Canada’s Liberal Government has announced that it will convene an emergency summit on antisemitism at almost the same time as it faces criticism for welcoming a former Green MP who condemned Israel and referred to it as an “apartheid” state.
The summit is to be led by Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy on antisemitism and a former Liberal MP. It comes in response to calls from Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) citing a dramatic rise in anti-Jewish bigotry online and across the country.
In a statement welcoming the summit, CIJA President Shimon Koffler Fogel cited the “troubling rise of anti-Jewish bigotry” which had been particularly acute during the most recent conflict when “Jews in Canada and around the globe” were being targeted for “expressing solidarity with their fellow Jews in Israel who were under attack from Hamas, a listed terrorist organisation.”
Mr Koffler Fogel said that antisemitism had targeted Jewish-owned businesses, schools, workplaces, unions, and “on our streets”. He added that there had been “an unprecedented spike” in antisemitic vitriol online.
In May, when Hamas was firing rockets into Israel, Green MP Jenica Atwin criticised Green Party Leader Annamie Paul over Ms Paul’s call for de-escalation and a return to “dialogue between the two sides.” On Twitter, Ms Atwin said there were “no two sides to this conflict” but “only human rights abuses” by Israel. Stating “I stand with Palestine”, she condemned the “unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza” and declared “End Apartheid!”
Opposition MPs, members of the Jewish community, and some Liberals believed that Ms Atwin’s rhetoric contributed to the online vitriol leading to questions over why she had been welcomed into the governing party.
On Twitter, former Liberal MP Michael Levitt – now President of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre – said he was “disappointed and concerned” that Ms Atwin had joined the Party “given her inflammatory, one-sided and divisive rhetoric.”
In the House, Conservative MP Peter Kent argued that MPs should try to calm, “not inflame inter-communal discord,” and asked the Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau: “Why then have the Liberals welcomed a floor-crossing MP, disciplined by her own former party for inflammatory, misguided and intemperate remarks?”
Mr Garneau said that “on the issue of the apartheid label”, The Liberal Government “reject it, categorically.” It was “not part of the Government approach with respect to Israel,” Mr Garneau told the House, adding: “We, of course, are completely against any antisemitism that would be displayed by any Canadian citizen.”
Welcoming Mr Garneau’s statement about Ms Atwin, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he was pleased that the Minister had made it clear that her view was “absolutely contrary to the position of our Government.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a brief statement noting Ms Atwin’s “tireless and effective advocacy on priorities like climate action, mental health, reconciliation, and making life more affordable for families.”
Dominic LeBlanc, the intergovernmental affairs minister and a New Brunswick MP, said the Liberal party welcomed divergent opinions which “enrich” the party caucus.
In May, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau offered his support to Canada’s Jews after the country saw a surge in antisemitism. In a tweet, he wrote: “I am deeply disturbed by recent reports of antisemitic acts in Montreal and across the country. This intimidation and violence is absolutely unacceptable – and it must stop immediately. There is no place for hate of any kind in Canada.”