the controversy, it has been viewed by over 3,700 people.

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

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  1. Of course Canada and Israel have shared values. Both are settler colonial states, built on land stolen from the Indigenous people.

    1. I could’t agree more. And we need to address and remedy our past while not turning a blind eye to others. Shared negative values aren’t something we should cherish.

  2. It’s profoundly ironic that as Israeli politics shifts farther to the far right of the political spectrum, left of centre parties like Labour in the UK and the NDP in Canada are the most assiduous to engage in slanderous witch hunts against critics like Corbyn and Harden, each of whom has an impeccable record of standing up to anti-semitism and far right racism – in all countries, without exception.

    1. I dont see how it’s merely ironic. Pretending that party members, polls of the electorate, major donors wishes and lobbyists arent involved is necessary to invoke mere irony.

  3. I’m not at all surprised at the actions of pro Israel groups although I find their logic bizarre and irrational. There is an interesting op ed in the Jerusalem Post from 2018 on the nation state law and what it means for non Jews. The premise is that according to Jewish tradition, Jews are obligated to care for non Jews and to help them become better people, and,as opposed to Christianity, non Jews do not need to convert to Judaism to find salvation. There is nothing that I can find in Jewish law or history that emphasizes the supremacy of Jews over non Jews, although as treasured people, they are expected to act as spiritual guides for non Jews.
    The behaviour of rabid gangs of extremist Israelis who attack and murder Palestinians supported by Israeli police and government policies is profoundly contrary to Jewish teachings. It is alarming that critics of this behaviour are called antisemites, when in fact it is the Israeli right wing’s open declaration of racism towards non Jews that is truly antisemitic. Stifling debate on this issue is simply defending the indefensible and enabling further atrocities against Palestinians, and allowing further drift towards fascism. It diminishes both the credibility of pro Israel groups and the danger of real antisemitism . The true danger to Israel and Jews in general, is within Israel, not without.

  4. Was most impressed and inspired with Joel Harden’s views and passionate support for the Palestinian people. I could not detect an anti Semitic statement anywhere during his presentation. He was speaking the truth about apartheid in Israel.

    1. I suspect that you’re not Jewish, so your radar for such things is off to begin with. In the interview he did, he said at 10:20:00: “If I were to name the single biggest threat to, the single biggest origin, of violence in the Middle East, it is unquestionably the state of Israel and the way in which they feel absolutely no shame in defying international law and doing whatever they want.”

      Do you see the problem here? I mean, I can kind of forgive the inappropriate analogies he makes, seeing Israel as a settler colonial state (Oh really? what colonial metropole sent the settlers to Palestine? If a Mohawk tries to reclaim ancestral lands, are they a settler colonialist?), thinking that Palestinians in the WB & Gaza are discriminated against because of race, and so forth, but this? Does he not know the death toll in Syria? In Sudan? In various campaigns against the Kurds? Saddam in 1987-88 alone killed more Iraqi Kurds than the number of people who died on both sides since the 1880s in Arab-Israeli conflicts. What the hell?
      Either he’s ignorant, or he willfully makes such errors. I suspect the latter, because he seems knowledgeable enough on select issues and is well spoken. The guy thus meets the IHRA definition of anti-semitism when he has this warped view of Israel as the biggest source of all violence in a hyper violent region, when that is such a demonstrably absurd view and fits right in with demonization of Jews as the real source of all evil in the world.

      At 15:40:00 he also says, “When I’m at Palestinian solidarity demonstrations and I hear someone say something anti-semitic, I take them aside and I tell them ‘you’re not helping. You’re not helping us here.’ We’re not here to call Israel names. We’re here to humanize the Palestinians.'” O.K. — so he doesn’t take them aside to say that’s wrong, he takes them aside to tell them they are not helping the Palestinian cause. It’s an instrumental aside, not a moral objection.
      I’m sure he doesn’t think he’s anti-semitic, but he walks the walk when it comes down to it. Since he’s on the Left, it’s a lot more sophisticated and subtle than what we often see, but it’s clear to me when he uses this kind of language. When he is willing to return Ottawa to native control, I’ll take his “dismantling colonialism” discourse seriously. As it is, his “decolinization” talk in Canada carries next to no cost, financially or security-wise, so it’s little more than virtue signaling.

  5. I watched the interview conducted by Peter Larsen with Joel Harden, as a result of the letter put out by CIJA and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. I’m pleased to hear that Joel Harden did the right thing and apologized for the aspects of the interview that crossed the line into antisemitism.

    The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism was developed in consultation with real Jews experiencing real antisemitism. They reported that when they encountered antisemitism it was sometimes connected with cases like this, in which legitimate criticism of Israel crosse line as a line and promotes hatred against Jews. That is why the IHRA definition, which does not mention Israel in its body, cites examples, some of which are related to criticism of Israel.

    Non-Jews are sometimes unaware that what they are doing is antisemitic, just as white people may be unaware that they are unintentionally promoting racism. I believe that’s what happened here. I’m disappointed that while Joel Harden appears to have taken the lesson to heart, OFIP is still missing the point.

    Citing Jeremy Corbyn, who was found by an internal Labour Party inquiry to have presided over a culture of systemic antisemitism during his tenure as head of the British Labour party, as a “victim” of the Israel lobby along with Joel Harden, is exactly the wrong lesson to take away from this incident.

    The fringe in Britain which continues to defend Corbyn, and to accuse British Jews of trying to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel, is an example of the enduring power of antisemitism that lurks just under the surface in the culture of western society, and which can emerge even in nominally progressive circles.

    It’s disappointing to read the IJV statement which repeats the false claim that the IHRA definition “equates antisemitism with criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause”.

    In fact the definition does not mention Israel and the IHRA examples begin with the following statement:
    “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

    Just as Joel Harden stated his personal opposition to antisemitism in the OFIP interview and ought to be taken at his word, the IHRA definition begins its examples by stating that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. The IHRA examples ought to be taken as written rather than misrepresented as saying the opposite.

    Those who would like to read the entire IHRA definition with its examples can find it on the website of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance here:

  6. The attack on Harden coming at this time is beginning to make sense in the context of Harden running for leadership of ON NDP. No question the lobby would like to scratch him off the ballot even before the race is launched because of the challenge he would pose to the lobby should Harden win.

  7. What bothers me most about this is that those who claim to speak for Israel in accusing Canadians of uttering antisemetic slurs are Canadian citizens who not only enjoy the benefits of living in a democracy like Canada, but want to use Canada’s distaste for racist behaviour as a truncheon to attack their fellow Canadians as brutally as they can for speaking out against far worse than what they are accused of.

  8. It seems to me that the Israeli lobby in Canada is selective when it comes to anti-Semitism, and they use it as a political tool to intimidate those who criticize Israel. For example, did this lobby describe Trump as anti-Semite for calling Netanyahu ‘your prime minister’ at Jewish Republican event?

    I agree with previous comment from Robert that the Israeli lobby is targeting Harden mainly for his political views. They do not want him to be part of the ON NDP leadership race. The timing suggests that.

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