Outspoken Muslim activist Rana Zaman was given a human rights award in early December by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, which was later rescinded for online comments she made in the past that were deemed to be anti-Semitic and hateful.
A firestorm of controversy has ensued between her proponents and those opposed to her posts, in which she criticized Israel and compared the Jewish homeland to Nazi Germany.
Last summer, Zaman was chosen to be the federal NDP candidate in the riding of Dartmouth–Cole Harbour. When the posts, for which she later apologized, came to light, Zaman was dropped by the party.
When the Human Rights Commission award was announced, her comments were dredged up again and the commission quickly rescinded the award, saying her remarks were contrary to the principles of the award.
In a press release, the commission stated that, “The volunteer selection committee (for the award) made the decision based on information that was submitted. It was unaware of public statements made by Zaman that were directly contrary to the principles of the award.”
The Atlantic Jewish Council raised objections to Zaman receiving the award, soon after it was announced. In addition, two Halifax rabbis, Rabbi Yakov Kerzner of Beth Israel Synagogue and Rabbi Gary Karlin of Shaar Shalom Congregation, co-wrote a letter to the editor of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, in which they condemened Zaman’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany and recommended the award be rescinded, which it was soon after.
Zaman arrived in Nova Scotia from Pakistan in the 1970s at a young age and has been lauded for her volunteer work in her community. She’s volunteered with refugee and women’s support groups.
Rabbi Kerzner told the Chronicle Herald that he commends Zaman for the good work she does, but believes that winning an award such as this does not set a good precedent. He praised the commission for “seeing the benefit of searching for models of behaviour that promote good will and fellowship, rather than seeking divisiveness. We must fight all forms of racism and bigotry and remove hateful propaganda, which only helps promote divisions, rather than heal them.”
Zaman wants to meet with the Atlantic Jewish Council to address its concerns and help heal any pain she caused.
Naomi Rosenfeld, the executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council, told The CJN that, “Our door is always open. Zaman and I spoke last summer after the original remarks came to light and I let her know what we felt was inappropriate and what our definition of anti-Semitism is. We will certainly be willing to speak again in good faith.”
Despite protests from Zaman’s supporters, a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission spokesperson said the commission is not considering giving the award back to her.