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Ben Carr answers questions at Gwen Secter Centre about his candidacy for the Liberals in Winnipeg South Centre

By BERNIE BELLAN It might have seemed an odd venue for a candidate in a federal byelection in to be grilled about his candidacy, but on Thursday, May 18, Liberal candidate for Winnipeg South Centre Ben Carr (in a byelection that will take place on June 19) faced a series of tough questions from audience members at the Gwen Secter Centre (which is in the north end) who were there for the second session of the Remis luncheon series.
As a preamble, I should note that Ben Carr was invited to speak to the Remis luncheon group well before the byelection was called in Winnipeg South Centre. Just as I have written about other speakers who have appeared at a Remis luncheon (and elsewhere in this paper you can read my account of the first of this years’ speakers, Joan Druxman, who spoke on May 11), I decided to write about Ben Carr’s appearanc at a Remis forum.

Ben Carr is the 37-year-old son of the late Jim Carr and Dr. Ruth Simkin. I have to make an admission at this point: I’ve known Carr ever since he was a classmate of my daughter Shira, beginning in Grade 7. That didn’t stop me, however, from throwing some pointed questions at him.
When he got up to speak Carr joked that he had been out campaigning recently in Tuxedo and when he knocked on people’s doors at least four individuals told him that they were related to him (which came as no surprise to him, he said, since he’s found through the years that both the Carr and Simkin families have many relatives in Winnipeg – and elsewhere).

Still, being the son of a famous politician, whose mantle he is now trying to adopt, has its pros and cons. I asked him, for instance, whether he’s encountered people who have accused him of capitalizing on his father’s name in running for the Liberals in the same riding that Jim Carr held for seven years until his untimely death last December?
Carr said “no,” that hasn’t been brought up to him personally.
“I recognize that I was gifted a set of principles by my parents,” he said. “You don’t choose where you come from, but you choose what you do with that.”

Someone else asked Carr whether he had ever been to Israel? He said that he had, when he was 24, when he was on a Birthright trip there – and had his bar mitzvah at the Kotel (Western Wall).
How that came about was an amusing story. Carr said that there were two rules all members of Birthright were supposed to follow: Stick with the group always and no drinking.
But, one time when the group was in Jerusalem, he and his cousin Joel decided to venture away from the group at one point, he explained. They came across someone who “looked like a rabbi,” Carr recalled. (To be honest, how hard is it to find someone who looks like a rabbi in Jerusalem?) They asked the individual whether he was a rabbi and when the man said he was, Carr said that he would like to be bar mitzvah’d.
The rabbi said to Carr and his cousin, “Okay, if you’re going to be bar mitzvah’d we’re going to the Kotel” and that’s where Carr was bar mitzvah’d.
As well, the rabbi happened to have a bottle of vodka, Carr added, which led to him and his cousin breaking the second Birthright rule.

And, although he’s relatively young, Carr has already had a varied career. After graduating from the French Immersion program at Kelvin, Carr became a teacher, he said, later a principal at Maples Met High School which, he explained, has an innovative program whereby some students attend school three days a week, and apprentice in a workplace the other two days.
Most recently Carr has been Vice President of something called the Indigenous Strategy Alliance, working in tandem with an Indigenous woman by the name of Rebecca Chartrand. He described their relationship as “what reconciliation should look like.”

Of course, growing up in a household immersed in politics (Jim Carr was first elected as an MLA in 1988, Carr pointed out, as part of the resurgent provincial Liberal showing led by then-leader Sharon Carstairs), he has had more than his share of exposure, both to campaigning and the day to day workings of government.
In 2015, when Jim Carr was elected to the House of Commons for the first time, Ben went along with his father to live with him in Ottawa for four months. Later, Ben held various positions in the federal government, including serving as Director of Parliamentary Affairs to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Still, while Winnipeg South Centre has been a Liberal-held seat for the past eight years, it has also been won by Conservatives in the past, most recently by Joyce Bateman (in 2011).
Carr said that “there are three issues I’m most proud of”: The national child care program, “which has lifted 450,000 kids out of poverty;” the government’s position on climate change where, he said, the government has found “a good balance;” and the national day care plan, “which is going to help women get back in the work force.”
He added that the government has introduced “changes in support for seniors,” including “dropping the age of eligibility to receive the Old Age Pension from 67 to 65 and increasing the Old Age Supplement.”

I said to Carr that there are two other issues that clearly distinguish the Liberals from the Conservatives: gun control and abortion. Since gun control was not likely to be an issue in Winnipeg South Centre though, I wondered whether abortion has been brought up to him since he’s been out knocking on doors?
He answered: “For us, this (abortion) was settled a long time ago. You cannot be a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada unless you stand for a woman’s right to choose. I don’t know where my opponents stand on abortion, but I’d like to hear from them.”

Someone else asked him who else is running in the byelection? Carr said that the Conservative candidate is Damir Stipanovic, the NDP candidate is Julia Riddell, and the Green Party candidate is Doug Hemmerling. (Given how important the Jewish vote is in Winnipeg South Centre and how many of our readers live in the riding, we will try to profile each of the three other candidates in the June 7 issue.)
Someone wondered whether Carr had encountered any anti-Semitism while on the campaign trail? He said that he hadn’t, but he did offer an anecdote that illustrated how prejudice can work both ways.
One time when Ben was out campaigning for his father in River Heights, he said, he was confronted by a woman when he knocked on her door, he said, who told him that Justin Trudeau was an “antisemite.”
The reason she felt that way, Carr explained, was that Trudeau “had let so many Muslims into the country.”

That led me to ask Carr whether he has had anyone tell him that they’re not happy with the Liberal position on Israel, (e.g., either voting for or abstaining during votes on resolutions at the UN which are critical of Israel)?
Carr was adamant that the “Liberal government has been equal to or better than the Harper government was.” (It’s somewhat fitting that in this same issue we devote a fair bit of space to what Stephen Harper had to say about Israel at the Negev Gala.)
He went on to say that there is “an attempt within the Conservative movement in Canada to position itself as the only defender of Israel within the House of Commons.
“There is a little bit of a misconception when it comes to the Liberal Party’s position on Israel,” Carr continued.
“The fundamental principle is that Israel has a right to exist and is the homeland of the Jewish people,” he said.

Turning once again to the Conservative Party, Carr said the Conservative Party today is not the Progressive Conservative Party of “Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.
“What Pierre Poilievre is trying to leverage,” Carr maintained, “ is the worst in us – and combining it with a kind of populism to turn us against one another.
“The vast majority of Conservatives that I talk to in Winnipeg South Centre identify with the PC Party.”
Carr brought up something that had been posted to the Damir Stipanovic website, (votedamir.ca) but has apparently been expunged, but not before someone had captured a screenshot of what was written:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the Trudeau Liberals benefitted from corruption and interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Leaks from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) indicate that the Trudeau Liberals were aware of alarming reports and did not respond to the threats.
“An open and transparent public inquiry is now needed. With Winnipeg South Centre heading into a by-election, how do we know that the Chinese Communist Party is not funding Ben Carr and the Liberal party in this very riding?”
As noted, we will attempt to contact each of the three other candidates in Winnipeg South Centre in time for our June 7 issue, including Damir Stipanovic, whom we will also ask about the question posed on his website.

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Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN

“The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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Local News

Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN “The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.”

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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In defense of the Jen Zoratti column that set off a firestorm of criticism of the Free Press – and a letter explaining why that column so upset so many people

By BERNIE BELLAN As an editor myself I know what it’s like to be accused of bias. As such, I would argue that the anger at the Winnipeg Free Press for what many in our community perceive as an anti-Israel bias is totally unjustified. If any of the paper’s critics actually takes a close look at that paper they will see a vast amount of coverage devoted to local Jewish events. Not only does John Longhurst do a great job covering many events (and he is a far better reporter than I could ever hope to be), the paper also features Sharon Chisvin writing about local Jewish happenings on a regular basis.

One would think that, based on the amount of ink that the Free Press devotes to news of interest specifically to the Jewish community that there was a vast number of Jews in this city. That’s why, when I asked Free Press editor Paul Samyn, when he was speaking to the Remis group at the Gwen Secter Centre last year, just how many Jews he thought there were in Winnipeg, and he guessed “45,000,” he was quite astounded to hear from me that, at best, there were only 12,500 Jews in Winnipeg. (I also said to Paul that there were over 72,000 Filipinos in Winnipeg, but you don’t see nearly as many stories about that community in the paper as you do of the Jewish community.)

So, Jen Zoratti wrote a column that had one particular paragraph that inflamed the minds of many Jews (a lot of whom don’t even read the Free Press, based on what I’ve seen on social media). Not only are many individuals furious at Zoratti – and the Free Press, for even daring to publish what she wrote, even as fair minded and professional a writer as John Longhurst has had his name dragged through the mud. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/free-press-coming-under-criticism-for-supposed-anti-israel-bias/

For a community that’s long railed against the idea of boycotts being used against Israel (as in the BDS movement – Boycott, Divest, Sanctions), isn’t it a bit much to be calling for individuals to cancel their subscriptions to the Free Press over one column? And as someone who, until this week, had been a newspaper publisher for almost 40 years, I know what it’s like to have pressure put on your to slant coverage in a newspaper. While some newspaper publishers like to get involved in dictating editorial policy, from what I know Bob Silver has been steadfast in remaining apart from that. I personally sent notes offering encouragement to Jen Zoratti, John Longhurst, and Paul Samyn. I didn’t weigh in on whether I thought what Jen wrote was out of line or not (which, by the way, I didn’t). I simply wanted to affirm the importance of freedom of the press –and of columnists, to write without fear of monetary retribution. Heck, Israel has been on the receiving end of that kind of campaign for years. Are Jews going to begin to emulate the tactics of the BDS movement?

In response to the above we received a letter from Cathy Moser, in which she explains the anger that many in the Jewish community are feeling toward the Free Press:

Dear Bernie;

     I respect your humane approach to reporting on the war in the Middle East – I don’t think that you will find too many people in the Winnipeg Jewish community that would revel in knowing that thousands of innocent women and children in Gaza were killed in the effort to eliminate Hamas Terrorists.  If Jen Zoratti had written a column on the Palestinian women and children whose voices have been deadened – what she said may have been relevant.  However – she wrote an OpEd on a talk called HEAR OUR VOICES, with the Voices referring to the women and children who were raped, tortured and killed in Israel on October 7th.  It was as inappropriate to talk about the Gazan women in this article as it would have been to talk about the Israeli women and children if she was reviewing a talk given by the Palestinian community on Palestinian women and children.  Or if, when newspapers in the 40’s described bombing Nazi headquarters and strongholds, had included in their OpEds the fact that thousands of innocent German civilians were killed by the Allied Forces and they are inhumane.

     The problem with Jen Zoratti’s article was well summarized by Mike Federer in his article in the Free Press, January 7th, 2024 – it takes a very special skill to attend an educational event bringing attention to Hamas’ misogynistic and murderous sexual assault of Israeli women during its genocidal October 7 massacre in southern Israel, and turn it into an anti-Israel hit piece. However, that’s exactly what Jen Zoratti managed to accomplish in her January 26 opinion column in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled: “The battlefield between feminism and rapes of war.”.

     By the way, there would have been no need to appeal to Bob Silver had the Editor published any one of my letters providing an alternate understanding of some of the issues.  Prior to the deluge that was received after the Jen Zoratti article, the Winnipeg Free Press had very one-sidedly published letters to the Editor that were anti-Israel and misleading in facts. I will send a few for your perusal if you are interested.  Since the Zoratti ‘affair’, there have been many more letters published that elucidate both sides of the story, as well as articles to the point (e.g., Saturday, Feb 18, 2025 article by Dr. Ruth Ashrafi).

     It seems that the volume of letters to the Editor and Owner after the Zoratti article has served its purpose. Perhaps there was a critical look at the past month’s content to determine whether the letter writers’ claims were valid. Freedom of speech is critical to a healthy democracy; however, if those that publish the speeches are biased, there is no freedom. 

Sincerely,

Cathy Moser 

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