Ont. Arabic magazine blames 'Jewish propaganda' for high Holocaust death toll
Abdul Hadi Shala the owner and GM of Al Saraha in London. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)
Condemnation is raining down on an Arabic magazine in London after it published a column questioning the Holocaust, the Nazi murder of six million Jews during the Second World War.
But while the London police hate crime unit is investigating, and a national Jewish group urged Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government — an advertiser in the publication — to distance itself from the monthly Al Saraha, its publisher says he was unaware of the facts and apologizes to Jewish people.
“I didn’t mean to reject something that happened historically,” Abdul Haidi Shala, speaking in Arabic translated into English, told The London Free Press on Thursday.
“I was curious to know why Hitler killed Jews during the Holocaust, so I read through his article and I found information,” the publisher said.
“I don’t know. History knows,” he said. “I believe in the correct history. If someone told me the correct history was 10 million or 20 million people died, then I’ll believe it as long as it’s correct history.”
B’nai Brith Canada, a national Jewish human rights organization, complained about the piece in the magazine’s June-July issue, with its chief executive calling the column “despicable” and “hateful.”
While some Holocaust deniers flatly reject that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime in Germany ran a campaign to wipe out Europe’s Jews, complete with notorious death camps that were killing factories, others quibble over the numbers killed and the history behind it.
The piece that ran in the London monthly falls into the second category, an English translation shows, describing the six million killed as “a number of impossible magnitude” and blaming “Jewish propaganda” that “managed to spread it and establish it.”
Shala, the magazine’s owner and general manager, said he didn’t know that the facts in the piece, which he said was written by an Egyptian journalist for another publication, were incorrect.
London police confirmed hate crime investigators are reviewing the piece, whose disputed edition carried a prominent Ramadan message by Premier Kathleen Wynne and members of her governing Liberals, and a smaller ad by hometown MPP Deb Matthews, the province’s deputy premier.
It’s the second time this year that B’nai Brith has called out an Arabic newspaper in Southwestestern Ontario. In February, it condemned Al Forqan, saying the Windsor publication had lauded a spree of attacks against civilians in Israel as a “sacred duty of jihad,” something the editor denied.
London Const. Chris Loizides confirmed police are investigating whether a Criminal Code offence occurred.
“We have to see: Is this free speech or is it a Criminal Code offence? Does it promote hatred or does it incite hatred? That determination needs to be made.”
B’nai Brith, Canada’s oldest Jewish human rights organization, had the piece translated, said chief executive Michael Mostyn, adding he hopes police take the article seriously.
“It’s a problem and an ongoing problem, that’s why we’d like it to be treated seriously in Canada,”
he said of Holocaust denial, saying the piece is just that. “It denies the Holocaust, it minimizes the numbers, it promotes hatred at Jews . . .”
The piece didn’t come to the attention of B’nai Brith, which operates a 24/7 anti-hate hotline, until Tuesday, Mostyn said.
“We had a source in London that read the article. The source is from the Arabic community and was extremely offended by the anti-Semitism and the Holocaust denial,” he said. “What’s so shocking is that there are different communities in London . . . people who work together, live together, and nobody is complaining about it. I think it points to a broader problem.”
Matthews issued a statement saying the Ontario Liberals were “completely unaware” of the magazine’s intent to publish the piece when they bought advertising for Ramadan greetings, and condemn “in the strongest possible terms” the “anti-Semitic and homophobic views” in the piece.
“I assure you that our caucus and I will no longer purchase advertising space in this publication,” she said in the statement.
Another advertiser, pharmacist Michael Bosta, said he was also taken aback by the piece.
“I cannot deny (the Holocaust and it should never be denied,” he said.
“I am going to go read this article and see what it is and why they would do this,” said Bosta. “I know the owner of the paper and will be questioning him for publishing.”
A provincially-funded London agency that helps immigrants, the London and Middlesex Local Immigration Partnership, condemned the piece Thursday and yanked the magazine from its resource list for newcomers.
Mostyn called that move and a statement by the organization’s co-chair, saying it doesn’t condone racist and homophobic views, a “positive step.”
Shala said people shouldn’t “misunderstand” him. “The Holocaust happened historically,” he said. “The numbers, however, I don’t know. I don’t endorse other people’s opinions.”
— With files by Patrick Maloney and Hailey Salvian, Free Press reporters