By Yves Engler
B’nai B’rith are a cynical bunch, claiming to speak for Jews in general, but in reality defending Israel no matter what that country does.
The group’s recent attack against NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton was a brazen attempt to use the decimation of European Jewry to protect Israel from criticism and follows a formula used so often most now see its hypocrisy.
Last May the self-declared ‘human rights’ organization slammed the NDP leadership contender for “Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists” because Ashton attended a rally for Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike where someone had a photo of an individual B’nai B’rith calls a terrorist. But, that attack failed when Ashton refused to back down and actually became more forceful in her support of the Palestinian cause.
Since then Ashton has sent out emails to join the party to elect “a leader that will stand up for Palestinian human rights” anddemanded an end to the “occupation of Palestinian lands”, blockade of Gaza and “abuse of Palestinians’ human rights.” She called for an outright ban on goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements and expressed some support for the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Ashton told Jacobin that “many inspiring activists across the country are doing great work on this front, decrying human rights abuses, decrying injustices, and putting forward a plan for change, including through the BDS movement. The NDP needs to be a strong voice in support of the work that so many activists are doing.”
In response to an Independent Jewish Voices/Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East questionnaire to the four NDP leadership candidates she said: “I support the important work of civil society in pursuing justice through non-violent means, including calls for boycotts and divestment. Similar tactics were used effectively against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, and BDS today can play a constructive role by encouraging a just resolution. It is the role of governments to respond to pressure from civil society and to be a force for positive change. In 1986, Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney responded to social movements by implementing sanctions against South Africa, and we face a similar ethical and moral responsibility to listen to those who are struggling for peace and justice.”
“Like any other country, sanctions against Israel should be considered when it consistently fails to meet international law and obligations, particularly in relation to the occupation which has denied rights to the Palestinian people for half a century. I support looking into targeted sanctions to put strategic pressure on the Israeli government.”
Ashton’s increasingly strident statements in support of the Palestinian cause obviously angered B’nai B’rith. But, they kept quiet for three months hoping they could find something worse than “terrorism” to connect her to. Having failed to deter Ashton from expressing support for the Palestinian cause by associating her with “terrorists”, B’nai B’rith brought Hitler into the race. At the end of last month they put out a press release headlined: “NDP Leadership Candidate Endorsed by Holocaust-Denying Community Leader”. Ashton’s supposed transgression was having her picture taken with Nazih Khatatba at a campaign event in Toronto. B’nai B’rith accuses Khatatba of defending armed Palestinian resistance and “engaging in Holocaust denial”.
The evidence presented of Khatatba’s Holocaust denial is a 15-second interview he gave at an event commemorating the Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe) last year. (In response to B’nai B’rith’s press release, Khatatba posted on Facebook, “I recognize the genocide of more than six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. What I did say in the interview was that there were Jewish groups who experienced massacres in Europe and then went to the Middle East and perpetrated massacres there.”)Presuming B’nai B’rith’s translation is accurate and that relevant context wasn’t omitted from the video they produced of the interview, Khatatba’s comments were definitely historically inaccurate. The ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947/48, displacement of another 300,000 in 1967, the half-century illegal occupation of the West Bank, repeated assaults on Gaza, etc. are an immense injustice. Still, they don’t equal what the Nazis did to European Jewry.
Of course it’s not uncommon for social justice activists to make hyperbolic/historically inaccurate claims in their zeal to advance a cause. But, they are rarely accused of sinister intentions for doing so.
As I detail here, B’nai Brith has accepted or promoted more significant distortions of Jewish suffering when it served Israel’s aims. The group aggressively backed the pro–Israel Stephen Harper regime despite government officials repeatedly minimizing the Nazi Holocaust. In 2009 Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said “Israel Apartheid Days on university campuses like York sometimes begin to resemble pogroms,” and told a European audience that pro-Palestinian activism spurred anti-Jewish activities “even more dangerous than the old European anti-Semitism.” Similarly, in May 2008 Canwest reported: “Some of the criticism brewing in Canada against the state of Israel, including from some members of Parliament, is similar to the attitude of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned.”
In a backdoor way B’nai B’rith’s reaction to Khatatba’s historically inaccurate comments explain them. When Zionists repeatedly use 70-year old Jewish suffering in Europe to justify their ongoing oppression of Palestinians is it any wonder some Palestinians seek to minimize Nazi crimes against Jews?
The attack on Niki Ashton is a stark example of the “Holocaust Industry” Norman Finkelstein outlined 15 years ago. B’nai B’rith should be ashamed.
– Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his website: yvesengler.com.