The Liberal party is standing by Montreal-area candidate Sameer Zuberi, whom the Conservatives said should have been disqualified because of his “anti-Semitic past” and having “promoted conspiracy theories” about 9/11.
When asked for a comment, a Liberal party spokesperson said Zuberi “will be a strong voice for the riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard,” and dismissed the Conservatives’ concerns as “a clear attempt by Andrew Scheer to distract from the discriminatory comments that Conservative candidates have made.”
Zuberi is calling the accusations “blatantly false” and an attempt by the Conservatives to deflect attention from their candidates with “ties to far-right extremism and white supremacy.”
He describes himself as a “bridge builder” who was twice invited by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel to take part in an interfaith fellowship program.
In a press release issued Sept. 14, the day before the nomination meeting in a likely safe Liberal riding, the Conservatives attacked Zuberi as “a radical activist.” It charges that his bid is “part of a larger trend of festering anti-Semitism within the ranks” of the Liberal party.
Without providing any evidence, the Conservatives described Zuberi as Justin Trudeau’s “preferred” candidate in the hotly contested nomination. They also allege that he “targeted” Jewish students when he was a Concordia University student leader in the early 2000s.
The Tories pointed to coverage of the controversy that surrounded the undergraduate Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) suspension of Hillel as a member club in December 2002. The CSU claimed Hillel’s distribution of Israel Defence Forces recruitment pamphlets and other materials equating Palestinian suicide bombers with the Ku Klux Klan violated CSU policy.
At the time, Zuberi was the CSU vice-president for finance. But according to the Conservatives, “he helped lead the charge” against the Jewish student group, which launched a civil suit against the CSU and eventually lost.
These were the heated months following the riot against Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech at Concordia earlier that year.
With respect to 9/11, the Conservatives unearthed a May 3, 2011, Facebook post by Zuberi, made after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, in which he allegedly wrote: “With respect to BL (bin Laden) masterminding 9/11, although this is still a matter of public debate, I think that we need to be careful before subscribing to theories simply because they validate our positions.”
Zuberi was in a close race among six contenders for the Pierrefonds-Dollard nomination, the results of which were only confirmed after a recount. The West End suburban riding was open after Liberal MP Frank Baylis decided not to run again. Its multicultural population includes a significant Jewish community.
Immediately after the Conservatives’ Sept. 14 release, Zuberi “set the record straight” on his Facebook page.
“It obviously is and has always been clear to me that Osama bin Laden was the perpetrator of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. I have gone on the record dozens of times to condemn terrorism, and the despicable Sept. 11 attacks. I penned a letter that was published on May 3, 2011, in both the Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette, the day after the killing of bin Laden, stating that ‘the death of Osama bin Laden is a welcomed event.’ ”
As for his time in Concordia’s student government, Zuberi said that, “I always carried out my duties faithfully, in accordance with the votes taken by the Concordia Student Union, even when I personally disagreed with them.
“I was not a voting member on the student union. I always called for calm, due process and respectful dialogue, even in difficult circumstances. In the 17 years that since I left the student union, I have continued to strengthen my work with all religious communities.”
Being born in a mixed-race and multi-religious family with Jews, Christians and Muslims, I have always sought to build bridges.
– Sameer Zuberi
He continues: “Being born in a mixed-race and multi-religious family with Jews, Christians and Muslims, I have always sought to build bridges. This is how I conduct myself privately and publicly, and is the backbone of who I am.…
“In my advocacy against discrimination, I have worked with all faith communities in order to respond to the rise of far-right extremism.”
He includes a comment from Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, who said: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sameer for some time. He is a good friend, who is sensitive to the concerns of the Jewish community and is deeply dedicated to interfaith dialogue.”
Zuberi, 40, who holds degrees in mathematics and law, formerly served as the diversity and engagement officer in McGill University’s faculty of medicine and was a member of the university’s senate. He also served in the Canadian Armed Forces reserves.
In 2013, he was the unsuccessful Projet Montréal candidate in the Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough in the municipal election.
He was a board member of the Canadian Muslim Forum and advocated against Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21. He was previously associated with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, which is now known as the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
His website says that his mother is a third-generation Canadian of Scottish-Italian heritage and his father came to this country from South Asia in the 1970s.
Zuberi’s Conservative challenger, Mariam Ishak, had some of her campaign posters defaced with swastikas. An Egyptian-born Coptic Christian, Ishak filed a police complaint and stated that “no candidate from any party should be a target of hate messages of any kind in Canada and especially not of such a hateful nature.”