Israel lobby group B’nai Brith is now suing rabbis for standing up for Palestinian rights 

Yves Engler

Mondoweiss  /  July 11, 2023

B’nai Brith is suing pro-Palestinian Rabbi David Mivasair and undermining the meaning of antisemitism by using it to describe any criticism of Israel, even rabbis who challenge their extremist view of who is a good Jew.

B’nai Brith is suing a rabbi for defamation. 

In “B’nai Brith Launches Legal Action Against anti-Israel Activist David Mivasair” the group claimed it was suing because he described their organization as “racist”, “anti-Palestinian hate group”, “agent of a foreign power” and “small band of extremists enabled by wealthy racists.” In the lawsuit filed in Ontario Small Claims Court B’nai Brith is seeking $35,000 in damages. Mivasair, who refused the apartheid lobby group’s demand to retract his comments, said he will file a defense.

I’ve labeled B’nai Brith “racist”, “anti-Palestinian”, “pro-apartheid”, “elitist” and a “hate” organization. So have others, and in April, Stephen Ellis published the well-detailed “Tracking the malignant racism of B’nai Brith Canada”. It’s hard to imagine B’nai Brith has much of a case against Mivasair.

B’nai Brith is suing Mivasair partly because he’s criticized their organization but mostly to undercut his broader activism. Mivasair was one of two complainants in a case demanding the government charge Sar-El Canada for violating the Foreign Enlistment Act by assisting the Israeli military. He’s also made submissions to the Canada Revenue Agency calling for the revocation of a number of Israel-focused groups’ charitable status. Two years ago, Mivasair was the spokesperson for an action in which fake blood was poured on the steps of the Israeli consulate to protest Israel’s killing of over 260 people, including 65 Palestinian children in Gaza.

B’nai Brith wants to intimidate and silence Mivasair and others sympathetic to his work. They also hope to burden him with a time-consuming suit and are seeking to discredit Mivasair. A group that consistently labels opposition to apartheid, “antisemitism” has an obvious interest in discrediting the most prominent pro-Palestinian rabbi in Canada. (In their statement B’nai Brith, of course, accuses Mivasair of “antisemitism”.)

But is it strategic for a group purportedly defending Canadian Jewry to sue a rabbi campaigning for the downtrodden? Is it possible B’nai Brith has smeared and sued so many individuals and groups they fail to recognize how outrageous this suit appears?

Much of what B’nai Brith produces reeks of an unsophisticated bully emboldened by a complicit political culture. In May they denounced Ontario NDP MPP Sarah Jama for re-tweeting Palestinian academic Noura Erakat’s innocuous statement on the death of Palestinian prisoner Khaled Adnan, which prompted the purportedly left-wing party to release an embarrassing statement distancing itself from the tweet. The attacks on Jama followed on from the group successfully targeting another pro-Palestinian NDP MPP. In 2020 B’nai Brith got the NDP to distance itself from Joel Harden’s defense of another Palestinian political prisoner, Khalida Jarrar.

After their denunciations contributed to the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) rejecting their own members’ overwhelming vote in favor of Palestine last spring, B’nai Brith sued SSMU, McGill University, and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill over students being asked to vote on supporting Palestinian rights. B’nai Brith has also sought to defund other student unions and smeared prominent social justice activists and labor leaders. They claimed the Canadian Union of Postal Workers was aligned with a pro-terrorism union and backed the “path of violence and extremism” (CUPW recently won a defamation settlement against B’nai Brith.)

The group’s fanaticism is long-standing. In response to a 2012 United Church resolution calling for a boycott of products from illegal Israeli settlements, then B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant claimed the minimal act of solidarity with the besieged Palestinians was tantamount to “calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from these areas.”

Despite its overt hostility towards politicians and organizations trying to build a fairer world, B’nai Brith, unbelievably, continues to have some credibility with some self-described progressives. The Mivasair suit offers an opportunity to chip away at that. 

B’nai Brith’s sister organization in the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League, has faced a campaign calling on progressive groups to “Drop the ADL”. B’nai Brith should be challenged in a similar way. Groups such as Montréal’s Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, which collaborate with B’nai Brith need to be pressured over the Mivasair suit and B’nai Brith’s anti-Palestinian and anti-egalitarian track record.

To the extent B’nai Brith has any credibility, it is based on the notion they defend Canadian Jewry. But do groups defending Jews sue rabbis promoting social justice? 

B’nai Brith has long manifested anti-Palestinian racism and hatred. B’nai Brith is once again proving itself by doing the work of a foreign power by targeting David Mivasair to muzzle a prominent voice for Palestinian solidarity. B’nai Brith has repeatedly undermined the meaning of antisemitism by its use of the term to describe anyone who criticizes Israel, even rabbis who challenge their extremist view of who is a good Jew.

It’s time for Canadians of conscience to say no to yet another outrageous attempt to intimidate an important voice for justice and peace in the Middle East.

Yves Engler is the author of, among others,  House of Mirrors: Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy