Category Archives: Anthony Housefather

The Racism and Smear Tactics of B’nai B’rith and Israel-first MPs in Defense of Israeli Crimes

Read Part 1.

Dimitri Lascaris (Photo by Dave Chidley)

Like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Canadian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris is the victim of a “Big Lie” slander campaign. Defenders of the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism have once again smeared a “proud, anti-racist advocate for human rights.”

In this article  I offer some important context regarding the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith’s (BB) absurd “anti-Semitism” accusations against Lascaris, which were echoed by the leaders of the four main federal political parties. But, looking at the run up to his ‘offending’ tweet suggests that Lascaris was targeted in an unprecedented smear campaign because he was exposing CIJA and BB’s soft underbelly, notably their dalliance with racist extremists. In the week before he was denounced Lascaris repeatedly challenged CIJA, BB’s and Liberal MP Michael Levitt’s association with individuals making anti-Muslim remarks, death threats against politicians and promoting a book denouncing the “Jewish menace”.

The immediate background to CIJA and BB’s campaign against Lascaris was an August 29 demonstration opposing BB’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). CIJA, BB and Levitt tarred that rally as being racist and threatening. Two days before the display of solidarity with CUPW Levitt issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned”  and “disturbed” by the planned protest, announcing that he had contacted the police. Afterwards CIJA Vice President for the Greater Toronto Area, Noah Shack, thanked the police and stated: “What the Jewish  community of Bathurst Manor witnessed today is a failed attempt at intimidation by a hateful group of protesters.”

But in reality, it was the counter rally of BB supporters that was racist and threatening. In the week after the rally Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA, BB and Liberal MP Levitt to publicly repudiate the Islamophobia of the pro-BB counter protesters. Prior to his ‘offending’ tweet, Lascaris posted video of protesters making anti-Muslim comments and tweeted “B’nai B’rith can’t bring itself to condemn the white supremacists, racists & Islamophobes who support its organization and who stood at its doorstep last week screaming hatred at supporters of CUPW. Instead, it hurls baseless claims of ‘bigotry’ at its critics.”

Via twitter and Facebook Lascaris also called on them to criticize two BB supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to face the death penalty. In a video detailing  their participation in the counter protest, Mary Forrest and a friend called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs to receive the “guillotine” or be “stoned” to death. Lascaris tweeted: “If a supporter of Palestine called for Israel’s criminal PM Benjamin Netanyahu to be put to death, B’nai B’rith and CIJA would become apopletic and call that person a ‘terrorist’. But when pro-Israel fanatics call for Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau to be killed, they say nothing.”

In another tweet before the supposed “anti-Semitic” comment, Lascaris criticized Levitt’s trip to Israel during which he met the COO of Sodastream. He wrote, “while Michael Levitt showcases Israel’s apartheid regime, supporters of his close ally B’nai B’rith called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau and Levitt’s Liberal colleagues Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra and Maryam Monsef. Shamefully, Levitt has said nothing.”

In their video about protesting in support of BB, Forrest and her friend talked about campaigning for former Rebel Media host Faith Goldy, who is running for mayor of Toronto. In fact, the white supremacist mayoral candidate attended the rally in support of BB. In April Goldy promoted a book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as one of “the canonical works of global fascism.” Published in 1937, it repeatedly attacks Jews and calls for eliminating the “Jewish threat”.

Lascaris repeatedly called on BB to denounce their supporters’ association with Goldy. He tweeted, “White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating ‘the Jewish menace’. Goldy was warmly received by B’nai B’rith supporters last week. And B’nai B’rith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?”

BB, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from protesters they aligned with before and after the August 29 protest. Instead they distorted an innocuous tweet about their two main allies within the Liberal Party caucus and sought to portray themselves as the victims. To the political establishment’s shame, the leaders of four political parties, as well as numerous other MPs, joined the smear of Lascaris.

Egged on by the politicians, CIJA and BB took their ‘we are victims’ silliness to embarrassing heights. CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel put out a statement implying that Lascaris’ tweet was somehow connected to Rosh Hashanah. In an attack on the activist-lawyer titled “An Urgent Note Before Rosh Hashanah: Fighting Antisemitism in 5779”, Fogel wrote: “Those who seek to demonize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish State, through BDS and other toxic forms of advocacy, are becoming bolder and more aggressive. They are letting the veil slip on the false distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. And some of them openly seeking to undermine our rights as Jewish Canadians to be accepted as equals in Canadian politics, democracy, and civil society. It’s clearer than ever that the fight against the anti-Israel agenda is a fight to preserve the future of the Canadian Jewish community.”

B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn made the connection to the Jewish New Year more clear, tweeting “Two days  before Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in Judaism, Dimitri Lascaris hurled an antisemitic trope at Canadian leaders that was even promoted in the ‘Elders of the Protocols of Zion.’”

Mostyn followed this shameful tweet by revealing the direct political objective of the attacks against Lascaris. BB’s head tweeted, “Canadians expect ALL their elected officials across the political spectrum to refuse to interact with CJPME [Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East] until it apologizes and removes Dimitri Lascaris as their chair – this would certainly include Niki Ashton”, who Lascaris supported in the NDP leadership race.

Comparing the Left’s response to the attacks on Lascaris and activist-author Nora Loreto  six months ago is informative. While both faced unprecedented backlash for publishing relatively innocuous tweets, only one of the social justice campaigners received substantial support from radical leftists.

This doesn’t bode well for the Left’s ability to respond to the accusations of anti-Semitism certain to follow Niki Ashton or someone with similar politics taking the reins of the NDP or another Left party coming close to governing. Israel lobby groups’ spectacular campaign against Corbyn in Britain and their smears against Lascaris suggests that anyone serious about building a movement for climate justice, economic inequality, indigenous rights, etc. needs to think carefully about the best ways to counter CIJA, BB, etc. smear tactics.

We need to be prepared for the next Big Lies.

Labeling Critics Anti-Semitic to Deflect from Crimes of the Jewish State

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 in a 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 defence 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 organisation 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 defence 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. He tweeted: “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 than 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, labelling 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!