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September 14, 2017 3:55 pm

Canadian Officials Blasted Over Taxpayer-Funded Talk Demonizing Israel at MacEwan University

avatar by Shiri Moshe

The MacEwan University campus. Photo: MacEwan University.

A prominent Canadian Jewish group on Wednesday denounced a government-sponsored conference held at MacEwan University featuring a speaker who endorsed anti-Israel boycotts and promoted the work of a radical activist accused of antisemitism.

The Ignite Change 2017 conference — organized by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights — took place from August 21-25 with the support of sponsors including the city of Edmonton, the province of Alberta, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the University of Alberta International, according to the event’s organizers. The John Humphrey Centre receives funding from the Canadian government.

In an August 22nd workshop titled “Intersection of Advocacy,” John Humphrey board member Ranya El-Sharkawi “strongly endorsed” the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel, said B’nai Brith Canada, which obtained a recording of the event.

El-Sharkawi also argued that antisemitism was “a term that’s not really liked” in academia, “because when you go to the root of the term, ‘semite’ refers to Arabs and Jews, so the whole concept of antisemitism is problematic, since it just means that you’re against your own ethnicity.”

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B’nai Brith noted that efforts to reject the term “antisemitism,” which was coined by German propagandist Wilhelm Marr in an effort to make Jew-hatred sound more scientific, were “often linked to attempts to excuse or promote hatred of Jews.”

Speaking about foreign volunteers in the Palestinian territories, El-Sharkawi said that while they are “non-violent, they say very clearly that they do not have the right to dictate how Palestinians resist, whether that’s violent or non-violent.” B’nai Brith observed that over 3,500 Israelis have been killed since 1948 due to violent Palestinian “resistance,” often employed as a euphemism for terrorism.

El-Sharkawi further encouraged audience members to consult “alternative media sources,” including books such as The General’s Son by Miko Peled, which she called “a great read.” Peled, a self-described human rights activist, has previously tweeted that Jews are reputed to be “sleazy thieves” and called Israel “an illegitimate creation brought about by a union between racism and colonialism.” The former claim led the notoriously anti-Zionist group Students for Justice in Palestine to cancel his talk at Princeton University in 2016.

B’nai Brith Canada told The Algemeiner on Thursday it had reached out to MacEwan University and the University of Alberta “to express our concerns about this event. Unfortunately, virulently anti-Israel events of this nature do occur on Canadian campuses.”

“What we find especially concerning is the government sponsorship of this event,” B’nai Brith added. The group noted that in a letter sent last week, Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry declined to condemn El-Sharkawi’s comments on behalf of her organization, while the John Humphrey Centre said it would not release a response until next week.

“Although we doubt that the various government bodies were aware in advance, once B’nai Brith raised it to their attention they should have immediately taken action,” the advocacy group said.

“It is particularly absurd to see the Government of Alberta and the Canadian Human Rights Commission funding a speech that contained a violation of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which specifically forbids endorsements of discrimination based on ancestry or place of origin — of which BDS is a prime example,” B’nai Brith added.

Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement on Wednesday that the “complete failure” by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson to denounce El-Sharkawi’s remarks was “shameful.”

“Public dollars should not be wasted on propaganda that is both blatantly false and contrary to provincial law,” he continued. “Both the City and the Province owe the Alberta Jewish community an apology.”

Mostyn also denounced “the complicity” of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in the event, noting that “last year was the worst on record for antisemitism in Canada, and the [commission] is supposed to be combating the phenomenon, not fanning the flames by funding events where the very problem of antisemitism is denied.”

B’nai Brith has also launched a petition calling on Canadian officials to apologize for their complicity in El-Sharkawi’s speech, and demanding her removal or resignation.

Portions of El-Sharkawi’s remarks can be heard in the video below:

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