Jewish - Muslim Interaction in Canada / Interview with David Goldberg , Part One

The number of Muslims in Canada has grown exponentially, while the size of the Jewish community has remained more or less stable. There are now 780,000 Muslims in the country, representing 2.5 percent of the total population, while the 373,000 Jews account for about 1 percent.
The Muslims have understood that the Jewish community has organized itself effectively. Thus, for the most part, they have copied the Jewish approach to the letter. There are three prominent national Muslim advocacy organizations: the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), and the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF), which incorporates both Muslim and Christian Arabs. The leadership cadre of all three organizations has become increasingly extreme in recent years.
On a national level there is no dialogue between Jews and Muslims comparable to the longstanding - and highly effective - Canadian Council of Christian and Jews, which is now called the Canadian Centre for Diversity. At a local level there are some contacts. Muslim and Jewish communities have parallel institutes that work together in trying to persuade the government of the Province of Ontario to end faith-based discrimination in school funding.
One recent incident of anti-Jewish arson and violence was, with certainty, perpetrated by a Muslim. The coordinated global effort to delegitimize the state of Israel - based on its spurious comparison with apartheid South Africa - originated in 2005 with the Arab Students' Collective at the University of Toronto. Anti-Zionist rallies at Canadian universities involving Muslims, Arabs, and leftists have turned violent and threatened the personal security of Jewish students.
"The number of Muslims in Canada has grown exponentially, while the size of the Jewish community has remained more or less stable. The 2006 census by the Canadian government revealed that there are 780,000 Muslims in the country, representing 2.5 percent of the total population, while the 373,000 Jews account for about 1 percent."[1]

David Goldberg is an independent policy analyst and consultant based in Toronto. He has had a long career in Israel and Jewish studies and in Jewish communal work. Goldberg was the national executive director of Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East (1988-1991) and the director of research and education for the Canada-Israel Committee (1991-2007).

He observes: "Census data indicate that in 1971 there were only 33,000 Muslims in Canada. By 1981 their number had increased to 98,000. In 1991 there were 253,000 Muslims and in 2001, 579,000. This reflects fundamental changes in Canada's immigration trends, which have shifted from people of European origins to those of Asian ones.[2]

"Estimates suggest that 37 percent of Muslim immigrants have a Southeast Asian background. About 21 percent are of Arab descent, of whom some are Christians. Fourteen percent are from India and 28 percent have other ethnic origins. Historically speaking the first immigrants to Canada from the Middle East were Christians from Lebanon and Syria. Nowadays almost all are Muslims.[3] Those arriving from the Palestinian areas often claim refugee status. Few such people are rejected.

"Not all new Canadians of Muslim descent necessarily have an abiding interest in Middle East affairs. Like most immigrants, their primary concern is to learn one of the two official languages - English or French - find a job, and make a new life for their family. However, evidence suggests that global political trends and access to mass media are making recent Muslim immigrants to Canada increasingly concerned about developments in the Middle East in general and the Palestinian issue in particular."[4]

A Well-Organized Jewish Community
Goldberg points to strengths of Canada's Jewish community. "Its advocacy groups dealing with foreign policy and self-defense are well regarded in Canada for their successful organization and funding, along with the effective, well-coordinated articulation of their messages.

"The main coordinating body is the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). CIJA was established in the early days of the Second Intifada to make the Jewish community's advocacy work more effective. Funded by Canadian federated communities, CIJA is mandated to coordinate and enhance advocacy activities on all issues affecting Canada's Jewish community.

"Under the CIJA umbrella, the Canadian Jewish Congress advocates on domestic antisemitism and the presence of Nazi-era war criminals in Canada, and on international antisemitism and on behalf of Jewish communities in distress. The Canada-Israel Committee is mandated to interact with the Canadian government and with media, business, and nongovernmental organizations to enhance cooperation and understanding between Canadians and Israelis. Other national advocacy organizations supported by CIJA include National Jewish Campus Life and Canadian Friends of Israel. Among other major communal organizations, B'nai Brith Canada has chosen to remain outside the CIJA purview and conducts its advocacy activities with respect to foreign policy and self-defense autonomously.[5]

"The Jewish community largely arrived and established institutional roots in Canada before the Second World War.[6] The Arab and Muslim communities are thus at least two generations behind, and many Muslims continue to arrive in Canada. The Muslims have understood that the Jewish community has organized itself effectively. Thus, to a great extent, they have copied the Jewish approach to the letter.[7] Yet, even if they have done it well, they are still in the building stage and have suffered from internal divisions relating to religious, national, and political tensions carried over from their homelands.[8]

"At present there are three prominent national Muslim advocacy organizations. In recent years the leadership cadre of all three has become increasingly extreme.

"The first such organization is the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN). It is effectively a branch of the American CAIR, and like it is extremely confrontational. They try - in part through litigation (or the constant threat of lawsuits) - to intimidate and silence all who oppose their viewpoint. Among their primary targets are journalists and academic specialists in the field of terrorism and Middle East affairs, and especially Jewish and non-Jewish commentators who express a pro-Western, pro-Israel perspective."

Suits and Threatening with Them
"For instance, in 2004 CAIR-CAN filed a libel suit against David Harris,[9] a specialist in counterterrorism who was formerly a senior official with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada's foreign intelligence agency. In an April 2004 interview on Ottawa radio station CFRA, Harris, responding to a Hamas suicide-terrorist attack against Israeli civilians, had suggested that Canadian authorities should look into how funds raised in Canada by CAIR-CAN were being used, as well as the organization's relationship with American CAIR.[10] CAIR-CAN was forced to withdraw its suit against Harris and the radio station two years later.[11] It also settled out-of-court equally frivolous libel litigation against columnist David Frum and the National Post relating to questions Frum had raised in a column about CAIR-CAN's and CAIR's fundraising activities.[12]

"A related tactic frequently used - or inspired - by CAIR-CAN to intimidate and silence pro-Western and pro-Israel voices has been complaints to federal and provincial Human Rights tribunals. Commentator Mark Steyn found himself the object of a series of such complaints by Muslim and Arab organizations in Canada following the publication of his article "The Future Belongs to Islam" in Maclean's magazine in October 2006. Complainants alleged that the article contributed to "Islamophobia" and hatred of Muslims in Canada.[13] However, the complaints were subsequently dropped or dismissed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. As the Canadian Human Rights Commission stated in explaining its rejection of the allegations against Steyn and Maclean's:

The writing is polemical, colourful and emphatic, and was obviously calculated to excite discussion and even offend certain readers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.... Overall, however, the views expressed in the Steyn article, when considered as a whole and in context, are not of an extreme nature as defined by the Supreme Court [of Canada].[14]
"Complaints to Human Rights tribunals by Muslim groups using the CAIR-CAN model also failed to intimidate Ezra Levant, a well-known Jewish journalist in Western Canada. In early 2006 Levant's Western Standard magazine and another publication reprinted controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The leader of a Muslim group in Calgary, Alberta, the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, launched a complaint against Levant and the two publications with the Alberta Human Rights Commission claiming that the reprinting of the cartoons violated his constitutionally guaranteed human rights, incited hatred against Muslims, and exceeded the limits of freedom of speech as defined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Levant, however, insisted that it was his right to freedom of speech that was in question. The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada blinked first in this battle of wills, withdrawing their complaint against Levant in February 2008.[15] Indeed, Levant used his statement before the Alberta Human Rights Commission as an opportunity to launch a broadside against the legal and moral authority of Human Rights tribunals in principle, arguing, among other things, that they represented an infringement on fundamental democratic rights (including freedom of speech and freedom of the press). He also argued that in many cases the tribunals were - willingly or unwittingly - being exploited by Muslim groups such as CAIR-CAN to score cheap propaganda points against the United States and Israel.[16]

"Steyn expressed similar sentiments regarding the complaints about his Maclean's article before the various Canadian federal and provincial Human Rights tribunals.[17] Although the success rate is low, the threat of expensive libel litigation or a human rights complaint by CAIR-CAN is always there and arguably has had a chilling effect on Canada's Jewish advocacy organizations.

"Another extreme advocacy organization is the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC). Its founding president and driving force, Mohamed Elmasry, has asserted on Canadian television that all Israelis over the age of eighteen are legitimate targets of terrorism because Israel has a conscription army.[18] Its website[19] is replete with repugnant Israel-apartheid equations and other anti-Israel propaganda. The organization fronted the unsuccessful British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal complaint against Steyn and Maclean's, and it also takes a very firm position on the application of shari'a law in Canadian society.

"Although the CIC is considered a fringe group even within the Muslim community,[20] the public statements by Elmasry and the organization's equally extreme new generation of leaders are disconcerting to the Jewish community as a whole. The Canadian government refuses to have any dealings with this organization or to provide it with any public funding. But it is problematic that mainstream media outlets continue to seek out Elmasry for sensationalist remarks and thereby legitimize his and the organization's extreme viewpoint."[21]

Funding Withdrawn from CAF
"The third national advocacy organization is the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF). It is an umbrella organization that incorporates groups of both Muslim and Christian Arabs. Recent extreme actions of the CAF's senior leadership have created major uproars in Canada. During the Gaza war (December 2008-January 2009) an intense battle of words broke out between Canada's minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, and the CAF's national president Khaled Mouammar, who on 17 January 2009 called the minister ‘a professional whore.' Kenney had criticized the presence of Hezbollah and Hamas flags at anti-Israel rallies in Toronto and declared his unconditional support for Israel's right to self-defense against terrorism.[22]

"In his 17 February 2009 address at the inaugural meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Commission for Combating Antisemitism in London, Kenney referred to Elmasry's hateful remarks. He also cited Mouammar for his involvement in the distribution of propaganda supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. Kenney noted that Mouammar had ‘notoriously circulated an e-mail when my colleague, [Canada's] shadow Foreign Minister, Bob Rae, was running for the leadership of his party, calling on people to vote against Mr. Rae because of [his wife] Arlene Perly Rae's involvement in Canada's Jewish community.'[23]

"Because of their explicit support for groups on Canada's list of banned terrorist organizations and their belligerent behavior that was inconsistent with Canadian values of tolerance, multiculturalism, and respect for diversity, Kenney declared that groups such as the CAF and the CIC should not expect to receive financial support from Canada's federal government:

These and other organizations are free within the confines of our law and consistent with our traditions of freedom of expression, to speak their mind, but they should not expect to receive resources from the state, support from taxpayers or any other form of official respect from the government or the organs of our state. And I would encourage all other governments to take a similar approach to organizations that either excuse violence against Jews or express essentially anti-Semitic sentiments.[24]
"Kenney's ministry immediately thereafter withdrew funding from the CAF. This sparked a major public controversy and a battle between elements of the Canadian Arab and Muslim community and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The broader NGO community was drawn into the debate on the CAF's side, as were civil libertarians who morphed it into a phantom struggle over freedom of speech. The government's response was unyielding.

"In an email sent to the leaders of some twenty Muslim and Arab organizations in early March 2009 in an attempt to marshal support, Mouammar claimed that he and the CAF were the victims of a ‘well-planned Zionist campaign waged by the Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai Brith Canada [and] supported by some suppress all criticism of Israel and equate it with anti-Semitism.'[25] Kenney's office responded emphatically: ‘This e-mail, by specifically naming the Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai Brith, again shows he does not just disdain Zionists, but the Jewish community as a whole.... It's the ugliest, most vile sort of language. It's not surprising to us that he is again engaged in this sort of reprehensible rhetoric trying to pit community against community.'[26]

"Omar Shaban, a national executive vice-president of the CAF, was subsequently compelled to resign after he reportedly posted the slogan ‘F--k Canada Day' on his personal Facebook page and for calling Canada a genocidal state because of its participation in the Afghanistan war and its opposition to international terrorism. Shaban reportedly wrote that he was ashamed to be a Canadian.[27] The CAF also sponsors an essay-writing contest called ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.'"

Little Interaction with the Jewish Community
"The Jewish community has no real interaction with these national advocacy organizations or other smaller Muslim or Arab groups. One of them may hold a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy in Ottawa or the consulates in Montreal or Toronto; the Jewish community may then hold a counterdemonstration across the street, with the police as a buffer.

"On the national level there is no dialogue between the organized Jewish and Muslim communities. There are some limited contacts between Jews and Muslims at the local level. For instance, in Thornhill, Ontario, a city just north of Toronto, a Reform temple and an adjacent mosque share a parking lot. There has been occasional dialogue between the rabbis and the imam and some ‘soft' interfaith/intercultural activities involving members of the two institutions.

"Some attempts have been made to dialogue on issues of faith in Toronto and some smaller communities, including Ottawa,[28] Hamilton, Windsor, and Edmonton. There have also been some local interactions in Montreal, generally involving people from the Sephardic Jewish community and the Moroccan Arab community.[29] However, whenever the dialogue turns to ‘hard politics,' that is, the Middle East, the Palestinians, and Israel, difficulties are likely to arise."[30]

Few Religious Problems
"Thanks to the liberal Canadian attitude toward religion, there are not many religious problems for either Jews or Muslims. The Canadian multicultural position is that people are free to practice their religion as they wish. Religious slaughter is not a problematic issue; neither is circumcision, the emptying of cemeteries, or forced autopsy.

"The one issue some more radical Muslim elements have raised is the implementation of shari'a law in certain family courts. Some suggested that such a court would be similar to the beit din [the Jewish rabbinical court], but these are two different situations. The rabbinical court is entirely voluntary within the Jewish community. It deals with a prescribed, limited number of family-law issues and is not concerned with criminal issues. The beit din's rulings are applicable only if they are acceptable to all sides. Discussions about shari'a law in the Province of Ontario failed largely because of concern about the arbitrary subjugation of women."[31]

"There is no evidence of violent conspiracies against Jews by Canadian Arabs or Muslims. In 2004 there was a serious incident of anti-Jewish violence where with certainty the perpetrator was a Muslim. In January 2005, Sleiman El-Merhebi pleaded guilty to arson and uttering threats in connection with the firebombing of the United Talmud Torah (UTT) elementary school in Montreal on 5 April 2004. El-Merhebi, then nineteen, devised a bomb from kerosene canisters to torch the school, leaving behind a letter denouncing ‘Israelis and Zionists' and threatening to strike harder ‘the next time.' El-Merhebi reportedly claimed to be motivated to act against an identifiable symbol of the local Jewish community by the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israel security forces on 22 March 2004.[32]

"The fire caused more than $600,000 in damage to the school library and traumatized Montreal's Jewish community. In her sentencing remarks, Judge Jean Sirois of Quebec Superior Court described the attack as an act of terrorism and dismissed the idea that it was merely vandalism, as suggested by a psychiatrist who had assessed El-Merhebi on behalf of the defense. Sirois said, ‘There is a distinction to be drawn between vandalism and terrorism: One seeks to destroy stupidly, the other to intimidate, to sow terror for a political goal. Terrorism is much more dangerous to a society; it attacks its foundations.'[33] El-Merhebi was sentenced to a total of forty months in prison.

"In November 2008 El-Merhebi's mother, Rouba El-Merhebi Fahd, was convicted as an accessory-after-the-fact for helping arrange her son's abortive escape to South America following the 2004 firebombing. She was sentenced to twelve months' probation. Canada's Jewish leaders expressed disappointment. B'nai Brith Canada argued that Fahd's sentence did not ‘befit the seriousness of the crime' and that the outcome of her trial sent

precisely the wrong signal to Quebec's Jewish community that is increasingly the target for hate crimes.... It has been more than four years since the initial UTT firebombing that shook the Jewish community to its core. And yet, this incident is as fresh in our minds today as it was all those years ago. Each and every time the Jewish community is singled out for hatred, we are reminded of this particular incident and the ongoing threats the community continues to face.[34]
"In February 2009, the Algerian-born Omar Bulphred pleaded guilty to three counts of arson and two of making threats and was sentenced to a total of seven years in prison. His coaccused, Azim Ibragimov, was sentenced a year earlier to four years. The two men, who were initially described by police as ‘Muslims of Russian descent who were born in Canada,' were arrested in April 2007 for a series of criminal acts in Montreal, including the firebombings of the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Boys School in September 2006 and the Ben Weider Jewish Community Center in April 2007.[35] The court heard that both men wrote letters claiming the attacks against the Jewish institutions were committed in the name of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group and threatening that there would be more attacks against the Montreal Jewish community.[36]

"It was not certain whether Canadian intelligence was able to draw a valid connection between the convicted arsonists' claims and the Gaza-based terrorist organization. But it was enough to heighten the anxiety of a Montreal Jewish community - and the broader, non-Jewish community in Montreal[37] - still trying to come to terms with the initial firebombing of the UTT school in 2004 by a Muslim claiming to be motivated by events in the Middle East."

Violence on Campus
Goldberg says the university and college campus in Canada has increasingly become a venue where Muslim and Arab student activists, working in close coordination with antiglobalization and anti-American leftists, including prominent Jewish intellectuals such as Naomi Klein[38] and backed by supportive student governments, use violence to intimidate and silence Jewish students and pro-Israel voices.

"No university president in Canada condones violence against Jewish and pro-Israel students. Yet their reluctance to apply a level playing field to all ‘political activity' by groups accorded status on campus or those receiving funds by university institutions, or to extend antiracism regulations to include forms of ‘new antisemitism' (i.e., denying the Jewish people's right to a homeland), has suggested to Muslim and Arab groups that the sky is the limit in terms of the permissibility of their intimidation activities. Compounding the situation is the universities' tendency to wrap their failure to protect Jewish students from Muslim intimidation with the sacrosanct precept of ‘freedom of speech.'

"Symptomatic of this situation was the riot at Concordia University in Montreal in September 2002 that denied Jewish students the right to hear an address on campus by then-former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The premeditated riot was organized by a group called Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). While the nucleus of the coalition was Muslim and Arab, many of the other five to six hundred anti-Israel rioters were non-Muslims, including Trotskyites, Maoists, and other anti-Americans, and even some left-wing Jews.[39]

"In January 2003, the Muslim- and Arab-dominated Middle East Students' Association at York University in Toronto used the threat of violence, similar to what had occurred six months earlier at Concordia, to try and force the cancellation of a lecture by Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes. Although the university's president refused to bend to the students' intimidation tactics, in this case it was a group of professors who were pressured by leftist colleagues to rescind an invitation to engage in academic discourse with Pipes.[40]

"The origins of the annual Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), the international campus-based campaign to encourage boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel - premised on the spurious comparison of Israel and apartheid-era South Africa - can be traced back to the efforts of the Arab Students' Collective and its fellow travelers at the University of Toronto in 2004 and early 2005.[41] By permitting the initial 2005 anti-Israel event to occur, claiming that to do otherwise would contravene the university's sacred duty to encourage and facilitate ‘the ability to question, examine and comment on issues of the day, even when such commentary may be repugnant to some,' the University of Toronto administration opened the floodgates for IAW events in Canada and globally, and emboldened Muslim and Arab students to become increasingly aggressive in their intimidation of Jewish students."[42]

The Atmosphere at York University
"A situation at York University of intense anti-Jewish intimidation by Muslim and Arab activists and leftists that had been actively sponsored by the university's student government and had been brewing for several years finally came to a boil in February 2009, when a group of Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves in the Hillel offices against the threat of physical violence.[43] One of the Jewish students called it ‘one of the most scary moments of my life...when the university, a place of civil discourse, turns into a place where students don't feel safe coming to campus.' Two York University students, one of them the incoming president of the student body, were subsequently sanctioned by the school for participating in the riot where chants of ‘Shame on the right-wing agenda! Shame on the Zionists! Zionism is Racism!' were reportedly heard.[44]

"The anxiety of Jewish students at York University, and that of their parents, was exacerbated only a few months later when the university sponsored a conference on ‘Israel-Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace.' The university's president, Prof. Mahmoud Shoukri stubbornly defended his institution's involvement in the controversial conference, saying it was consistent with the academy's role in facilitating the free exchange of ideas and the building of bridges among academic communities.[45] He firmly defended the assertion of one of the organizers that the conference's ‘core value is about dialogue and co-existence...not about obliterating the Jews and pushing the Jewish state into the sea.'[46]

"Members of the Jewish community and York alumni were less sanguine, concerned about the absence of Israeli or pro-Israeli academics from the conference program and the participation of a number of anti-Zionist activists known to have made antisemitic remarks.[47] Prof. Martin Lockshin, a respected religion professor at York and former director of the university's Centre for Jewish Studies, lamented the diminishing academic standards applied to international research about Israel.[48] Canada's government minister responsible for grants to scholarly conferences asked for an internal review of funding for the ‘Israel-Palestine' statehood conference. This in turn prompted many professors to complain loudly about ‘unprecedented governmental interference' in legitimate intellectual inquiry with respect to the Israel-Palestine issue.[49]

"Months later, the fallout from the controversy surrounding President Shoukri's decision-making about the anti-Israel conference continued to poison the atmosphere for Muslim-Jewish interaction at York University.[50] Jewish students on campus and leaders of the broader Toronto Jewish community were deeply troubled by the online writings of a York student on a website called ‘Filthy Jewish Terrorists.' Salman Hossain's postings on the Arizona-based website referred to Jews as ‘diseased and filthy,' ‘the scum of the earth,' ‘psychotic,' and ‘mass murderers' and asserted that ‘a genocide should be perpetrated against the Jewish populations of North America and Europe.'[51]

"Jewish students expressed relief when the university finally suspended Hossain and police were called in to determine if his racist ravings were in violation of Canada's laws prohibiting the willful promotion of hatred and the promotion of genocide against an identifiable group.[52] But David Frum epitomized the underlying concern of many when, regarding the underlying atmosphere of Muslim-Jewish tension that had engendered Hossain's antisemitic tirade, he wrote that ‘Something's seriously wrong at York University.'[53]

"In 2010, IAW and BDS activities on Canadian university and college campuses were relatively peaceful and nonconfrontational compared to IAW events since the now-global process was initiated five years ago. As usual, Muslim and Arab activists intimidated Jewish and pro-Israel students in an attempt to deny them the freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry. But in many cases IAW was met with boredom;[54] elsewhere it was formally repudiated as inconsistent with Canadian democratic values.

"On 25 February 2010, the legislative assembly of the Province of Ontario unanimously adopted a resolution proclaiming, among other things, that ‘in the opinion of this House, the term Israeli Apartheid Week is condemned as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and the use of the word apartheid in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.'[55]

"The leader of the federal Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, issued a statement declaring that IAW ‘betrays the values of mutual respect that Canada has always promoted' and asserting that IAW and the BDS campaign ‘should be condemned by all who value civil and respectful debate about the tragic conflict in the Middle East.'[56] Efforts to have a resolution condemning IAW unanimously adopted by Canada's parliament were blocked by the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP).[57] The provincial wing of the NDP also blocked an all-party denunciation of IAW in the Manitoban legislature.[58]

"On 5 April 2010, just one week after Israeli Apartheid Week, two Zionist students at Ottawa's Carleton University reportedly barely managed to escape after being physically attacked by a group of Muslim men, one of them wielding a machete.[59] While acknowledging that the machete attack might have been ‘one-off'' in terms of its scope of attempted violence, a prominent Jewish campus activist nonetheless said it was ‘scary' for other pro-Israel student leaders and activists. ‘If these students can be targeted, why can't I be?... I hope that people just realize the hatred that exists and take action against that.'"[60]

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