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Montreal's anti-racism commissioner facing calls to resign over posts about Israel-Hamas war

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Montreal's commissioner for the fight against racism should resign after being "silent" about recent antisemitic incidents, a Jewish advocacy group said Tuesday.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) accused Bochra Manaï of failing to be impartial in her position by sharing posts in support of civilians under fire in Gaza while not denouncing the attacks on Jewish institutions in Montreal, including the shootings of two Jewish schools.

"CIJA has no confidence in Bocha Manaï and, after weeks of inexcusable and disqualifying behaviour, we call on her to resign," CIJA posted on the X platform on Tuesday.

"The anti-racism commissioner's silence and inaction after a historic week of antisemitic terrorism in Montreal is shocking."

Manaï was appointed to the city's first-ever position of Commissioner for the Fight Against Racism and Systemic Discrimination in January 2021.

Screenshots of a Facebook account belonging to Manaï that were provided to CTV News show several pro-Palestinian messages, including one that compared the war to the Rwandan genocide.

She also wrote "Proud of my Montreal" in a comment on a video showing a pro-Palestinian demonstration.

In at least one of her recent posts, she did acknowledge the violence targeting Montreal's Jewish community.

"Islamophobic and anti-Semitic reactions are strong, exacerbated by daily life in Palestine over the past 30 days," she wrote. "If the violence in Montreal must be condemned without any ambiguity, it is right here and now to call for an end to the offensive on Gaza."

Manaï released a written statement late Tuesday afternoon that explained that, while she serves the city, "I do not have a role of public representation."

She also explained why she attended the pro-Palestinian protests.

"As some of you may have noticed on my social networks, I recently took part in demonstrations in Montreal in support of a ceasefire. I see this individual stance as a duty of humanity. A personal stance, then, that of a woman committed to peace, saddened by the horror of this situation," she wrote.

She did not address the calls for her to step down. In her statement, she said she "vehemently opposed" all forms of hatred and violence.

"The Islamophobic and anti-Semitic acts and behaviours that have taken place in Montreal in recent weeks are all unacceptable, and violence must be strongly condemned. Targeting Jewish schools and children with bullets is a crime that must be punished and has no place in a metropolis like Montreal. Targeting Muslim places of worship is just as wrong."

Eta Yudin, CIJA's vice president, told CTV News that her silence on anti-Semitism was "striking."

"We're not talking about a private individual … we're talking about a person charged with the responsibility for fighting against racism on behalf of the City of Montreal," she said. "One could say what is her exact mandate? It doesn't matter. In that position and people in positions like that need to show moral clarity and leadership and call out anti-Semitism because it sends a message of what is tolerated in our city and what is tolerated in our society. And when you're silent, it's as strong a message as speaking up."

A group representing numerous Muslim organizations in Quebec has written to Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante in support of Manaï's work, saying any calls for her to resign are nothing but attempts at intimidation.

"The type of intimidation we are witnessing today is extremely dangerous for democratic life and the freedom of expression we believe in," the group, called the Quebec Muslim Community Roundtable, stated.

A spokesperson for the group has declined a request by CTV News for an interview. 

B'nai Brith, another national Jewish organization,  said Manaï has been one-sided in her public statements but did not publicly demand her resignation.

"The fact that she has remained silent after a week of unprecedented anti-Semitism and violence is outrageous and unacceptable," reads a post by the organization on social media.

The position Manaï holds was created as a result of a recommendation in a report that accused the City of Montreal of turning a blind eye toward racism.

Some of the key responsibilities of the commissioner are to advise political bodies on how to fight racism in Montreal and to ensure citizens know their rights.

The calls for her to resign come as tensions are running high in Montreal's Jewish community after a series of violent incidents in the past weeks.

A synagogue and a Jewish organization were the targets of an attempted arson on Nov. 7 in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island.

On Nov. 9, gunshots were fired at two Jewish schools overnight in the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN-NDG) borough. No injuries were reported when the United Talmud Torahs of Montreal Inc. and the Yeshiva Gedola were hit by bullets.

Three days later, the Yeshiva Gedola was hit a second time by bullets.

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