Arif Virani Holodomor by Mykola Swarnyk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Arif Virani Holodomor by Mykola Swarnyk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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Government Appoints New Chief of Canadian Human Rights Commission Who Linked To Articles Comparing Israelis to Nazis, Called for Israel Boycott, and Shared Platform With Banned Organization

The Globe and Mail features a bombshell story today on a recent government appointment of the chief of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that not only calls into question its vetting process, but the fairness of the body charged with addressing online hate in Bill C-63. Less than two weeks ago, Justice Minister Arif Virani announced that Birju Dattani had been appointed as Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission for five years. The position is particularly important at this moment given the proposed changes to the Canada Human Rights Act in the Online Harms bill that would expand the scope of Commission work on online hate, including the prospect of dealing with thousands of complaints. Yet what the release did not say is that Birju Dattani once went by the name Mujahid Dattani. Search under that name and it reveals a deeply troubling record of posts and appearances that call into question the ability for Jewish or Zionist Canadians to get a fair, impartial hearing at the Commission.

The Globe story covers the stunning history: a now deleted tweet that linked to an article comparing Israelis to Nazis, which is considered antisemitism under the IHRA definition adopted by the Canadian government. Further, there was a tweet to an article likening Palestinians to Jews incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto and a joint conference appearance with a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist fundamentalist organization which is opposed to the existence of the state of Israel and banned in Britain. In addition, he was interviewed at a rally featuring chants that “Zionism is terrorism” as he personally called for a boycott of Israel.

The government has placed enormous emphasis on the Canada Human Rights Act and enforcement by the Commission as important measures to address online hate. That plan has attracted considerable criticism on free speech grounds, yet days before the Dattani appointment, Virani defended its inclusion in Bill C-63, telling the House of Commons that he was giving Canadians “a tool to get hate speech removed.” But that tool must go through the Canadian Human Rights Commission, now led by someone with a track record that cannot possibly be viewed as impartial when it comes to the biggest target for hate crime.

This appointment has strong echoes of the government’s indefensible funding for Laith Marouf, given that proper vetting would have likely disqualified Dattani from this appointment. In fact, Virani’s officials tell the Globe they were unaware of the posts or activities and that Dattani did not disclose them during the vetting process. This is not a hard call. Virani’s office now says that “It is critical for the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission to maintain the confidence of all Canadians and to be seen as an impartial and fair judge of matters before them.” That is simply not possible given a track record that includes posts to articles that qualify as antisemitic using the government’s own definition of antisemitism. Dattani should resign or have his appointment rescinded.

29 Comments

  1. It isn’t anti-Semitic to accurately compare the actions of the Israeli government to that of the Nazis. It may be highly uncomfortable and unpleasant to Jewish people to consider that they are, like a victim of abuse, continuing the cycle of oppression but they have the option to stand up and oppose the oppression of peoples based on their heritage and faith rather than being complicit to it.
    Continuing to improperly conflate opposition to brutality and oppression of the government of Israel with anti-Semitism and hate speech against Jews is a bad faith behaviour that makes people immediately dismiss your opinions with respects to the subject even if, in the future, there were actual anti-Semitic behaviour.

      • This article is problematic for using hyperbolic assertions, ignoring contextual nuances, selective interpretation of events, conflation of criticism and identity, and oversimplification of complex issues. I didn’t make that up myself! That came straight from an AI. Out of a score of 10 on fairness and accuracy, it rated it a 4 for Bias and Hyperbole, Selective Interpretation, Lack of Balance, Emotional Influence on Analysis, Conflation of Issues, and Inconsistent Application of Principles.

        As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my goal here isn’t to change your mind, which is nearly impossible.

        However, I can demonstrate to casual readers that posts like that (and people like you that share them) aren’t helping to contribute to meaningful, positive changes. You’re only preaching to the choir, right?

    • Criticize all you like but why bring Nazis into it? That is the obviously anti-semetic thing. Nazi comparisions are not the go to for describing countries’ actions unless that country is the Jewish one.

  2. Israeli soldiers and Nazi soldiers both wore uniforms.

    See, I just compared Israelis and Nazi Germany. Was it antisemitic?

    Israelites stole Palestinian land, massacred Palestinians, kept them in a military occupation where they are abused by the IDF on a daily basis, and you think it’s anti-semitic to compare them to Nazi Germany?

    What the honest fuck is wrong with you? How do you have such an insane intellectually dishonest blind spot when it comes to Israel?

    The IDF murder naked Israeli hostages who were waving a white flag. Forensic Architecture just proves that their tanks fired openly on a family in a car, and then again on the ambulance sent to rescue the bleeding 6 year old girl inside. 2 millions homes have been bombed into rubble while the army is intentionally creating famine.

    How about you post one article about what the Palestinian people are going through, if you want us to at all take you seriously? Go ahead, show us much concern for the dead Palestinians as you do for someone comparing the actions of the state of Israel with the actions of the state of Germany.

    Honestly, I have lost a significant amount of respect for you for trying to say that COMPARING the actions of two states is inherently antisemitic. It’s the dumbest fuck*** statement I’ve ever heard.

    • Israel did not steal “Palestinian” land. This is a lie. Palestine was never a country. It was a region populated by Jews, Arabs and Christians. The “Palestinians” were invented in the sixties, long after the creation of Israel. There is ample archaeological evidence of Jewish presence in Judea for 3000 years. It is the other way around. The Jews were kicked out of their land. The Nazi’s killed 6M Jews in Europe. The Jewish population hasn’t recovered the losses yet, almost 100 years later. You may be hiding under a J name, but you are a hater, anti-Semite and you should be ashamed of comparing Israel with the Nazis.

      • I am a Jew that is proud of his heritage. And nowadays, I am pretty upset that Judaism is being used as a shield for nationalist atrocities. It does not matter if there is a country named Palestine or not. People were living on that land, displaced by force and never allowed to return to the land their ancestors had lived for many generations. You do not need to do archeological excavation to find out these facts.

        I see many resemblances between the experiences of European Jews and Palestinians. Dehumanization, ruthless bombardments killing primarily women and children, bombing ghettos and killing refugees. The most crucial resemblance is the similarity of the discourses of the attacking side about “protecting themselves” against a disgusting enemy. Keep Judaism and the Jewish name out of your nationalist endeavours and atrocities on the way to achieving. Zionism is not Judaism. Anti-zionism is not anti-semitism. Some zionists are also Jews, and some anti-semites are also anti-zionist. Zionism was supported by the anti-Jewish people during the Balfour Declaration, and today, the best friends of Zionists are shady right-wing characters across the US.

  3. “Oh no too many people think there’s a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, I know what will help, silencing all criticism of a foreign state and saying that anyone who criticizes that state is anti-semitic! That will help convince people that there’s no conspiracy!””

    – Michael Geist, apparently.

  4. John Wunderlich says:

    The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is, to say the least, problematic. At the end of the day, Israel is a state and not a Jewish person so should be held accountable as a state. Zionism, as currently espoused by the state of Israel is an ethnic-nationalist ideology that is the underpinning of the current assault on the Palestinian people by the occupying power. What is most troubling to me is that the propaganda of the Israeli state to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism will create a space where the vile practice of anti-Semitism will thrive.

  5. Zionism is a nationalist, political ideology that called for the creation of a Jewish state, and now supports the continued existence of Israel as such a state. You would be right if “the actions of the Israeli government” were the way they are reported and not lies. The fact that you and others like you call casualties of war genocide, and that you do not condemn October 7 massacre and call for the return of the hostages, yes, these make you an anti-Semite.

    • Please do tell us again why the IDF show the naked Israelite hostages who were waving a white flag?

      They do that because they follow the rules of war and respect the livelihood of Palestinians? Or because they hate Palestinians, don’t see them as equal people, and indiscriminately kill them.

      Defending and denying war crimes is very un-Jewish of you.

    • You hit the nail on the head but, sadly, those who disagree are not.going to let the facts get.in their way. Anti-semitism is like that for some deranged reason

  6. The point, as no one seems to understand, is that the head of the HRC in Canada must be impartial and be seen to be. Arguing for a corrupt commissioner because he leans your way isn’t an argument, it’s proof that you are corrupt and that you believe the HRC should be equally corrupt. It’s astounding.

    • Except there’s no accusations of corruption, just that he’s critical of the Israeli government.

      Did you even read the article?

    • Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamo-fascist organization calling for global caliphate by any means including violent Jihad. Impossible to believe that was not well known by any Muslim on that panel.

  7. This issue is about the fairness and impartiality of the appointee, not the side one takes in the Israel-Hamas war. All the people commenting here seem to have strong opinions on the situation, not the appointee. The appointee took a side on a contentious issue – he has a right to do that but it may disqualify him from the job. He will likely never be seen as impartial, and he will be tasked with adjudicating online hate speech. That’s the problem.

    • Does that principle of ‘impartiality’ according to your definition, apply both ways? If supporting a boycott of Israel is ‘impartial’? Is opposing one? Would you be saying someone who shares the opinion of Geist who opposes a boycott could not be appointed because they are not ‘impartial’? If attending Pro-Palestinian protests ruins someone’s impartiality, does attending pro-Israel protests do the same thing?

      Connecting what happened during the Holocaust with what is happening in Gaza was something that was done by the Jewish Academy Award winning directors this year but disqualifies a Canadian appointee?

      And this claim that it is antisemitic to compare atrocities committed against Palestinians with atrocities committed against Jews smacks of a belief that some lives are just worth more than others.

      Geist is hardly being impartial but his view would get nowhere near the same scrutiny.

    • Do you think it would be appropriate to appoint someone to regulate hate speech who was neutral about South African Apartheid?

      Do you think it would be appropriate to appoint someone who saw a KKK rally and said “yeah, whatever, I feel neutral about it?”

      Neutrality in the face of hate and aggression is not neutrality, it’s capitulation and tacit endorsement.

  8. If wanting Israel to stop committing genocide disqualifies one from appointments, then that would disqualify a tremendous number of Canadians. Somehow I doubt that there would be the same pressure trying to block those like Geist and Yda Rab who want to tar those who critisize Israel with antisemitism for daring to say in Canada what the International Criminal Court does.

    Extremely disappointing that ‘public intellectuals’ are engaged in this type of neo-McCarthyism.

  9. It’s almost refreshing to see the usual suspects venting here against the blog.

    In my opinion, it really highlights the contrast between Michael’s focused writing and their ad hoc opinions which try (and fail) to deflect or talk past the point of the article.

    I don’t know how many people who read this blog are actually undecided on the topic of antisemitism or prejudice. If I had to bet on Michael or these ad hoc critics trying to change minds, my money is on Michael all the way.

    Thank you Michael for your articulate thoughts.

    • “Criticizing the state of Israel = hating people of the Jewish faith.”

      How “articulate”! Everyone clap. What intellectual rigeur!

      • Let’s put YOUR intellectual rigueur to the test of. Here’s what an AI had to say about your response:

        “The article is not suggesting that all criticism of Israel equates to hatred of Jewish people. Instead, it is raising concerns about Dattani’s ability to be an impartial Chief Commissioner given his past actions and statements that are considered antisemitic under the IHRA definition. The focus is on the implications of these actions for his role and the broader issue of maintaining public confidence in the fairness of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.”

        The AI also said: “While your sarcasm is noted, it’s important to to ensure we accurately comprehend and engage with the key issues presented in the article and the serious concerns it raises about impartiality and the vetting process for a key human rights position.”

        Even an AI seems to understand the point of the article better than you. I guess you’re just too biased to see that.

        My point stands, and I bet on Michael all the way. But you do you.

  10. Yawn. Let’s see what AI says about it being impartial to oppose a boycott of Israel:

    “Based on the search results provided, it would not be considered entirely impartial to oppose a boycott of Israel.

    Arguments supporting the right to boycott:

    1) Boycotts are considered a form of protected political expression under the First Amendment

    2) Laws prohibiting boycotts of Israel have been challenged on constitutional grounds, with some federal courts ruling them unconstitutional

    3) Supporters view boycotts as a legitimate, non-violent way to oppose Israeli policies in Palestinian territories

    Given these perspectives, a truly impartial stance would likely acknowledge the complexity of the issue rather than wholly opposing boycotts of Israel.”

    If supporters of boycotts are going to be prohibited from being appointed to the Human Rights Commission, than those opposing them should be too. You know for the sake of ‘impartiality’, which suddenly seems to be the watchword for the neo-McCarthyists trying to tell Canadians what opinions are allowable for Federal appointees.

    • Did you even try asking the AI about your own conclusion? Mine had a few things to say, like:
      – True impartiality is about the ability to evaluate all perspectives fairly, not about excluding individuals based on their stance
      – The term “neo-McCarthyists” is emotionally charged and potentially alienating. It may detract from the argument’s credibility by appearing overly dramatic
      – Phrasing like “telling Canadians what opinions are allowable” implies broader censorship without providing specific evidence, weakening the argument.
      – The sarcastic tone (“You know for the sake of ‘impartiality’”) might undermine the seriousness of the argument. A more neutral tone would likely be more effective.

      I won’t post my original conclusion to you. The AI thought my response was “quite direct and confrontational, which can alienate the recipient and shut down any potential for constructive dialogue.”

      I told it that I’m not interested in a constructive dialogue. So we landed on telling you that: “I hope this feedback encourages you to reflect on your arguments and consider the importance of scrutinizing them for accuracy and fairness. However, given your strong biases, it seems unlikely this will change your perspective. The lack of self-scrutiny in arguments is, unfortunately, something I see often.”

  11. “I told it that I’m not interested in a constructive dialogue.”

    That’s obvious.

    • Well, I hope and trust that the casual reader could understand why.

      The foundation for a constructive dialogue generally doesn’t exist in an online comments thread like this. I think it’s futile to get into the weeds of an argument online, especially when there are biases that people can’t even recognize or do anything about it.

      There’s the saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” You’d think people would learn this after dozens, hundreds, thousands, and millions of online debate? Myself, I’d really like to keep my sanity.

      People like Michael should be able to thoughtfully post their truths without all the knee-jerk reactions, the noise and the fury, and the thoughtlessness. The world would be a better place.

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