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January 7, 2020 5:02 pm

University of Toronto Union Condemned for Targeting Jewish Progressive, Calling Jewish Groups ‘Foreign’ Agents

avatar by Shiri Moshe

The University of Toronto’s St. George campus. Photo: The City of Toronto / CC BY 2.0.

A Canadian Jewish civil rights group is calling out a labor union at the University of Toronto over a series of “anti-Israel and antisemitic tweets,” following recent comments targeting a Jewish Twitter user and past accusations that Canadian Jewish groups were foreign agents.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (CUPE 3902) represents some 9,500 contract academic workers at U of T, including teaching assistants, student and postdoctoral course instructors, and sessional lecturers, among others. It operates under the umbrella of CUPE, Canada’s largest labor union.

On Friday, the union’s official Twitter page replied to a Jewish user who criticized a statement by Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), on the recent killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, by writing, “Looks like @theJagmeetSingh’s recent rejection of the #BDS movement is paying dividends with the zionists!”

The tweet referred to comments made by Singh last month at a round-table with Canadian Jews, when he noted that BDS “is not the path to peace” and “has perhaps the opposite effect in creating more tensions, more division.”

After the Jewish Twitter user, Brian Appel, responded by expressing concern over Singh’s foreign policy, the union claimed Appel was advocating for “a more murder-based approach to promoting peace in the Middle East.”

The two tweets feed into a pattern of “hair-raising statements” issued by CUPE 3902, B’nai Brith Canada suggested.

In July, the union called B’nai Brith — a Canadian Jewish group — “a front organisation for the Israeli apartheid state,” and suggested that it was guilty of “foreign interference in Canadian affairs.”

In a tweet earlier that day, CUPE 3902 urged lawmakers to call out the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, “and other agents working to interfere with Canadian politics at the behest of the Israeli state #BDS”

Both CIJA and CJPAC are Canadian Jewish organizations. The Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group seeks to boost cooperation and understanding between Canadian and Israeli lawmakers. Similar parliamentary groups exist in Ireland, Germany and Italy.

BDS refers to the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that aims to isolate Israel internationally until it accedes to Palestinian demands. Critics say the Palestinian-led campaign, which was adopted by CUPE 3902 in 2015, denies the Jewish people’s history and right to self-determination, and frequently advances antisemitic tropes.

According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which was adopted by the Canadian government as part of a new anti-racism strategy in June, accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their own countries is antisemitic.

CUPE 3902 has also attracted criticism over its offline activities, including when it hosted an event in September featuring Issam Al Yamani, who in 2005 was ordered deported from Canada for having been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP is blacklisted by the Canadian government for carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel, including multiple suicide bombings targeting civilians.

“The antisemitic canard that Canadian Jews are agents of Israel who support ‘murder’ has no place in Canadian politics or the Canadian labour movement,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement on Sunday. “CUPE leadership must speak out against this rising tide of bigotry, which threatens to overwhelm the Canadian left just as it devastated the UK Labour Party in that country’s recent election.”

The group said it has written to CUPE 3902, the U of T, and CUPE national leadership “to demand an apology for the antisemitic tweets.”

A spokesperson for CUPE national directed The Algemeiner to CUPE 3902 when asked for comment, while the chairperson of the local union did not respond to an inquiry by press time.

A spokesperson for U of T said in a statement to The Algemeiner that CUPE 3902 “is an autonomous organization and acts independently from the University of Toronto.”

“The views expressed do not reflect the views of the university,” the spokesperson added, pointing to a 2016 statement on antisemitism and racism issued by university leadership that reiterated the school’s commitment to “values of diversity, inclusion, respect, and civility.”

Appel, the Twitter user who CUPE 3902 responded to on Friday, observed that the union’s comments were “disappointing but sadly not a surprise.”

“I have had enough of this enabled, institutionalized antisemitism that has been apparent in many trade unions, to be frank; bigotry has no place in public bodies, especially ones who receive funding from government,” he said in a statement to The Algemeiner.

“There has to be room for progressive Jews like me in CUPE, the NDP and the wider Canadian Left; comments by CUPE alleging that Jews ‘interfere’ in Canadian politics and support ‘murder-based’ policy are risking injecting antisemitism into the Canadian Left,” he added. “CUPE 3902 and the NDP should learn from what happened to the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and ensure it doesn’t happen here.”

Appel said he was affiliated with NDP for 20 years but ended his membership last month over concerns that the party “has an issue with institutional antisemitism that they seem unwilling or unable to confront with more than simply words.”

At his recent round-table, NDP leader Singh said he wanted “to have a very strong relationship with the Jewish community,” and indicated that he wanted his party to be a welcoming space both for Zionists and those who believe in Palestinian self-determination.

Yet the party has drawn concern in the Jewish community over its perceived tolerance of BDS and for running candidates that have been involved in anti-Zionist activism, including Miranda Gallo, who was recorded affixing BDS stickers to Israeli products in a store.

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