Two NDP hopefuls found themselves in hot water this week after old social media comments surfaced that critics said exposed the candidates’ ignorance of Jewish issues.
Stefan Jonasson, who was running in Winnipeg’s Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia–Headingley riding, reluctantly resigned Sept. 24 after the True North Times, a satirical website that promised to expose controversial comments by nine politicians in nine days, dug up a three-year-old Facebook post in which he accused haredi Jews of offering “a toxic caricature of faith at odds with the spirit of the religious tradition they profess to represent.” He added that they mistreat women and compared them to the Taliban and other extremists.
Following his resignation, Jonasson posted a message on Facebook that criticized True North Times and defended his post on haredim.
“A model of gutter journalism, this blog ridiculed some of my past social media posts and sought to create the false impression that I had offered a general indictment of Jewish people when, in fact, I was criticizing the misogynistic behaviour of a particular group of dogmatic believers,” he wrote.
“I stand by my criticism of those who oppress women in the name of religion, and I’m disappointed that my party chooses not to stand with me.”
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair issued a brief comment about Jonasson’s resignation, saying that Jonasson “clearly recognized that he had said something totally inappropriate and has withdrawn, and that’s enough.”
Earlier this week, True North Times revealed that Alex Johnstone, the NDP candidate for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, made a penis joke in 2008 in a comment about a friend’s Facebook picture, taken at the Auschwitz concentration camp museum, that featured an electric fence and its curved concrete supports.
“Ahhh, the infamous Pollish [sic], phallic, hydro posts,” her comment read. “Of course you took pictures of this! It expresses how the curve is normal, natural, and healthy right!”
In an interview with the Hamilton Spectator, Johnstone, who is a Hamilton school trustee and vice chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, claimed ignorance. “Well, I didn’t know what Auschwitz was, or I didn’t up until today,” she said.
Johnstone has apologized for the post, saying, “While never intending any malice, this comment was clearly inappropriate. I would like to offer my unreserved apology.”
She also reached out to Jewish groups, including B’nai Brith Canada.
Michael Mosytn, B’nai Brith’s CEO, said when he spoke with her, she said “she was deeply troubled by the unwanted media attention and did not feel that public characterizations accurately reflected who she is as an individual… She committed, win or lose, to work with our B’nai Brith experts to further her personal knowledge of the Holocaust.”
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said his organization has yet to be approached by Johnstone, but he invited her to take part in an educational trip for Canadian leaders to Auschwitz next month.
“It made sense for me to invite her and give her the opportunity to learn about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. She has not responded,” he said.
Regarding Jonasson’s remarks about haredim and the Taliban, Benlolo said they were “horrific.”
“Clearly, he doesn’t understand the Taliban and the haredim, and the differences between the two groups. The Taliban is notorious for killing people in soccer stadiums and shooting women in the head. Comparing the Taliban to religious Jews is wrong and very disturbing, and shows he is quite ignorant.”
Mostyn said Jonasson’s comments are offensive and factually incorrect. “The fact he even believes that haredi Jews are one homogenous group shows his absolute ignorance of the Jewish world… We applaud the NDP for pulling Mr. Jonasson’s candidacy for these offensive views.”
Benlolo chose not to reflect on whether Jonasson’s resignation was necessary. “It’s not my position to dictate whether political candidates should resign. I think people have to do the right thing, and the parties themselves have to decide who they want to have inside their parties as reflective of themselves.”