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B’nai Brith Canada Deeply Concerned by Statements from NDP MPs

Jan. 5, 2021
OTTAWA – B’nai Brith Canada wrote to federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on Monday, refuting the comments of NDP Members of Parliament, who posted inflammatory social media statements that treat Israel in a totally unfair manner and that add fuel to the fire of antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Charlie Angus, the MP for Timmins—James Bay, used the hashtag “apartheidstate” in referring to Israel and cited erroneous media reporting suggesting Palestinians were being excluded from Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out programme. Leah Gazan, the MP for Winnipeg Centre, citing the same media reporting, accused Israel of “excluding people from being vaccinated based on discriminatory decisions and a clear violation of human rights.”
These comments cannot go unchallenged.
Angus released a statement late Monday, rejecting B’nai Brith’s comments but declining to defend the substance of the reporting upon which he based his comments. Instead, he suggested that the fault lies with the inaccurate reporting that he cited.
“We have always been clear that elected officials, regardless of political affiliation, bear ultimate responsibility for material they post to social media, including conspiracy theories,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada.
“Mr. Angus should do the right thing and admit that the story he disseminated is insidiously misleading and that describing Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ is morally, and factually, objectionable. If he is unwilling to do so, then federal NDP leadership must do so for him.”
B’nai Brith believes that objectionable social media posts and statements, including calling Israel an “apartheid state” or suggesting Israel is violating the human rights of Palestinians in actions to counter the coronavirus, do nothing but feed the antisemitic conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 which are proliferating. Such statements, inaccurate and accusatory as they are, have consequences, whether intended or not. They only serve to inflame a growing antisemitism and unjustified anti-Israel feeling, in Canada and elsewhere.
The full contents of B’nai Brith’s open letter can be found below:
January 5, 2021
Mr. Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal, M.P.,
New Democratic Party of Canada
NDP National Headquarters
279 Laurier Avenue East – Suite #300
Ottawa, Ontario   K1P 5J9
Dear Mr. Jagmeet Singh:
           On behalf of B’nai Brith Canada, I write to express our serious concerns over recent unacceptable social media posts by at least two New Democratic Party Members of Parliament, Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) and Ms. Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Centre).
           Mr. Angus used the term “apartheid state” in referring to Israel and erroneous media reporting suggesting Palestinians were being excluded from Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out programme. Ms. Gazan, citing the same media reporting, accused Israel of “excluding people from being vaccinated based on discriminatory decisions and a clear violation of human rights”.
The content of these posts requires censure of these two MPs, an action we urge you to take without delay. Our elected representatives have a duty to be informed before posting inaccurate information that demonizes Israel. Statements which contain false information and biased accusations are irresponsible and show lack of judgement. The facts are these, and some of them are, indeed, contained in the same media reports cited by Mr. Angus and Ms. Gazan:
  • Under the Oslo Accords of 1995, Article 17, powers and responsibilities in the health sector, including for vaccinations, were transferred to the Palestinian side.
  • The Palestinians have not approached Israel for help in obtaining COVID-19 vaccines and are planning to purchase them on their own with the help of the international community, Palestinian and Israeli officials said as recently as December 20, 2020.
  • In mainstream media reporting, a senior official with the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health said that the Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them, or purchase on their behalf, the vaccine from any country.
  • According to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health: “We are working on our own to obtain the vaccine from a number of sources. We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government & Health Ministry, and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.”
  • Even the media reports referred to by Mr. Angus and Ms. Gazan make clear that: “the [Palestinian] Authority has not officially asked for help from Israel. Coordination between the two sides halted last year after the Palestinian president cut off security ties for several months.”
  • In other words, the Palestinian leadership refused to even talk to Israel when the latter was ordering vaccine doses, let alone coordinate a complex rollout operation. Before that, the United Nations official news site published an article titled: “COVID-19: UN envoy hails strong Israel-Palestine cooperation.”
  • At the United Nations, as early as April 23, 2020, Israel’s representative stated that COVID-19 does not distinguish across borders, noting that at times of crisis peoples and governments “show their true colours”. Outlining Israel’s work to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 across the region, he said it is providing resources to the United Nations response, facilitating the flow of medical supplies and food into Gaza, and conducting medical trainings for Palestinian health workers. Israel, he said, has also donated health equipment, including testing kits, to the Palestinian Authority.
  • More recently, Israel’s Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, told The New York Times it is in Israel’s interest to help stop the virus from spreading among Palestinians, adding that he has “no doubt it will be done.”
  • Reputable media sources have also noted that “The Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them, or purchase on their behalf, the vaccine from any country… the Palestinians will soon receive nearly four million Russian-made vaccines against COVID-19. The PA, with the help of the World Health Organization, has managed to secure the vaccine from other sources.”
  • The Palestinian Authority’s own current assessment is that they will begin to receive doses of the Sputnik V and AstraZeneca vaccines in January-February. This is comparable with neighboring countries in the region, including those with major Palestinian populations such as Lebanon and Jordan.
  • Israel has informed Palestinian prisoners in custody for security offences that they will be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the near future, according to Qadri Abu Baker, Director of the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Commission.
           You may recall my initial letter to you of October 2, 2017, congratulating you on election as Party Leader. I said at the time that here is one area touching international policy where B’nai Brith Canada would like to engage the New Democratic Party in a more considered dialogue. As a voice for Canadian Jewry, I said, we condemn all efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state of Israel.
          Among other points, I noted that those who espouse hatred of Israel, often masking antipathy towards the Jewish community in Canada and elsewhere, reinforce the sense of religious hate and bias which we know you reject.
          My sense is that the social media posts of both Mr. Angus and Ms. Gazan fall within this scope. At a time when antisemitic conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 are proliferating, their statements – inaccurate and accusatory as they are – only serve to inflame that antisemitism and unjustified anti-Israel feeling. This particular concern is reviewed in our policy paper on ‘COVID-19, Disinformation and Antisemitism.’ 
          Ours is an organization that speaks for, and to, grassroots Canadian Jewry and through our partners, such as B’nai Brith International, to Jews everywhere. We can, I believe, work more effectively with the NDP on a range of policy issues. The social media posts of Mr. Angus and Ms. Gazan make that task much more difficult.
Michael Mostyn
Chief Executive Officer, B’nai Brith Canada