Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce (CDN-NDG) councillor Jeremy Searle remains unapologetic for remarks he made about Jews at the April 4 borough meeting, which he directed at local Chabad Rabbi Yisroel Bernath.
“The only apology required is from the rabbi to the community he has maligned – his behaviour was disgraceful,” Searle told The CJN, which asked for his response to a joint statement condemning his comments issued April 13 by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), CDN-NDG borough Mayor Russell Copeman and Coun. Lionel Perez.
At the borough meeting, Searle charged that Rabbi Bernath and other Jewish councillors in favour of a proposed housing development on the site of the former St. Columba Church on Hingston Avenue were trying to instil “Jewish guilt” in opponents to the project, by suggesting they were motivated by anti-Semitism.
He said this amounted to accusing them of a hate crime.
The project would have seen the main church building demolished and seven townhouses built on the site, while the adjacent hall would be preserved. Chabad of NDG has been a rent-free tenant of the hall since September 2013, the year the property was bought by private developers from the Anglican diocese.
The borough council withdrew its support for the project at the April 4 meeting, citing the substantial local opposition. More than 220 area residents signed a registry opened by the borough on March 17, well above the 166 minimum required to force a referendum.
In their statement, Copeman and Perez, who is also a Montreal executive committee member, denounced Searle’s comments, saying they “disparaged Jewish elected officials and the broader Jewish community.” (Copeman and Perez are Jewish.)
CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko stated: “We commend [Copeman and Perez] for vigorously condemning offensive comments made about Jews…
“There is no place in municipal politics, or any other arena, for discriminatory and prejudiced speech as exhibited by Mr. Searle. His behaviour is utterly unbecoming of an elected official and goes against the very foundations of the liberal democracy in which we live.”
Searle, an independent councillor first elected to represent the Loyola district in 1994, pointed out to The CJN that his wife and children are Jewish.
He does not regret the way he expressed himself either. “I find it very sad that everyone talks about my choice of words when it was he [Rabbi Bernath] who was disgusting,” Searle said.
Rabbi Bernath said users of the Chabad centre have been the targets of “harassment, demonization and bigotry” over the past couple of years, and of generally unwarranted complaints about noise and other alleged nuisance caused to the neighbours.
Searle said that since the meeting, he has received “hate mail” from Concordia University students, which he will bring to the attention of police. Rabbi Bernath also serves Concordia’s Loyola campus.
Searle also lashed out at Copeman for “going along with [Rabbi Bernath] and failing to moderate the meeting. He should be deeply ashamed. Having become Jewish does not make him immune to doing what is right.”
Copeman is a convert to Judaism, a fact he cited at that meeting.