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Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission rescinds Rana Zaman's rights award

In her apology, Rana Zaman said she appreciates that her comments referencing the Nazis were “inappropriate, hurtful and sadly may be perceived as anti-Semitic.”
Rana Zaman - Facebook
HALIFAX, N.S. —

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has rescinded a human rights award given earlier this month to outspoken Muslim social activist Rana Zaman, who was dropped as a federal NDP candidate in the summer after social media posts surfaced in which she criticized Israel for firing on Palestinian protesters and compared the nation to Nazi Germany.

Zaman had won the nomination to run as the NDP candidate for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour in May. The comments were posted in early June. Although she apologized for the Nazi reference, critics say she still criticizes Israel.

In a news release announcing the cancellation of the award, the commission said the volunteer selection committee that reviewed nomination packages made decisions based upon the information that was submitted.

"The committee was unaware of public statements made by Ms. Zaman that were directly contrary to the principles of the award," the release said.

Jeff Overmars, spokesman for the Human Rights Commission, said in a telephone interview the decision was based solely on the integrity of the human rights award.

"The commission will be reviewing the award nomination and selection process to protect against similar oversights in the future," Overmars said. "This is unfortunate and it should not diminish from the good work that Ms. Zaman does and continues to do in the community."

Zaman immigrated to Nova Scotia from Pakistan in the 1970s at the age of six. She has been lauded for volunteer work in her community and as a founder for the United For One Association, helping sponsor Syrian refugees, as well as her work supporting Adsum House and other groups.

She did not respond to a request for comment.

Rabbi Yakov Kerzner of Halifax's Beth Israel Synagogue said on Friday that now that the commission has rescinded the award, people need to move forward and try to heal divisions rather than focus on the past. He hopes some kind of dialogue can be created.

"Anti-Semitism is hatred for all Jews whoever they are. Criticism of Israel is a legitimate thing. If the criticism is correct, correct as to facts, correct as to intention, there is nothing wrong with it and to try to colour the people that are criticizing Israel as anti-Semites is a vicious thing."

- Zalman Amit, professor emeritus and former Israeli

"I commend the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in seeing the benefit of searching for models of behavior that promote good will and fellowship rather than seeking divisiveness," he said in a telephone interview. "Any democratic society allows and encourages differing opinions and passionate positions as long as we respect the opposing views. Most importantly, we must fight all forms of racism and bigotry and remove hateful propaganda which only helps promote divisions rather than heal them."

He also said Zaman should be commended for the good work that she does, "but just not winning these kind of awards, which do not create a good model."

Zalman Amit, a former Israeli who now lives in Canada, disagreed with the decision to rescind the award.

"In my opinion, if we look at all the statements that she made and all this, I think there was one statement that was wrong, and that's the statement comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, but she apologized for that," Amit said. "On the other hand, the main complaint about her from the ... sort of representatives of the Jewish community was that she ... stated that Israel is an apartheid state. And I think that that is absolutely true."

Amit, a professor emeritus with Concordia University in Montreal who now lives in Rose Bay, said there is a movement in place to categorize any criticism of Israel at all as being anti-Semitic.

"I that that is wrong, that is incorrect, that is untrue," he said. "Anti-Semitism is hatred for all Jews whoever they are. Criticism of Israel is a legitimate thing. If the criticism is correct, correct as to facts, correct as to intention, there is nothing wrong with it and to try to colour the people that are criticizing Israel as anti-Semites is a vicious thing.

"I take that quite personally because I criticize Israel and I am an Israeli."

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Atlantic Jewish Council issued a news release on Friday afternoon commending the rights commission.

"This decision makes clear that people who engage in this type of hateful discourse disqualify themselves as human rights advocates," the release said.

“We thank the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for this decision."

However, the Independent Jewish Voices Canada, a national Jewish human rights organization with a chapter in Halifax, condemned the decision.

"This move is reminiscent of the decision of the Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights Institute to strip renowned black activist Angela Davis of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award in early 2019, citing unnamed 'criteria,'" the statement said. "Davis has been an outspoken critic of Israel. IJV notes that Davis eventually did receive the award and hopes that a similar result will happen in Nova Scotia.

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