New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton rebuked one of his candidates yesterday and ordered him to make amends with Canada's Jewish community for "completely and utterly unacceptable" anti-Semitic comments.
In a 1994 posting to an Internet newsgroup, Malcolm Azania said a "great many" Jews are "Whitesupremacists [sic] and it would be "shortsighted" for blacks to "exonerate" them because they have been persecuted.
"Worse still, I think many of them use their exploitation/slaughter by other Whites to make us believe that they understand us and sympathise with us better than do other Whites. To a small extent, this is true," wrote Mr. Azania, who is black.
After a link to the posting surfaced on the blog of National Post columnist Colby Cosh this week, Mr. Azania posted a message on his campaign website saying he now realizes his comments were "completely incorrect, overgeneralizing, insensitive and hurtful."
He said his commentary, which was part of a discussion titled, Jews: Enemies? Friends?, was on the topic of "white privilege" and he used the term "supremacists" to indicate the privilege held by American Jews as a group. "It's not an excuse to say I was 10 years younger and that I was passing through a brief (and stupid) phase. But it does partly help to show where I was coming from and that I've grown up since then," he wrote.
Flanked by supporters, Mr. Azania, 34, a teacher, union activist, writer and broadcaster, told reporters yesterday he hopes voters in Edmonton-Strathcona will judge him on his record. "The fact is I remain devoted to social justice, to fighting discrimination of all forms and I believe that people who are willing to listen and to be compassionate will recognize that the remarks I made briefly 10 years ago don't outweigh my life's contribution."
Mr. Azania, who noted he had Jewish friends at the time, said: "There was nothing in my attitude towards my Jewish brothers and sisters that needed to change . . . I had always a balanced view. Where I fell down that day was in using language that didn't show that balance, and that was a mistake because that hurt people."
Ruth Klein, national director of B'nai Brith's League for Human Rights, said "there's a huge problem" with the remarks.
"The apology's coming sort of long after the fact and the concern is that it's only really after the statements have become the focus of media attention. I think there's a lot of work to do in terms of sensitivity training if you're dealing with somebody who has those views, however far back they go."
As well, Mr. Azania's political opponents questioned whether he should continue as a candidate.
"Obviously it raises the question of whether someone who may have those beliefs in fact is fit to present themselves as a potential candidate for Canadian Parliament," said Conservative incumbent Rahim Jaffer.
Asked if Mr. Azania would still be allowed to run, Mr. Layton said it is impossible to remove him from the ballot at this juncture under regulations set out by Elections Canada. He said Mr. Azania had committed to undertake the measures demanded by the party, but that "He has more to do."
"I've asked him to meet with the Jewish leadership in his community, to meet with the rabbis, and to embark upon a process of reconciliation and apology that will be active, systematic and one that is reported, so that this can be put well behind us," he said during a campaign stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Mr. Azania said he has written a letter to the Canadian Jewish Congress and considers his apology sufficient, although he said he would meet with Jewish groups. "I believe I've done as much as I could in this initial span."