One of the candidates in the upcoming federal election in Canada is reaching out to local Jews after telling a newspaper this week that she had not heard of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Alex Johnstone, a candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the Ontario district of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, is reaching out to rabbis, community leaders and the president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, federation CEO Barb Babij said Thursday, according to the CBC.
Her campaign is also talking to the B'nai Brith organization this afternoon, organization spokesperson Sam Eskenasi said.
The move comes after Johnstone, who is vice-chair of the local public school board, generated controversy this week.
A satire site called the True North Times dug up a Facebook comment from 2008 where Johnstone made an inappropriate joke about an electrified fence at Auschwitz, which she apologized for after it was made public by the website.
The matter worsened, however, according to the CBC report, when Johnstone gave an interview with the local newspaper Hamilton Spectator late Tuesday and reportedly said she wasn't familiar with Auschwitz until this week.
"Well, I didn't know what Auschwitz was, or I didn't up until today," she said.
People erupted on social media, with reactions ranging from exasperation to disbelief. That includes Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Canada.
"FSWC disturbed by NDP candidate remark and ignorance re Auschwitz, particularly as vice chair of a school board," Benlolo tweeted, according to the CBC.
Benlolo said he invited Johnstone to take part in the centre's annual educational trip to Auschwitz on October 11.
"If I was her. I would take us up on the offer to become a better educated leader, which is clearly what she wants to be," he was quoted as having said.
As for the Hamilton Jewish Federation, "we were astonished that a federal candidate didn't know what Auschwitz is," Babij said, according to the CBC.
"We accept that there's no malice intended. We think all candidates of public office should have basic knowledge of major atrocities and events such as the Holocaust," she added.
The election in Canada is scheduled for October 19. Recent polls showed that Johnstone’s NDP was surging in the polls at the expense of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, but the Conservatives have gained ground in recent days.