Calgary YMCA rescinds peace award of pro-Palestinian activist

Reversal comes after Jewish Federation protests decision following summer rally organized by Saima Jamal that turned violent

Saima Jamal speaking in April. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Saima Jamal speaking in April. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Young Men’s Christian Association reversed its decision to award a Peace Medal to a Canadian activist after a pro-Palestinian rally she organized over the summer turned violent.

The Calgary Jewish Federation had protested the YMCA’s decision to award Saima Jamal the prize after a July 18 protest she organized against Israel’s war in Gaza ended with scuffles between pro-Palestinian activists and Israel supporters.

“Earlier this week, after careful and fulsome consideration, YMCA Calgary made the decision not to award a 2014 Peace Medal in the Community Peace Initiatives — Individual category at YMCA Calgary Peace Medals,” the YMCA said in a statement Friday, adding that it would not comment further on the situation until after speaking with Jamal.

Jamal expressed shock at the decision, which came less than a week after she was notified she would be receiving the award.

“That displays complete lack of respect for my work,” she said, according to CBC News. “I feel, to tell you the truth, lost. How can someone do this to me, an institution as respectable as the Y?”

Jamal has worked for numerous organizations promoting peace and was nominated for the same award last year. She also received the 2012 Alberta Civil Liberties Award.

However, on July 18, a pro-Palestinian rally she organized during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas turned violent as protesters from her rally clashed with those from a smaller pro-Israel demonstration nearby.

Three pro-Palestinian supporters, including a minor, were later charged with assaulting three people.

Jamal delivered an apology, calling the violence unacceptable, at another rally on July 25, according to the Calgary Sun.

Calgary Jewish Federation cited the violent incident in protesting the YMCA’s decision to honor Jamal.

“We believe that giving a peace award to Ms. Jamal would send the wrong message because that rally turned violent and because the general tone of the rally was, I would say, the demonization of the state of Israel, vilification of Israel — not a tone of peace, not asking for reconciliation,” said Jeffrey Smith, chair of the Federation’s community relations committee.

A petition on demanding that the YMCA explain and reverse its decision to revoke Jamal’s award has garnered 500 signatures over the last two days.

Officials from the YMCA and Jamal are schedule to meet on Monday.

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