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Concerns raised over video of argument in Toronto park

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North York Park video: A screenshot of Firas al-Najim from the video.

B’nai Brith Canada has filed a police complaint against a man who it says can be seen harassing a Jewish resident of north Toronto and making “anti-Semitic” remarks in an online video.

On July 14, the Toronto-based non-profit Canadian Defenders for Human Rights (CD4HR) uploaded a video to its Facebook page that depicts an argument between Firas al-Najim, a co-manager of CD4HR, and an unidentified man in a North York park. Al-Najim was waving a Palestinian flag and the unidentified man was wearing a hat sporting the logo of an IDF unit.

According to B’nai Brith, other similar incidents have been reported in the area, although this was the first one to be recorded.

The video begins with al-Najim saying that he is not Palestinian, and then asking the man about his hat. Al-Najim asks if the man used to work for the unit whose logo is on his hat, and the man confirms that he did.

“That’s criminal activity,” says al-Najim. “Those prophets that came to bring peace and love and harmony and respect of other people, do you think Moses evicted people, kicked them out, told them, ‘This is not your land, we’re coming here to take over?’ Do you honestly think, principally-wise, that Moses would accept this? Or you just want to have a homeland?”

“Do you believe you can achieve what you need to by killing? Is that the answer?” the man in the hat asks.

“No, no, but resistance has to happen. If somebody kills me and takes over my land, I’ve got to resist and fight,” al-Najim says.

The two men continue to argue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a few more minutes. At one point, the man in the hat asks about a suicide bomber who killed 51 people in 2004 at a Haifa restaurant that was jointly owned by Jews and Arabs, adding that his wife died in the blast and asking how al-Najim would feel. Al-Najim responds by saying that he denounces Arabs who “bow down to the Zionist state and recognize it.”

When the man in the hat leaves, al-Najim turns to the camera and says that people who support Israel are “supporting war crimes just for a little bit of worldly benefits, just so they can feel like we are together, we are living, we can practice our faith.” He then addresses the “Zionists” in the North York, saying that “nobody comes here and starts claiming this country as if it’s occupied Palestine and calling it now Israel.”

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In an email to the CJN, Ran Ukashi, the national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, said the incident is problematic because al-Najim makes the man in the hat “deeply uncomfortable,” as he “berates him and repeatedly talks over him.” Ukashi also said that al-Najim’s speech at the end of the video was anti-Semitic.

“Al-Najim’s remarks are anti-Semitic in that he falsely accuses Jews of trying to dominate or take over North York, which he characterizes as a nefarious act. Doing so is likely to expose Jews, especially in North York, to hatred or disdain, and plays upon classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews seeking to dominate society,” said Ukashi.

Ukashi added that even if the man in the hat approached al-Najim first, as the description of the CD4HR video says, al-Najim’s speech at the end is cause for concern. Ukashi also told The CJN that the people who made earlier complaints to B’nai Brith about similar encounters said they did not instigate the interactions. He said it is “inappropriate” to approach people based on their perceived ethnicity or religion, in order to engage them in a conversation they don’t want to have, as it may impede residents’ ability to enjoy the park undisturbed.

“B’nai Brith welcomes civil, informed discussions about the conflict, as do many members of the Jewish community. However, it is unlikely that many Jews will want to engage in any discussion which begins with one side accusing the other of being criminals collectively, as al-Najim and his organization describe Zionists in general as criminals,” said Ukashi.

CD4HR has not responded to The CJN’s request for comment.

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