Dimitri Lascaris, chair of the board of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), last week tweeted what is being condemned as a blatantly antisemitic swipe at two Jewish members of Parliament.
Despite CJPME’s name, the messaging from the group doesn’t indicate that the “justice and peace” they seek will be particularly just or peaceful for Jewish residents of the Middle East. What happened last week should clarify where the group – or at least its leader – stands.
“Apparently,” Lascaris tweeted, “Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own Prime Minister and their own colleagues in the Liberal caucus.” The tweet was a bit of a non sequitur. Lascaris had posted on a different platform about a B’nai Brith Canada rally in Toronto, after which two women who had attended the event posted a video saying that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should face the death penalty. Weirdness all around, certainly, but how Lascaris connected this incident with two Liberal MPs is an open question. Ultimately, whatever link there may be is irrelevant in the bigger context.
Accusing Jews of dual loyalties, of being “others” who are not fully of a society, is an age-old charge almost universally accepted as antisemitic at its core. Encouragingly, politicians of every stripe (as well as plenty of other Canadians) have tweeted or otherwise made clear their dismay at Lascaris’s comment.
The next move is up to members of the organization. If the members of CJPME reject their chair’s remarks and remove him from his role, they will have demonstrated that they understand something about justice. If not, Lascaris and the group he represents should be snubbed by elected officials and anyone with a genuine interest in peace and justice.
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Another interesting tweet came from Tory Senator Linda Frum last week, in response to the announcement that Trudeau would issue an apology for the Canadian government’s refusal in 1939 to allow the MS St. Louis, carrying 907 Jewish refugees, to land in Canada. Forced to return to Europe, 254 of the passengers were murdered in the Holocaust.
“I’ve made this warning before: if Trudeau’s apology for Canada’s rejection of the ‘voyage of the damned’ compares Jews fleeing the Nazis to the contemporary crisis of illegal economic migrants, he will require an apology for his apology. Think carefully,” tweeted Frum.
Thinking carefully is indeed what everyone involved should do.
Leaving aside the criticism about the merits of historical apologies, which we have addressed in this space previously, Frum makes a useful point. To be heartfelt, the apology should stand on its own merits as the voice of a nation genuinely regretful about a scar on our national honour. The apology – scheduled for the week in November that marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – should be about the St. Louis, its passengers, the victims of Canada’s decision and perhaps the broader lesson of what was not done to aid the mortally endangered Jews of Europe. It should not be taken out of context through the universalizing of the story. That the passengers on the ship were Jews is absolutely critical to understanding the history of the St. Louis and our country’s history of institutionalized antisemitism.
At the same time, what is the point of these apologies, or any commemoration of a past wrong, if we do not learn and apply the lessons to the choices we make in our world today? There is a fine line to walk in respecting the individuality of the St. Louis, on the one hand, and ensuring that the apology and associated discussion results in positive changes in our approach to current and future issues we must confront.
Regrettably, Frum threw an additional wrench in the works with her use of the term “illegal economic migrants.” This is apparently a reference to the concern that some in her party and elsewhere have that the migrants who are entering Canada via the United States from Latin America are not legitimate refugees fleeing persecution or danger, but rather people simply seeking to advance the wealth and condition of their families. While it is fair to bring attention to the illegal crossings, it seems odd for a Conservative (or a conservative) to imply that there is something particularly disagreeable about a person seeking economic advancement, either through migration or other means.
That aside, the apology will almost certainly be welcomed by most Jewish Canadians. It will be an opportunity for Canadians to remember – and, for those who do not yet know, to learn – this history. Once we as a country have made what small penance we possibly can for this tragedy, there will be time to consider how contemporary events can be informed by what we learn from thinking about the St. Louis and its passengers. That is part of the purpose of this entire exercise.