Candidate apologizes for baseless tweets
NDP’s Sidney Coles appeared to blame Israel for missing virus vaccines
An NDP candidate in a key Toronto riding is under fire after appearing to invent and then spread a conspiracy theory about Israel and COVID-19 vaccines.
Sidney Coles, an equity consultant running for the party in Toronto—St. Paul’s, repeatedly claimed on Twitter that Israel was somehow responsible for missing doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the United States last winter.
On Sunday, Coles apologized for posting what she called “unsubstantiated theories about vaccine supply linked to Israel.” She admitted the tweets weren’t based on any evidence and that she had indulged in a “common antisemitic trope,” although she claimed “that was never (her) intent.”
“I should not have made this link and apologize and retract those statements,” she wrote in a separate tweet. “I will continue to stand firmly against antisemitism, racism and discrimination in all its forms.”
Coles’ apology came after a prominent Jewish human rights organization, Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, highlighted her posts online Sunday morning.
In at least four separate tweets, Coles appeared to blame Israel for vaccine doses that had apparently gone missing in the United States. The tweets all came in a four-day flurry last winter, in reply to stories or tweets about vaccine management under the Trump administration.
On Jan. 29, a user named @FoxyLustyGrover tweeted, “There are millions of COVID vaccines that are still unaccounted for, Trump’s Team were pretty incompetent so it might just be that … but those vaccines are worth their weight in gold right now so what are the chances of a side gig grift?” To which Coles replied, “Uh I think Israel might be able to help you solve that mystery.”
On Jan. 31, Coles replied to another thread about Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, and the missing vaccines with, “They (the vaccines) went to Israel. I keep saying this.”
When user @Irenesousa tweeted, “Since Trump and Putin ‘gave away’ PPE to Putin & others what would make people think they wouldn’t do the same with vaccine doses?” Coles replied, “They went to Israel.”
When Democratic activist Jon Cooper tweeted, “I wonder how much vaccine Jared Kushner ripped off?” Coles responded again, “They went to Israel.”
Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, the policy director at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, called Coles’ tweets an “antisemitic dog whistle.” In an interview, she said they were particularly alarming given the rise in the number of hate crimes in Canada in recent years, especially those directed against Jews.
“We are living in a moment right now where we are seeing massive and dangerous misinformation being shared on social media about the pandemic, and about Jews,” Kirzner-Roberts said. “And we are living in a moment of fear, uncertainty and growing levels of hate, not just directed against Jews, but against many other communities as well. So this was what was problematic here.”
Kirzner-Roberts said that, as far she can tell, Coles “seemed to have made this conspiracy up on her own.” As for her apology, “I guess it’s fair to say that we still have some questions. She said that antisemitism was not her intent. But one does wonder what one’s intent could be when spreading such vile and frightening lies about Israel.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had not addressed Coles’ comments as of early Monday evening, something Kirzner-Roberts called disappointing. “We’re looking for him to show that he means when he says that hatred will not be tolerated in our country,” she said.
In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for the NDP said that what Coles wrote “was wrong and hurtful. She understands that and has apologized.” He also sent a link to a state- ment from the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs that called Coles’ tweets “false,” “divisive,” “unsubstantiated,” and “tainted with antisemitism” but said that her apology was acknowledged and appreciated.
Coles’ campaign did not respond to requests for an interview Monday. However, on Sunday, Coles herself happened to be walking by a Star reporter’s home when she stopped to speak about the allegations.
Coles was visibly flustered as she spoke and said it had been a difficult day for her campaign. She called her tweets “cheeky” and referenced a “contract that had been signed” with regard to the vaccinations.
She said that it was no coincidence that these tweets were resurfacing just before the election. The reporter, who was caring for his child, offered to continue the conversation Monday, and Coles seemed interested in doing so, although she added that she wished she could speak more for herself on the issue, but that that was impossible during a campaign.
She did not respond to messages sent on several platforms Monday.
Coles is running in what has long been considered a safe Liberal seat. However, longtime incumbent Carolyn Bennett was considered newly vulnerable in this campaign after sending a text message to former cabinet colleague Jody Wilson-Raybould earlier this year that Wilson-Raybould deemed “racist” and “misogynistic.”
Toronto—St. Paul’s encompasses a swath of neighbourhoods near the geographic centre of the city. It has one of the largest Jewish populations of any riding in Canada.