JCC Panel Cancelled Amid New Israel Fund’s Withdrawal

Raheel Raza
Raheel Raza

A panel discussion at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (MNJCC) has been cancelled, but the facility isn’t saying if it was because the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC) pulled out of the event after learning more about one of the panelists.

The NIFC withdrew as a co-presenter of the March 7 virtual Q&A after digging deeper into the background of one of the three panelists, Raheel Raza, a well-known local Muslim journalist, author and activist known for her opposition to radical Islam.

NIFC executive director Ben Murane told The CJN his organization pulled out of the event on Feb. 25 “when we learned more about who (Raza) was.”

He said a staff member at NIFC recognized Raza’s name and raised the issue. The information provided about Raza for the event “had omitted anything about her activism on Islam or her affiliations with (the right-wing news outlet) Rebel Media,” Murane noted.Murane cited the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a U.S. watchdog of right-wing activity, which lists many examples of Raza’s writings and speeches.“

Raza has lent her voice in support of anti-Muslim groups hate groups,” says one.“Far from the ‘reformist’ and ‘progressive’ individual she claims to be, Raza’s extensive history of anti-Muslim statements and open ties to hate groups make her fundamentally undemocratic,” says another. “She is one of the least appropriate individuals to inform the decisions of an institution that is meant to be inclusive to as many people as possible irrespective of their backgrounds, including what faith they may profess.”

Murane also pointed out that Raza is listed as chair of the advisory board of Rebel News. That, and the SPLC’s descriptions, were “enough” for the NIFC to pull out.In an email to The CJN, he said: “We withdrew because NIF is one of the largest funders of projects that combat racism in Israel, so we could not be part of any program here in Canada that falls short of those values. We stand against racism of any kind, including Islamophobia.”

The MNJCC declined to be specific.According to executive director Harriet Wichin, “some concerns were raised…about the suitability of the panelists for the event, and the partner organizations couldn’t agree on the final composition of the panel. As a result, we are unable to move forward as we had planned.“

The last thing we want to do is be divisive at the MNJCC,” she went on. “We respect the various partners that put this event together. We have decided not to hold the event…as we take stock of the issues that have emerged. We hope to re-imagine the (event) for a future date.”

Asked whether the event was cancelled because the NIFC withdrew and whether there were internal concerns, Wichin replied: “The partners could not agree. All of them.”

The panelists were to discuss the 2016 film, “In Between (Bar Bahar),” about three disparate Palestinian women who share a flat in Tel Aviv.

The live Q&A was to be moderated by Prof. Janice Stein of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The panelists were Prof. Mona Khoury-Kassabri of the School of Social Work and Social Welfare at Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Prof. Shalva Weil, a researcher in femicide, also at Hebrew University; and Raza, who is director of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

In an email to The CJN, Weil said she received notice on Feb. 26 that the panel was cancelled due to “conflicting information surrounding the event.”Weil said she was looking forward to “meeting” Raza. “Not everyone has to agree in this world,” she said.

For her part, Raza told The CJN: “I wish those who had an objection had contacted me directly and I would have gracefully bowed out of the program without any hesitation.” She called the film under discussion important in light of International Women’s Day on March 8, “and should not have been cancelled.”

She said she has spoken to Jewish audiences and foreign governments around the world and has been an activist on two main fronts: Anti-Semitism and the right of Israel to exist, and Islamist extremism. “I speak out against Islamism and terrorism,” she said.

She called the accusations against her by the SPLC “complete hogwash,” and that she would have sued it if she had the resources.“I respect all organizations. If they want to work with me, they know where to find me,” she said.

Other co-presenters at the March 7 JCC panel were the Israeli Connection at the MNJCC, a program for Israeli expatriates; the UJA Emerging Communities Committee; and the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto.

The consulate did not return a message by deadline.