An all–party event on Parliament Hill this week has been hit by controversy after a number of MPs condemned one of the event’s attendees, who has been accused of anti-Jewish sentiments.
On Tuesday, the Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group hosted a reception to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The event was attended by Nazih Khatatba, editor of a Toronto-based Arabic newspaper.
A number of Jewish groups called out MPs for allowing Khatatba to attend, saying he has a history of promoting antisemitism — a claim he denies.
Liberal MP Salma Zahid, who hosted the event, said her office did not directly invite Khatatba; rather, the invitation was circulated widely in the local Palestinian community to develop the guest list, which ran to roughly 150 people.
“We are not able to research the history of every attendee that responded. As chair of the group, I will continue to be a voice for the human rights of the Palestinian people and for a just and fair two-state solution achieved at the negotiating table,” she said in a media statement.
“I have long been a voice against antisemitism, and all forms of discrimination based on faith.”
Jewish groups demanding answers
B’nai Brith issued a statement Friday calling for further details about how Khatatba got on the guest list.
“Zahid owes it to the public to better explain through what channels Khatatba gained access to the event on Parliament Hill. Zahid must commit her Friendship Group to end all association with those who distort the Holocaust and pursue antisemitic agendas,” the statement reads. “If Zahid is unable to do the bare minimum and disavow Holocaust-distorting media attending her Friendship Group events, we consider her unqualified to serve as Chair.”
In 2017, Rogers TV dropped an Arabic-language program after B’nai Brith Canada drew attention to an episode in which Khatatba called Jewish oppression a “fairy tale.”
In a statement issued to CBC, Khatatba denied that he or Meshwar Media are antisemitic.
“We have the right to attend any event, especially if it is related to Palestine and the Middle East. We are not antisemitic, and we have never spoken badly about Jews in Canada or other countries. Rather, we criticize the Israeli occupation policy and stand by the Palestinian people,” he said.
Khatatba said the organizations who accuse him of being antisemitic are working to suppress freedom of opinion and expression in Canada related to different views on the Middle East conflict.
Other MPs who were in attendance denounced Khatatba or tried to distance themselves from the event.
WATCH | Exchange in question period over Khatatba’s attendance
‘We all should condemn antisemitism and all forms of hate’ – Alghabra
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra defends attending an event at Parliament in an exchange with Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman.
“Antisemitism is real and I will continue to call it out whenever I see it,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The NDP put out a blanket statement saying none of the party’s MPs in attendance invited Khatatba.
“We continue to be allies in the fight against antisemitism,” the statement said.
NDP MP Niki Ashton attended the event. She came under fire in 2017 after she was photographed at one of her fundraising events with Khatatba. She subsequently rejected what she described as his unwanted support.
Conservative MP Larry Brock tweeted that he attended the event at the request of a constituent but would not have gone if he’d known Khatatba would be there.
“I fully condemn antisemitism and reject these disgusting views. They have no place in Canadian society,” Brock said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who was also in attendance, said she didn’t have control over attendees and defended her own attendance.
“I wholeheartedly denounce antisemitism but let me be clear once and for all – showing solidarity with Palestine isn’t antisemitism and neither is criticism of the state of Israel’s human rights record,” May said in a media statement.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said it is “incomprehensible” that Khatatba was allowed to attend and suggested time wasn’t taken for “simple due diligence.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said Zahid’s response failed to show accountability and argued that all guests should have been thoroughly vetted.
“It is disturbing that an individual with such a long history of promoting antisemitism could be invited to such an event,” Dan Panneton, the organization’s director of community engagement, said in a media statement.