Mondoweiss / April 11, 2023
B’nai Brith Canada claims to be “dedicated to eradicating racism,” but the organization has been a leading instigator of Islamophobic hate for the last 20 years.
B’nai Brith Canada (BBC) has long donned a cloak of respectability in Canadian political circles while remaining a cornerstone of the “Islamophobia Industry” in Canada. Although it promotes itself as the country’s “oldest independent Jewish human rights organization … dedicated to eradicating racism, antisemitism and hatred in all its forms,” BBC has been a prime generator of this virulent strain of racism in the Canadian political landscape since 9/11.
BBC has consistently escaped scrutiny because its pro-apartheid politics and Islamophobia have always been roughly aligned with that of the government of the day. And no less visible in the public square is its CEO, Michael Mostyn. At any given moment, Mostyn can be seen in the company of policymakers warning of the dangers of antisemitism and pointing his accusatory finger at students, activists, unions, and Muslims.
The primary audience for its work is the roughly 400,000 Jews who call Canada their home. BBC’s messaging to them is consistently two-fold – first, Palestinians, Muslims, and their allies, at home and abroad, are waging a relentless campaign to kill Jews and bring about a second Holocaust; and next, the State of Israel and its apartheid system must be defended at any cost.
This “Islamophobia industry” was the focus of a recent study by Professor Jasmin Zine of Wilfred Laurier University. The study put BBC squarely in the center of a network of purveyors of Islamophobic hate in Canada. A glance at the following record should help us assess whether BBC deserves the scrutiny in this regard.
The Jewish Tribune
The BBC’s orientation can perhaps best be seen through the content of the Jewish Tribune, which it published until it folded in 2015. Since then, BBC has been publishing its brand of “news” online. In its time, the Tribune was Canada’s largest circulated Jewish publication and was a curious amalgam of community news and anti-Palestinian/anti-Muslim hate. In its pages, you would find recipes, student and sports news, cultural events, and regular columns about and from some of the world’s most notorious Islamophobes, names like Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, Daniel Pipes, Moshe Feiglin, and the BBC’s own, Frank Dimant.
More disturbingly, the Tribune provided a consistent platform for the extremist Jewish Defence League (JDL) for nine years. Throughout its history, the JDL in North America has engaged in forms of lethal violence, including deadly bombings, kidnappings, and murder.
It is remarkable that the Tribune’s role as a vehicle for hate propaganda has managed to stay under the radar for so long.
A Rogues Gallery of Islamophobes
Pamela Geller is arguably the most visible anti-Muslim personality in the world. She has gone on record stating “Muslim immigration is tied directly to Islamic terror. If there’s no Muslim immigration, you would not have Islamic terror…” The Tribune’s May 9, 2013 coverage of the controversy surrounding Geller’s Toronto visit was glowing and obsequious. Referring to her as a “dynamic” “human rights activist,” the Tribune embraced Geller, her anti-Muslim politics, and the JDL for sponsoring her.
Israeli politician and ethnic-cleansing enthusiast Moshe Feiglin, was also very popular in the pages of the Tribune. A sample of his flair for genocidal incitement can be gleaned from an August 7, 2014 article he penned for the Tribune, entitled “My Outline for a Solution in Gaza.” In this article, Feiglin advocates the reconquering of Gaza, and the expulsion or killing of any Palestinian not complicit with Israeli power. It is an ethnic-cleansing toolkit, and the Tribune published it without reservation or comment.
Former BBC leader, Frank Dimant, generated considerable controversy on November 9, 2009, when he took out a full-page ad in the National Post equating “Radical Islam” and Nazism. Clearly designed to inflame divisions between Muslims and Jews, the ad recycled the long-discredited theory that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had conspired with Hitler to carry out the Final Solution. In the May 20, 2010 issue of the Tribune, Dimant doubled down on the furor, exhorting his fellow Jews to “wake up” about the threat of “Islamofascism” before it was “too late.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later endorsed the “it was the Mufti, not Hitler” myth to the consternation of the international community. Many saw it as an exercise in holocaust revisionism.
Also popular in the Tribune’s pages were other hatemongers such as Daniel Pipes, Mordechai Kedar, who essentially advocated the raping of Palestinian women, and Geert Wilders, who has called for banning the Quran and mosques.
Collaboration with the Jewish Defense League
On no less than fifteen occasions, the Tribune opened its pages to the JDL. Terrorist Meir Kahane founded the JDL in the summer of 1968 as a fascist alternative to mainstream Zionism. At the heart of Kahane’s vision was a theocratic state cleansed of Arabs. Kahane, who compared Arabs to dogs, famously stated that Palestinians could leave Israel and the occupied territories “alive or dead.”
The November 23, 2006 issue of the Tribune declared, “The JDL is Back in Business,” lauding Meir Weinstein’s reformation of the extremist group after nearly a decade in hibernation. In that interview, Weinstein boasted that “militant Arabs” dared not interrupt his planned meeting as the JDL had visited “a beating” on them only weeks earlier. The article also featured local Rabbi Moshe Stern who is quoted as saying, “[Meir Kahane] had a deep love for every Jew, but that love wasn’t returned by the Jewish establishment … He had to stand up and fight other Jews who didn’t understand the depth of his commitment.”
A July 24, 2008, the Tribune favorably reviewed a biography of Kahane, commenting that his life story contained “passion, knowledge, zealotry, leadership, charisma, commitment, challenge, prison, confrontation and tragic end…” Not a word was mentioned of the people he had killed or the reign of terror he continues to inspire around the world.
The October 30, 2014 issue announced: “JDL Sees Upswing in Interest, Calls for Security Services.” The article reads, “The JDL intends to expose and confront [BDS] groups and will continue to share information about threats to national security with police agencies in Canada while offering protection services to the Jewish community.”
The November 6, 2014, issue cheered on the JDL’s disruption of a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) student meeting at University of Toronto, quoting Weinstein “[Campus security] were physically going to throw people out and one person was thrown around a bit. We put an end to that.” The November 27, 2014 issue applauded the JDL’s assault on Palestine House in Mississauga: “Several members of the JDL wore black balaclavas and Weinstein, who discussed in advance with Peel Regional Police, said it was done for security reasons because they didn’t want their pictures taken by Palestine House members who support Hamas.”
The public is entitled to know that BBC openly collaborated with a fascist organization from 2006 to 2015. The word “collaboration” is used because the JDL message was transmitted to the public without editorial comment or qualification of any kind. The Tribune was, therefore, not only a vehicle for hard-right Islamophobia but also JDL fascism.
Smear Campaigns: B’nai Brith Canada changes tack
In September 2014, Frank Dimant retired after thirty-six years at BBC’s helm and handed over the reins to three-time failed Conservative party candidate Michael Mostyn. Mostyn inherited an organization fraught with financial problems. Assets were sold off, and the print edition of the Tribune was closed with the BBC moving its publishing online.
Mostyn’s leadership also brought a change in tack. It meant a move away from the overt Islamophobia of the past and a commitment to a more aggressive targeting of Palestinians and their allies in the movement. No more would BBC promote hatemongers like the JDL, Daniel Pipes, Pamela Geller, Charles McVety, or John Hagee. Instead, it utilized more subtly racist language and outright attacks on Palestine solidarity activists.
Beginning in 2016, BBC launched attacks against any person or organization who had the temerity to suggest that Palestinians ought to be afforded the same fundamental rights as Jews in historic Palestine. In this barrage, no one is spared. A partial list of the targets of this ongoing smear campaign is below:
- Roger Watersmusician (2016)
- Nadia Shoufani, Mississauga teacher (2016)
- Dimitri Lascaris, lawyer and activist (2016)
- Ali Mallah, union activist (2016)
- Ayman Elkasraw, (2017)
- Students for Justice in Palestine, (UOIT)(2017)
- Nikki Ashton, (MP – Churchill – Keewatinook Aski)(2017)
- York Federation of Students, (YFS)
- University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, (UTMSU)(2017)
- Amir Khadir, Quebec politician
- Naim Ateek, Palestinian priest (2017)
- Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (2017)
- Amin El-Maoued, (2018)
- Sheikh Shafiq Hudda, Waterloo Imam (2018)
- Canadian Union of Postal Workers, (CUPW) (2018)
- Hassan Guillet, Montreal imam, (2019)
- Rana Zaman, Halifax community activist (2019)
- SAIA York, (2019)
- Joel Harden, MPP (2019)(2020)
- Foodbenders, restaurant (2020)
- Nabil Nasser, (2020)
- Faisal Bhabha, lawyer and law professor (2020)
- Arab Palestine Association of Ontario,(2020)
- Palestine House, (2020)
- Valentina Azarova, international law expert (2020)
- Charlie Angus, (MP – Timmins-James Bay)
- Leah Gazan, (MP – Winnipeg Centre)(2021)
- Javier Davila, educator (2021)
- Nahla Abdo, Ottawa sociology professor (2021)
- Khaled Barakat, Palestinian activist (2022).
- YRDSB, (2022)
- Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, (McGill) (2022)
- Al Quds Committee, (2022)
Case Study: Javier Davila
In the spring of 2021, the world’s attention was focused on the evictions Israel was carrying out against Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and, later, the brutal air assault on residential neighborhoods in Gaza. In the fighting that ensued, 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed. In Israel, 13 people were killed.
Predictably BBC, as a “staunch defender of Israel,” entered the fray to run interference for the apartheid state. Their target? Toronto District School Board Student Equity Advisor Javier Davila.
A big part of Davila’s job is curating resources for use by interested teachers in the TDSB. Since Israel/Palestine was grabbing the headlines, Davila provided two sets of resources related to the issue dated May 16 and May 19, 2021.
The controversy sparked on May 22, 2021, when far-right reporter Sue-Ann Levy wrote an article calling for Davila to be fired for providing the mailouts. In response, the TDSB put Davila on home assignment pending an investigation. On July 14, 2021, the TDSB reinstated Davila without discipline or sanction of any kind.
For anyone watching, it was evident BBC was prepared to throw the entire playbook at Davila.
The first and second steps of BBC’s strategy involve attempts at both character assassination and destruction of career prospects:
On a May 22, 2021, Facebook post, BBC wrote that by employing him, the TDSB was “directly fanning the flames of Jew hatred in Canada by distributing such materials” and must “unequivocally apologize to the Jewish community and dismiss Mr. Davila from employment. A full investigation should also ensure…no one who distributes antisemitic material like this should work for a school board in Canada.”
On May 25, 2021, the BBC tweeted, “There is no doubt that Mr. Davila promoted materials written by and glorifying terrorists
When it became clear that the smear alone was not going to get Davila fired, BBC declared on July 16, 2021: “B’nai Brith Outraged by Impunity over Openly Pro-Terrorism School Emails” and later, “B’nai Brith is not giving up in its campaign for consequences after Javier Davila, … shared material glorifying terrorists and justifying the murder of Israelis.”
Next, on August 9, 2021, BBC filed a complaint with the Ontario College of Teachers, hoping to get Davila’s teaching license revoked. They alleged he distributed “antisemitic materials and incite[d] to genocide and hatred… failed to maintain the standards of the profession … and “spread dangerous hateful antisemitic ideologies.”
The third step was to try and bring the full weight of the criminal injustice system down on Davila. On October 26, 2021, BBC filed a “Willful Promotion of Hatred” complaint with the Toronto Police Service, alleging Davila carried out his duties contrary to s. 319(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada. The police have since closed the file on the outlandish claims.
BBC’s attempt at a public lynching of a beloved teacher shows the lengths they will go to protect an increasingly isolated apartheid state. Davila has since filed suit against BBC and Mostyn for defamation in the Ontario Superior Court.
A purveyor of anti-Palestinian racism
The Arab-Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA) recently published a report in which they defined anti-Palestinian racism (APR). The ACLA report describes APR as “a form of racism that silences, excludes, erases, stereotypes, defames or dehumanizes Palestinians or their narratives.” This perfectly encapsulates BBC’s orientation towards Palestinians over the years in question. Given the evidence on record, BBC qualifies as a hate organization in every sense of the word.
Never short of chutzpah, BBC recently appeared before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Human Rights on February 13, 2023. Mostyn spent his allotted time attacking Professor Zine for having the audacity to suggest that BBC is a phony human rights organization whose primary focus is sowing racial division in the service of the State of Israel.
For BBC, the mask has started to slip.
Stephen Ellis is an activist and lawyer with The Legal Centre for Palestine