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Gaza war not only led to confrontations here between pro and anti Israel factions – it led to rift within Winnipeg Jewish community

pro-Israel rally organizer Ron East
(in shorts) being accosted by
pro-Palestinian at a pro-
Palestinian rally held May 15
in front of Manitoba Legislature

By BERNIE BELLAN
Now that a ceasefire has been put into effect between Israel and Hamas, we can take stock of the tumultuous 11 days that began with rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel beginning on Monday, May 10, until a ceasefire was declared May 21.
The repercussions of the often hateful divisions that came to the surface between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups around the world will undoubtedly be felt for a very long time. In Canada rallies of pro-Palestinian groups were often met with counter rallies by pro-Israel groups.

Winnipeg was also the scene of some bitter taunts exchanged by supporters of both sides at a pro-Palestine rally that was held on Saturday, May 15, and which saw some 50 pro-Israel supporters show up in counter protest. Confrontations between individuals on both sides led to sporadic physical confrontations, with one pro-Palestinian woman knocked to the ground. (She was also handcuffed by members of the Winnipeg Police Service, although later the WPS admitted that was a mistake.) An Israel flag was torn from the side of a car and set afire.
The organizer of the pro-Israel rally, Ron East, was also accosted at one point.

But, Ron East was not only involved in confrontations with pro-Palestinians, he was also highly critical of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg for not lending support to his rally.
In response, the Jewish Federation took the highly unusual step of responding to the criticism that it was not being sufficiently supportive of Israel.
In a statement issued by the Federation on Friday, May 14, it was noted that “We have been made aware of plans for an in-person rally for Israel at the Manitoba legislature. This event was not planned by or done in consultation with Winnipeg’s organized Jewish community, and we would never encourage members of our community to gather on the Sabbath or in contravention of current public health orders.”
Ron East, the self-styled protector of the Jewish community here, said in response: “Our federation is worthless when it comes to this sort of thing. It is despicable that they say that.”

In a subsequent email sent out to members of the Jewish community on May 19, Elaine Goldstine, CEO of the Jewish Federation, and Joel Lazer, President of the Federation, further clarified the Federation’s position re the May 15 rally:
Dear Community Members,
These are difficult times for all of us. We have watched with great concern and heartbreak as the violence in Israel and Palestinian Territories has escalated with each passing day. As casualties mount on both sides, we pray for calm and a cessation of hostilities without delay.
Unfortunately, we have also seen this unrest spill outside of Israel’s borders and into Winnipeg’s streets. The rallies that we have seen in recent days do little to further the cause or argument of either side, creating further resentment and animosity all around.
While we believe that members of our community should have the freedom to express their opinions without fear or concern, it is also our responsibility to ensure that we are taking actions to unite rather than divide.
Fanning the flames of this conflict through harmful rhetoric only benefits those who have no interest in peace. Any demonstrations that occur should be peaceful, conducted respectfully, and free of violence. They must also be in strict abidance of public health orders, especially while province-wide restrictions are at the critical level.
As a Jewish Federation, our support of Israel is unequivocal. Hamas and Islamic Jihad calling for the murder of Israeli citizens, using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and targeting Israeli civilians with unrelenting rocket fire is unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. We believe that Israel has a right to defend itself and its citizens from these threats, as any other country would.
We pray for a time when Israelis and Palestinians will look towards each other as neighbours and co-exist in peace. Am Yisrael Chai.

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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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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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