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UPDATED: Toronto Star Downplays Imam’s Anti-Semitic Comments

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posted by Honest Reporting

UPDATE #1: October 30, 2017

Today, the Toronto Star doubled-down in its attempt to downplay, to tacitly deny, and whitewash the allegedly incendiary anti-Semitic remarks made by Toronto Imam Ayman Elkasrawy. The Star gave Elkasrawy space and a platform on its newspaper commentary pages and its website to claim that “I never prayed for the killing of Jews”.


Elkasrawy claims that there was a “hateful assault on my reputation.” The Imam says: “Those terrible words were not mine, but the work of malicious people.” He contends his words were “maliciously translated”, that the video was “fabricated” and that “words were put into his mouth.” Elkasrawy claims he was the victim of a “smear campaign” by “powerful lobby groups.”

On October 30, the Toronto Star’s Public Editor responded to our complaint by stating the following in an email sent to HRC Executive Director Mike Fegelman:

Dear Mike:

We have looked  at your concerns and do not see any need for correction or clarification here. Understanding the sensitivity of the subject matter, the reporters and her editors put an immense amount of thought and consideration into this piece.

The Star stands by its reporting and writing of this feature article.

I would also like to assure you that no one was paid by the Star

Best,

Kathy English
Public Editor
Toronto Star

As we said in response:

Dear Kathy,

Thank you for your email. In keeping with best practices and inline with the Star’s Trust Initiative (guided by the goal of fostering greater reader trust, transparency in the complaint process, and journalistic accountability), we request that our specific concerns be answered. At present, our queries (as stated in our October 23 email) have gone unanswered, all with the exception of one particular question.

We look forward to receiving a fulsome reply from your offices.

Sincerely,

Mike Fegelman
Executive Director
HonestReporting Canada

Importantly, we encourage HRC readers to see CIJA’s response on this matter entitled: “There is no excuse for antisemitism” where CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel says: “CIJA did its due diligence in the Elkasrawy case and has re-examined the evidence. Our conclusion that his statements were disturbing, inflammatory, and antisemitic is absolutely unchanged by the Star’s portrayal of events.”

Update #2: November 5, 2017

The Toronto Sun reports that “For the second time in 2017, the Jewish Defence League has filed a police complaint about an Imam prayer video inside a Toronto Mosque they believe spews hate and suggests violence.”

A second video has emerged, allegedly from Ramadan in 2016, where where Imam Ayman Elkasrawy is said to have called in Arabic for the annihilation of non-Muslims when he chants: “O Allah, whoever wishes ill for us and wishes ill for Islam and the Muslims, make his plot tied around his neck. O Allah, turn fate against them and annihilate them as you annihilated the peoples of Aad and Thamud.””

Read the full article here.

ORIGINAL ALERT: October 24, 2017

On October 22, the Toronto Star published a feature length front-page article about a Toronto imam, Ayman Elkasrawy, who was accused of preaching hate against Jews in a sermon he gave at his mosque, Masjid Toronto, in the Summer of 2016.

To recall, Elkasrawy (then a junior employee of the Mosque and a former teaching assistant at Ryerson University – who was subsequently fired for his remarks) is alleged to have given a sermon in Arabic where he read Islamic scriptures calling for Jews to be slaughtered: “O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them. O Allah! Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!”

The Imam had previously “apologized” on Twitter for his remarks claiming that he misspoke and saying that he holds no animus towards Jews. And yet, when interviewed by the Star recently, the Imam now contends his words were “twisted”. As reported by the Star when the controversy first ensued, the Muslim Association of Canada said Elkasrawy had (emphasis added) “used language during prayers that was unacceptable and against the values and practices of MAC, Masjid Toronto and the Muslim community at large… The incident occurred when inappropriate supplications, in Arabic, were added without authorization, and in contravention to MAC’s code of conduct for participants.”

Importantly, Elkasrawy’s own mosque condemned their Imam’s inappropriate and offensive remarks. Meanwhile, a criminal investigation is still open.

The “exclusive” article by Star “identity and inequality” reporter Jennifer Yang said that (emphasis added) “Ayman Elkasrawy’s controversial prayers sparked outrage and condemnation from many, including members of his own faith. In the aftermath, he reached out to the Jewish community to educate himself and learn from his mistakes. Still, a key question remained unanswered: did he really say what he was accused of saying?”

The Star devoted tremendous real estate to the story with close to four full pages filled. What brought the Star’s report to a fore is that it consulted with five Arabic-language “experts” (the Star’s description, not ours) who claimed that the Imam’s comments were either mistranslated or misappropriated and that the video clip was edited and taken out of context. Star reporter Yang says the “experts” described “the initial, widely circulated translation as ‘mistranslated,’ ‘decontextualized’ and ‘disingenuous.’ One said it had the hallmarks of a ‘propaganda translation.’” 

Alarmingly, the Star’s article downplays the incendiary nature and impact of the Imam’s remarks and tacitly writes them off as seemingly legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and the ongoing “occupation.” In a nutshell, the theme of the Star’s report is that the whole issue was just a big mix-up concocted and blown out of proportion by “far right” and “right wing” supporters who by deduction, cannot be trusted, and while the Imam and the Star’s “experts” somewhat acknowledge the “problematic” nature of a portion of the Imam’s comments, the Imam is depicted as the victim, not the victimizer, who is now seeking absolution from members of the local Jewish community. Readers are led to believe that his comments which allegedly describe Jews as “filth” that are worthy of slaughter, was just a legitimate critique of Israeli policy. Reporter Yang seemingly draws sympathy to to the Imam by including references in her report saying that the Imam is a “quiet, dignified man” who “felt beaten down.” Yang says: “At about six feet and 285 pounds, the bearded and bespectacled 32-year-old has an understated presence.”

Star reporter Yang quotes the Imam as saying the following: “’If I could say it in a more clear way,’ he says, ‘it would be ‘O Allah, protect the Al-Aqsa mosque from occupation. Or preserve the sacredness of the Al-Aqsa mosque from violation… He said ‘Jews’ is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean ‘Israeli forces’ or ‘Israeli occupiers,’ not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic. And, he asks, ‘How is it perceived in my (current) community? It’s something I didn’t take into account.’”

But here’s where it gets interesting. Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer wrote the following critique of the Star’s reporting:

The video is above. It has not been digitally manipulated, and its continuity is obvious. Elkasrawy, showing no signs of being shy or inarticulate, prays: “O Allah! Destroy anyone who killed Muslims. O Allah! Destroy anyone who displaced the sons of the Muslims. O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them. O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews!” So yes, he was indeed not referring to the Jewish people when he said “slay them one by one.” He was referring to “anyone who killed Muslims,” a larger group that would certainly, in Elkasrawy’s view, include the Jews who were supposedly oppressing the “Palestinians.”

Thus the Star and Atiqa Hachimi are technically correct: Elkasrawy wasn’t praying for the killing of the Jews. He was praying for the killing of the Jews and other people as well….”

“Really? Actually, “filth” is a quite common translation of danasHere is California imam Amar Shahin praying the same thing Elkasrawy prayed: “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews.” And al-Aqsa Mosque preacher Ali Abu Ahmad: “Oh Allah, protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews!” And a Friday sermon from Gaza: “until this holy land is purified from the filth of the Jews.” And a Muslim preacher at al-Aqsa Mosque: “Don’t you care that the Jews are defiling the place of the Prophet’s nocturnal journey with their filth?” And another Muslim preacher, Omar Abu Sara: “Allah, hasten the day when the Al-Aqsa Mosque is cleansed of their [Jews] filth.” And a Friday sermon from Copenhagen: “[Allah] will liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Zionist.””

 
Reporter Yang claims outright and not in attribution that: “Elkasrawy’s prayers were undeniably problematic,but they were also distorted to fit a certain narrative that gave his words added potency amid rising anti-Islamic sentiment.”
 
Back to the Star’s Arabic-language “experts” that it consulted, HonestReporting Canada filed a complaint with the Star on October 23 asking the following questions and drawing the Star’s attention to the biased anti-Israel backgrounds of some of their experts (we await a reply from the Star):
 
  1. Were these individuals paid by the Star?
  2. With respect to Mohammed Aboghodda of the Understanding Islam Academy, the Star describes him as an “expert” – please explain on what grounds he can be described as an “expert” in Arabic and a trusted source when it comes to translation work?
  3. Is the Star aware that one of its “experts”, Nazir Harb Michel of Georgetown University, was previously accused of providing “whitewashed translations” of an Islamic hate preacher’s sermon in America? In fact, he’s an ardent anti-Israel detractor (see here and here). Shouldn’t this be disclosed?
  4. Is the Star aware that one of its “experts”, according to the ADL, Kristin Brustad of the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2001 where Brustad claimed that Israel had violated international law with its “brutal, dehumanizing military occupation and confiscation of Palestinian land, home demolition and agricultural stranglehold.” Shouldn’t this be disclosed?
  5. Is the Star aware that Atiqa Hachimi of the University of Toronto is a signatory to several anti-Israel campaigns? Shouldn’t this be disclosed? Hachimi claimed in a video news report that the Star produced (see immediately below) that the alleged video recording of the Imam’s sermon is “dangerously lacking context,” was “doctored” and that it “promotes a gross misunderstanding” with a wrong translation.

Unrelated to the issue of the Imam’s remarks, the Star’s article saw reporter Yang state the following which HonestReporting Canada takes issue with (emphasis added):
 
  1. “But what did Elkasrawy mean by “desecration”? Again, context is instructive. Days before his prayers, he and his congregants were reading reports of Israeli police deploying tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets inside Al-Aqsa mosque — actions many Muslims would consider to be a desecration of the site, especially during the 10 holiest days of Ramadan.”
  2. “In 2000, a provocative visit by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked clashes that escalated into the deadly Second Intifada. This summer, the mosque was at the centre of some of the worst violence, and biggest demonstrations, Jerusalem has seen in years.”

Can the Star substantiate that Israeli police deployed “tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets” which were fired “inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque?” As HonestReporting Canada Executive Director Mike Fegelman conveyed to Star Public Editor Kathy English, we have trouble believing that this occurred and call for corrective action. Perhaps to thwart riots, Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets outside the mosque in the Temple Mount compound vs. inside the revered holy site itself.

One of the most pervasive myths appearing in the international media is the accusation that Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount was responsible for the outbreak of Palestinian violence against Israel in what is known as the 2nd Intifada. Indeed, as the Guardian has previously reported, the Mitchell Report upheld that: “The Sharon visit did not cause the ‘Al-Aqsa intifada’. But it was poorly timed and the provocative effect should have been foreseen; indeed, it was foreseen by those who urged that the visit be prohibited.” This, despite the evidence to the contrary as stated by members of the Palestinian leadership themselves: “Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong… This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President  Clinton.” (Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji, Al-Safir, 3 March 2001. Translated by MEMRI). Also see this Palestinian Media Watch report or this JCPA report.
 
On this particular issue, there appears to be conflicting narratives, and yet, the Star has adopted the Palestinian narrative that Sharon’s ascent to the Temple Mount sparked the 2nd Intifada. We believe a correction is warranted. This statement should be noted as a claim, not a fact and it should have been in attribution.
 
Additionally, Ms. Yang claimed that: “Jewish people on the far right are among the loudest voices in the anti-Muslim movement.” We asked the Star to substantiate their reporter’s claims with verifiable facts.
 
Back to the issue of most importance, how the Star downplayed the Imam’s anti-Semitic comments. On October 24, the Star published three letters to the editor in its newspaper, two lauding its reporting and one lamenting (interestingly, the letter criticizing the Star’s reporting is not available online):
 

On October 25, the Star published these two letters applauding its reporting.
 
 
 
 
 
Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer sums up the problems with the Star’s reporting as follows: “So instead of focusing on Islamic antisemitism, the Toronto Star has published this exhaustingly lengthy piece portraying Elkasrawy as the real victim, a shy, inarticulate lug who wouldn’t hurt a fly, especially a Jewish one, and whose words were mistranslated and misrepresented by racist, bigoted right-wing “Islamophobes.” He didn’t mean it, the Star tells us. In fact, says the Star’s Arabic experts, he didn’t even say it. If it weren’t for those wicked right-wingers, Ayman Elkasrawy and Jewish leaders in Toronto would be doing a happy multicultural dance together, but instead, the reputation of this good, gentle man has been unjustly sullied. But now here comes the Toronto Star to justify the ways of Elkasrawy to man, and reassure everyone about the glories of diversity… So now we come to the real point of the Toronto Star article: when a Muslim prays for the killing of the Jews, it is Muslims who are the victims. As always.”
 
HonestReporting Canada encourages its subscribers to communicate their concerns about how the Toronto Star attempted to downplay, deny, and whitewash the incendiary anti-Semitic remarks made by Imam Elkasrawy. Please send letters to Public Editor Kathy English and refer to reporter Jennifer Yang’s October 22 article entitled: “A Toronto imam was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. But that wasn’t the whole story”. Emails can be sent to kenglish@thestar.com. 

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