WINDSOR – A local publisher of an Arabic language newspaper has been suspended on unpaid leave from the Windsor multicultural council for allegedly calling for violent jihad against Israel.
The issue was brought to light by B’nai Brith Canada, which received a tip on its anti-hate hotline about Mohamad Hisham Khalifeh, founder and publisher of the Al Forqan newspaper.
Windsor police have also launched an investigation.
Khalifeh was working as a life skills coach with newly arrived immigrants, including Syrian refugees.
Kathleen Thomas, executive director of the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County, said Khalifeh was suspended once the charges appeared in local media. “We immediately took action and placed the individual under unpaid investigative suspension, until we conduct an investigation into the matter,” she said.
Khalifeh was nearing the end of a three-month contract as a life skills worker. Asked if he was associated with the council prior to the hiring, Thomas said “not as an employee.”
B’nai Brith has called for improved vetting of people working with newly arrived immigrants.
Michael Mostyn, CEO, B’nai Brith Canada, said the suspension is an “important first step,” but questioned the extent of vetting of people who work with immigrants.
“It does call certain matters into question,” he said. “And certainly the fact that this did miss their radar screen for whatever reason, whether through a lack of vetting or perhaps they just missed this one.” He urged the council to resubmit its staff and volunteers for improved screening.
But Thomas said Khalifeh was already vetted at the highest level of police checks, “and we do that on a normal basis.”
This vetting is known as the “police vulnerable sector check” and includes information related to convictions, outstanding warrants, charges, judicial orders and sexual offences “for which the individual has received a record suspension where authorized by the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.”
— Stewart Bell (@StewartBellNP) February 26, 2016
It does not include matters such as provincial statue convictions, “local police contact,” restraining orders, “foreign information,” and mental health incidents.
Asked if the multicultural council will step up its vetting, Thomas replied, “We’ve been doing work since 1973 and working in the resettlement process since 2001, and we’ve worked with many newcomers, so therefore we’ve always done our due diligence with regard to hiring and screening practices.”
Khalifeh’s editorial appears to defend the ongoing knife attacks against Israeli citizens as a form of jihad. It appears in Al Forqan’s October-November 2015 edition.
A translation is titled “The Duty of Jihad” and among other things, states that “the Palestinian teenager is [standing] alone wielding a knife in his hand, defending the honour and dignity of every Arab and every Muslim, and moreover every person. He [the Palestinian teenager] does not accept the injustice in the face of the Zionist usurper.” Also, “I’m asking Allah to give victory to the youths of Palestine and every freeman who does not accept injustice and shame.”
Khalifeh’s violent rhetoric allegedly appeared in more places, including an online video that shows rocket attacks on Israel accompanied by the poem: “Fire [at Israel], Fire because you are courageous, Fire because you are the typhoon, Show them your bravery, raise your head, show them the descendants of the [Caliph Omar] al-Mukhtar [conqueror of Jerusalem], Break your shackle, show your sword, destroy the siege imposed on you, Destroy the brutal Zion [Israel].”
Khalifeh allegedly also published incendiary remarks on his Facebook page, since removed, according to sources.
The Windsor Jewish Federation sent a letter to the Jewish community about Khalifeh. David Robins, the federation’s acting president, said his organization is “very concerned about this activity, because we believe it is anti-Semitic and may be a hate crime,” adding that “we believe the celebration of violence and jihad poses a threat to the security of Windsor residents and undermines the values that make our community safe and diverse.”
When contacted by The CJN, Khalifeh declined comment and referred to his statements in the Windsor Star, and said he was contacting a lawyer.
Khalifeh told the Star last week he was only defending Palestinians right to resist Israeli occupation, especially regarding resettlement, which the United Nations has condemned as illegal.
But he doesn’t take issue with his suspension at the multicultural council.
“They have the right to investigate,” he said. “But I believe I have been accused of something I did not do,” stating his words were misinterpreted by B’nai Brith. “My opinion was quoted in a wrong way.” However, he said he supports “all kinds of resistance.”
B’nai Brith’s Mostyn said it was “disturbing” that the comments did not come to anyone’s attention until after his organization raised it, long after the newspaper was published.
“This wasn’t reported to anybody, it wasn’t reported to authorities or anyone else in the community from the readership of that paper,” he said. “So these very, very foul views were basically hiding in plain sight.”
Asked if the statements should be prosecuted as a hate crime, Mostyn replied, “justice should take its course.”
He said the matter raises questions about the kind of training 25,000 Syrian refugees are receiving in Canada.
“Certainly we would like to see something across the board to ensure that the Syrian refugees that are coming to Canada are being provided proper messages of tolerance and freedom and multiculturalism that we would all expect.”
B’nai Brith has contacted the federal anti-racism and public safety ministers, Windsor police, and provincial community safety minister, urging full investigation.