The Jewish community is seeing mud being slung again. B’nai Brith Canada has come down hard on Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). The latest salvo, which came via email blast as the Jewish Independent was going to press, contended that IJV has taken part in Al-Quds Day events in Toronto. Before that, B’nai Brith claimed that IJV “promotes Holocaust denial.”
With regard to the latter accusation, B’nai Brith, also via email blast, called attention to IJV having posted an article by blogger Alan Hart about antisemitism and anti-Zionism, which had been republished on a website called Veterans Today. That website – Veterans Today – evidently engages in Holocaust denial.
A statement by IJV issued on June 8 takes responsibility for the error. “We thoughtlessly linked to Hart’s article on the Veterans Today site. We acknowledge that our oversight in this respect was lax: we didn’t verify the nature of the Veterans Today website.… For that, we apologize to our members and supporters for our carelessness. IJV has now removed that link.”
IJV campaigns coordinator Tyler Levitan told me by email that, “while we are guilty of a very small number of regrettable social media posts over the years – out of thousands of articles we’ve posted – that linked to decent articles reposted to indecent websites, this by no means makes us in B’nai Brith’s words, a ‘fig leaf for neo-Nazis and antisemitism’ [a quote which appeared in the Canadian Jewish News]. That’s pure slander. We are in no way connected to anything on the right, let alone the far-right.”
Levitan then came out swinging. “B’nai Brith, on the other hand, has had very close relations with far-right Christian fundamentalist groups and individuals, such as John Hagee, who promote homophobia and bigotry. Their CEO Michael Mostyn used to be the director of the neoconservative advocacy group Canadian Coalition for Democracies. Their connections to the far-right of the Canadian political scene are literal, not imaginary.”
In response, Mostyn told me by email, “I am proud of my prior work with the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, especially its advocacy on behalf of persecuted groups such as North Koreans, Middle East Christians and Baha’is in Iran.” Mostyn added that B’nai Brith Canada “does not have any current affiliation with John Hagee.”
Following IJV’s apology, B’nai Brith issued another community-wide communications statement attempting to further impugn IJV’s reputation. It didn’t help that elsewhere Hart has apparently issued conspiracy theories. This, too, Levitan responded to, saying in the email interview, “we certainly do not subscribe to his political views regarding 9/11.”
What seems to be going on here is a regrettable discursive war over Israel fought by other means. Dov Waxman’s recent book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel details the acrimony taking place on the topic of Israel across the American Jewish community. On this score, the Canadian Jewish landscape is little different.
Better than issue smear campaigns against those who don’t hew to the mainstream Jewish community perspective, the Jewish community should be debating the issues at stake. How to end Israel’s 49-year long occupation of another people? What kinds of security assurances does Israel need in order to bring that era to an end? What are Israel’s obligations under international law? How can the refugee issues be resolved in a just way? How can Israel institute full equality between its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens?
These are issues that would be very worthy of more discussion. That said, two lessons can be learned here. First, organizations should be careful about with whom they associate. If conspiracy theorists are going to undermine the message – and, to most ears, they will – organizations should find other ways to raise issues than relying on questionable sources. And, if cozying up to the far-right is going to help portray an organization as being out of touch with its constituency, then it, too, should be careful about with whom it rubs shoulders. If, on the other hand, these allies are understood by the organization to be representative of their values, then that is also an important opening for discussion so community audiences can decide with whom to cast their lot.
To this end, I would like to encourage IJV and B’nai Brith Canada to take their feud out of the realm of email blasts and counterpunches and into the realm of policy questions. Perhaps a public debate hosted by the two organizations over mutually-agreed-upon questions with regard to Israel and the Palestinians would be apt. I know that I, for one, would tune in.
Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University. She is a columnist for Canadian Jewish News and contributes to Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward, among other publications.