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Group claims it was excluded from Ontario anti-racism committee

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The Ontario legislature in Toronto. BENSON KUA PHOTO

Claims that a Jewish organization was excluded from an anti-racism committee in Ontario because of the group’s views, are being disputed.

The United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO) suggested that it was denied a place on the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate’s anti-Semitism subcommittee because of its stance on Israel, Palestinians and anti-Semitism.

UJPO says it was told that the committee on anti-Semitism was full. But its director went on to speculate that the real reason for its exclusion was because the government gave priority to “mainstream” Jewish organizations, which “dangerously conflate criticism of Israel’s government and anti-Semitism.”

“Equating the two has become a powerful device to silence alternative Jewish voices, which, in the long term, could negatively affect the crucial work of this committee,” wrote UJPO executive director Rachel Epstein in a Nov. 28 article in NOW magazine.

After UJPO applied for subcommittee membership, the directorate wrote to the group, saying that the “minister’s consultation group” and the sub-committee on anti-Semitism “have been established.… Should future opportunities arise, we look forward to exploring how we may work with you and your organization.”

In an email to The CJN, Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate spokesperson Mashoka Maimona said narrowing the pool on the anti-Semitism subcommittee was “difficult, as Ontario is home to a variety of individuals and organizations with deep-seated interest and expertise in combating anti-Semitism.”

READ: ONTARIO’S NDP TAKES STAND AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM

Those selected were chosen “to ensure a representation of a wide and diverse range of personal, educational and professional experiences,” Maimona continued.

The subcommittee has representatives from B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. It also includes human rights consultant Karen Mock, Len Rudner, formerly of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Bernie Farber, former director of the Mosaic Institute.

Farber, one of two co-chairs of the subcommittee, said it was his understanding that the body had a full complement of individuals and organizations with frontline experience battling anti-Semitism.

“Not everybody who asked was appointed,” said Farber. “You can’t appoint everybody.”

Farber said UJPO’s membership never came up at subcommittee meetings.

In her article, Epstein wondered how the government body would count anti-Semitic hate crimes.

‘All Jews do not unquestioningly support the policies and actions of the Israeli state.’

“Will the tally include campus and other groups that oppose the Israeli state’s actions against Palestinians?” Epstein asked. “How will the committee differentiate between acts grounded in hatred of Jews and those grounded in criticisms of Israel’s government? The two are not the same.

“All Jews do not unquestioningly support the policies and actions of the Israeli state,” she went on. “The assumption that we do, ignores the many races, geographies, experiences and political viewpoints that exist among Jews.”

She said her views on Israel and support for Palestinian rights make her “no less Jewish and no less vulnerable to anti-Semitism.”

Epstein told The CJN that initially, the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate seemed open to UJPO’s membership on the anti-Semitism subcommittee.

“That openness turned into a chill. I can only presume that was because of what we stand for on Israel, Palestine and how critiquing Israel is equated with anti-Semitism,” she said.

She said the Jewish community is “much more diverse” than the representation on the subcommittee.

UJPO – which describes itself as secular, non-partisan and “socialist-oriented” – was founded in the 1920s and has been closely identified with left-wing causes.

The Anti-Racism Directorate was established in February 2016 “to eliminate systemic racism in government policies, decisions and programs,” according to a government website.

The government envisions a three-year “anti-racism strategic plan.” Ontario passed its Anti-Racism Act on June 1.

The directorate is composed of four subcommittees studying hatred directed toward blacks, indigenous peoples, Muslims and Jews.