Rabbi arrested while Israeli diplomat's violations of Canadian law ignored

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Rabbi David Mivasair sits next to paint-covered steps outside Israeli consulate. Image: World BEYOND War Canada/Twitter

To: Interim Toronto Police Chief Jim Ramer,

The Right Hon. Mayor John Tory,

The Right Hon. Minister of Justice David Lametti

Dear Minister Lametti, Mayor Tory and Police Chief Ramer,

I'm writing to express my urgent concern over three glaring asymmetries made evident by the recent arrest of Rabbi David Mivasair following his participation as the speaker in a demonstration outside the Israeli consulate in Toronto. That demonstration was a protest against war crimes and crimes against humanity currently being perpetrated by the state of Israel in Gaza.

One visually effective part of the demonstration was the spilling of easily washable water-based red paint down the front steps of the building. It symbolized the blood of Palestinians that has been shed by the Israeli armed forces (IDF) during Israel's most recent assault on Gaza. This escalation of violence was initiated and provoked by Israel's tear-gassings, beatings, and arrests of worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque, and by ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

After Israel's consul general in Toronto, Galit Baram, described the paint-spilling as a "provocative" and "counterproductive" act of vandalism, Toronto police moved very promptly to arrest Rabbi Mivasair on a charge of mischief.

I come now to the asymmetries I have mentioned.

The first is a simple matter of law. To my great regret, I was unable for medical reasons to participate in the demonstration. However, I believe the action was appropriate: it is my understanding that the paint in question was washable children's tempera paint, and that it was cleaned away from the building's steps within half an hour.

This was not, then, mischief of the kind that occurs when a building is spray-painted with indelible oil-based paint. (Given the very temporary nature of the paint's effect, it might indeed be described as an appropriate visual accompaniment to the charter-protected speech of the demonstration's speakers.) 

In contrast, Galit Baram is herself demonstrably guilty of repeated violations of Canadian law. I would direct your attention to Section 11(1) of Canada's Foreign Enlistment Act:

"Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence."

Baram has actively and openly induced Canadian citizens to enlist in the IDF -- where they will have become participants in the Israeli state's policies of colonization and apartheid, and may also have participated in war crimes. 

The second asymmetry can be briefly stated. Rabbi Mivasair is a spiritual leader and human rights activist of high moral standing. Baram is the representative of a government that has been definitively identified by major international human rights organizations -- in South Africa, in Israel itself, and in the U.S. and U.K. -- as guilty of policies of colonization and apartheid, which under international law constitute crimes against humanity.

Israel has also been identified as a systematic violator of the Geneva Conventions -- which Canada, as a signatory, is committed to upholding. 

Here is the third asymmetry. You, Minister Lametti, received many months ago a detailed statement itemizing, with supporting evidence, Baram's repeated violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act. You stated in a press conference that the RCMP would investigate the matter. But there has since been complete silence both from the RCMP and your office.

Surely the normal thing for a state to do when a foreign diplomat is found guilty of repeated violations of domestic law is to declare that diplomat persona non grata. Your ministry's inaction, and that of the RCMP, raise the question of whether or not our government is interested in upholding Canadian law.

The response of the Toronto police service to Baram's statement that the demonstration in which Rabbi Mivasair figured prominently involved a provocative act of vandalism was, in contrast, hyper-efficient. The demonstration took place on Friday morning. On Saturday afternoon (Shabbat), Rabbi Mivasair was telephoned at his home in Hamilton and asked to drive to Station 53 in Toronto so he could be arrested, sign an undertaking including a commitment not to be in possession of red paint, and be released.

The alternatives he proposed, of sending the undertaking online or of delegating the matter to the Hamilton police force, were rejected, and two officers drove to Hamilton, arriving at Rabbi Mivasair's house to arrest him at 10:45 p.m.

It is my opinion -- shared, I believe, by many other Canadians -- that the glaring contrast between state and police responses to the Israeli consul's repeated violations of Canadian law and to a demonstration against repeated violations of international law committed by the state she represents, risks bringing the Canadian justice system into disrepute. 

I find it remarkable, indeed shocking, that a foreign diplomat's violations of Canadian law can be deliberately ignored, while that same diplomat's complaint over a truth-telling exposure of the aggressions of the state she represents receives a response that, given Rabbi Mivasair's public prominence and availability, might be thought of as unnecessarily rapid.  

Any further action against Rabbi Mivasair -- and any further inaction in the matter of the Israeli consul's violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act -- will accentuate the damage to the public reputation of our justice system. 

Yours sincerely and respectfully,

Michael Keefer, D.Phil.,

Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph

Recently, Rabbi David Mivasair launched a parliamentary petition that "calls upon the minister of justice to undertake a thorough investigation of those who have recruited or facilitated recruiting for the Israel Defense Forces, and if warranted lay charges against those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting for the IDF." The petition, sponsored by NDP MP Matthew Green, has been signed by over 7,000 Canadians. It is open for additional signatures at the link above until August 17, after which Green will present it in the House of Commons and the minister will be obliged to respond.

Michael Keefer is the editor and co-author of Antisemitism Real and Imagined (2010). His other publications include the monograph Hard Truths for Canada on Israel and Palestine (2015), and essays on related subjects, among them "Resisting McCarthyism: from the 'PC Wars' to the 'New Antisemitism,'" published in TransCanadiana 8 (2016): 226-58. He is a longtime supporter of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.

Image: World BEYOND War Canada/Twitter

Editor's note, June 3, 2021: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Israel's consul general pressed charges following the demonstration outside the Israeli consulate. In fact, no charges have been pressed to date by the consul. The story has been corrected.

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