On June 7, 2018, Doug Ford and Ontario’s “Progressive” Conservative Party won a large majority of the seats in Ontario’s legislature with the support of less than 41% of voters and less than 24% of eligible voters.
Three days later, Ford launched a frontal assault on Ontarians’ right to free speech and free assembly.
As reported by the Ottawa Citizen on June 11, “Doug Ford’s first new position as Ontario’s premier-to-be is that he’ll stop the annual anti-Israel protests called ‘Al-Quds Day.’”
The apparent cause of Ford’s lightening-speed assault on our constitutional rights was a barrage of fake news from none other than B’nai Brith Canada.
Any politician committed to civil rights and the truth would have taken the claims of this “staunch defender” of Israel with a prodigious grain of salt.
But not Doug Ford.
What is Al-Quds Day?
“Al-Quds” is the Arabic name for the city of Jerusalem. It literally means “The Holy One.”
East Jerusalem is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
In addition, Israel has been building settlements in East Jerusalem for decades. These settlements are a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as is almost universally acknowledged.
Shortly after it took power in 1979, Iran’s Islamic regime established Al-Quds Day as a holiday to demonstrate Iran’s solidarity with Palestinians, and to emphasize Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims. Although Al-Quds Day originated in Iran, it is now celebrated around the world by Muslims and by members of other faiths, including Jews and Christians, on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
This year’s Al-Quds day was particularly important for two reasons.
First, last month, the Trump administration moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move provoked a cacophony of condemnation because it effectively legitimized Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.
Second, this year’s Al-Quds Day rally occurred within days of the conclusion of the Great March of Return, a mass peaceful protest in Gaza that was designed to highlight the unspeakable suffering there caused by Israel’s inhuman blockade and to reassert the legal right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. During the Great March of Return, Israeli military snipers killed over 110 unarmed civilians, including children, medics and journalists. Israel’s military wounded thousands more with live fire, leaving dozens permanently disabled. The wounded civilians included Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani, who was clearly acting as a doctor when an Israeli sniper shot him in both legs.
The Accusations Against Past Al-Quds Rallies
Every year, Al-Quds rallies are held in cities around the world, and every year, they are condemned by pro-apartheid groups. The Al-Quds rally in Toronto is no exception.
Last year, American author Kevin Barrett was one of the speakers at Toronto’s Al-Quds rally. Before Barrett spoke at the rally, B’nai Brith issued a heavily edited video accusing Barrett of being a Holocaust denier. B’nai Birth went so far as to launch a petition calling on Canadian authorities to bar Barrett from entering Canada, but B’nai Brith’s initiative failed and Canadian authorities allowed Barrett to enter the country.
I do not know Kevin Barrett personally. I have never attended one of his speeches. I have limited familiarity with his writings. I was not present at last year’s Al-Quds rally. Until this year, in fact, I had never attended an Al-Quds rally. Nevertheless, I can say with confidence at least two things about Barrett.
First, Barrett flatly denied B’nai Brith’s accusation that he is a Holocaust denier, describing B’nai Brith’s attack on him as a “web of lies”.
Second, after Barrett spoke at last year’s Al-Quds rally, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs(CIJA), another pro-apartheid lobby group that condemns the Al-Quds rally annually, posted on YouTube an edited video clip from Barrett’s speech. CIJA’s video is entitled “Kevin Barrett, 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist, Holocaust Denier.” Presumably, CIJA chose to include in that video those parts of Barrett’s Al-Quds speech that CIJA considered to be most incriminating. Yet nowhere in CIJA’s video clip does Barrett deny the Holocaust. In CIJA’s clip, Barrett does express views about the official 9/11 narrative (which I do not share), and he certainly condemns Zionists (many of whom are Christian), but Barrett does not deny the Holocaust.
The second main line of attack on last year’s Al-Quds rally in Toronto was an allegation that the organizers of the rally played Arabic music which glorified the killing of Israelis. The origin of that allegation was a video released by an organization called the “American Center for Democracy” (ACD). As I wrote at the time:
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…
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.”
I have since made inquiries with members of the Toronto Al-Quds committee and they vigorously deny that they authorized the playing of the song that can be heard in the ACD video or any other pro-violence music. Moreover, the committee’s members have no recollection of having heard such music being played over the speaker system that they rented for the event.
Before I comment on the ACD video, I readily acknowledge that I am not an expert in sound recordings or acoustics. I therefore offer the following observations as a layperson.
First, the mere fact that one can hear the music in a video taken at the Al-Quds rally does not prove that the music was in fact played at the rally, because it is a relatively simple matter to add music to a video after the video clip was shot.
Second, the ACD video was taken outdoors, with dozens of people milling around. Indeed, as the video was being shot, numerous people walked directly in front of the (unknown) person who shot the video. Yet, there is surprisingly little background noise. The wind and the vehicular traffic are basically inaudible.
Third, even if the music was played at the Al-Quds rally at the time the video was taken, the source of the music might possibly have been a sound system other than the system rented by the organizers of the event.
This brings me to “Radio Man.”
On June 26, 2017, shortly after the Al-Quds rally in Toronto last year, an obscure, far-right and Islamophobic group called “No Filter Productions” posted on YouTube a video taken at the Al-Quds rally. Toward the end of that video, an individual who is carrying a large, portable Dewalt music player enters the scene and is enthusiastically identified by someone (possibly the person who is shooting the video) as “Radio Man”:
On June 27, 2017, CIJA posted a longer Al-Quds video on Youtube which consists of a compilation of clips taken at last year’s Al-Quds rally. During the first 71 seconds of that video, one can hear in the distance the music that purportedly glorifies the killing of Israelis. During that 71-second interval, “Radio Man” appears in the distance on three occasions: at 00:20, 00:54 and 1:08. On each occasion, “Radio Man” can be seen carrying the Dewalt music player captured in the No Filter Productions video.
“Radio Man” also appears in the ACD’s video. He can be seen in the distance, walking from right to left and wearing a white T-shirt, from 00:38 to 00:46 of the ACD video clip.
I showed the images of “Radio Man” appearing in these videos to members of the Toronto Al-Quds committee. Two of the committee members recall having seen “Radio Man” at the Toronto Al-Quds rally last year. They do not know who he is and, at the time, they regarded him as suspicious and therefore reported his presence to a Toronto police officer. They advised that officer that “Radio Man” was not associated with the Al-Quds organizers.
The question therefore arises: who is “Radio Man” and why does he appear in all three of these videos carrying a large, Dewalt music player?
Notably, the pro-apartheid lobby has repeatedly asserted that Toronto police are investigating the playing of pro-violence music at last year’s Al-Quds rally in Toronto. Yet no police officer has ever contacted the Toronto Al-Quds Committee about this music. Why? If the police believe that the videos in question raised a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity at last year’s Al-Quds rally, would they not have made inquiries with the committee by now, approximately one year after the June 2017 rally in Toronto?
The Specious Attacks on this Year’s Al-Quds Rally in Toronto
Before this year’s rally began, and shortly prior to the election that brought Doug Ford to power in Ontario, the pro-apartheid lobby began attacking the rally.
Initially, B’nai Brith’s attack featured a ‘destroy Israel’ poster that purportedly was photographed at Toronto’s Al-Quds rally in 2016. In fact, however, the poster was photographed at a rally in the United Kingdom in 2011. After I pointed this out to B’nai Brith on Twitter, B’nai Brith deleted a tweet in which it had made the false claim. When it did so, it issued no apology for the ‘error’.
That is by no means the first time that B’nai Brith has disseminated fake news to silence critics of Israel’s apartheid regime.
As reported by the Toronto Star last year, B’nai Birth used a doctored and mistranslated video to smear Toronto Imam Ayman Elkasrawy.
B’nai Brith also smeared Toronto schoolteacher Nadia Shoufani after she spoke at an Al-Quds rally in Toronto. The smears caused Ms. Shoufani to be suspended by her school board, but the Ontario College of Teachers dismissed the allegations against her and she was allowed to return to the classroom.
And in 2013, B’nai Brith retracted a false and slanderous accusation that Liberal candidate Lesley Hughes is antisemitic after Ms. Hughes sued B’nai Brith for libel.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of B’nai Brith’s fake news.
None of this unseemly history appears to have deterred Doug Ford from leaping onto B’nai Brith’s ‘ban Al-Quds’ bandwagon.
To provoke a backlash against the Al-Quds rally, B’nai Brith has falsely claimed that, at this year’s rally, one of the speakers called for the ‘eradication of Israelis’. The speaker in question was Sheikh Shafiq Huda of the Islamic Humanitarian Service in Kitchener, Ontario.
In attacking him, B’nai Brith refuses to acknowledge the distinction between Israel’s citizens (20% of whom are Palestinian) and the Israeli government’s system of subjugating and humiliating Palestinians. It is that regime which Sheikh Shafiq Shuda urged Canadians to oppose and eradicate in his speech.
Moreover, B’nai Brith’s false claim that the Sheikh called for the ‘eradication of Israelis’ is radically inconsistent with the Sheikh’s unambiguous statement at the outset of his speech that he is “united in common cause” with peoples of all faiths, including “my Jewish brothers and sisters”, some of whom attended the rally and listened to his speech:
In his speech, the Sheikh added “there is one common denominator in all of us, we have the love of justice and humanity in our hearts.”
The Sheikh’s speech drew a clear distinction between the Jewish people, on the one hand, and the state of Israel and its system of oppression, on the other. The pro-apartheid lobby simply refuses to acknowledge this critical and obvious distinction.
The lobby’s other line of attack on this year’s Al-Quds rally was that some demonstrators allegedly displayed the flag of Hezbollah at the rally. This allegation prompted yet more shoddy ‘journalism’ from the Toronto Sun, which now acts as little more than a scribe for the pro-apartheid lobby. The day after this year’s Al-Quds rally, the Sun published an article by reporter Joe Warmington which featured a photo of an alleged participant in the rally wearing what the Sun describes as the “flag of the terror group Hezbollah”:
Quite apart from the total absence of proof that the anonymous and faceless individual featured in this photograph is associated in any way with the rally’s organizers, the flag on his back is not the flag of Hezbollah. According to Wikipedia, that flag belongs to the Followers of Zainab Brigade, or Liwa Zainebiyoun:
Liwa Zainebiyoun is a pro-Syrian government brigade fighting in Syria and composed of Shia Pakistanis. It was established to defend the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in Syria. The name of this organization does not appear on the Canadian government’s list of designated terrorist organizations.
This year, I personally attended and spoke at the Al-Quds rally in Toronto. Not once did I see a flag of any entity designated by the Canadian government as a terrorist entity. If such flags did appear at the rally, the people displaying them would certainly have constituted a tiny minority of the demonstrators. Absent proof that those persons were directed or encouraged by the organizers to display such flags, it is grossly unfair and over-reaching to assert that the entire rally is tainted by their presence.
Moreover, and to my knowledge, there is no law in this country against displaying the flag of Hezbollah. Indeed, the whole question of whether Hezbollah should be designated as a terrorist organization is controversial. In May of this year, when Hezbollah contested democratic elections in Lebanon, it and its allies emerged as the biggest winners. Many states, including China and Russia, do not regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The EU classifies only Hezbollah’s military wing but not its political wing as a terrorist organization.
As Professor Judith Butler has argued, to question the Western narrative about Hezbollah does not make one a supporter of Hezbollah. Like Professor Butler, I am deeply committed to non-violent resistance. I also believe strongly in the complete separation of religion and state. For these reasons alone, I could never support an organization like Hezbollah. But Hezbollah’s use of military force and its commitment to the Shia religion do not, in and of themselves, mean that it should be designated as a terrorist organization.
In addition, the Canadian government’s terrorist designations are utterly incoherent and reek of hypocrisy. Even as it seeks to make a pariah out of Hezbollah — a political party that has contested and won democratic elections in Lebanon — Canada lavishly supports both Saudi Arabia and Israel, each of which is profoundly anti-democratic and engages in far worse violence than Hezbollah.
Israel rules over millions of occupied and disenfranchised Palestinians. Its acts of terrorism against a largely defenceless Palestinian population include the torture of Palestinian children, the massacre of unarmed civilians in Gaza and the wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure. As Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald recently stated, Israel is an “apartheid, rogue, terrorist state.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, arguably the most misogynistic state on the planet, has fomented Wahhabi extremism across the Muslim world and has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, in part by bombing everything in sight, including wedding parties, a cholera treatment center, schools and hospitals. Justin Trudeau’s government allows billions of dollars of Canadian-made weapons to be sold to these monsters even in the face of evidence that Canadian-made weapons have been deployed by the Saudis to violate human rights.
Who, we should ask, are the real terrorists, and who in Canada are the real supporters of terrorists?
Doug Ford Threatens To Silence Human Rights Defenders While Saying Nothing About The Ultimate Purveyors of Hate, The Jewish Defence League and its Allies
Here is a photograph of Meir Weinstein, the JDL’s hate-monger-in-chief, walking toward me at the Al-Quds rally (Weinstein is on the left carrying the yellow JDL flag):
Here is a sample of some of the anti-Islam hatred we encountered at the JDL’s counter-protest:
As I wrote to the Executive Committee of Toronto City Council last year, the sordid record of the JDL includes the following:
- Last year, a member of the Canadian branch of the JDL was charged with a hate crime by police in Washington D.C. after the savage beating of a defenceless and elderly Palestinian man at the AIPAC conference.
- According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the JDL is “a radical organization that preaches a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism.”
- In 2001, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation described the JDL as a “violent extremist Jewish organization.”
- In December 2017, he JDL brought Pamela Geller to Toronto. Geller is a notorious Islamophobe. The New York Times recently described Geller as an “anti-Islam campaigner” who has “a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.”
It is instructive to contrast the JDL’s record of bigotry to the statement of principles published by the organizers of the Al-Quds rally:
The organizers’ statement was provided to the Al-Quds speakers before the rally began and was read out to the protesters at the outset of the rally. As anyone can see by reviewing those principles, Toronto’s Al-Quds Day committee unambiguously declared its commitment to anti-racism and non-violence before and during the rally this year.
In light of these facts, by what perverse reasoning did Doug Ford conclude that he should suppress the constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights of defenders of Palestinian human rights while allowing JDL hatemongers to continue to run amok?
During Ontario’s electoral campaign, Doug Ford proposed to use government funding to protect freedom of speech on university campuses. Within days of his election, however, Ford has demonstrated that free speech matters to him only when he agrees with the speaker, and that the speakers with whom he agrees are purveyors of hate.
What can you do to protect free speech and freedom of assembly?
Please tell Doug Ford you oppose his plan to silence Ontario residents from defending the human rights of Palestinians and any attempt to curtail freedom of expression or assembly. You can communicate your concerns to Ford’s PC Party at https://www.ontariopc.ca/get_in_touch or tweet Doug Ford directly using his Twitter handle, @fordnation.