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October 03, 2002

Jewish group angry over bookstore's button policy

TORONTO - A feminist bookstore has angered the Canadian Jewish Congress by refusing to distribute buttons calling for an end to suicide bombings in Israel, even as it sells buttons protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

''We're trying to digest the information that the Toronto Women's Bookstore is somehow averse to a button that says Stop the killings or Stop the bombings. I would think that no Canadians want to see suicide bombings killing innocent civilians,'' said Ed Morgan, chair of the CJC for the Ontario region.

The CJC was told this summer that the bookstore was selling $2 buttons bearing slogans such as Free Palestine -- Time for Peace Time for Women and End the Occupation Now.

In response, the CJC offered to produce buttons for free distribution featuring the slogan Stop the Homicide Bombings superimposed on an image of the Star of David. The CJC approached the bookstore on Thursday with the buttons, but the store declined to accept them. According to Mr. Morgan, no explanation was given.

''Everybody's allowed to come up with whatever political slogan they want and give away whatever buttons they want, but an honest and evenhanded approach to peace in the region would require them to give away our buttons as well,'' he said.

A spokeswoman for the Toronto Women's Bookstore declined to comment on the decision not to carry the CJC buttons. However, in a previous statement, the store's staff and board said selling the pro-Palestinian buttons is ''consistent with our mandate.''

''The mandate of the Toronto Women's Bookstore includes working in an anti-oppression framework that supports liberation struggles, anti-racist movements, struggles against anti-Semitism and human rights work.''

The statement also detailed the bookstore's position on the Middle East.

''We work with individuals and groups within the Jewish, Palestinian, and social activist communities, such as Women Against the Occupation, Jewish Women's Committee to End the Occupation, Creative Response and the Coalition for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine. We support the right to self-determination for Palestinians, and we support the right for Jews and Palestinians to live in peace. We believe that ending the occupation is the first step in order to realize that goal.''

The statement also criticized its critics.

''We are dismayed by the attempts to silence dissent in this issue in Toronto. Those criticizing the bookstore have equated criticism of Israel with being anti-Jewish. We believe an end to the occupation is part of the struggle against anti-Semitism.''

Mr. Morgan suggested carrying the CJC's buttons should fall within the written mandate of the bookstore.

''They purport to be advocates of peace as a matter of principle. As a matter of principle our view is they should be against the bombings,'' he said.

He said the CJC is not currently planning to call for a boycott of the store or other similar actions.