Quebec legislator criticizes Jewish colleague for wearing kippah

Separatist legislator in Canadian province of Quebec backtracks after criticizing Jewish parliamentarian who wore a kippah.

Ben Ariel ,

Quebec Parliament
Quebec Parliament

A separatist legislator in the Canadian province of Quebec has backtracked after criticizing a fellow parliamentarian for wearing a kippah in the legislative chamber on Holocaust Remembrance Day, JTA reported on Monday.

During a raucous session, opposition leader Jean-François Lisée of the Parti-Québécois criticized David Birnbaum, the only Jewish legislator of the governing Liberal Party, for wearing the skullcap.

Lisée said doing so may have violated a rule forbidding partisan symbols in Parliament. He was responding to Quebec premier Phillippe Couillard, who had criticized Lisée for wearing his own party’s lapel pin in the legislative hall.

Lisée said allowing the kippah while banning his pin constituted a “hierarchy between some convictions and others.”

An angry Birnbaum defended his actions, saying, “I can wear that kippah anywhere.”

“To suggest that a Jewish [parliamentarian] should be forced to hide his religious identity – on Yom Hashoah, no less – is grotesque and unacceptable,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in response to the incident.

On Thursday, Lisée conceded in a statement on Facebook that Birnbaum did indeed have the right to wear the kippah, but said religious rights should not supersede others.

In 2014, a bill that would have banned the wearing of religious symbols, including a kippah, in public workplaces was raised for public hearings in Quebec.

The controversial legislation resulted in a rare cooperation between Jewish and Muslim organizations, after prominent Muslim groups joined their opposition to the bill which they said amounts to a form of "institutionalized discrimination", that ultimately creates two levels of Quebec residents.

The bill was shelved later that year, after the Liberal Party won the provincial election, defeating the separatists who pushed for it.