Ottawa New Democrat MPP apologizes for 2021 comments that ‘perpetrated an antisemitic stereotype’

Ottawa Centre New Democrat MPP Joel Harden has issued an apology for comments he made last year during a discussion about Israel and Palestine.

He made the comments in August 2021 during an interview with the Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine. 

“I have asked many questions of Jewish neighbours here about how much longer we should put up with this,” he said. “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.”

His comments resurfaced on social media this weekend, sparking backlash from Jewish groups and citizens.

In a series of tweets, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said Harden’s comments spread “what 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,” the CIJA said.

On Saturday, Harden defended his comments, saying on Twitter that he never blamed his Jewish neighbours for Israel’s actions and opposed both antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism.

In a statement released Sunday, however, Harden said he apologized “unreservedly” to the Jewish community.

“I spoke in a way that perpetrated an antisemitic stereotype towards Jewish neighbours. I regret my choice of words and sincerely apologize to the Jewish community,” he wrote. “You have my commitment that it won’t happen again and I will continue to work with Jewish leaders who can help me understand antisemitism.”

Interim Ontario NDP leader Peter Tabuns called Harden’s comments “completely unacceptable” in his own statement on Sunday.

“Mr. Harden’s comments were completely unacceptable and hurtful to the Jewish community. I welcome his commitment to further education about antisemitism and look forward to hearing from him about it. Antisemitism has no place in our party,” Tabuns wrote.

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