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There were from 20-30 protesters who were on the opposite side of McGregor Street from the Ukrainian Labour Temple, where Sarsour was a panelist
By BERNIE BELLAN
Frankly, I didn’t really want to attend the much talked-about event planned for Friday, April 26, at which Linda Sarsour was scheduled to be a panelist.
But, with all the attention that had been focused on this alleged “antisemite” (and oh my, how that word gets tossed around so liberally these days), I felt it my duty to see whether Sarsour was going to say anything that would give credence to the accusation that she really hates Jews. (Well, maybe not Jews per se, but according to the definition that’s become popular within certain circles, if you’re anti-Israel, ipso facto, you’re an antisemite.)

 

 

Linda Sarsour (left) with Quebec City-based writer & activist Nora Loreto (who was also on the panel) By the way, Sarsour refers to herself as a “woman of colour”. She does wear colourful garb.
I had written in a previous issue that I wondered why all this fuss about Sarsour? She is far from the first critic of Israel to appear at a public event in Winnipeg and, as I noted, such firebrands as former British Member of Parliament George Galloway had appeared here without any of the local media paying a whit of attention to them.
Such would likely have been the case with Sarsour as well, but we now live in a day and an age when anyone can use the internet as a megaphone to bring fire and damnation down upon their perceived enemies – and to challenge others to join in with them in raining their rage down upon those enemies.


Thus it was that certain individuals took it upon themselves to post inflammatory warnings about Sarsour’s coming here – the same individuals who led the attack against rabbinical student Lex Rofeberg back in March. The momentum to bring other voices into the mix calling for her not to speak began to grow.  Not surprisingly, B’nai Brith was quick to join the chorus of those calling upon the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg to rescind the invitation to Sarsour to come to Winnipeg and participate in a panel discussion titled “Sorry Not Sorry”.
And then the Jewish Federation joined in. The ultimate crescendo was reached when representatives of the Federation and B’nai Brith appeared with Mayor Brian Bowman, who also called upon the Social Planning Council to rescind the invitation to Sarsour. (Finally, Tuxedo MLA and Deputy Premier Heather Stefanson joined the chorus of those calling upon the Social Planning Council to rescind the invitation to Sarsour.)
As the Winnipeg Free Press noted however, in its coverage of the April 26 event, “If Bowman’s aim was to silence Sarsour, it clearly backfired. The event sold out thanks to a rush of sales, the final week.”
There were a few protesters at the event, maybe 20-30 – but they were forced to remain on the opposite side of McGregor Street, a safe distance from the Ukrainian Labour Temple, where the panel discussion was to be held.


As well, there were a large number of police present  - along with members of the “Bear Clan”, whose volunteer members patrol the streets of the North End.
Once inside, I noticed three television cameras - from CBC, CTV, and City TV. (Do you think there would have been television cameras had so much attention not been called to Sarsour’s presence?)
When Sarsour actually spoke, she began by saying: “I am the drama that you heard about. I hope you allow me to define myself. I am unapologetic about who I am.”
I stayed for the first 45 minutes of what turned out to be a real snoozefest – a constant stream of condemnation of white colonialist oppressors from all three panelists. While I was there, the only one to make even a passing reference to the Israel-Palestine situation was moderator Shannon Sampert, who compared the situation of “Indigenous oppression” in Canada to “`Palestinian oppression”.


During the time that Sarsour spoke (while I was there) she talked mainly about her background as a social activist in the United States, working primarily to register Muslims to vote. (She noted that Muslims in the U.S. have low voter participation.) Nothing incendiary…but as much as I would have liked to stay, I found myself nodding off, as the picture on this page shows.
So – Linda Sarsour has now come and gone. I guess we can cross another rabid “antisemite” off the list of individuals who deserve to be refused to allow to speak in Winnipeg. Who’s next on the list, I wonder? How about NDP Nikki Ashton? She has been critical of Israel and she was at a protest rally where there were signs showing a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? Guilt by association – right? Antisemite? By the standards used by the individuals in our community who have taken it upon themselves to decide who is an antisemite, Nikki Ashton – and how many others who have ever criticized the State of Israel are all now antisemites.
I wonder: Are the Jewish Federation and B’nai Brith going to continue joining in lockstep every time someone screams “antisemite”?
As we’ve just seen with what happened in San Diego – along with the vicious  antisemitic posts on the internet as a result of the BerMax affair, antisemitism is very real and very much a growing danger. But, what happened in the case of Linda Sarsour and how she was vilified by individuals and organizations succumbing to pressure from certain individuals should be regarded as an embarrassment by our community.

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#1 Mr.Avrum Rosner 2019-05-17 17:42
Excellent article and fine principled stand. Thank you, Bernie.
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