MPs condemn 'anti-Semitic' content on World Social Forum website

The 2016 World Social Forum has canceled three workshops, including one called "Terrorizm, Wahabbism, Zionism," after Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt slammed the forum for what they considered "anti-Semitic" content on its website.

Anti-Israel 'boycott, divestment, sanctions' talk cancelled after forum slammed for cartoon depiction of Jew

Anthony Housefather won the Mount Royal riding for the Liberals in October 2015. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are taking the 2016 World Social Forum to task for what they consider "anti-Semitic" content that was on the Montreal event's website.

In a statement posted to the website for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Housefather, who represents Montreal's Mount Royal riding, and Levitt, who represents Toronto's York Centre riding, said they are "disgusted" by a cartoon depiction of a Jewish man that they deem "blatantly anti-Semitic."

The cartoon in question accompanied information on a talk by Seyed Ali Mousavi entitled "Terrorizm, Wahabbism, Zionism."

Forum organizers have now cancelled Mousavi's talk along with two others, and the cartoon has been removed from the forum's website.

The controversial cartoon accompanied information on a World Social Forum conference entitled "Terrorizm, Wahhabism, Zionism." It has since been pulled from the forum's website. (2016 World Social Forum)

One of the forum's co-ordinators, Carminda Mac Lorin, said a review determined that the talk linked to the cartoon contravened the forum's charter of principles.

"We thought it was inviting some kind of racism or some kind of violence, and in our charter, it is fundamental that none of that is within the program," Mac Lorin told CBC. "This is why it was taken out."

'The type of picture – the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew with hook nose and the long beard taking control of the world – is exactly the kind of anti-Semitism that the Nazis promoted.'-- Anthony Housefather, Montreal MP

She said suggestions that the forum was in any way anti-Semitic are "wrong."

"We are really open to everyone, and we are definitely happy to welcome everyone who is interested in working for a better world," she said.

The 12th World Social Forum, which starts today and runs until Aug. 14, is expected to draw 50,000 people and 5,000 organizations to Montreal.

The forum aims to come up with "concrete alternatives to the neo-liberal economic model and to policies based on the exploitation of human beings and nature," according to its website.

Focus on BDS movement a concern

In their statement on the CIJA site, the two MPs also said they are "deeply concerned" with the number of sessions at the forum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

"The Prime Minister, the Government of Canada, and the Canadian Parliament have been very clear they we oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and that anti-Semitism is never acceptable," said Housefather and Levitt.

Their statement follows earlier concerns raised by the Jewish advocacy organization B'Nai Brith Canada that the governments of Canada, Quebec and Montreal and a number of Montreal universities were listed as official partners of the World Social Forum.

The Government of Canada's logo was dropped from the forum's website a short time later.

Mac Lorin acknowledged that the federal government wanted its logo removed, but it did not tell forum organizers why.

She said the forum received no federal money other than subsidies for seven summer interns.

This year's World Social Forum in Montreal is the first outside of the Global South. (World Social Forum 2016)

Housefather condemns 'anti-Semitic stereotype'

Housefather expanded on his concerns in an interview with CBC Montreal on Tuesday.

"The type of picture – the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew with hook nose and the long beard taking control of the world – is exactly the kind of anti-Semitism that the Nazis promoted," Housefather said.

While applauding the WSF's emphasis on social justice, Housefather said a focus on BDS has a tendency to take over such conferences to the detriment of human rights concerns in other countries.

​"There's nothing wrong with criticizing a country. The problem is when you single out one country for condemnation and hold it to a different standard than the rest of the world, which is what is happening with the BDS movement," he said.

Housefather said time would be better spent at the World Social Forum working toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

"It's very unfortunate that this conference has chosen to allow [the BDS] movement such a big place instead," he said.

with files from Alison Northcott and Antoni Nerestant