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Jessica Cogan

CMHR Statement

Jessica Cogan: Open Letter to the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Re- Palestinian Exhibit

by Jessica Cogan, posted here Dec 4, 2023

To the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,


Today I received a four-page letter from your organization canvassing us for a donation to help teachers "protect human rights."  At the outset, this is a very noble cause that I certainly can get behind as I think it is crucially important for all Canadians to be educated about human rights.


The letter goes on to speak specifically about the 2SLGBTQI+ community and the struggles they face and how "only one in four teachers are trained to teach their students about human rights issues."  That is a dismal statistic to be sure.  As the mother of a child who is part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, I have seen firsthand, the detrimental effect bullying, stereotyping, and hate speech can have on both young and older members of this community.  Our household is exactly the type of household that understands the issues and has the means to make a meaningful donation to this cause as these issues permeate our everyday lives.


We are a family that has many different intersectionalities - we have a gay. non-binary child, I am a woman of colour (Bene Israel from India) and our family is Jewish.  The question of human rights has been discussed quite a bit in our household since October 7th.   I read the statement released by the CMHR on October 13th, almost a week after the brutal events of October 7th.  The statement was weak and wholly inadequate.  The statement makes no mention of the terror and brutality that Hamas visited upon Israeli civilians and instead, sought to equate the terror attack of October 7 to the "Israeli military action unfolding in Gaza" - a military action that had not even begun yet!  Disgraceful.  I have also been watching closely to see any statement from the CMHR about the gender-based violence perpetrated against Israeli women, girls, and yes, even men.  Where is the CMHR's statement denouncing rape as a weapon of war?  Where is CMHR's acknowledgment of hostages and a call for their immediate release?  How can I trust the CMHR to teach ANYONE about Human Rights?  Sadly, I cannot.


Not only has CMHR failed to make such acknowledgments, but it is pursuing quite an opposite stance.  I read with dismay Matthew Cutler's comments to the Winnipeg Sun this past weekend about “. . . new gallery content that will help Canadians 'better understand the human rights violations Palestinians experience every day'... ".  I have so many questions about the exhibit.  Do you mean the human rights violations that Palestinians face every day at the hands of Hamas?  Especially since you are trying to raise funds to address the lack of Human Rights education as it concerns our 2SLGBTQI+ community members, will the exhibit specifically talk about the human rights abuses of Palestinian 2SLGBTQI+ citizens in Gaza?  Will it contain the tragic story of Ahmad Abu Marhia and his beheading because he was gay?  Will it mention how he fled to Israel and sought asylum there, only to be kidnapped and murdered?  Will you expand on why it was that he felt safe enough to seek refuge in Israel? Will you include any of the interviews of gay Palestinians from Gaza and what it is like to be a gay person living in Gaza?  (They can easily be found through a google search).  Are these the "stories" that will make up part of the exhibit? 


When you speak of the “Naqba,” will you also mention the millions of Jewish people forced to flee their homes in Arab countries in 1948?  Will you speak of the pogroms that they faced and having to leave behind their businesses and livelihoods?  Will you mention the following statistics about Jewish populations in the Middle East and the number of Jews in each country from 1948 to present day:


Egypt: 1948 – 75,000; Present - less than 40

Iraq:  1948 – 150,000; Present - less than 7

Algeria: 1948 – 140,000; Present – less than 50

Yemen: 1948 – 55,000; Present – less than 50

Lebanon:  1948 – 20,000; Present – less than 100

Syria: 1948 – 40,000; Present – 0

Libya: 1948 – 38,000; Present – 0

Morocco: 1948 – 265,000; Present – less than 2000

Tunisia: 1948 - 105,000; Present – less than 1500


If you do not present all this information as well, then you will be presenting a false and inaccurate narrative, that contradicts simple history.  This is not acceptable for one of Canada’s national museums.


Which scholars will be consulted in the creation of this exhibit?  Will they even try to present a balanced viewpoint? I can only imagine the slant that this exhibit will take.  


Finally, I will share my child's experience in the past few months.  They attend Huron College at Western University.  They were attending many of the protests against the Ontario Government concerning the proposed legislation requiring teachers to report to parents if their child requests to be identified by different pronouns.  I was so proud of our child as they confronted the hate head-on.  They were called all sorts of names by the other side including being called a child molester.  Our tender-hearted queer child was called a pedophile.  A part of their innocence was lost that day. My heart broke for them, yet they stood with their queer community in their demand for human rights protection, despite the toll that it took on their own mental health.


Fast forward a few weeks to October 7 to the present.  That same queer community that our child marched and chanted with has now, by and large, become militant in their support of Gaza and Hamas.  The irony of this would be laughable if it wasn't so sad and confusing - especially for our child.  They visited from university recently and said the following,


"You know what I have come to realize, Mom?  I am perfectly welcome to be gay in my Jewish community, but I am not welcome to be Jewish in my gay community."


My heart broke even more.  There should be no "whataboutism" or "all lives matter approach" when it comes to antisemitism, as it is the oldest, MOST prevalent, and virulent form of hatred in the world today.  That it has completely exploded and has become acceptable in 2023 is absolutely frightening and devastating. DEI has failed our Jewish children, and especially our queer Jewish children, not to mention our Jewish people of colour (over 50% of Israel’s Jewish population are Jews of colour).  No space is safe for our child outside of Jewish spaces.  That is both scary and sad.


Given all that I have written, I simply cannot trust the CMHR to properly train Canadian teachers about Human Rights in a way that is inclusive of ALL the different nationalities and religions that comprise our pluralistic society.  I have lost faith in the CMHR that, ironically, the Jewish community had a strong hand in building and was the concept and vision of our beloved Israel Asper.  I can't even imagine what he would be thinking about the failings of CMHR were he alive today.


No, I will not donate to the CMHR and I will be sure to share this letter with members of my Jewish community and encourage them to do the same.




Jessica Cogan

B.A. L.LB.


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