'Many of our members feel unsafe in the current climate': Jewish PSAC members concerned over union's activism

‘I feel protected by my union as long as they don’t know I’m Jewish,’ said one PSAC member

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Jewish members of Canada’s largest public workers union say their union’s overt Middle East activism — particularly in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks — has left them feeling unsafe.

The National Post’s coverage last week of Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members upset over their union’s $50,000 donation to humanitarian relief in Gaza sparked a flurry of response from Jewish members, who say the union’s public positions on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas is ostracizing them among the membership.

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“I feel protected by my union as long as they don’t know I’m Jewish,” said one of those members, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

In late November, PSAC announced two $25,000 pledges to two Gaza-based charities: The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — organizations many observers allege hold uncomfortably close ties to Hamas. 

“Limited humanitarian aid has been permitted to enter Gaza, and with the health system facing potential collapse due to lack of basic necessities and fuel to keep the hospitals operating, it’s imperative to move as much relief, water, and medical supplies into Gaza as quickly as possible,” read a Nov. 29 statement announcing the donation. 

Jewish members who reached out to the National Post say attempts to air their concerns with union leadership were met with responses ranging from indifference to hostility. 

Richard Marceau, vice president of external affairs and general counsel for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA,) told the National Post that increased pro-Palestine and anti-Israel activism in Canadian organized labour comes at the peril of its Jewish members. 

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“There’s a systemic Jewish problem in Canada’s labour movement,” he said. 

This, he said, is causing Jewish union members to feel increasingly concerned and intimidated in Canada.

“They are feeling discriminated against by the union that they pay their dues to, and if their union takes virulent anti-Israel positions, how can a Jewish union member trust or feel comfortable going to their union and saying ‘can you represent me?’” he said. “They don’t.”

Founded in 2021, the Jewish Public Servants Network serves as a voice for Jewish public servants.

In a statement to the National Post, they described a growing sense of unease within their membership.

“Many of our members feel unsafe in the current climate and are dealing with both overt and covert antisemitism in the workplace,” the statement read.

“When the public sector unions take a position on geopolitical issues it makes many of our members, who are also union members, feel even more unsafe in their workplaces.”

Invitations by the National Post to PSAC for comment went unacknowledged.

The October 7 Hamas attacks targeting innocent Israelis — including the hostage-taking, rape and murder of men, women and children — brought forth numerous questionable public takes from union leaders. 

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It took weeks for Fred Hahn, Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE,) to walk back comments he made on social media shortly after the Oct. 7 attacks, celebrating Hamas’ attacks as an act of resistance. 

Canadian Association of Professional Employees president Camille Awada— another union representing public servants — stepped down last month after media reports uncovered antisemitic social media posts dating as far back as 2018.

“The European Zionists are the true Aryan race. They look down at the world as if we are cattle,” Awada posted on Facebook in 2019, according to reports published in Le Droit.

“Israel is the illegitimate Zionist terrorist apartheid state that is the root of all evil!” 

Earlier this month, the National Post wrote about Jewish teachers within the Peel District School Board fearing for their lives, thanks to actions by principals and their union they say stoke animosity against Jews and Israel.

Aaron, a Jewish member of PSAC who agreed to speak with the National Post under an assumed name, told the National Post that raising the issue with leadership left him feeling discouraged.

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“I’ve attempted to address concerns to the union on matters involving views they’ve expressed and events they’ve tried to hold, and I no longer feel comfortable doing so,” he said.

Others allege the union has little interest in entertaining their concerns.

“What is most troubling to me is not that PSAC doesn’t support Israel, but that it shows absolutely no compassion for its own Jewish members, many of whom have been deeply affected by what happened on Oct. 7 and the resulting rise in antisemitism,” said another Jewish member named Sarah, also not her real name.

“There has been zero acknowledgement that we feel unsafe in our communities, and zero indication that our union is doing anything to protect us or advocate for our safety in the workplace.”

A member of the Jewish Public Servants Network, Sarah spoke of anti-racism training seminars that Jewish members were concerned contained antisemitic material, and the indifferent response from officials when a colleague tried to complain. 

“He brought his concerns to PSAC and was told that they would not review the course materials, and were satisfied with the materials as they currently were,” she said.

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“In the current atmosphere, anyone who questions PSAC’s stance will be vilified and smeared.”

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Among PSAC’s questionable initiatives that stand out in Marceau’s mind was a May 2021 Facebook post promoting an Ottawa rally entitled “Labour solidarity and Palestinian resistance” — an incident that led to the formation of the Jewish Public Servants Network.

“It really brought to the forefront that PSAC was part of the problem, and not part of the solution,” he said.

The fact PSAC members were hesitant to publicly denounce their union speaks to the severity of the problem, Marceau said.

“It’s very telling that members are afraid of be on record discussing this, because they are afraid to be bullied, they are afraid to be intimidated,” he said.

“That shows the depths of the problem.”

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