Ontario parliament
Ontario parliament iStock

A Canadian lawmaker has issued a statement apologizing for comments he made in an August 2021 interview with the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine that included what he termed as an "antisemitic stereotype".

"I would like to apologize unreservedly to the Jewish community for comments I made," Joel Harden, who represents Ottawa Centre in the Ontario provincial government, said in the statement released Sunday and quoted by CBC News.

"I spoke in a way that perpetrated an antisemitic stereotype towards Jewish neighbors. I regret my choice of words and sincerely apologize to the Jewish community," added Harden, a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP).

The interview with forum chair Peter Larson was posted online last summer, but resurfaced on social media recently and drew criticism.

Harden said in the interview he has “asked many questions of Jewish neighbors here about how much longer we should put up with this.”

“If I were to name … the single greatest threat, the single greatest origin of violence in the Middle East, it is unquestionably the state of Israel and the way in which they feel absolutely no shame in defying international law, doing whatever they want,” he added.

Harden also defended antisemitic rhetoric from Palestinian Arabs and anti-Israel activists, stating he “can also understand, from the pro-Palestinian standpoint, how the barbarity and the scale of viciousness can lead someone to strike out with intemperate hateful language.”

On Saturday, Harden was claiming he wasn’t being antisemitic on Twitter, but changed his tune on Sunday under pressure from the party, according to The Toronto Star.

Jewish groups in Canada condemned Harden’s remarks on Monday.

In a series of tweets, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy agent of Jewish federations across Canada, said it became aware of the video recently, and that Harden's comments "can only be called antisemitism and misinformation about Israel."

"In a time when anti-Jewish hate is on the rise, it's deeply disappointing that an elected official representing Jewish Ontarians would share such rhetoric so casually," a subsequent tweet said.

"Unfortunately, these types of comments have been a trend from MPP Harden and based on his history we're not hopeful for an apology, but we can assure he will not silence the Jewish community," added CIJA.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) said it is deeply disturbed by Harden's antisemitic rhetoric and anti-Israel misinformation.

The organization noted that Harden has previously been criticized for expressing support for Khalida Jarrar, a prominent member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who had been convicted of incitement to violence and promoting terrorism.

“Not for the first time, MPP Joel Harden's inflammatory words and actions have caused real harm to Jews in his riding and across the country. The fact that he confronted 'Jewish neighbors’ and challenged them on Israel's actions in the Middle East is textbook antisemitism. Education is foundational to FSWC’s approach to combatting antisemitism, and we truly hope this incident serves as an opportunity to engage in a meaningful educational process with both Harden and the Ontario NDP," said FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt.

B’nai Brith Canada, meanwhile, called for Harden to be ousted from the Ontario NDP Caucus.

“Mr. Harden should have the decency to resign, but we doubt he will,” said Marvin Rotrand, national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights. “We want to see a motion in the Legislature to condemn this man’s remarks.”

B’nai Brith said it is contacting the House leaders of all the parties in the Ontario Legislature to urge them to collaborate on a text to repudiate Harden’s remarks.

“Mr. Harden’s implication that Jewish-Canadians are responsible for the actions of the State of Israel is deeply disturbing,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “He implies dual loyalty, one of the oldest and most vile antisemitic tropes. Our organization is adamant that the NDP caucus must act firmly and swiftly to eject Mr. Harden for his history of antisemitism and apologism for terror groups, and the Ontario Legislature must publicly condemn and repudiate his dangerous comments."

Mostyn concluded, “The Ontario NDP can no longer afford to have him in its ranks.”