Jewish and Muslim groups throw support behind embattled Hamilton MPP

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Published October 19, 2023 at 6:24 pm

Washington pro-Palestinian protests Israel-Hamas war Gaza Palestinians Jews Hamilton rabbi David Mivasair
Hundreds of Jews were reportedly arrested during a protest calling for a ceasefire and criticizing Israel in Washington on Oct. 18. RABBI DAVID MIVASAIR VIA X

A Hamilton MPP who is threatening to sue the premier for libel has received support from a few Jewish and Muslim groups as well as her riding association.

The Hamilton chapter of Independent Jewish Voices wrote a letter Wednesday (Oct. 18) in support of Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama.

The group wrote that it “unequivocally” endorses the Oct. 17 letter from the Hamilton Centre NDP riding, urging people to “firmly oppose” the Ontario government’s proposed resolution to censure Jama over her post about the Israel-Hamas war. Jama’s post initially didn’t mention the surprise attacks by Hamas that killed scores of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7.

“It is deplorable that the Conservative government is exploiting the pain and suffering we and many other Jews are experiencing because of the brutal Hamas attack on people in Israel and manipulating this pain for their own personal gain,” wrote Independent Jewish Voices.

The group states that its mission is to “amplify the voices of Canadian Jews in support of justice in Israel-Palestine and at home.”

It said Jama, a close ally of the group, was concerned about Palestinian rights. Jama has Palestinian family members.

“We know Sarah Jama personally,” wrote the grassroots group. “Sarah is a staunch anti-racist and speaks out against all forms of racism and discrimination including antisemitism. She articulated concern for Palestinians in a moment when there is a strong potential of genocide of the people of Gaza. This is not antisemitic. It is the opposite. It is taking a stand against the most vicious manifestation of racism. She stands with us and we stand with her in this.”

Hamilton Jewish federation rejects Jama’s apology 

Independent Jewish Voices noted that human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem determined Israeli rule over the Palestinians is “apartheid” under international law.

The group says many Jews throughout Canada share its views, urging people to “forcefully oppose this blatant attempt to silence not only Sarah but all of us.”

The non-profit Jewish Federation of Hamilton said Independent Jewish Voices is not affiliated with the organized Hamilton Jewish community. “Hamilton Jewish Federation does not wish to be involved or affiliated with them in any way as they do not align with our values as that group has caused a lot of conflict and divide in our community,” the federation wrote in a statement to inthehammer.com.

The federation added that it rejects Jama’s apology. 

 “We do not accept her ‘apology,’” the federation wrote in a statement to inthehammer.com. “Instead of offering repeated remorse for her continuous expressions of antisemitism, I urge her to stop with these apologies and to instead, change her behaviour. She is a local MP, perhaps she should stick to local politics and address housing issues and more accessible infrastructure that she promised during the elections.”

Hamilton rabbi defends Hamilton MPP, accuses Ontario government of trying to ‘exploit’ Jewish fear and pain

In an open letter to Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles and caucus, the Hamilton Centre Riding Association executive wrote that it “unequivocally” stands with Jama. “MPP Jama’s statement upholds human rights and international law and does not merit the removal of MPP Jama from caucus. MPP Jama calls for an immediate cease fire and de-escalation. Further, she is urging us to look towards ending all occupation of Palestinian land and an end to apartheid.”

As someone who knows Jama well, rabbi David Mivasair defended her. He said he was among the protesters arrested at a rally calling for a ceasefire and criticizing Israel in Washington yesterday (Oct. 18), 

“Support for Palestine is not anti-Jewish,” wrote Mivasair, who lives in Jama’s Hamilton Centre riding, on X today (Oct. 19). 

He said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra and the Ontario government are trying to “manipulate and exploit deep Jewish fear and pain by falsely smearing” Jama with charges that she is anti-Semitic. He believes it’s the government’s way “to distract from their own pervasive corruption.”

National Muslim group calls on politicians to follow Jama’s lead and condemn all violence

Authman Quick, director of communications for the Ottawa-based National Council of Canadian Muslims, held a press conference yesterday (Oct. 18) to raise his non-partisan advocacy group’s concerns about the motion to censure Jama, which was supported by the Ontario government and provincial Liberal party.

He said the group can’t understand why this motion of censure was introduced since Jama has already apologized for the hurt her initial statements caused many Jews and clarified that she condemned Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians and stands against violence inflicted on all people.

Quick said elected leaders should follow Jama’s leadership and condemn all the violence “instead of concentrating and wasting effort and time on this one tweet.”

He suggested that the rhetoric has consequences, with the group seeing a 1,000-per-cent increase in incidents of Islamophobia in Canada reported to it in the last 10 days.

“We cannot use this horrific conflict, where so much pain and trauma is being felt by everyone, to score political points,” he said. “That is because we’ve seen that rhetoric escalate and communities are made to bear the brunt of the backlash. It has real-life consequences.”

He listed examples tied to the Israel-Hamas conflict, including the recent news of a six-year-old, Palestinian-American boy named Wadea Al-Fayoume who police said was stabbed 26 times and killed by his family’s landlord in the Chicago area because he was Muslim. His mother couldn’t attend her son’s funeral because she was also repeatedly stabbed but survived the attack, police said. In London, Ont., graffiti that read “Kill all Muslims” defaced a wall in an apartment building. In Markham, a public library temporarily removed Islamic Heritage Month displays because of the potential backlash amid the war overseas and later admitted it was wrong to do so.

Ontario NDP leader says Israel-Hamas conflict has personal impact on Jama

Jama is still a member of the Ontario NDP Caucus and has kept the original remarks along with her apology pinned as the top post on her X page, though Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called for her resignation and Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles had asked her to retract her statement.

Stiles noted that she understands the personal impact the conflict is having on Jama since Jama has Palestinian family members.

She noted that Jama has since clarified her remarks to condemn Hamas’s terror attacks and supports the  “federal NDP’s position in calling for an end to further bloodshed.”

Jama’s post on the Israel-Hamas war had ignited backlash from many who accused her of being “anti-Semitic” and slammed her for initially failing to mention Hamas’s surprise massacre of civilians on Oct. 7 in Israel.

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