Sam Eskenasi
Jewish Indigenous Rights Activist

I didn’t mean Jews when I said ‘the Jews’

How the Toronto Star went out of its way to defend an Imam accused of anti-Semitism

Admittedly, I don’t speak fluent Arabic. My mom used to, and my uncle still does. So did my grandmother; she was from Beirut, Lebanon. Since I don’t though, it would be improper of me to try to interpret what Imam Ayman Elkasrawy allegedly said or didn’t say in a video of him leading Friday prayers at a mosque in Toronto. I would have no way to determine whether or not his statements were motivated by antisemitism. But that’s exactly The Toronto Star did, while at the same time peddling their own brand of anti-Jewish propaganda to boot.

In her rush to defend Elkasrawy, reporter Jennifer Yang has chosen to smear those Jews concerned about antisemitism emanating from pockets of the Islamic world by labelling them as among the “loudest voices” in some unnamed far right anti-Muslim movement. A disgusting accusation given the fact that the term far-right is used colloquially in place of ‘Nazi’ or ‘White Supremacist’, two groups not exactly known for their love of the Jewish people.

You see, according to the Star, Imams like Elkasrawy don’t harbour any hatred towards Jews, and the translations of Arabic used in the video were incorrect, despite the words in question admittedly having numerous meanings. So the Star produced a 3 minute video telling us that what he really meant to say was “Israeli Police” when in fact he said that “The Jews” were desecrating the Al-Aqsa mosque.

The piece is sure to mention that he has since apologized and that Muslim organizations (including his mosque) were among the first in line to condemn his “unacceptable” and “inappropriate” language. Leaving aside the fact that one would not need to apologize if, as the Star claims, his comments were simply mistranslated and taken out of context, it is noteworthy that this condemnation only took place once the story broke. It would seem that those in the video hearing the sermon took no issue with what he had to say at the time, only taking offense once they, too, were painted with the brush of antisemitism.

For his part, Imam Elkasrawy freely admits that “Jews” is used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” but he claims that it is not meant as a reference to all Jews. Strange how words have various, sometimes conflicting meanings when it works in Elkasrawy’s favor, but strict immovable ones when defined by the Toronto Star’s translators in defense of the Imam’s statements.

I don’t think anyone would believe such an absurd position if one were to call for the banning of all “Muslims” from entering Canada because they are a radical threat and then claim that what they really meant was “ISIS” once they got caught.

In the end, Yang attempts to place a final hechsher on her work by soliciting the help of Useful Jew Bernie Farber, who all too willingly absolved Elkasrawy of any malice using his magical powers and “sixth sense” to detect antisemitism (I’m not being facetious, he actually makes this claim in the piece).

Not wanting to be outdone, Farber is sure to add that words like Elkasrawy’s “could be anti-Zionist — but [are] not anti-Semitic.”  Remember to thank him the next time you are demonized and called a member of the anti-Muslim far-right for raising the issue of antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism.

For years the Jewish community has been dealing with those who use the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israeli’ when we all know that they mean ‘Jews’. However this is probably the first time that someone has been caught attacking ‘the Jews’ and has had a national newspaper and a well known Jewish personality tripping over themselves to defend him, while playing linguistic gymnastics to get out of being labelled antisemitic, all because they forgot to use the coded language we’re all accustomed to.

But I guess that’s what this entire incident is about; words having specific meanings — a concept that both Yang and Farber both seem unable to grasp — and that sometimes when someone says a word, they actually mean it.

About the Author
A long-time Canadian Jewish activist, most recently having worked in the community as media spokesperson on topics relating to Antisemitism, Human Rights in Canada, Israel and the Middle East. Sam lives in the Greater Toronto Area with his family, where he was born and raised.
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