By Marion Kawas
An Ontario Superior Court judge recently ruled in a defamation case that had been brought against Bnai Brith Canada by well-known activist and lawyer Dimitri Lascaris in 2016, after he was slandered by them as a “supporter of terrorists”. The accusations came about after Lascaris visited Muhammad Alayan, the father of a slain Palestinian whose family home had also been demolished. The ruling went against Lascaris and stated that Bnai Brith’s tactics were considered “fair comment”.
Here is part of what the judge said:
“It may not be a reasonable belief, but it is possible for someone to honestly hold this belief.
“Applying this reasoning to the present case, it may not be reasonable to assert that because the plaintiff met with Mr. Muhammad Alayan and supported the call for the return of the deceased’s body, he is advocating for terrorists. However, the test is whether a person could honestly believe that support for the Alayan family constitutes support for terrorists. The answer is yes.
“….the defendant (Bnai Brith) was genuinely attempting to influence public opinion against the use of BDS sanctions.”
I do not presume to present a definitive legal analysis on the impact of this decision and the struggles around SLAPP legislation in Ontario and elsewhere. However, as one who has always held the belief that activism is at the core of change, I can see far-reaching and chilling implications here for pro-Palestinian activists.
The judge seems to be saying that as long as a belief is honestly held, it can be considered “fair comment”. Do we think that this generous definition will be extended to less “officially sanctioned” beliefs? Extremely doubtful. But to sum up, as long as any Zionist lobby group claims they honestly believe any criticism of Israeli policy is “anti-Semitic”, for example, that is fair comment.
If they claim they honestly believe that supporting Palestinian unarmed protests in Gaza is support for Hamas, that too is fair comment. If they allege that solidarity with a Palestinian administrative detainee supports terrorism, then that too is “fair comment”.
And the really troubling one, about “genuinely attempting to influence public opinion against the use of BDS sanctions”, legitimizes all sorts of anti-BDS dirty tricks from the Zionist lobby. (The targeting of Lascaris initially happened during a Green Party debate on supporting BDS, in which he played a pivotal role).
And we know from the recent anti-BDS conference in Israel that such smear tactics are definitely part of the agenda. Gilad Erdan, the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, according to Israeli media on June 19, noted:
“The relationship between terrorist organizations and the BDS movement has never been closer, ideologically or operationally. I will continue to go after the perpetrators of this antisemitic hate campaign stemming from Gaza and Ramallah”.
So, although Erdan’s statement is full of inaccuracies, especially the alleged links between “terrorist organizations” and BDS (notice the common theme here with Bnai Brith), if Erdan honestly holds this belief, then according to our esteemed judge, this is “fair comment”. In fact, this is more than just comment, this is official Israeli government policy at the highest level.
Lascaris has already indicated his intention to appeal the ruling and responded with the following quote:
“This highly regrettable decision legitimizes the notion that advocating for the human rights of Palestinians amounts to support for terrorism. As the court was made aware, I have consistently denounced violence against innocent civilians, including innocent Israeli civilians. But whatever Bahaa Alayan may have done, Israel’s withholding of his body from the family and its destruction of the Alayan family home were acts of collective punishment and clear violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. A human rights defender who denounces these violations should not be forced to endure repeated accusations that he is a ‘supporter of terrorists’.”
We do know one thing for certain, pro-Israel advocacy groups are in overdrive on putting the “anti-Semitic” and/or “terrorist” label on anyone who promotes the Palestinian narrative or campaigns against the policies of the Israeli state, including progressive people of Jewish background.
Do they honestly believe all of these charges against multiple individuals and groups? I would say no, but they do honestly believe that such tactics are effective in squashing and silencing dissent, as well as helping to negatively reframe the parameters of activist work. And waste significant amounts of limited resources and time.
Shamefully, this outrageous targeting of activists engaged in peaceful protest (such as support for BDS) has now been sanctioned here in Canada as legitimate and part of “free speech”.
– Marion Kawas is a member of the Canada Palestine Association and co-host of Voice of Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.cpavancouver.org.