No to Antisemitism, No to Weaponizing it to Support Israel’s Crimes 

MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.

— Dimitri Lascaris, 2018

The above tweet was criticized by all the major federal party leaders even though few could argue with it today. After the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) denounced the post as antisemitic, the prime minister, Conservative leader and a cascade of others followed suit.

In a betrayal worth reflecting on, many leftists and self-proclaimed solidarity activists echoed the anti-Palestinian lobby’s criticism. Rather than focusing on Canada’s complicity in apartheid, they prioritized Jewish sensitivities. In so doing they reinforced a political climate that’s enabled the killing of over 20,000 Palestinian while agonizing about a generally privileged Canadian Jewish community.

While it was obvious at the time, today no serious person could argue that Levitt and Housefather weren’t “more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.”  Levitt left the party two years later to campaign full-time in favor of apartheid as CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Among a slew of examples, Levitt recently suggested Trudeau was antisemitic for expressing opposition to the killing of babies. He tweeted that the PM’s comments “fan the flames of Jew-hatred” and told CBC they “further fuel antisemitism and lashing out at Jews in Canada.”

After Canada recently voted with the vast majority of the world for a ceasefire at the United Nations, Housefather repeatedly condemned his own government to the media. A month ago, the Montréal MP also criticized Trudeau for his statement opposing the killing of babies. At the time CBC’s At Issue panel reported that Liberal MPs (presumably Housefather) had privately threatened to quit the party if Trudeau called for a ceasefire. He subsequently went on a solidarity trip to Israel. Alex Boykowich aptly dubbed Housefather “objectively Netanyahu’s man in the Canadian government/parliament.”

Levitt and Housefather care far more about Israel than Trudeau or the Liberal party. As I detailed, there was already a bevy of evidence at the time of Lascaris’ statement that Housefather and Levitt were obsessed with Israel and prioritized defending its crimes over their own party. But the immediate background to the 2018 tweet uproar made the condemnation completely outrageous.

After a demonstration opposing B’nai B’rith’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Lascaris called on Housefather and Levitt, CIJA, and others who had defended B’nai B’rith on the eve of the protest, 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. Lascaris tweeted about the two B’nai B’rith 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 denounce” the threats “but shamefully, they’ve said nothing.” Then Lascaris tweeted: “ 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 response CIJA tweeted: “Yesterday, CJPME [Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East] 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 leader Andrew Scheer, Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and others jumped to Housefather and Levitt’s defense or directly smeared Lascaris.

Despite all this being immediately detailed, a number of leftist voices followed the Israel lobby, focusing on “tropes” rather than Canada’s role in enabling an apartheid state waging unrelenting violence in (according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Israel has attempted more – over 2,700 – international assassination missions then any country since World War II).

In a post-mortem on Lascaris’ narrow defeat in the 2020 Green Party leadership race The Breach founder Dru Oja Jay wrote “it should also be said that in 2018, Lascaris questioned the loyalty of two extremist pro-Israel Jewish MPs in a tweet. Questioning the loyalty of Jewish politicians is an anti-semitic trope with a long history. While he has condemned anti-semitism broadly and while there’s no doubt that charges of anti-semitism are used to silence advocates for Palestinian human rights (which Lascaris is), his refusal to back away from his remarks gave that line of attack levels of legitimacy that they would have otherwise lacked.”

The next year another Breach editor, Martin Lukacs, reiterated the point in an email claiming my defence of Lascaris was antisemitic. He wrote, “your defence of Dimitri Lascaris’ obtuse and offensive dual loyalty charge a few years ago against Canadian Liberal politicians followed a similar dynamic. In your writing, you seemed to either be ignorant of this classic trope of anti-Semitism, or you simply choose to ignore the connotations of what he wrote about.” (In response to the remarkable onslaught I immediately published “Canadian Zionists’ Unprecedented Smear Campaign against Dimitri Lascaris” and followed up with “CIJA, B’nai B’rith smear Palestine activist instead of racists, antisemite”. These articles emboldened Independent Jewish Voices and Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig to defend Lascaris and paved the way for the public letter backing Lascaris headlined “Prime minister owes human rights activist an apology”, which was signed by Noam Chomksy, Roger Waters, Chris Hedges and others.)

I rehash this history because many leftists, even those who call themselves anti-Zionist, have directly contributed to Canada’s deeply anti-Palestinian political climate. By prioritizing Jewish sensitivities about ‘tropes’, they’ve emboldened the Housefathers and Levitts of the world and further tilted the political terrain against those opposing Canada’s vast complicity in Israel’s horrors.

It also demonstrates how anti-Palestinian lobby groups set the agenda. If CIJA hadn’t created a brouhaha over Lascaris’ post, few would have seen the tweet, let alone complained about it years later. On principle leftists should be allergic to allowing an apartheid lobby that seeks to destroy left-wing movements set the tone on anything Palestine related.

Canadian political culture fixates on the sensitivities of Jews here rather than how Canada enables Israeli barbarism. Part of this reflects the dominance of nationalism. What happens here – or to Canadians abroad – is prioritized by the political and media establishment. You see this with the recent discussion of the uptick in hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs or Jews. While all acts of bigotry should be condemned, nothing that has transpired in Canada over the past 10 weeks remotely compares to the horrors in Gaza.

There’s also a specifically Jewish element to the fixation. With outsized influence in Hollywood and other domains, Jewish cultural influence is significant. Additionally, the Nazi Holocaust is a definitive historical reference point, which has intertwined anti-Jewishness with the ultimate evil.

It’s true that in Canada Jews are significantly over-represented as victims of hate crimes and there is a history of legalistic antisemitism, including McGill’s quotas on Jewish students between the 1920s-40s, “none is too many” WWII immigration policies and prejudicial land covenants targeting Jews and others into the 1950s. But there’s nothing in Canadian history approaching the antisemitism of Eastern Europe, let alone Nazi Germany. Additionally, today Jews are over-represented in positions of wealth and influence in Canada.

None of this is to say antisemitism does not exist. It does and when people express hatred for Jews simply being Jews we should condemn it. But being Jewish should not protect someone from criticism for supporting crimes against humanity such as apartheid, ethnic cleansing or genocide. Being Jewish should not protect someone for their anti-Palestinian racism. The self-proclaimed “Jewish state” can and should be criticized for its actions. If that offends some Jewish Canadians that is their problem.

Hypersensitivity regarding antisemitism is unwarranted when it is being so aggressively mobilized to enable horrors against Palestinians. Conscientious individuals must question how they uphold a political climate that enables Canadian complicity in the slaughter in Gaza.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.