Imam Hassan Guillet, a former Liberal candidate who was ousted by his party after being accused of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments, is speaking out against his removal.
On Aug. 30, B’nai Brith Canada put out a press release saying that Imam Guillet has a “history of radical and racist statements,” made as recently as January 2017, when it alleges that he, in since deleted social media posts, “celebrated the release of Raed Salah, a Hamas-aligned activist who has accused Jews of staging the 9/11 terror attacks and has claimed that Jews use children’s blood for baking ‘holy bread.’ ”
Imam Guillet, B’nai Brith discovered, hailed Salah as a “jihad-fighter” and “frontier-fighter” whom “Allah will surely support,” and congratulated Salah on being freed from “the prisons of occupied Palestine,” while praying that he would some day be successful in liberating “the whole of Palestine.”
B’nai Brith also found that, in a late 2017 interview with Radio-Canada International, Imam Guillet called Israel an apartheid state. He also accused Jared Kushner, the Jewish son-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump, of directing his government to support an “Israel-first” agenda. He accused Kushner of dual loyalty because of his Jewish background and inaccurately described him as an “ultra-Orthodox” and “fundamentalist” Jew, according to B’nai Brith.
Within hours of B’nai Brith’s press release, the Liberal party annulled Imam Guillet’s candidacy for the Montreal riding of St-Léonard-St-Michel, a safe Liberal seat, which he had won in a contested nomination in May. The party said it had conducted a “thorough internal review process that has been ongoing for a few weeks” and had concluded that Imam Guillet’s “insensitive comments … are not aligned with the values of the Liberal Party of Canada.”
Imam Guillet initially apologized to Jewish people, if they found his words offensive, adding that he has “evolved” since he made them. He has since said he is “completely shocked” by his dismissal and insists that he is not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, he is portraying himself as someone who has worked toward bettering interfaith relations.
Anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry have no place in our party.
– Anthony Housefather
At a press conference on Sept. 4, Imam Guillet tried to explain his previous comments and called on the Liberal party to reinstate him. He also said he would consider running as an independent in the Oct. 21 election if he didn’t get the nomination.
B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn, however, said he was not satisfied with Imam Guillet’s explanation and that his press conference “only confirms our position that Hassan Guillet is not fit to carry the Liberal party banner.”
Imam Guillet was joined at the press conference by Jon Kramer, who was identified as a Jewish friend. Kramer had, on Sept. 1, posted on Guillet’s Facebook page: “Injustice and Hypocrisy must stop!!
“Hassan, as a Jew and a friend I want to thank you for welcoming me into your home and family. I am grateful for your support and guidance to work with the Islamic cultural centre in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to foster positive relationships within the community at large and to work against hate, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Not only are you slandered so are we all who support you. Please don’t give up the fight.”
Guillet replied: “Thank you my good friend Jon. It is important to hear Jewish voices like yours contesting this injustice and defending our mission to fight hate and all kind of racism including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”
St-Jean is a town about 50 kilometres southeast of Montreal.
On his Facebook page on Sept. 2, Imam Guillet posted a message of support from Jewish businessman Michael Lublin, who noted that in June, Imam Guillet had been at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, where he eloquently paid homage to the victims of the mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Let me be clear – enemies of the Jewish people never apologize to the Jewish people for their hatred toward them. True friends own their mistake and man up with an apology,” Lublin wrote.
“He came to Holy Blossom synagogue in peace. We embraced him and he embraced us. We stood in unity. We cried, we laughed and we prayed. What has happened to the imam is the political strategy of the Liberal party’s will to expunge a small pawn for political gain and political expediency,” that is, Jewish votes.
Guillet responded: “Thank you my friend Michael Lublin. As you said in this post and as said in many occasions, we are brothers and sisters and we need to continue working with each other to advance the cause of peace and mutual understanding.
“The ones who try to abort this dialogue for shortsighted political goals are the real enemies of peace and mutual understanding.”
He seems like a great guy now.
– Rabbi Avi Finegold
Imam Guillet had earlier issued a statement saying, “I confirm that I am not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, I campaign and will always campaign against all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”
Imam Guillet, who is a lawyer and engineer, explained that his attitudes changed after the murder of six men at the Quebec City mosque in January 2017.
Imam Guillet earned widespread respect for his thoughtful sermon of conciliation and healing at their funeral. “After that date, I became involved as an activist against hate and violence and as a missionary for peace and interfaith and intercultural collaboration,” he said.
Rabbi Avi Finegold, the founder of the Jewish Learning Lab and former interim rabbi at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal, vouched for Imam Guillet’s openness to interfaith dialogue. He first met Imam Guillet about a year ago, when he and Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, the Catholic archbishop of Quebec City, helped make a series of three videos that were produced by the Catholic Church as an educational tool for schools.
“I can’t speak about his past, but in the past year that I have known him, (Imam Guillet) has been very focused on building bridges and peace,” Rabbi Finegold told The CJN.
“He seems like a great guy now. In my conversations with him (since he was dismissed by the Liberals), he seemed contrite, his regret seems genuine. I believe people have the power to change and evolve.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs tweeted its support for the Liberals revoking his candidacy, saying that his comments were “unbecoming of a candidate for political office.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said that he is “very pleased” that his party “acted decisively to remove Mr. Hassan Guillet as a candidate, once his comments were discovered and investigated. Anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry have no place in our party.”
Imam Guillet wrote on social media that he “will not abandon the thousands of people who have believed in me and want real change. Soon the truth will be known by all. We have an appointment with history.”