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November 3, 2020 4:08 pm

Toronto Officials Pursuing Charges Against Local Business Accused of Antisemitism

avatar by Jon Victor

A view of the Toronto area, which is home to Canada’s largest Jewish community. Photo: John Vetterli via Wikimedia Commons.

The city of Toronto has filed charges against a local food store and catering company for discriminating against the city’s Jewish residents, according to a statement from B’nai Brith Canada, which has been in contact with Toronto officials about the alleged violations.

According to the organization, Toronto’s bylaw enforcement agency is looking to penalize the business, Foodbenders, under a section of the city’s bylaws that prohibit using a business to “discriminate against any member of the public” on the basis of “race, colour, or creed.” The agency plans to request a hearing with Foodbenders before the city’s licensing tribunal, B’nai Brith said.

Foodbenders has been the subject of controversy for months, having drawn scrutiny from Jewish activist organizations after a series of social media posts this past summer that compared Zionists to Nazis and said Zionists were not welcome to shop there.

The comments prompted condemnation from provincial and local politicians and led food delivery services such as Uber Eats and DoorDash to cut ties with Foodbenders. Jewish advocacy organizations also moved this summer to file legal challenges against Foodbenders.

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At least two organizations, B’nai Brith Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, have filed complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which oversees cases involving discrimination. In addition, Foodbenders faces a lawsuit from a Toronto designer who alleges that the business libeled him in a social media post describing him as a terrorist.

Asked about the charges against Foodbenders, a spokesperson for the city of Toronto said it could not comment on an open investigation.

Foodbenders did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

In statements to The Algemeiner, Jewish advocacy groups based in Toronto celebrated the city’s move to pursue charges against Foodbenders.

“Toronto is one of the most diverse cities on Earth, and it is unacceptable for an eatery to deliberately broadcast messages suggesting that Israelis and the vast majority of Canadian Jews are unwelcome,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada.

“Foodbenders’ social media activity, including a statement that ‘Zionists not welcome,’ are textbook examples of modern-day antisemitism thinly-veiled as political expression,” said Richard Marceau, vice president of external affairs and general counsel for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

The charges came days after Ontario became the first Canadian province to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. Among other things, the organization defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

Canada, which is a member country of the IHRA, along with 33 other nations, adopted the organization’s antisemitism definition in January.

Still, the IHRA’s definition has drawn backlash from many people who charge that its wording stifles criticism of Israel. The IHRA has in the past cited statements criticizing Israel as examples of antisemitism.

Kimberly Hawkins, the owner of Foodbenders, cited a need to fight back against the IHRA’s definition in a fundraising page she set up to raise money for Foodbenders’ legal costs.

“If passed into law, the IHRA will be used as a political tool to silence legitimate criticism of Israel and crush peaceful protest,” Hawkins wrote.

As of Nov. 3, Hawkins had raised more than $11,000 in donations through the fundraising page.

On its website, Foodbenders includes a form email opposing the IHRA’s antisemitism definition that its customers can send to Toronto’s mayor and city council mayors.

Other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, have chosen not to adopt the definition.

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