Ten years ago, as Omar Alghabra and his supporters celebrated his election victory in Mississauga-Erindale, someone on the noisy stage uttered the phrase, “This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam won!… Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics.”
In the chaotic aftermath of his election victory, the boast was heard by some of the people nearby, but not by others.
The incident was reported in a local Mississauga newspaper and picked up abroad by U.S. academic Daniel Pipes, who cautioned about Islamists who support the imposition of sharia law coming close to the levers of power. Relying on reports from Canada, Pipes later ran updates saying it was unclear who actually uttered the Islamic supremacist statement. Alghabra has denied ever saying it, and it has been attributed to Khalid Usman, a Liberal party member and Alghabra’s supporter.
During the recent election campaign, that incident, along with several others that purported to show Alghabra’s support for an Islamist agenda, were promoted in a mass email by Media Action Group, an organization that opposes anti-Semitism. The email referenced a report on the website of Terrorism and Security Experts of Canada (TSEC), which was headlined, “Has the Liberal Party been infiltrated by extremist candidates?” The article referred specifically to Alghabra, who headed the Canadian Arab Federation from 2004 to 2005, and to several others, none of them as prominent as the MP from Mississauga.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), told The CJN earlier this month that the TSEC report relies on “guilt by association,” but he noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been “unequivocal in his support for Israel.”
“Like in all political parties, there exists within the Liberal caucus a diverse range of opinions and perspectives,” Fogel added Dec. 16. “Regardless of personal views, all caucus members are expected to follow and uphold government policy. Mr. Alghabra is no exception. When we met with him last week, he reaffirmed his support for Canada’s Middle East policy.”
University of Toronto political science Prof. Nelson Wiseman called the TSEC report about the purported infiltration of the Liberal party by Islamists replete with innuendo and guilt by association.
“It reminded me of websites that claim that Jews are taking over Canada,” he said.
“There’s very little evidence of extremism here. There’s a lot of innuendo,” he added.
A different perspective was offered by David Harris, director of the terrorist intelligence program of INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc. in Ottawa, and formerly chief of strategic planning at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
On the question of Islamic influence and infiltration of the Liberal party, he said, “very senior people in the Liberal party in the past have expressed serious concern on the extent to which certain individuals – Islamist elements, among other interests – may have gained access to the party.”
With Alghabra’s appointment recently as parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs for consular affairs, allegations about his agenda have resurfaced. Ezra Levant of The Rebel, a right-wing, web-based news and commentary site, and formerly of Sun TV news, questioned what Alghabra’s influence could be on the vetting of Syrian refugees, Canada’s position on normalizing relations with Iran and on its position on Israel.
Alghabra did not respond to a request for an interview by The CJN’s press time.
However, Howard Adelman, a retired York University philosophy professor, reviewed Alghabra’s record and concluded not all of the allegations were supported by credible or convincing evidence.
So what exactly is Alghabra accused of?
His critics say he’s made several statements over the years that cause concern, such as condemning CanWest newspapers for labelling Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations. In a 2006 interview with B’nai Brith’s Jewish Tribune newspaper, he declined to condemn suicide bombers; he said he didn’t believe Hamas was dedicated to Israel’s destruction; and he claimed UN Resolution 242 required Israeli withdrawal from all captured territories, which the clause itself leaves indeterminate, and that he’d criticized Toronto’s police chief for taking part in a charity walk for Israel. He also said he mourned the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. And when Ontario declined to permit the use of sharia law in Ontario, Alghabra said he was disappointed.
Recently on TheRebel.ca, Levant devoted considerable time to reviewing Alghabra’s problematic statements, including one in 2014 in which he posted a critique on Facebook of Israel’s “blind and cruel” bombing in Gaza. Alghabra later modified the statement to criticize the killing of all civilians, but not before the Conservative party used that quote in campaign material to contrast it with their position of standing with Israel.
In Adelman’s estimation, “the accusations against Omar Alghabra concerning sharia law prove to be even more of a tempest in a teapot without even being able to find any tea leaves.”
Adelman did find grounds for concern that the CAF had denounced use of the word terrorist to describe the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades. (Years after Alghabra left the CAF, it lost federal funding over its support of terror groups, with a Federal Court judge writing, “All of the [CAF] statements and actions raised by the [then-immigration minister Jason Kenney] can, in my view, reasonably lead one to the view that CAF appears to support organizations that Canada has declared to be terrorist organizations and which are arguably anti-Semitic.”)
As for whether Alghabra is a “closet Islamist crusader? I just don’t know. He could be an incrementalist on behalf of Islam, secretly moving into a position of political authority. I have no evidence to exonerate him from such a charge. But I have plenty of evidence to insist he be taken as innocent until solid evidence is offered to come to such a conclusion.”
This story has been edited from the original for clarity and to include additional information.