By Yves Engler
On Thursday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of other Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister. But instead of condemning those who called for racialized politicians to face the “guillotine” or “stoning”, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian politicians smeared the individual drawing attention to the death threats.
And on the weekend NDP leaders participated in this unprecedented multi-party smear campaign against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At the behest of CIJA, MP Hélène Laverdière called Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Jagmeet Singh inferred as much.
Here’s the background: after an August 29 demonstration opposing B’nai B’rith’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Lascaris called on Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, CIJA, and others who have recently defended B’nai B’rith, to publicly repudiate two of that group’s supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to be killed in a video detailing their participation counter-protest to the rally against B’nai B’rith.
On Thursday Lascaris tweeted about the two B’nai Brith supporters who “called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau & Liberal MPs Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra & Maryam Monsef” and asked Levitt and Housefather to “to denounce” the threats “but shamefully, they’ve said nothing.”
Then Lascaris tweeted:
“Apparently Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.”
In this tweet about Housefather and Levitt prioritizing the defense of Israeli crimes above their own party, Lascaris could also have cited the two Liberal MPs’ response to Trudeau questioning whether Israeli forces should have shot Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani in Gaza. The day after Trudeau’s May 16 comment Housefather and Levitt issued a joint statement dissociating themselves from the Prime Minister’s mealy-mouthed criticism of Israeli actions.
Conservative Senator Linda Frum described it as “distancing themselves from their own government”, Globe and Mail reporter Robert Fife said they “broke with Mr. Trudeau’s criticism of Israel” and Housefather himself noted in July that he was “disappointed … with the recent statement on Gaza … [so] Levitt and I released our own statement.” The Housefather/Levitt statement claimed, “the terrorist organization Hamas bears direct moral responsibility and culpability” when Israeli troops shoot peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctors.
So, clearly, the tweet by Lascaris was a fair comment/criticism of the action/inaction of two MPs and their apparent disloyalty to the own political party. Regardless, in our upside-down world where those who defend racist policies in another country are supported even when they cry “racism” against those fighting that discrimination, CIJA saw Lascaris’ innocuous tweet as an opportunity to attack him and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).
In response, CIJA tweeted:
“Yesterday, CJPME Chair Dimitri Lascaris accused Jewish MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt of being disloyal to Canada. This is the literal definition of antisemitism under the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition. Will CJPME publicly retract & apologize for this antisemitic smear?”
Soon thereafter a slew of MPs, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer, and Prime Minister Trudeau jumped to Housefather and Levitt’s defense or directly smeared Lascaris. NDP foreign critic Laverdière tweeted: “I consider Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather to be my friends as well as colleagues, & I condemn the anti-Semitic comments directed against them by Dimitri Lascaris. We can have legitimate disagreements on Canadian foreign policy without questioning anyone’s loyalty to Canada.”
Employing slightly more restrained language, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also joined the anti-Palestinian lunacy.
“Antisemitism has no place in Canada. I know what it’s like to experience racism & discrimination and to have my loyalty to Canada questioned. Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, I stand with you today.”
But, it’s worse than that. While Laverdière, Singh, and others found time to label Lascaris racist, they’ve never seen fit to question Levitt and Housefather’s ties to an explicitly racist institution. The York Centre MP is a former board member of the Jewish National Fund and participated in an event with that organization in Israel last year while Housefather did an event with the JNF in May.
The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” (During a visit to Israel in 2016 Laverdière participated in a ceremony put on by the head of the JNF.)
Even if Lascaris had written what Trudeau, Laverdière, etc. claim, it shouldn’t be particularly controversial. Leavitt and Housefather are fairly open about the centrality of Israel to their politics. In July Housefather describes himself as a “huge supporter of Israel” and “one of the foremost advocates on behalf of support for Israel.” On August 28 he wrote in a Canadian Jewish News article that “like many in our community, there is nothing more upsetting to me that when the UN unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation.”
In that same piece, Housefather noted how he “works tirelessly to have Israel’s back” and boasted that the current Liberal government has the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government at the UN.
The Montréal MP wrote,
“We have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”
For his part, Levitt chairs the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, has by far the most official parliamentary contact with Israel lobby group CIJA, travels regularly to Israel, attends events with the Israeli Ambassador, Consul General, Tel Aviv Mayor , etc., attends “walks with Israel”, says he “stands with Israel”, lobbied Canada to withdraw its logo from the 2016 World Social Forum in Montréal because of criticism of Israel, lobbied to have the Canadian Food Inspection Agency improperly label wines from illegal Israeli settlements, co-founded the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee “to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians”, etc.
Since 2016 Lascaris has been repeatedly smeared by Israel lobby groups. In August of that year, he led a push within the Green Party to support elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. A resolution he proposed at their convention sparked a backlash that saw party leader Elizabeth May demand a convention redo to rescind the resolution, which Lascaris successfully defended.
Lascaris’ effective activism is a problem for the Israel lobby. So are his credentials. Lascaris was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2012 and the next year Canadian Business Magazine dubbed him one of the 50 most influential people in Canadian business, labeling him the “fiercest legal advocate for shareholder rights.” In 2016 he quit a lucrative law career to devote himself to activism and journalism on issues ranging from climate change to Canadian foreign policy.
Singh and Laverdière should apologize for participating in CIJA’s scurrilous attack on a leading social justice campaigner. And shame on all the Canadian politicians who have fallen for this sickening smear campaign!
– 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.