April 23, 2019 2:39 pm
Updated: April 24, 2019 1:07 pm

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman calls for groups to remove controversial speaker from event

Linda Sarsour, right, is one of the co-chairs of the Women's March on Washington.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is calling for the removal of a controversial speaker from an event Friday.

Linda Sarsour, an American left-wing activist, has been denounced as “anti-Semitic” by politicians, activists and scholars. She is one of three panelists scheduled to speak at the Sorry Not Sorry: Unapologetically Working for Social Justice event being held at the Ukrainian Labour Temple.

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Bowman said he didn’t feel it was “appropriate to provide this individual a public platform to further propagate anti-Semitic views and hate.” He and members from B’Nai Brith and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg held a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

READ MORE: Winnipeg cafe targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti

“The topic that they’re trying to deal with and have discussions is something that is important in a free and democratic society, but welcoming someone who is clearly an anti-Zionist … is concerning,” said Bowman at the press conference.

“I think the topic can be dealt with by a number of speakers that are not objected to in the way that this speaker is.”

When asked why he was using his platform as mayor to pressure the organizers to remove Sarsour instead of having private conversations, Bowman responded that he did have conversations with the groups.

“When you see comments that are directed at marginalizing or stigmatizing an identifiable group in our community, I have and will continue to speak out,” said Bowman.

“She has consistently attacked the very foundation of the state of Israel’s right to exist, and in doing so, those comments have a chilling effect on members of our Jewish community in particular.”

The Jewish Federation has been pushing for Sarsour’s removal from the panel, however organizers from the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg (SPCW) and the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute said they were not considering it.

“Other than the usual disputed accusations made against Ms. Sarsour, some concerns were about polarizing or dividing Winnipeg,” reads a statement from the groups.

“The guiding questions/themes for the panel are how to organize across communities/cultures, what role education has in movement building, how to connect across generations and how to survive and grow through controversy.”

Co-presidents of the 2019 Women’s March Linda Sarsour, left, and Tamika Mallory, centre, march along with others demonstrators on Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“The best way to avoid division is to commit to the relationship in which we all share as Winnipeggers,” said Tyler Blashko, SPCW board president.

“The best way to remain in relationship is through respectful and caring dialogue.”

Sarsour has come under fire as one of the organizers of the Women’s March, which held mass protests against U.S. president Donald Trump in 2017. Co-chair Tamika Mallory has associations with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is virulently anti-Semitic.

She apologized to Jewish and LGBTQ2 members who marched, stating the group has made a “commitment to fighting anti-Semitism.”

Her apology struck a different tone from one she published a week before, in which she suggested that the criticism of associations with Farrakhan was because she is Palestinian-American and is a deflection from focusing on the anti-Semitism of far-right political groups.

“They have tried every tactic at their disposal to undermine me, discredit me, vilify me, but my roots are too deep and my work is too clear and they have not succeeded so by proxy they began attacking my sister Tamika Mallory — knowing all too well that in this country the most discardable woman is a black woman.”

READ MORE: Church plans vigil for Winnipeg Jewish community following cafe hate crime

The press conference and statement from Bowman comes on the heels of a targeted anti-Semitic hate crime in Winnipeg at BerMax Caffe last week.

A woman inside the restaurant was allegedly assaulted, and the entire restaurant was vandalized, according to police, who said the word “Jew” was spray-painted on the windows and in the parking lot.

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