Howard Levitt: How the law can make a difference as overt anti-Semitism spreads

The law may be a blunt instrument, but used wisely, it can make a difference in the current Israel-Hamas crisis

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Following lobbying from B’Nai Brith, the real estate firm Remax parted ways this week with a controversial realtor/newspaper publisher who earlier this month had responded to Hamas’ attacks on Israel as “the best news he had heard in his life.” As editor of al-Meshwar, Nazih Khatatba had regularly published anti-Semitic content, including blaming Jews for the Holocaust and glorifying suicide bombings. He appears to have many followers.

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Law students at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) just published a similarly vicious anti-Semitic petition to their university, calling for the support of “all forms” of Palestinian resistance and denying Israel’s right to exist. In response, many law firms are seeking the names of the petitioners to ensure that they will never be hired, much as U.S. hedge fund titan Bill Ackman did with Harvard students who signed a similar petition (many later tried to remove their names).

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Meanwhile, Café Landwer, an Israeli-based chain with several locations in Toronto, is conducting record business after a pro-Palestinian rally on its University Avenue premises calling for a boycott, resulted in a ‘buycott’ instead, with MP Kevin Vuong leading the charge. Landwer now has lineups of patrons wanting to support it. Such is the approach of the silent majority. But silence or passive support is no longer sufficient.

One would have expected that burning people alive after torturing them, raping women amidst their dead friends, and executing babies in front of their mothers and mothers in front of their babies would have resulted in widescale revulsion, rather than a massive outburst of overt anti-Semitism on our streets and social media feeds.

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But the combination of radical Islam and the “progressive” left — which has been groomed for years through universities and social media to the point that many celebrated the massacre, unable to any longer distinguish good from absolute evil — created a perfect storm, resulting in the combustible toxic stew we have seen on our streets and workplaces this week. The left’s disproportionate obsession with and vilification of Israel, to the exclusion of genuinely oppressive regimes, is garnering its fruits.

“At the bottom of today’s progressive politics there is blood lust,” Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal put it in a column on Oct. 26. “They speak of justice and equity but that’s not what they want, they want dominance. It’s all about the will to power. Progressive students have absorbed the idea it’s good to be militant in your views, it shows you’re authentic.”

“No, it shows you got the talking points,” she concluded.

At the bottom of today’s progressive politics there is blood lust

Peggy Noonan

Diversity, equity and inclusion — unless of course, you are Jewish. The old historic anti-Semitism through the millennia, always transmorphing to meet the conditions of the day. In the 21st century, it masquerades as BDS and anti-Zionism. And the pure joy the demonstrators show in their hatred has ripped off the mask of any charade. The irony is that Hamas has been hiding in plain sight all along with its charter calling for the extermination of Jews everywhere.

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Jewish Canadians are surprised and worried that hatred toward them is being expressed so openly and without consequence and believe that, if it was being expressed against any other minority, it would not be tolerated and criminal prosecutions would occur. But, against Jews, it is being justified by all too many. Indeed, despite the scenes of torture we have all now seen, some media outlets still refuse to call Hamas terrorists.

My phone has not stopped ringing. Calls have poured in from members of CUPE, from employees of companies which have permitted anti-Semitism to be vocalized in the workplace, and from employees and affiliates of universities that have not repressed their BDS movements, providing permits for hate-filled rallies supporting Hamas’ actions and the bullying of Jewish students.

What are the legal remedies for each?

1) Universities have a duty of care to reasonably protect their students. A lawsuit should be commenced against those universities which permit protests that include anti-Semitic content and the bullying of Jewish students. A good start would be litigation against Toronto Metropolitan University, if it does not respond decisively to the petitioners, require a public apology as a condition of continued education and issue suspensions. Jewish students do not feel safe on that and certain other Canadian campuses.

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Provincial governments should also defund those universities which do not take robust action against illegal speech and overt anti-Semitism on their campuses and permit the threatening of Jewish students (or of any other group). It is the flip side of the Ford government’s legislation defunding for universities which do not permit free, legal speech.

2) An action against unions which use their members’ dues for purposes that create a poisoned environment for Jewish members. Governments at all levels should amend their Labour Relations Acts to prohibit the use of compulsory membership dues for purposes other than collective bargaining and employee representation. And remove the tax advantages from those unions who permit racism as a matter of policy, for example by supporting Hamas and BDS.

3) Employers should fire for cause managerial employees and those who deal with clients and the public if they publicly cheer on the massacre of Jews simply because they are Jews. Those attending the rallies we have seen in many Canadian cities and those posting support for what Hamas did on social media or attacking Israel for defending itself should be terminated for cause. And, if they do and are sued, I will personally represent the employer pro bono.

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What country would not respond militarily if a neighbour crossed its border, murdered its citizens and pledged to continue the slaughter? If such hate-filled discussions are ongoing, employees should be informed that, whatever personal discussions they wish to have with friends outside of the office is not the employer’s concern. But making statements such as this on social media, which can damage the company brand and result in clients or prospective clients no longer wishing to do business with their employer, is unacceptable and cause for discharge.

The law may be a blunt instrument. But, used wisely, it can make a difference in the current crisis.

Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt Sheikh, employment and labour lawyers with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practices employment law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books including the Law of Dismissal in Canada.

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