Court allows lawsuit against B’nai Brith to go ahead

David Matas, B’nai Brith Canada’s senior legal counsel, left, speaks with B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn before testifying in front of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Oct. 18, 2017. (B’NAI BRITH CANADA PHOTO)

A defamation lawsuit brought against B’nai Brith Canada by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) may proceed, an Ontario court has ruled.

B’nai Brith had sought to dismiss the action as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law.

The advocacy group had claimed that CUPW’s action was “an illegitimate attempt to suppress freedom of expression on a matter of public interest,” and that it should be stayed or dismissed, the court said.

While the case “has some elements of SLAPP litigation,” it does not appear to be the type of action the legislature contemplated should be stopped “at this preliminary stage,” Justice Calum MacLeod of the Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice stated in his Jan. 16 ruling that dismissed B’nai Brith’s motion.

The evidence “does not persuade me that the principal objective of CUPW is to stifle criticism,” MacLeod wrote, adding that, in fact, CUPW’s defamation suit “appears to have merit.”

The case dates to late July 2018, when B’nai Brith posted a press release on its website stating that the 50,000-member CUPW had aligned with its Palestinian counterpart, the Palestinian Postal Service Workers Union (PPSWU), which “supports terrorism and the elimination of Israel.”

B’nai Brith stated that the PPSWU, on its Facebook page, glorified a Palestinian terrorist who had murdered an Israeli rabbi and was then killed by Israeli troops; and had called for the release from prison of another Palestinian who was convicted of attempting to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.

“Rather than using the union movement to build peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the CUPW leadership has aligned itself with the path of violence and extremism,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said at the time. “This is both deeply immoral and obviously not in the best interests of Canadian postal workers.”

Two days later, B’nai Brith posted another press release saying that CUPW’s “radical” leadership had “refused to respond to our questions on why it would partner with a terror-supporting organization – and that’s unacceptable.”

B’nai Brith also raised the issue of whether Jewish and Israeli CUPW members can be compelled to pay union dues, “which may be used to support a foreign organization that wants to see them murdered.”

CUPW, which has a lengthy history of anti-Israel activism, sued for defamation, alleging that B’nai Brith issued its press releases “with reckless disregard for the truth,” had acted maliciously, and implied the union supports terrorism and is anti-Semitic.

The union’s support for “a peaceful two state solution to the Middle East conflict is well publicized and is available on its website. So too is CUPW’s opposition to terrorism, violence and anti-Semitism in all forms,” the judge wrote.

CUPW has also denied that the PPSWU promotes terrorism or the destruction of Israel, the ruling stated.

MacLeod stressed that he was not accusing B’nai Brith of malice or impugning the organization. But evidence suggests that it “acted on assumptions without exercising due diligence. The only research into PPSWU was a cursory internet search and review of Facebook pages.”

The episode was triggered by B’nai Brith’s “deep disagreement” with CUPW’s support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, “but rather than attacking that directly without defaming the union, the defendants chose to focus on the relatively minor involvement with the PPSWU and to blow that out of proportion,” MacLeod wrote.

There is “no doubt that there is a solid case for defamation,” he added. “Like a corporation, a union may be defamed, although, of course, it cannot suffer hurt feelings.”

B’nai Brith said it disagrees with the ruling.

“We do believe that this is a strategic lawsuit against public participation and will be discussing our next steps with our legal counsel,” Mostyn in a statement to The CJN.

In a related case, the Supreme Court of Canada has yet to hear B’nai Brith’s leave to appeal a ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The provincial high court found last summer that lawyer Dimitri Lascaris could proceed with a defamation lawsuit against B’nai Brith, overturning a lower court’s ruling that dismissed the action under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP legislation.

Lascaris, who has shown support for a variety of pro-Palestinian causes and activists, launched the libel suit after B’nai Brith published an August 2016 article that accused him of advocating “on behalf of terrorists who have murdered Israeli citizens.”