Toronto’s City Council Takes Advice About Stopping Hate Speech from a Hate-Monger – Part 1
If the residents of Toronto believe that City Hall’s chicanery ended with the departure of Rob Ford, they are sadly mistaken. This past Tuesday, a spectacle unfolded at City Hall that was as surreal and as morally bankrupt as anything we witnessed during the Ford administration.
The occasion for Mayor John Tory’s ethical nose-dive was an administrative inquiry submitted by right-wing Councillor James Pasternak. Pasternak’s dubious distinctions include his crusade against Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, a Toronto-based grassroots LGBT group. In his latest attempt to stifle critics of an apartheid regime, Pasternak took aim at Al Quds Day rallies held on city property. Specifically, Pasternak alleges that:
There has been a growing trend of hate-infested rallies being held in public spaces such as the anti-Semitic Al Quds Day rally in Toronto and there have been threats to host white supremacist and neo-Nazi rallies in Toronto similar to those in the United States.
For the past several years there has been an Al Quds Day rally held in Toronto outside Queen’s Park featuring speakers making anti-Semitic and anti-Christian remarks, spreading hatred, inciting violence and supporting of terrorist organizations such as Hamas. Al Quds Day was originally created to call for the destruction of the state of Israel. The rally in 2017 did not receive a permit to hold the event at Queen’s Park or from the City of Toronto, however the event proceeded.
Based on his unsubstantiated allegations, Pasternak requested that Council be provided information in response to the question “do the Toronto Police Service or City of Toronto have ability and what resources could they utilize to prohibit a rally that is inciting hatred and violence, such as Al Quds Day, white supremacist or neo-Nazi rallies, from taking place on city or provincial property in Toronto?”
Upon learning of Pasternak’s attack, the Al Quds Committee wrote to Mayor Tory, stating:
These are extraordinarily serious allegations for which Councillor Pasternak fails to cite an iota of evidence. We reject and object to these allegations in the strongest possible terms. In fact, the Al-Quds committee unequivocally condemns anti-Semitism, white supremacy and Nazism in all of their insidious forms. The mandate of our committee is profoundly anti-racist and is diametrically opposed to the goals of white supremacists, Nazis and other anti-Semites.
It is quite true that we are highly critical of the inhumane policies of the state of Israel, but so too is virtually the entire international community. The Canadian government itself recognizes on its Global Affairs website that Israel’s settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are a “serious obstacle” to peace… In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled unanimously, and with the concurrence of the United States judge, that Israel’s settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Even worse, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, among other human rights groups, have documented Israeli forces’ torture of Palestinian adults and even Palestinian children, and Israel’s use of collective punishment and extra-judicial assassination in violation of international law.
There is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about condemning these appalling human rights abuses and calling for sanctions to be imposed upon the state of Israel to bring these abuses to an end. On the contrary, based upon our extensive interactions with our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community, we believe that Israel’s conduct is an affront to Jewish values and in no way represents the Jewish people, despite the Netanyahu government’s claims to the contrary.
In advance of the Executive Committee meeting, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) delivered its own letter to the Committee. In that letter, the OCLA left no doubt as to its opposition to Pasternak’s anti-democratic initiative:
Mr. Pasternak’s proposal would impose prior restraint on unknown expression that has yet to be made, on the basis of assumed emotional motives of demonstrators, and reactions of participants and observers. The contemplated prohibition is a violation of democratic values and would strip individuals of their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association. It is unconstitutional, and a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada has ratified.
Last year, to the delight of Canada’s pro-Israel lobby, Mayor Tory led a large trade delegation to Israel on a seven-day trip. Three Toronto City Councillors, including James Pasternak, accompanied Tory. In 2015, Canada’s total merchandise exports to Israel amounted to $342 million out of a total of $525 billion. Thus, Israel accounted for a tiny fraction of 1% of Canada’s total merchandise exports. Yet John Tory somehow persuaded himself that the city’s Mayor and three of its Councillors should devote seven days to promoting trade in Israel, and that taxpayers should foot the bill for this boondoggle while Toronto struggles with a homelessness crisis.
During his trip to Israel, Tory promoted not only trade. He promoted the apartheid regime itself, stating “Israel is really one of the only countries in the Middle East that respects human rights, that has an approach to a lot of these issues very similar to Canada’s, that is a democracy.”
In the face of such a record, few if any expected Tory to extend a warm welcome to critics of Israel . But given the stated purpose of Pasternak’s initiative, which was to stop hate-speech on city property, few if any expected the farce that unfolded on Tuesday night.
When the Executive Committee meeting commenced, the city clerk posted upon the City Council’s website the list of persons who had registered to speak to Pasternak’s proposal. Among the listed speakers was Meir Weinstein, the National Director of the Canadian branch of the far-right Jewish Defence League.
Upon learning of Weinstein’s intention to address the Executive Committee, I quickly wrote and transmitted to Mayor Tory a letter alerting him to the JDL’s extensive record of hate-mongering. In the interests of brevity, I confined my commentary on the JDL’s record to four facts.
First, in early 2017, a member of the Canadian branch of the JDL was charged with a hate crime by police in Washington D.C. The charge arose from the savage mob-beating of a defenceless and elderly Palestinian man. For informational purposes, I provided to the Executive Committee a copy of a Now Magazine article which described the incident in detail:
[V]ideo capturing part of the alleged assault shows JDL members in distinctive black garb with a yellow Star of David logo beating 54-year-old Kamal Nayfeh, causing an eye injury that required 19 stitches. A second JDL member from New Jersey (JDL’s parent organization was founded in New York) was also charged in the incident.
Ben Doernberg, another AIPIC protester who says he was “jumped” by JDL members, suffered a concussion. His symptoms were too severe to permit him to have an extended conversation when I contacted him for comment.
JDL Canada national director Meir Weinstein videotaped a message posted on the Facebook page of anti-Muslim group Never Again Canada, (JDL has had its Facebook privileges suspended twice recently for its support of groups promoting “violent behavior”) defending his group’s actions in Washington. He contends JDL members were only trying to make sure anyone who wanted to could get into the conference.
Third, in 2001, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation described the JDL as a “violent extremist Jewish organization.”
Fourth, the JDL states on its website that it is bringing hate-monger Pamela Geller to Toronto this December. For informational purposes, I provided to the Executive Committee a 2015 editorial from the New York Times which describes Geller as an “anti-Islam campaigner” who has “a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.”
Had Mayor Tory directed a member of his staff to investigate the JDL further, his staff could easily have discovered more appalling facts about Meir Weinstein.
Only 5 months ago, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) reported that Meir Weinstein and his JDL thugs had joined forces with The Soldiers of Odin, which the RCMP describes as an “extreme, anti-refugee vigilante organization”. According to CJN, Bernie Farber, the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, considers the Soldiers of Odin to be “‘an old neo-Nazi motorcycle club,’ whose views are derived from a racist ideology and whose animus is aimed at the Muslim community.” Mr. Farber called the JDL’s association with the soldiers of Odin “a shanda” (disgrace) and added “I can’t even conceive of it. It takes my breath away.”
Moreover, the first result for a Google search of the terms “Meir Weinstein Jewish Defence League” is Weinstein’s Wikipedia entry. That entry discloses, among other unsavoury details, that:
- In 1994, Weinstein refused to condemn the mass murder in Hebron of 29 Palestinians and the wounding of another 125 Palestinians by American-Israeli religious fanatic Baruch Goldstein;
- In 2009, CBC Radio carried a profile on Weinstein which asserted that a link was discovered on Weinstein’s Facebook page to a chat group called “Death to Arabs”;
- In 2011, it was revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had launched an investigation against at least nine members of the Canadian JDL in regards to an anonymous tip that the JDL was plotting to bomb Palestine House in Mississauga.
None of the JDL’s disgraceful history seems to have caused the slightest consternation to John Tory or James Pasternak. Nor did either of them seem phased by the presence at the Executive Committee meeting of Ron Banerjee, a notorious Hindu supremacist with an unambiguous record of hatred against Muslims. At the Executive Committee meeting, Banerjee sat next to his partner-in-hate, Meir Weinstein.
Before Weinstein was called to the podium by Mayor Tory, Karen Rodman spoke in opposition to Pasternak’s proposal. Ms. Rodman is a tireless advocate for Palestinian rights who has been ordained as a minister in the United Church.
Near the beginning of her submissions, Ms. Rodman drew attention to Pasternak’s fierce opposition to Queers for Israeli Apartheid. At that point, Tory interrupted Ms. Rodman. He characterized her comments about Pasternak’s record as an “ad hominem attack.” Without explaining why he deemed Ms. Rodman’s reference to Pasternak’s record to be “ad hominem,” Tory threatened to cut short her speaking time.
Ms. Rodman then proceeded to summarize the most recent report from Amnesty International on Israel/Palestine. That report documents, as have many other reports from Amnesty and other reputable human rights organizations, Israel’s use of extrajudicial killing, administrative detention, collective punishment and torture. But before Ms. Rodman could complete her remarks, and at the precise moment when she began to recite Amnesty International’s allegation that Israeli forces employ torture, Pasternak interrupted Mr. Rodman by saying “all right, enough is enough.”
Pasternak then looked to Tory, as Chair of the meeting, to intervene.
Tory responded by pointing out to Pasternak that “she’s speaking about an issue here and I can’t, I mean look, this is the very principle we are talking about here. She has her views on these things, they may differ with yours…”
Pasternak interjected “she’s not talking about an issue here, she hasn’t event read the documents.” Pasternak claimed that Ms. Rodman “has no clue what she is talking about.”
It’s not clear to what documents Pasternak was referring, but he seemed to be talking about Ms. Rodman’s description of Amnesty International’s most recent report on Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Yet even a cursory examination of that report leaves no doubt that Ms. Rodman had described the report accurately.
Only seconds after intimating that he would defend Ms. Rodman’s right to free speech, Tory announced to Ms. Rodman that “your time is up.” Although Tory had initially allocated to Ms. Rodman three minutes to speak, the total amount of time she had spoken without interruption from either Tory or Pasternak was 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Thus, Ms. Rodman’s account of Israel’s human rights violations was cut short by 42 seconds.
To add insult to injury, Pasternak then dismissed Ms. Rodman with a contemptuous “get lost.” Ms. Rodman complained vigorously to Tory about the disrespect she had been shown by an elected official, but Tory, who moments earlier had seemed so anxious to protect Pasternak from an “ad hominem” attack, did not chastise Pasternak in any way.
(You can watch the entire exchange here, starting at 7:46:16.)
The next person called to the podium was Weinstein. He began by describing himself as an “expert” on Al Quds day, but cited no facts to support his claim of expertise. Weinstein then alleged that, at Al Quds day rallies in Toronto and around the world, “crowds are incited to hate Jews and call for the destruction of Israel.” He alleged that, at the most recent Al Quds rally in Toronto, “they” played a song from Islamic Jihad, a terror group. Weinstein did not say who “they” were. Weinstein followed this allegation with a recitation of what he claimed to be the lyrics of the terror song. These lyrics had been translated from Arabic to English, but Weinstein did not identify the translator. According to Weinstein, the song called unambiguously for the killing of Israelis and for a “popular revolution.” It constituted, he intoned, a “recruiting instrument of radical Islam.”
Weinstein claimed that the alleged recording of the terror song at an Al Quds rally in Toronto was made by the American Centre for Democracy (ACD). The ACD is a shadowy ‘think-tank’ based in New York that is “dedicated to exposing and monitoring political, economic, and security threats to the United States from within and without.” The ACD’s Board of Directors is a veritable who’s who of the American military and intelligence establishment. It includes U.S. government experts in nuclear weapons and drone warfare, as well as Richard Perle, a neoconservative who served as Assistant Secretary of Defence, and former CIA director James Woolsey, who is currently embroiled in a lobbying scandal involving the Trump administration and Turkey’s autocrat, Recep Erdogan.
The ACD’s founder and President is Rachel Ehrenfeld. On November 14, 2017, the ACD published an article in which Ehrenfeld advanced the laughable proposition that Canada is “pro-Islamist.” That’s right, folks, a country which treats Israel as one of its dearest allies, which supported a secular Egyptian dictator after he overthrew the democratically elected Islamist Mohammad Morsi, and which participated in the West’s destruction of Libya and its bombing of ISIS targets in Syria, is “pro-Islamist.”
In the end, Tory accorded to Weinstein nearly 4 minutes of speaking time.
When Weinstein was done, Tory invited questions from Executive Committee members, but not one of them elected to probe the basis of Weinstein’s explosive allegation that supporters of Toronto’s Al Quds movement had promoted terror and murder, and had done so, no less, “in front of the Ontario legislature.”
No Councillor asked Weinstein about the creepy ACD and its purported recording of a terror song allegedly played at this years Al-Quds rally. No Councillor asked Weinstein about the JDL’s assault several months ago on a defenceless Palestinian man in Washington. No Councillor asked Weinstein about the JDL’s decision to bring to Canada Pamela Geller, an infamous hate-monger. No Councillor asked Weinstein about the JDL’s connections to the Soldiers of Odin, or about Weinstein’s association with Hindu supremacist and raging Islamophobe Ron Banerjee, who sat beside Weinstein in the meeting.
The only question posed to Weinstein was a softball tossed by Pasternak himself. Pasternak asked Weinstein if he agreed that the Executive Committee should seek legal advice on the means by which these events could be prohibited. Weinstein, who is not a lawyer, responded that Pasternak’s proposal was “fabulous.”
Toronto’s residents can now rest easy: a hate-monger believes that Pasternak’s initiative is “fabulous.”
When the speakers were done, Tory called for a vote. Ten Councillors supported Pasternak’s administrative inquiry while only two opposed it. For the record, the Councillors who voted against it were Mary-Margaret McMahon and Paul Ainslie.
The Executive Committee’s coddling of Weinstein has made a mockery of fairness, the presumption of innocence and religious tolerance. It is bad enough that no Councillor challenged this accuser to substantiate his grave charges with credible evidence. Even worse, in a debate that was supposed to be about stopping hate speech, the Executive Committee gave Weinstein a free pass on his prodigious record of inciting violence and hatred against Muslims.
Touchingly, when the Executive Committee meeting concluded, James Pasternak unveiled his bromance with Meir Weinstein.
The day after the Executive Committee meeting, Pamela Geller attacked me on her website. Describing me as a “leftist lawyer” and herself and Weinstein as “defenders as freedom,” Geller falsely accused me of launching a “smear campaign.”
This sordid City Hall affair is far from over. In Part 2 of this report, I will examine the ACD video which purports to show a terror song being played at the Al-Quds rally.