Friday, August 15, 2014

We're not getting all the news from Gaza, just the news Hamas wants the world to hear

Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV reports on Hamas rocket fired from next to his hotel

Hamas manipulated and intimidated the media in Gaza. Why was that kept from us?

Alan Johnson is the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). A professor of democratic theory and practice, he is an editorial board member of Dissent magazine, and a Senior Research Associate at The Foreign Policy Centre.

We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating. –  Section 11.4.1 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and impartiality in times of War, Terror and Emergencies

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) issued an astonishing protest yesterday about "blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox" intimidation of journalists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas"In several cases," they complained, "foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories."

The FPA said this amounted to "denying readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground," adding  "we are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a 'vetting' procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA.The statement raises a lot of questions. Here is one: why have British broadcasters not mentioned any of this to their viewers?

Let's review what we know.

Indian television station NDTV broadcast and posted on its internet site on 5 August a report by Sreenivasan Jain showing rockets fired from a tent next to his hotel. In the accompanying text on NDTV’s website, Jain wrote that it was published "after our team left the Gaza Strip – Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones."

In an article published subsequently, Jain wrote of "the fear which hobbles the reporting such material: fear of reprisals from Hamas against us", asking "how long do we self-censor because of the fear of personal safety in return for not telling a story that exposes how those launching rockets are putting so many more lives at risk, while the rocket-makers themselves are at a safe distance?"

Hamas spokesman being interviewed at Al Shifa Hospital, which doubles as Hamas's military command centre

More and more examples of intimidation of journalists by Hamas are seeping out of Gaza:

·         Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan described on Facebook an exchange he had had with a Spanish journalist who had just left Gaza. "We talked about the situation there. He was very friendly. I asked him how come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launcher, no policemen. We only see civilians on these reports, mostly women and children. He answered me frankly: 'It's very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.'"

·         An op-ed in The Australian and other sources including The Jerusalem Post noted that after Nine Network reporter Peter Stefanovic tweeted that he had seen rockets fired into Israel from near his hotel, he was threatened by pro-Hamas tweeters and warned: "in WWII spies got shot".

·         The Wall Street Journal's Nick Casey posted a photo of a Hamas spokesman being interviewed from a room in the hospital along with this tweet: "You have to wonder (with) the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media." After "a flood of online threats", the tweet was deleted.

·         John Reed of The Financial Times was reportedly threatened after he tweeted about rockets being fired from the same hospital.

·         Following his departure from Gaza, Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati tweeted on 29 July. "Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris."

·         French-Palestinian journalist Radjaa Abou Dagga wrote anarticle for French newspaper Libération, on July 23, detailing how he was "detained and interrogated by members of Hamas's al-Qassam Brigade at a room in Shifa hospital next to the emergency room" and was forced to leave Gaza immediately without his papers. The day after publication, Mr Dagga asked Libération to remove his article from their website.
·         RT correspondent Harry Fear was told to leave Gaza after he tweeted that Hamas fired rockets into Israel from near his hotel.

Hamas manipulation of the media is not always so crude.

·         As reported in Times of Israel on 11 July, the Hamas Ministry of Interior in Gaza published a video in Arabic advising on "cautious and effective" social media engagement on Facebook and Twitter during Operation Protective Edge. It contained such directives as "Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank … Don't forget to always add 'innocent civilian' or 'innocent citizen' in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza."

·         Hamas has also actively interfered with bomb sites in order to gain PR advantage. The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan detailed how Hamas staged events and scenes to evoke sympathy. By way of illustration, he was taken to photograph a mosque that had been bombed, and discovered that someone had "prepared" the scene and placed a prayer mat and burnt Quran pages. "The symbolism was obvious, almost too perfect. It was clear that someone had placed them there to attract sympathy for the Palestinian cause. A television crew spotted the pile and filmed it. Mission accomplished."

·         Hamas ensure reporters are exposed to casualties by insisting that spokesmen could only be interviewed in the courtyard of the Al-Shifa hospital, as described by Ynet News.

The long Hamas record of shutting down news bureaus, arresting reporters and cameramen, confiscating equipment and beating journalists has already been documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the latest conflict Hamas wanted to reduce the reports coming out of Gaza to what Reinhold Niebuhr once called "emotionally potent over-simplifications". Journalists from India, America, Norway, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada and elsewhere are complaining. Will we now hear from the Brits?

P.S. You can watch a TV segment of a Hamas spokesperson explaining Hamas's policy of having "a chat" with journalists who weren't keeping to Hamas's narrative here

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Palestinian terrorist rocket hits Egypt, kills one child, injures two

Israel isn't the only country in the Middle East that has to deal with terrorism: Photo of Egyptian tourist bus bombed by terrorists, Feb 16,  2014
CAIRO Aug 13 (Reuters) - One child was killed and two others were wounded when a rocket landed on their home in the Egyptian town of el-Mattallah south of Rafah, near the border with Gaza, security and medical sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
Sara Salama, 13, died while her brother Khaled, 8, and sister Rahaf, 2, sustained serious injuries and were taken to hospital.
The rocket impact is the third to hit the area in recent weeks, security sources said, adding that Egyptian authorities were investigating the incident.
* * *
Most likely these rockets hitting Egypt are misfires; Hamas or one of the other terrorist groups that makes its home in Gaza, firing missiles towards Israel, hoping to kill Jewish children, but they’ve missed Israel completely and murdered an Egyptian child instead.
It’s possible, though, that Hamas is firing rockets into Egypt deliberately, trying to send a message to the Egyptian authorities that Hamas is just as capable of terror against Egypt as it is against Israel – more so, as Egypt doesn’t have Israel’s defences.  – Brian

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hamas kills Palestinians

Hamas rocket firing from Gaza residential area
As I write this, Israel has finished withdrawing all its troops from Gaza and Hamas has at last agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire, which everyone hopes can be transformed into a long-term ceasefire. (No one expects Hamas to actually make peace.)
This same ceasefire was on the table three weeks ago, but Hamas rejected it. That rejection led to the deaths of another 1,600 people, maybe half of them civilians, and to the levelling of several Gaza neighbourhoods.

Israel has bombed the buildings used as rocket factories, weapons depots, and sniper posts. They’ve levelled buildings used to conceal entrances to Hamas’s many military tunnels and bulldozed other buildings looking for more tunnels.
And what Israel left standing, Hamas itself destroyed. Hamas booby-trapped houses wherever they operated, wiring much of Gaza to self-destruct. On one street alone, the Israeli army found 19 of the 28 houses rigged with improvised explosive devices. (See here.)
Given that Hamas operates exclusively in residential areas and has turned homes, mosques, schools and hospitals into military posts, it’s a wonder many more Palestinian civilians haven't been killed. Only Israel’s extraordinary efforts has kept the death toll down.
Israelis in public bomb shelter
Israel tries to hit only military targets and encourages civilians to leave areas it operates in, leafleting from the air, providing maps and directions to safe zones, even telephoning and texting individuals to urge them to leave target areas.
Hamas of course takes no such precautions. To date, it's fired more than 3,300 missiles toward Israel, attempting to murder innocent civilians.
Fortunately, Israel has invested billions in defensive measures. Throughout the country, sirens warn of incoming attacks, and almost every household and building has a bomb shelter nearby. Moreover, Israel now has the Iron Dome system that shoots down rockets headed for inhabited areas.
It all worked. Hamas hoped to murder thousands of innocents. Instead all their rockets have killed just three civilians on the Israeli side: one Bedouin, one foreign worker, and one Jew.
Hamas rockets have killed many more Palestinians.
Map showing first 280 Hamas rocket attacks within Gaza
These rockets are purely terror weapons. They can’t be aimed at anything smaller than a town. In fact to date, 450 of Hamas’s projectiles missed Israel entirely and fell within Gaza.
How many Palestinians have these misfired missiles killed?
Like Israel, Hamas has invested huge resources in making itself immune to attack from the air. They’ve built elaborate underground bunkers and many tunnels – miles and miles of tunnels built by child labour. Their “nimble bodies” makes children ideal for this work. But children are also fragile. According to Hamas officials, by 2012 at least one hundred and sixty children had died digging tunnels for Hamas.
Note that civilians are barred from sheltering in these tunnels. The underground bunkers keep Hamas commanders and fighters safe. The tunnels were built to store weapons and to enable terrorist attacks into Israel.
As 450 Hamas missiles rained down on Gaza, the civilian population was defenceless. Hamas did not leaflet the areas where they were operating to warn civilians to clear out. On the contrary, Hamas directed them to stay. And there were no warning sirens and no shelters that civilians were allowed to hide in.
Finnish journalist reporting Hamas rocket being fired from the parking lot of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza
We happen to know that in one barrage Palestinian terrorists hit both Al-Shifa Hospital and a playground in Al-Shati refugee camp, apparently with Fajir-5 missiles, which carry a 100-kilogram warhead. The strike on the playground killed ten Palestinians, nine of them children and injured 46.
Another errant terrorist missile apparently hit a UN School in Beit Hanoun which was being used as a shelter for Palestinian civilians. Fifteen were killed and as many as 200 wounded.
In addition to the rockets, Hamas regularly fires small arms in the residential areas where it operates. Hamas’s weapon of choice is the RPG29, a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile that can penetrate thick reinforced-concrete walls. I wouldn’t want gunmen running around firing those off in my neighbourhood.
How many Palestinians has Hamas killed? We’ll never know. It’s not the sort of information Hamas shares with the world.
But there’s nothing new about this. On June 24, during the run-up to the current war, a rocket Hamas fired at Israel fell within Gaza, killing a three-year-old girl and injuring three other Palestinians (here).  And throughout the previous nine years, Hamas rockets have killed and injured as many Palestinians as Israelis.
Flyer showing Israelis how much time they have to find a shelter after a warning siren
There’s a widespread notion that Israel can’t win in wars like this, because when Israel defends itself against terrorist attacks, it only creates more terrorists. I don’t buy it.
Polls of Palestinians have shown Hamas losing popular support ever since they beat Fatah in the 2007 election. The most recent poll, taken in June, showed that Hamas is deeply unpopular: 88% of Gazans want the Palestinian Authority to take over from Hamas; 70% thought Hamas should maintain its ceasefire with Israel and 57% supported PA president Abbas's position that the Palestinian government should renounce violence against Israel. 

Obviously Gazans didn't get what they wanted.
There have been reports of deep anger at Hamas and of a Hamas spokesman being beaten by a crowd (here). This should surprise no one. Hamas’s policy of endless war against Israel has brought nothing but poverty, destruction and death.
If I were living in Gaza, I’d want to pull the Hamas commanders out of their nice safe bunkers and string them up on the nearest lamp pole. 
Postscript: Hamas broke the ceasefire two hours it was set to expire on Friday morning and began once again firing rockets toward Israel. These continue to fall indiscriminately on Israel and Gaza alike.
Diplomatic efforts continue in Egypt, and there still appears to be a good chance that a longer term truce will emerge. However, it’s also clear that Israelis have had enough. This is the third small war Hamas has provoked in seven years.
If Hamas and the other terrorists groups won’t stop firing rockets, Israelis favour taking Hamas out completely, even knowing this may cost the lives of hundreds of their young men.

Note: A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the Jewish Tribune.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is it time to boycott on the Toronto Star again?

Entry to Iran's Holocaust cartoon contest
The Toronto Star has long held a bias against Israel. Some decades ago, the Jewish community became sufficiently fed up to boycott the paper, and then its news coverage did improve.

But one thing that never changed is the unrelenting loathing of Israel expressed by the Star’s political columnists. Month after month, Haroon Siddique, Thomas Walkom, Antonia Zerbisias, Rick Salutin, have suggested that Israel is the most contemptible place in the world.

But the Star may have hit a new low with a recent column from Heather Mallick titled “Gaza? That’s history stomping its foot.” In her bizarre column, Mallick asserts that Israel attacks Palestinian civilians and does so because, as Jews, Israelis can’t get over the Holocaust.

Where to even begin?

First, it’s a malicious lie that Israel attacks civilians. Israel targets Hamas fighters, commanders, and weapon depots. For its part, Hamas deliberately puts Palestinian civilians at in harm’s way by launching attacks from next to homes, schools, mosques and hospitals and using them as weapons’ depots.
A neighbourhood in Gaza, where Hamas launched rockets at
Israel from a mosque, a hospital, a cemetery & a playground
Israel goes to great lengths to urge civilians to leave areas coming under attack – not only leafleting from the air but also telephoning and texting individuals – extraordinary measures never before attempted by any other army in history. But while Israel begs Palestinian civilians to clear out before attacking, Hamas instructs them to stay.

As former president Bill Clinton recently noted, Hamas’s “crass strategy” is to turn public opinion against Israel by deliberately raising the Palestinian body count.  

In this moral equation, Mallick comes down on the side of Hamas. She condemns Israel phoning civilians to warn them of impending attacks, sneering at the practice as “almost beyond belief.”

Mallick needs to listen to the Palestinian ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council. On Palestinian TV, he explained why Palestinians should hesitate to join the International Criminal Court. “Each and every missile” Hamas launches against Israel “constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets,” he explained.

In contrast, he went on, “Many of our people in Gaza appeared on TV and said that the Israeli army warned them to evacuate their homes before the bombardment. In such a case, if someone is killed, the law considers it a mistake rather than an intentional killing, because [the Israelis] followed the legal procedures.”

As for Mallick’s accusation that Jews “lash out” at Palestinians because we can’t get over “the hurts of history” and because we’ve “learned the wrong thing” from the Holocaust, it’s a nasty slur, but not original. It’s a trend among antisemites to use the Holocaust as a club with which to beat Jews, and it's a trend that's seeped into the mainstream.

In its crudest form, antisemites accuse Jews of inventing the Holocaust  to extort money from Germans or sympathy from gullible gentiles. Alternatively Jews are pictured as the new Nazis, having been sent to “Auschwitz and Dachau not to suffer, but to learn”  as the Greek newspaper Ethnos put it in a cartoon back in 2002. 
Israeli soldier: “Don’t feel guilty, brother. 
We were not in Aushchwitz and Dachau to suffer, but to learn.” 
If Mallick would simply visit reality, she’d find Israel’s war with Hamas easier to explain. In the past nine years since Israel left Gaza, Hamas and other terrorist groups have fired 14,000 rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza into Israel, attempting to murder innocent Israelis.

Previous short wars reduced the rain of missiles, but Hamas provoked the current crisis by again sharply increasing their rocket fire. Israel’s aim is to end this ceaseless terrorism, and Hamas knows it can stop this war anytime. All it has to do is agree to live in peace. 

To her credit, Mallick calls Hamas’s rocket attacks “vile,” but she also states that “Palestinians are right to fight the Occupation.”

I’ve always supported negotiations and peace, so I’m dismayed that Mallick endorses fighting, particularly as Palestinian violence has generally been terrorism. But I’m also bewildered. Does Mallick not know that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005? What “occupation” does she imagine Hamas is fighting?

Hamas broadcast this sermon on July 25, calling for the extermination of Jews

As for the West Bank, its ruler, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has called on Hamas to accept a ceasefire and has publicly questioned what Hamas can possibly hope to achieve by firing rockets at Israel.

In any case, throughout its 27 years of existence, Hamas has never pretended its purpose is to end Israel’s defensive occupation of the West Bank. It’s insisted that it intends to destroy Israel and to kill Jews. Full stop. And no one watching Hamas’s actions can doubt their sincerity.

Indeed, just last Friday, July 25, Hamas broadcast a religious sermon, stating, “Our doctrine in fighting you {the Jews} is that we will totally exterminate you. We will not leave a single one of you alive.”

This is what Hamas is all about. But it’s not something you’ll ever see reported in the Toronto Star.

In her column, Mallick also asserts that terrorists will slaughter Canadians in revenge for Israel’s war with Hamas. This at least is original. To my knowledge no other pundit in the world has suggested such an unlikely scenario.

I don’t know if Mallick is really so crazed that she believe this or if she cynically hopes to make Canadians fear that Israel is putting us all in danger. But I do think it’s time to remind ourselves that whenever we buy the Toronto Star or advertise in the Star, we’re paying for that paper to continue slandering Israel. I think it’s time we stopped.

Postscript: Col Richard Kemp who spent 30 years fighting terrorists for the British army gives a good overview of the difficulties of fighting an enemy who wants to increase their own civilian body count here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ding dong the witch is dead – Democracy shows it’s alive and kicking in Quebec

Pauline Marois planned to fire Jews, Musims and Sikhs,
but on election night, she was the one who got the boot.

Seeing the PQ crushed in the recent Quebec election made me feel like dancing in the streets. 

More than two-thirds of Quebecers voted for federalist parties and against the separatists. And it’s not just that they voted against sovereignty; they voted against the PQ because they don’t even want to talk about sovereignty anymore.

Just as wonderful, we no longer have to look forward to the spectacle of a Canadian provincial government firing people from their jobs because of their religion. The PQ had hoped to ride a wave of xenophobia to a majority government and it didn’t work. Compared to the threat of having to go through another referendum, Quebecers just didn’t care that much about whether people wore hats or hijabs, lids or kippas. 

It’s possible that in the end, the PQ’s “values charter” actually worked against them. For one thing, Quebecers realized that doctors, daycare workers and teachers were actually going to get fired if they refused to remove their kippas, hijabs or turbans.

Incredibly, for weeks, Quebec media let the PQ get away without admitting this – until a PQ candidate came out and proclaimed that of course they’d be firing people. And then Pauline Marois, the PQ leader, admitted it, too: Really, how else can you ban religious symbols unless you’re going to fire people who refuse to take them off?

Once this sank in many Quebecers realized that the whole thing had gone a step too far. Sure, many small town Quebecers are suspicious of people who wear funny hats and won't eat pork, but firing them for this? That's not nice.

Also, Quebecers realized that the PQ could have brought in most of their charter of values without an election at all; that the only point of the election was to get a majority; and then the purpose of values charter would be to force a showdown with Ottawa as a prelude to a referendum. And does Quebec want another crisis? Non, non, non!

Possibly the most significant outcome of the Quebec election was the voter turnout: 72%. That’s huge – much larger than voter turnout for most elections in Canada. Of course, that’s great because it makes the rejection of Quebec independence and of the PQ's xenophobic charter of values even more decisive.  But it also shows that democracy is alive and kicking in Canada.

We hear much hand-wringing about how fewer and fewer people vote. Pundits continually suggest it’s because people believe politicians are all equally terrible. That low voter turnouts show a fundamental flaw in our democracy.

This is mostly nonsense. People don’t vote because Canada works well. Countries where almost everyone votes are the countries in the biggest mess. Usually, people are turning out in huge numbers because some recently deposed dictator has been denying them their right to choose their own leaders for decades. Or people turn out in droves because their country is in crisis.

Canada is precisely the opposite. On voting day many people can’t be bothered to go out to the polls because it doesn’t matter enough. Regardless of who gets elected, they’re not going to screw things up too much.

But in Quebec, this formula for voter indifference broke down. The vote did matter. Quebecers decided the PQ was going to create a national crisis (again). So voters came out in great numbers. They crushed the PQ, and buried the nightmare of a sovereign Quebec under an avalanche of ballots.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Toronto Director of Education Chris Spence works a couple weeks in 2013, paid $242,000

It was revealed this week that Chris Spence, the disgraced former director of the Toronto District School Board, was paid $241,000 in 2013 plus $1,000 in taxable benefits. But in 2013, Spence worked for less than a month. A couple weeks into January, it was discovered he had a long – and continuing – history of plagiarism, and Spence resigned.  
According to the Globe & Mail: “The TDSB defended Mr. Spence’s salary. ‘That amount takes into consideration the director’s severance following his departure from the TDSB,’ said spokesman Ryan Bird.”
Lovely. So that means Spence was paid about $20,000 for the couple weeks he worked, then got a severance package worth $220,000. And who says crime doesn’t pay?
I blogged about this back in January of 2013 when it happened. It seems I underestimated the size of Spence’s severance package, but the point I made back then remains the same: there was no reason to give him any severance package at all. But rather than firing him, the Trustees decided to let him retire and walk away with $220,000 that should have gone to the teachers and other TDSB employees doing their jobs without cheating.
That's one more reason to vote out all the trustees who are supposed to be running our school board. 

I'd be more than happy to hear about trustees who are doing a good job, but if we have any good trustees, they're obviously out-voted by the bad ones. And if you have any doubts on that score, start reading here.
P.S. Fourteen months since Spence’s history of plagiarism was discovered, the University of Toronto is still investigating whether Spence should have his PhD withdrawn for plagiarizing his dissertation. Of course, he was granted his PhD by OISE, and they’re mainly interested in a student's political views. So it may be they’re disinclined to withdraw a degree for a little thing like cheating.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Parti Quebecois candidate spreads neo-Nazi myth, PQ leader calls her "eloquent"

Noted bigot and PQ candidate Louise Mailloux
Parti Quebecois' candidate Louise Mailloux has been spreading a myth originally invented by the Klu Klux Klan and since adopted by numerous neo-Nazi groups. According to the PQ candidate and the neo-Nazis, Jews use kosher certificates to steal money from non-Jews and then use the cash to fund nefarious schemes.
Mailloux doesn’t spread vicious myths just about Jews. She doesn’t like Muslims or Christians, either. According to her, Muslims are running the same “rip-off” with hallal meat as the Jews with their kosher foods.
“This is a religious tax,” Ms. Mailloux said on a March 2012 edition of, a panel show on Tele-Quebec, “and it’s a tax we pay directly to mosques, to synagogues and to religious groups. It’s a theft.”
As for Christians, Mailloux says baptism is like rape. So is circumcision, according to Mailloux.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on the PQ to debunk the “urban legend of the kosher tax,” Instead, PQ Leader Pauline Marois endorsed her candidate, saying she’s a respected academic who has thought long and hard about these issues.
“Her writings are eloquent, I respect her point of view,” Ms. Marois said.
“The Parti Québécois is not an anti-Semitic party,” Pauline Marois declared to much chuckling.
No surprise there. In the current Quebec election, the PQ’s entire strategy is based on intolerance. The PQ is campaigning on its so-called secular charter. Aimed primarily against Muslims, the charter bans government employees and workers in hospitals, schools and day cares from wearing religious symbols such as a head scarf or Star of David.
Unfortunately, part of what makes Quebec distinct is that it’s always been less tolerant than the rest of Canada (see more here).  Mailloux isn’t just some nutcase (though she is that). She’s a professor of philosophy and a prominent Quebec feminist. And the PQ is tapping into a deep well of suspicion against Jews and Muslims.
Quebec newspapers and TV programs regularly run stories that detail how much of the food eaten in the province is certified kosher or halal – as if this is somehow a problem.
Under Quebec's secular charter, large, ostentatious crosses will not be allowed.
And the urban legend of a kosher tax has made the rounds in Quebec for years. Back in 2008, Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor commission reported that among Quebecers “the most fanciful information is circulating” about kosher food. And then went on to debunk the myth of a kosher tax.
But while Jewish groups object to the PQ’s support for antisemitism, Quebec’s feminists have been silent about Mailloux’s trivialization of rape. Again, no real surprise. Mailloux is one of their own. Also, Quebec feminists tend to support the PQ and often share Mailloux’s hostility to religious groups.
Mailloux’s support of a myth spread by neo-Nazis and the KKK does raise a particular question: What does the PQ’s secular charter have to say about government employees dressing in white sheets?
According to rumour, the PQ leader has responded: “Of course, the white sheets are allowed. These are not religious symbols. But there must be no burning of crosses. Other symbols are okay. If they want to burn a swastika in someone’s front lawn, well that is not a religious symbol, is it?”

Monday, March 3, 2014

Caught between the nationalists and the Russians - a tricky time for Ukraine's Jews

Antisemitism isn't new in Ukraine, this photo of antisemitic graffiti in Kiev is from 2009

Antisemitism has been a feature of Ukraine since the Middle Ages, and in recent weeks, Jew-haters have been taking advantage of the unrest to attack synagogues and beat up and stab Jews. Moreover, the nationalist / anti-Russian forces include open antisemites, and two antisemitic parties have been included in the new nationalist government.

On the other hand, many Jews took part in the protests that helped install the new government, and most observers believe Russians (and their far-left supporters in the West) are trying to label the nationalists – all the nationalists – as Nazis when clearly most are not. Indeed, the Ukrainian chief rabbi, has accused the Russians of staging antisemitic attacks to justify their invasion (here).

From Canada, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, but I think the notion that Jews should support Russia’s invasion of Crimea is nuts. I mean apart from not wanting the Russians to re-establish their nasty empire, since when has Russia ever been good for the Jews?

Besides, in the longer term, I’ll put my money on a nationalist Ukrainian government that wants to turn toward the democratic West, not a Ukrainian government that wants to cozy up to authoritarian Russia. And if neither of these options work out, well as Abraham Cooper points out, Israel is only a plane ride away, and so is Canada, for that matter…

Supporters of Ukraine's antisemitic Svoboda party with t-shirts reading "Beat the zhids {kikes}"

Tough Times Again for Ukraine’s Jewish Population

Abraham Cooper, the algemeiner (U.S.)
We are now witnessing the latest round of violence and tragedy in the Ukraine. And not for the first time, hundreds of thousands of Jews in that embattled country, perhaps as many as 400,000, find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Historically, Jews in Ukraine have suffered disastrous losses during times of upheaval. During the Cossack uprising of 1648-57, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, 15-30,000 Ukrainian Jews out of a total population of 51,000 were murdered or taken captive.
The organized violence against the helpless and impoverished Jews in the Ukraine in the 19th and early 20th century spawned a new word in the lexicon of hate - pogrom. Many of our grandparents fled the Ukraine, arriving on American shores penniless with little more than a dream of a safe haven.
During the Russian Revolution and ensuing Civil War, another estimated 30,000-100,000 Jews were killed.
The total civilian losses during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine is estimated at 7 million, with more than 1 million Jews shot by Einsatzgruppen killing squads and Ukrainian collaborators in Western Ukraine.
To be sure, the Jewish community has not been center stage in the current epic struggle for Ukraine’s future. The just-deposed Prime Minister represents the still powerful pull of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Putin has always made it clear he will not accept a Ukraine that is tied to NATO or the European Union. So far he’s used the economic carrot of cheap oil and other incentives, but possible military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, with its significant Russian population — cannot be dismissed.
On the other side are Ukrainian activists who rallied around a Euro-centric vision of the future. Anyone and anything that insists on a link to Moscow and the memories of 70 years of tyrannical Soviet rule is out of the question. Unfortunately, among the masses of people who braved beatings, bullets, and death, were members of the nationalist Svoboda party, some of whose leaders have openly expressed anti-Semitic views.
Against this unsettling backdrop, after last month’s beating of two Jews, Kiev’s Chief rabbi has called on the city’s Jews to leave. Now comes word that unknown perpetrators hurled firebombs at the Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, located 250 miles southeast of Kiev. That house of prayer opened in 2012 – a sign of Jewish renewal in the Ukraine – was built on the spot where the Jews of that community were ordered to gather before being deported by the Nazis to their deaths.
It goes without saying that Jewish institutions are bolstering security and it has been reported that some public events have been canceled. One can only wonder what kind of Purim and Passover await our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Ukraine.
What will members of Europe’s third largest Jewish community do? Will they stay or go? The late Simon Wiesenthal imparted sage advice when he said, “Where democracy is strong it is good for Jews and where it is weak it is bad for the Jews.”
We can only hope and pray and that the forces of true democratic values and inclusion win the day in the Ukraine. That would be a blessing for all its people. In the meantime, today’s Ukrainian Jews are free to ponder an option their forefathers could only dream about. Israel is but a non-stop flight from Kiev. Look for those flights to be extra crowded in the days ahead.
Member of Ukraine's antisemitic Svoboda party form a human chain
Ukrainian nationalists strive to shake off allegations of anti-Semitism
Anti-government protesters say Nazi name-calling is propaganda designed to undermine their movement.
From HaAretz, Israel
Ukraine’s struggle for independence is plagued by memories of fascism. Nationalists fought more than once against the Soviets in the last century, even when it meant aligning with Nazi Germany.
This is a country that both idolizes and condemns a former leader who collaborated with the Nazis – Stepan Bandera. He is denounced by many Ukrainians and Jewish groups for mass killings, but he is also beloved for refusing to rescind the proclamation of an independent Ukrainian state in 1941.
In the past, Ukrainian Jews suffered pogroms and government-sanctioned persecution, and anti-Semitism is still a threat. For instance, the opposition coalition, which includes the Svoboda party, has been criticized for far-right extremism. Complaints have been filed against Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, for alleged incitement and racist remarks, such as saying Ukraine was headed by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.”
When Ukrainian nationalists and far-right groups began protesting against Viktor Yanukovych’s government on Kiev’s Maidan Square, many Western and Russian media outlets called the demonstrations fascist with anti-Semitic undertones. Armed and masked protesters brandished nationalist symbols linked with the fascism of yesteryear.
This included the Celtic cross, which has replaced the swastika for many modern white-power groups, and the wolf-hook SS insignia. There was also the symbol 14/88. The 14 represents a 14-word slogan used by white nationalists, and the 88 stands for “Heil Hitler” – H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Finally, there was the Black Sun occult symbol, with which the Third Reich adorned a castle hall.
Some researchers and protest groups say the allegations of fascism and anti-Semitism are propaganda to undermine the protests.
The right-wing and nationalist umbrella group, Pravy Sektor, grabbed center stage after January 16, when Yanukovych approved laws that criminalized participation in anti-government protests. The movement’s press secretary, Artem Skoropadsky, called the fascism accusations “forms of official Russian propaganda that successfully change the meaning of ‘nationalism’ to ‘Nazism.’”
Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian researcher of European far-right groups and a fellow at the Radicalism and New Media Research Group in Britain, has said neo-Nazi groups are only a very small part of the protest.
“The movement is tolerant of other organizations’ extremist views but does not necessarily support them,” Shekhovtsov said. “They don’t exclude people and want to unite protesters for a stronger opposition.”
Some Pravy Sektor protesters on the Maidan sported yellow armbands with the wolf hook symbol revealing their specific political party affiliation—that of the Social National Assembly (SNA), a largely Kiev-based neo-Nazi organization. Other more openly anti-Semitic parties are White Hammer and C14, the neo-Nazi youth wing of the Svoboda party.
According to Pravy Sektor’s press secretary, the movement consists of many different groups and individuals. “This is not just a long-term rally, but a national, liberation movement,” he said in early February.
Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale, summarized the name-calling in an article for The New York Review of Books. He called it an “attempt to reduce the social tensions in a complex country to a battle of symbols about the past.”
Heroic picture of the past
Protesters have marched carrying photos of Bandera and under red-and-black flags of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the nationalist paramilitary and later partisan army that fought both the Nazis and the Soviets. On Maidan Square, these images represent the history of war and struggle for Ukraine’s sovereignty, not Nazism, said Vyacheslav Likhachev, a researcher at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
According to Likhachev, “the provocative symbols have to be understood in the context of a Ukrainian, heroic picture of the past. In a contemporary context, it is not correct to associate Bandera with neo-Nazis.”
Two attacks on Kiev Jews took place in one week in January and added fuel to the name calling. Also, last Saturday, a Ukrainian rabbi called on Kiev’s Jews to leave the city, fearing that the small community could fall victim to the increasing violence. At least four Jewish protesters were killed during demonstrations in the days leading up to Yanukovych’s ouster by parliament. Overall, more than 70 Ukrainians were killed.
Many media outlets began equating the attacks and the rabbi’s comments with the protests in general, which suggested that the protesters were anti-Semites and that the Jewish community was a target.
Likhachev says the four Jews killed were victims of police brutality and sniper shots; they weren’t targeted as Jews. “Jews are in danger because of the bigger problem of violence, which affects all Ukrainians,” he said.
Josef Zisels, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, said that “the Jews of Ukraine participate in protests, though not as a community but as citizens of Ukraine who are tired of the cynical actions of the government.”
Pravy Sektor and other protesters have dubbed themselves the defense forces of the protests; they’ve actually provided some stability. For example, the protest leaders have proposed that Kiev synagogues be guarded, along with streets in Jewish areas.