Last week, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre met with Chaim Silberstein, a far-right developer of property in occupied East Jerusalem who has insisted that settlers should be free to “shoot to kill” rock-wielding Palestinians.
The opposition leader gathered with the NGO “Keep Jerusalem” to promote the party’s pledge to move Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following a previous move by former US president Donald Trump. At the meeting, Poilievre said: “I repeat clearly and unambiguously: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and when I am elected prime minister of Canada, I will ensure that our embassy is relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
While Poilievre did not specify to where in Jerusalem the embassy would be moved, it was enough to please Chaim Silberstein, who is the founder and chair of Keep Jerusalem, a councillor for the Beit El settlement, and a past financing coordinator for Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah.
“The purpose of our visit to Canada was precisely this: to hear this clear and official pronouncement from Canadian members of parliament and especially the opposition leader, who will potentially be the next prime minister,” Silberstein told the Jewish News Syndicate. “We intend to develop collaborative relationships with additional international parties on the issue of Jerusalem.”
This wasn’t Silberstein’s first interaction with the Conservative party. According to Mishpacha magazine, he attended its 2018 convention in Halifax, where he met caucus chairman David Sweet and observed the party’s vote on the embassy move. “I don’t want to take credit, but I do believe that our work has contributed to the motivation behind making those political statements, and we hope to continue impacting public policy in Israel and internationally,” Silberstein said at the time.
But this time, groups like Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) have been quick to note Silberstein’s long-standing, far-right history.
Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME, said the connection is deeply unsettling.
“The explicit goal of Keep Jerusalem is to dramatically reduce the presence of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem,” Bueckert said. “Silberstein himself is involved in efforts to force out Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, a mass expulsion campaign which amounts to ethnic cleansing.
“It is a racist project, and Keep Jerusalem’s policy proposals — settlement expansion, annexation, home demolitions — are blatantly illegal under international law.”
“[Keep Jerusalem] is premised on the notion that there are ‘too many Arabs’ in Jerusalem,” NCCM tweeted.
‘You should be permitted to shoot to kill’
Silberstein’s past statements reflect his long history as an opponent of Palestinian rights.
In 1993, Silberstein — then vice president of a Bet El construction firm — told The Washington Post that the Israeli army was too lax in its defence of illegal settlements. Accordingly, he said settlers should be free to kill Palestinians themselves:
“If an Arab picks up a stone to throw, you should be permitted to shoot to kill.”
He went on to say, “I am a person who does not want to kill. I don't want to have to be a killer. It bothers me being prodded as an individual and as a nation to carry out acts I find morally justified, but spiritually tainted. It makes me sad.”
While saying he had not personally carried a gun “since the early days of the Intifada,” he admitted he kept one “to cater to extreme, severe situations.”
Silberstein hardly appears to have moderated his views since then.
When The Guardian interviewed Silberstein in 2006, he professed his support for Benny Elon’s National Union party.
At the time, The Guardian noted, Elon had been campaigning to “annex the occupied territories to Israel and expel many Palestinians to Jordan.” Previously, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, Elon campaigned with billboards reading “Only transfer will bring peace.” He also called for “another Nakba.”
The 2006 Guardian article, however, failed to mention that Silberstein had been Elon’s chief of staff, and senior advisor during his time as Moledet’s tourism minister and had remained, reportedly, a personal friend.
As chief of staff, Salon reported, Silberstein suggested marking May 29th “Jerusalem Liberation Day” to commemorate the day, during the 1967 war, that Israel captured and began its slow annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In a 2017 interview with The Jewish Press, Silberstein applauded Elon’s commitment to the occupation — “Though it was inconvenient.”
Speaking to The Independent’s Middle East correspondent about Trump in 2018, Silberstein said: “There never was a Palestinian history. This land never belonged to them, never… They never had a state, they never had any rights to their country.”
More recently, Silberstein has taken to writing columns. In several articles, Silberstein has expressed horror at the existence of Palestinian communities in Jerusalem.
“The enemy has ‘breached’ the walls – and right within our city limits, two huge Arab neighborhoods have sprouted and continue to grow wildly, unblocked by the security barrier,” Silberstein wrote. “The growing Arab population in Jerusalem now stands at 40 per cent of the total population – and in eastern Jerusalem, where the Palestinian Authority wishes to establish its ‘capital,’ it holds a commanding lead of nearly 60 per cent. Will we wake up one day soon to a Hamas-backed mayor in Jerusalem!?”
Elsewhere, he condemned statistics suggesting that more Palestinians are enrolling in Hebrew universities.
“This increased enrollment reflects a disturbing demographic trend: the Arab percentage of Jerusalem is increasing. Right now, Arabs comprise about 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population. At this rate, they may actually become the majority, which will have serious ramifications in terms of municipal political control, the infiltration of hostile elements in managing the city, assimilation, and more.”
In another column, he called for state policy to curb “demographic” shifts in East Jerusalem.
“Geographically and demographically speaking, an Israeli withdrawal will strangle the city, leading not only to increased Jewish emigration (as happened when the city was divided in 1949) but also to heightened immigration by Arabs to the Israeli side where they can continue to enjoy the full political rights that Israel grants them. Security-wise, the void formed by an Israeli withdrawal would quickly be filled by Islamic terror forces, deployed just across streets or valleys from Jewish neighborhoods – while Israel’s ability to respond would be limited. Dividing the city would also place the holy sites at the mercy of Islamic extremists.”
“The Jewish people and state must do everything today to prevent the modern destruction of our eternal capital,” Silberstein wrote.
In 2020, in the aftermath of a family member being killed in an attack in the occupied territories, he wrote to the government of Israel: “Our main message to the government and IDF is to increase deterrence in order to minimize, if not prevent future attacks. Deterrence begins by changing the open fire orders for soldiers and armed citizens so they can more confidently deal with imminent threats. Other important deterrent steps: Death sentence for convicted terrorist murderers. Complete destruction of the homes of terrorists and their families, as well as the accomplices without the option to rebuild. Expulsion of the families and accomplices from their villages, never to return.”
What comes after the moving of the embassy? We need to consider the demographic and security challenges facing Jerusalem. They are existential threats— Chaim Silberstein (@ChaimSilbs) May 16, 2018
The Conservative Party did not respond to requests for comment.
Keep Jerusalem, for its part, declined interview requests. When asked if Silberstein stands by his past statements, a spokesperson remarked: “Your questions and excerpts are biased to the extreme, selective in their transparent agenda of Jew and Israel hatred, taken completely out of context without an ounce of journalistic integrity or honesty, full of lies and omissions. If we felt that your questions and context of the quotes were sincere and honest, we would answer them accordingly.”
This is not Silberstein's first visit hosted by Canadian MPs. In 2019 he met with both Conservative and Liberal MPs, including former Liberal justice minister (and now special envoy) Irwin Cotler and the heads of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
In addition to moving the embassy, “Silberstein also discussed the establishment of a Jerusalem Caucus in the Canadian Parliament, in order to promote the education advocacy for Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal united capital,” reports Israel National News. “The Members of Parliament accepted the idea with enthusiasm and promised to work together to implement it after the October elections.”
Bueckert of CJPME hopes Canadians recognize the dangers of what Silberstein is lobbying for.
“Moving the Canadian Embassy would amount to the recognition of Israel’s unilateral and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. Proponents hope that this would ‘lock in’ Israel’s annexation of the city, and prevent any outcome that would involve sharing the city with Palestinians,” Bueckert said. “This is critical for Keep Jerusalem’s long-term project.”