Jewish group rejects explanation for sermon
Mosque says imam’s 2014 call to ‘destroy the accursed Jews’ was response to Gaza.
Montreal police are investigating a video taken in a Montreal mosque in 2014 of a man making a supplication in Arabic for Allah “to destroy the accursed Jews” and “give victory to our brothers who engage in jihad in Palestine.”
The 36-minute video went viral after the Toronto-based Canadian Investigative Journal, known as Cijnews, posted it on its website Feb. 8. The mosque is the Al-andalous Islamic Centre in the borough of St. Laurent and the speaker is identified as Sayed al-ghitawi.
“We condemn these explicit calls for the death of Jews in the strongest possible terms,” CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko stated Feb. 13. “[W]e believe these declarations may be a violation of the Criminal Code.”
On Feb. 15, the mosque issued a “clarification” claiming the imam’s words were taken out of context, but confirmed the video dates to August 2014 and that the speaker was a “volunteer imam” filling in for the vacationing spiritual leader.
The sermon, the mosque said, was delivered during “the Israeli military offensive” in Gaza, which it said was condemned by human rights associations for the “massacre” of civilians.
“When the replacing imam preached these invocations at the end of the sermon… the people present understood that the comments were addressed to Israeli soldiers guilty of abuses with regard to the Palestinian civilian population.”
It says the mosque administration told the imam after videos of him (there were two) were posted on Youtube by a Muslim channel that his remarks could be “misunderstood” by those not present. It says it asked him to “clarify” his remarks during his subsequent appearances at the mosque, which he did.
However, according to the statement, the mosque only asked that the videos be taken offline after Cijnews posted one of them on its website.
CIJA rejected the mosque’s explanation. Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko stated: “It is deeply disturbing that the leadership of Al-andalous Islamic Centre failed to explicitly condemn repeated calls in its mosque for the destruction of Jews. Particularly unconscionable is the fact that the mosque, in full knowledge of the violent and hateful content of these sermons, allowed them to be distributed online until they were brought to the attention of the public and the police.”
Cijnews co-founder Jonathan Halevi told The CJN the videos were posted by Alrahma Qanat, which he said is Arabic for channel and mercy, and were introduced as having taken place at Al-andalous.
Halevi, who knows Arabic, said he translated it “with the advice of an Arabic speaker.”
Halevi is described on Cijnews, which has no affiliation with The CJN, as a lieutenant-colonel in the Israel Defence Forces reserves and a senior researcher of radical Islam at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
Asked the reason for the three-year time lag in publicizing the video, Halevi responded that Cijnews conducts research on issues related to “the national security of Canada” and makes it public “after the evidence is… gathered, saved and analyzed.”
According to the translation, al-ghitawi invokes, “O Allah, give victory to our brothers who engage in jihad for your sake in everywhere, O Lord of the worlds.”
He goes on about how he looks forward to “the black day you inflict on them [the Jews],” expressing the wish that the deity “kill them one by one” and “make their children orphans and their women widows.”
The Al-andalous centre, which opened in 2012, did not respond to a request for comment from The CJN at time of writing.
In 2015, the mosque was fighting eviction by St. Laurent from its building on Décarie Boulevard because it was operating in a zone not designated for religious institutions, but the borough overturned the order.
Rabbi Poupko also rejected the mosque’s cynicism about the timing of Cijnews’ dissemination of the video. In its statement, the mosque questions Cijnews’ motives. “We cannot help but have the impression that this is a shameful attempt to restart the polemics targeting the Muslim community after the wave of solidarity…recently observed following the terrorist attack” at the Quebec City Islamic centre, it said.
“If anything, the attack on the Quebec City mosque should serve as a reminder to all that there can be no ‘context’ in our democracy that legitimizes calls for violence against any identifiable group,” Rabbi Poupko responded.