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opinion

Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 6.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Laith Marouf tweeted about “Jewish White Supremacists” as “loud mouthed bags of human feces,” on Aug. 10, 2022, after Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen had been alerted to Mr. Marouf’s penchant for sharing his petulant, antisemitic screeds on Twitter. And yet, Mr. Hussen did nothing; it would take nearly two weeks (and a handful of mainstream news reports) before the minister would announce the government was cancelling the $133,000 grant it had awarded to the Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), which lists Mr. Marouf as a senior consultant.

In fact, Mr. Hussen knew about Mr. Marouf’s tweets for a month before he even acknowledged the situation, which was confirmed when he appeared before the House of Commons’ heritage committee last week. For weeks, Mr. Marouf’s tweets about how the “Zionist establishment globally mobilized media” and the “bullet to the head” owed to “Jewish White Supremacists” went unacknowledged by the federal government (along with select mentions of francophone “frogs” and Black “house slaves”), even as more and more murmurs began to circulate online about Mr. Marouf’s ties to the Canadian government.

Mr. Hussen explained the delay as a procedural one: that it took time to consult with “the legal department” in order to cut off the funding. “Do I wish that we’ve been able to move the process along more quickly? Absolutely, but it was also important that we got this right to ensure accountability for this organization,” he said.

Notably, the federal government was somehow able to announce it would be freezing funding for Hockey Canada a mere two days after its executives testified before the heritage committee in June (Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge specifically cited that very testimony in announcing the government’s decision). It also announced that it was ending its partnership with WE Charity back in July, 2020, just one week after the arrangement to administer the since-cancelled Canada Student Service Grant was announced.

During Mr. Hussen’s committee appearance, Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman asked why, even if he had to wait for legal approval to cancel funding, Mr. Hussen took as long as he did to simply put out a statement about Mr. Marouf’s toxic tweets. Mr. Hussen didn’t actually respond, saying merely that, at the time, he had “much less information than we do today.”

It is difficult to imagine the timeline playing out the way it did had Mr. Marouf targeted any other minority group the way he did the Jewish people. Indeed, if the government had been informed that someone on its payroll was tweeting about, for example, Indigenous people as “bags of human feces” and “ugly inbred” wanderers, it is unlikely they would’ve stayed mum for an entire month, if only out of a practical concern that its silence might be viewed as tacit tolerance (or worse, tacit endorsement). But because Mr. Marouf’s tweets were fixated on “Zionists” and so-called “Jewish White Supremacists,” Mr. Hussen’s office apparently needed weeks to figure out how to say: This is bad.

Perhaps the government was fooled into believing that Mr. Marouf’s deranged rants were mere commentary on Israeli politics – not antisemitic ravings by someone using the thin veil of anti-Zionism to demean and bemoan a particular group of people. This veil works so effectively, particularly in progressive circles, because it uses the language of mainstream anti-oppression activism to attack those perceived to be at the top – Zionists, “Jewish White Supremacists” – who are seen to use their power and influence to marginalize other people. Diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives are all about calling out those responsible for injustice, and who could be more responsible for injustice, according to this view, than Zionists and white supremacists?

Perhaps, then, the government viewed Mr. Marouf’s tweets as kosher (excuse the reference) because his language was weirdly in line with other activist language abhorring colonialism and oppression. And perhaps that’s why thinly veiled antisemitism, masquerading as anti-Zionism, often finds a home in progressive circles.

One would hope, however, that a Minister of Diversity and Inclusion, whose portfolio’s entire reason for being is to root out bigotry and oppression, would be better able to recognize the difference between political commentary and contempt for the Jewish people – particularly when Mr. Marouf did the government a favour by hauling out all the regular antisemitic tropes about Jews as inbred, greedy and controlling of governments and the media. He also made a point of saying in one tweet that he deliberately does not share works by Jews, “even if anti-Zionist/anti-imperialist,” which should have dispelled the illusion that Mr. Marouf’s obsession was about Israel, not Jews.

Yet government officials remained stumped for a whole month over just what to do with this supposedly anti-racist contractor. Ideally, it would have taken them all of 10 minutes to craft a statement deploring Mr. Marouf’s toxic tweets. Instead, it took weeks of navel-gazing, a slew of media reports, and a public pressure campaign for the government to clue into the obvious: This is bad, and we should say so.