An article in a British newspaper focusing on the COVID-19 vaccination process in Israel has led to some strong accusations by a Canadian Jewish organization towards Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus this past week. Confused? Let’s dig in. On Jan. 2, The Guardian, a British news agency, published an article titled: “Palestinians excluded from Israeli COVID vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”
The article points out the early success of Israel’s vaccination program, having already reached more than 10 per cent of the nation’s population, but also suggested that Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza were being specifically excluded from inoculation.
A very similar toned article was published in The Washington Post on Dec. 19. Other American and British news agencies have also published similar pieces.
Angus shared The Guardian's article on his Twitter account on Jan. 3 with the brief caption “This is appalling” and added the hashtag #ApartheidState to the post.
“I retweeted an article from The Guardian; it’s one of the most respected newspapers in the world,” Angus told The Daily Press.
An excerpt from the article in question reads: “Israel transports batches of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine deep inside the West Bank. But they are only distributed to Jewish settlers, and not the roughly 2.7 million Palestinians living around them who may have to wait for weeks or months.”
Angus was bothered by what he read.
“So I retweeted it, and said it was appalling. And I received hundreds and hundreds of messages from people saying, ‘Thank you for saying that,’ and so I was really shocked when B’nai Brith publicly accused me of peddling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
B’nai Brith is a Jewish human rights organization dedicated to eradicating racism, hate crimes, and anti-Semitism. They have several chapters both internationally and within Canada.
After seeing Angus’s retweet, B’nai Brith Canada posted on its Twitter account on Jan. 4, calling on both Angus as well as fellow NDP MP Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Centre) to retract their posts and apologize, calling the situation “shameful” and suggested a demonization of Israel was taking place.
“As elected officials, you have a duty to inform yourselves to avoid disseminating disinformation to the public on social media,” read the tweet.
Angus then posted that he was shocked by the response from B’nai Brith.
“I take that very personally, because I have worked at the international level with parliamentarians around the world on international conspiracy theories. I was also in Jerusalem this past year for the Holocaust memorials.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both ancient and much too complex to review succinctly, but the overall message from B’nai Brith regarding the current situation is that essentially the Palestinians are responsible for their own healthcare.
“Israel is the world leader in vaccinating its citizens including the 20 per cent of whom are Palestinian Arabs,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn told The Daily Press.
“According to the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for health matters in the West Bank and Gaza including vaccinating Palestinians under its control. The Palestinian Authority did not officially ask for Israel’s help but has relied on the World Health Organization and other bodies and sources to secure vaccines, which is underway. In short, it’s false to claim that Israel has intentionally excluded Palestinians in the territories from getting vaccines,” he added.
“Mr. Angus was irresponsible by citing on his Twitter account erroneous media reporting suggesting that Palestinians were being discriminated against by being excluded from Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out programme. Such reports feed into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
The veteran MP was said the vast majority of responses he’s received on the matter have been cordial and positive.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. I think the rhetoric and language that was used against me didn’t do anybody any favours,” he said.
“If people don’t like what I say, contact me. Say we want to sit down and meet with you. Fine.”
Angus also didn't appreciate the attack on independent journalism.
“If we’re going to start attacking newspapers for doing their job, then we’re going into Donald Trump country. If they don’t like the facts that are in the article, then call The Guardian. Don’t accuse me of making conspiracy theories by retweeting articles.”
Angus added that B’nai Brith did not write any formal correspondence to him, but instead to the federal New Democratic Party. He read their statement, and was taken aback by the tone.
“You can say I didn't know what I was talking about, fair enough. You can say you’re not being helpful, OK. But to say that retweeting an article is somehow anti-Semitic, I take that as a real insult.”
Mostyn remained firm in his statements to The Daily Press.
“We call upon Mr. Angus to do the right thing and admit that the story he disseminated is insidiously misleading; furthermore, we also call upon him to renounce his using the morally repugnant term ‘apartheid state’ to describe Israel.”
When asked if he had contacted or written to any of the news agencies who have published articles with similar information, such as The Guardian, Mostyn was blunt.
“No. Our problem is primarily with one of our Canadian MPs, Mr. Angus in this case, uncritically citing inflammatory and misleading media content and refusing to disavow it.”
Mostyn stated that B'nai Brith Canada is a politically non-partisan organization.
Their recent Twitter posts call for federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to censure both Angus and Gazan. Mostyn said he doesn’t believe the NDP is an inherently anti-Semitic party.
“No. However, the NDP, like all parties, has a responsibility to insist that its members do not promote inflammatory material that demonizes Israel and that, should that happen, party leaders will censure the members involved,” he said.
Angus emphasized that he has regularly spoken out against anti-Semitism and discrimination, and that work will continue despite the comments from B'nai Brith.
“I'm not picking fights with anybody. I have no intention of wading into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any further. Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but the situation in Gaza is pretty bleak for people.”
Andrew Autio is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with The Daily Press. The LJI program is funded by the federal government.
Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press