You have no doubt read or heard about the Toronto Star’s in-depth piece on Ayman Elkasrawy, published on Sunday.
An imam based in Toronto, Elkasrawy made headlines earlier this year when video emerged of him leading prayers that – when translated – called on Allah to slay people “one by one” and “purify Al-Aqsa (the Temple Mount) of the filth of the Jews”. When this story first broke, CIJA and other Jewish organizations condemned this incident as antisemitism, which has no place in Canada.
The Star’s story paints a very different picture. It suggests that Elkasrawy’s prayer has been misrepresented and mistranslated, with Elkasrawy portrayed as a misunderstood imam who was not motivated by hatred.
In today’s social media landscape, reputations can be dramatically affected in minutes. In exposing and countering antisemitism, Jewish organizations that speak with the weight of institutional credibility must be careful to get the facts straight. The fight against hate is only undermined by false or distorted accusations. Caution is crucial.
CIJA did its due diligence in the Elkasrawy case and has re-examined the evidence. Our conclusion that his statements were disturbing, inflammatory, and antisemitic is absolutely unchanged by the Star’s portrayal of events.
A close review of the Star’s analysis shows that the core facts are not in dispute: Elkasrawy led his community in a prayer for Allah to “slay them one by one” moments before railing against the “filth/desecration” of “the Jews” at Al-Aqsa/the Temple Mount. Alarmingly, the latter accusation has been used by some Palestinians to incite violence against Jews in Israel.
Regardless of who he was calling on Allah to slay or whether he meant the “filth” or “desecration” of Jews at the Temple Mount, all of this is beside the point. Even with the most generous interpretation (and no matter what one thinks of Elkasrawy personally), his prayer clearly falls within the consensus definition of antisemitism.
Endorsed by Canada and dozens of other countries, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition recognizes that “dehumanizing allegations” against Jews and “holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel” are antisemitic. This is to say nothing of his disturbing call for Allah to “slay them one by one” – whoever “them” may be.
There are some who say that Elkasrawy was motivated by politics and anti-Zionism, but claim that this is different from antisemitism. We categorically reject this absurd, false distinction. The IHRA definition confirms that anti-Zionism – the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – is clearly antisemitism. While an anti-Zionist may not consider their views to be antisemitic in intent, to single out the Jewish state for dissolution while upholding the right of other nations to statehood is unavoidably antisemitic in effect.
This episode is just one example of a larger challenge: preserving the ability of our community to denounce serious acts of antisemitism, without fear of being labeled bigots or hypersensitive. No one should ever tell our community to calm down and keep quiet when targeted with hateful rhetoric.
This is particularly the case given that the Elkasrawy incident is symptomatic of a broader trend of antisemitism among segments of Canada’s Muslim community, as seen at Montreal’s Al-Andalous Mosque, the website “Muslims in Calgary”, and the Islamic Society of BC. We have every right to expose antisemitism wherever it occurs – be it in a place of worship, on campus, or elsewhere – and demand accountability from those who cross the line
And when we do so in strict adherence to the facts and in accordance with internationally accepted definitions of antisemitism, we remain on solid ground.
Shimon Koffler Fogel
Chief Executive Officer
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)