Monday, December 28, 2009

Our Quebecois Problem

Toronto, February 2007. A recent poll by Sun Media (Jan 2007) indicates that anti-Jewish feeling in Quebec is again on the rise. Thirty-six percent of Quebeckers have a bad opinion of Jews. That’s double the rate elsewhere in Canada.

In part this is no surprise - polls always show anti-Jewish feeling as higher in Quebec. But not this high, not for a long time.

As it happens, anti-Israel feeling is always much higher in Quebec, as well. To give one example: this past July at the outset of the Hezbollah War, a poll for CanWest News Service found that across the county two-thirds of Canadians supported Israel - except in Quebec where 62% condemned Israel’s response to the attack by Hezbollah.

Quebeckers who instantly disapprove of Israeli action aren’t all Israel haters. But many are. Their loathing for Israel is unstained by any tincture of rationality. They see Israel as having been conceived in sin, as evil in its very nature, criminal in its every action and deserving of any outrage committed against it.


People who put their faith in coincidence will see no relationship between the high incidence of anti-Jewish and of anti-Israel sentiment in Quebec. The rest of us, though, can point at a pair of surveys by the Association for Canadian studies.


In early July the ACS polled Canadians on their attitudes toward religious groups. The ACS found that Canadians held Christians and Jews in equally high regard, with 79% having a positive view of Jews and 81% having a positive view of Christians. Outside Quebec, only 6% had a negative view of Jews. In Quebec, the number was three times as high, at 18%.


In late August, the ACS conducted a second survey, asking identical questions, but this time only of Quebeckers. It turned out that in one month, anti-Jewish feeling in Quebec had jumped by a third - to 24%.


Why? Because in between the two surveys the Hezbollah War was fought.


Obviously many Quebeckers can’t distinguish between their hatred for Israel and animosity toward Jews. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference either.


We should of course keep in mind that nearly two-thirds of Quebeckers have no problem with Jews, and that Quebec isn’t the only source of bigotry - especially bigotry against Israel.


For example, although Hezbollah is a terror organization that preaches genocide against Jews, 90% of the delegates to the New Democratic Party policy convention this past September voted for a resolution that castigated Israel for the war initiated by Hezbollah and declared Hezbollah a legitimate political organization deserving a seat in any peace negotiations alongside the legal government of Lebanon.


Few NDP delegates come from Quebec.


Education is the usual antidote to prejudice, and indeed the ACS study found that Quebeckers with only primary education were the ones most likely to have a negative view of Jews. The Quebeckers most likely to spurn antisemitism, though, had only high school education, while university educated Quebeckers were more likely to view Jews negatively.


In 2001, Dr. Conrad Winn of COMPAS found an even odder result in a survey he conducted for B’nai Brith Canada. Rather than asking how Canadians felt about Jews as religious group as in the ACS study or about Jews as an ethnic group as in the Sun Media poll, Winn asked whether Jews have too much power - a question that’s been used to gauge levels of racism for fifty years and one with political overtones.


Winn found that in Quebec 26% of respondents perceived Jews as having too much power. Elsewhere in Canada only 10% shared this perception. This skewed response wasn’t a surprise. However, the distribution of antisemitic sentiment within Quebec was.


Winn found that among Francophones with high school education or less, the rate of anti-Jewish feeling had plummeted from 40% as measured in a 1986 survey to 21% in Winn’s 2001 survey. But among Quebeckers with higher education, levels of antisemitism had risen. Better educated Quebecers were now more likely to be prejudiced, with the level of anti-Jewish feeling now at 29% for college graduates and 30% for those with university degrees.


It appears Quebec’s old xenophobic antisemitism may be literally dying off. The new antisemitism, though, which expresses itself as hatred of Israel is a fashionable form of bigotry. It looks like the cure for this prejudice might be to keep kids out of university - especially in Quebec.

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I'm just getting around to posting it on my own blog now, but a slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the February 8, 2007, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B'nai Brith Canada. The article also appeared on the anti-racist blog, Engage. For a collection of my articles on Engage, see here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Worse than bias


The media commonly commits two sins: slanting the news and writing the news. Of these two, writing the news is worse, because by its nature, news has a problematic relationship with the truth.

Slanting the news, or bias, can be illustrated by a recent CBC.ca article, “Is Netanyahu's promised moratorium coming undone?”

This article was slanted to suggest – incorrectly – that Israel is reneging on its moratorium on construction in the West Bank and that it wasn’t a significant concession to begin with.

The CBC article also claimed that, in his Cairo speech in June, US President Barack Obama called on Israel to freeze settlement construction: “as a precursor to good-faith negotiations.”

Obama did call on Israel to freeze construction but he didn’t suggest that this needed to happen as a precursor to peace talks or that, without a freeze, Israel’s good faith was in doubt. The CBC reporter added those bits herself.

The CBC doesn’t usually twist the news so obviously, especially not since Tony Burman, the CBC’s former editor-in-chief, switched jobs and started working for al-Jazeera.

I think the Toronto Star now tries to play fair, too, although its stories about Israel used to be at least as twisted as the CBC’s.

However, even without deliberate bias, reporting on Israel will always be negative. It’s in the nature of journalism.

Israel is a multi-cultural marvel, a high-tech giant, a world leader in medicine, but news about Israel will always focus on war and conflict. Consequently, the media will create the impression that Israel is the place where people are always fighting.

The media treats both sides in a conflict as if they were equally legitimate. In consequence, news stories blur the distinctions between a liberal democracy like Israel, a corrupt regime like the Palestinian Authority and a terrorist death cult like Hamas. Over time, the news tends to make them look pretty much all alike.

The media also treats the spokespeople for the various actors as if they were all equally reliable. Of course, this is nonsense. Palestinian spokespeople lie all the time.
Any journalist with illusions on this score was surely cured of them years ago when Palestinian sources, including chief spokesman Saeb Erekat, repeatedly claimed that Israel had massacred at least 500 Palestinians civilians in Jenin and bulldozed them into mass graves.

Of course, the “Jenin massacre” turned out to be a fairy tale, and since then Palestinian spokespeople haven’t grown any more reliable. Journalists know this, but in the name of being even-handed, they report what the Palestinians say and what the Israelis say, as if these sources were equally reliable.

The media has to work fast and reports breaking news before they have time to check whether it’s true. This gives liars a huge edge, and because the Israeli Defence Forces investigates what happened before making statements, they’re at a fatal disadvantage.

The media likes violence; if it bleeds, it leads. A Toronto Star story headlined: Israeli soldiers run wild in Gaza gets the front page. A follow-up about how, as it turns out, Israeli soldiers acted rather well gets buried on page 20. Because, you see, that’s not news; it’s merely true.

Finally, the media is lazy. Consequently, reporters are suckers for propaganda stunts such as Palestinians pulling down a section of Israel’s security barrier on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall and the Security Barrier have nothing in common. So what? The story has good visuals and gives the media something to put on air.

The net effect of all this is that the more Israel is in the news, the more people will tend to think that the Israelis and the Palestinians are the same – bloody-handed mirror images of each other. This isn’t the result of anti-Israel bias; it’s much worse than that: it’s the nature of contemporary media.

What can be done? Well, it’s important to complain when our media does a lousy job. The CBC has no business airing idiotic stories comparing the barrier Israel built to keep out suicide bombers with the wall the East German's erected to prevent people escaping their brutal regime. We pay the CBC; we have a right to demand better.

But I’d suggest the priority is to try to take Israel off the agenda (at least as much as possible). What Israel needs is the indifference that the media shows to all other low-level conflicts in far corners of the world.

So when I write to the CBC or wherever to complain about a story – and I do that a lot – I also ask why they’re doing a story about Israel in the first place. Couldn’t they please give us more news about Pakistan, India or Russia, or other parts of the world that are vastly more important than Israel?

As Jews, we’re endlessly interested in Israel. Antisemites devour news about Israel because hating Israel is their reason for existing. And the media has a serious Israel habit, I think just because it’s their longest-playing soap opera.

But most Canadians would like to change the channel. With a bit of prodding, I think the media might oblige them.
Photo: Israeli youth wearing a One God, One Planet t-shirt

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A shorter version of this article previously appeared in the December 15, 2009, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada, and at the Canadian blog Dust My Broom.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Nora Clean’s guide to boycotting Zionist entities," by Nora Clean

Now that the stars have gone back to Hollywood, I can say that our boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival was a success. True, we got tons of negative press, with lots of people observing that we’re idiots and bigots. But for two solid weeks, we got to say nasty things about Israel, and the media reported it – and after all that’s the point, right?

But, oh dear. John Greyson withdrew his little documentary on the Sarajevo queer festival in order to spark the “Boycott TIFF!” movement, and it’s not like anyone’s exactly clamouring to see his flick.
I thought it would be cool to get it shown in Gaza. But the Hamas minister of culture? He wasn’t entirely encouraging.

He’s like, “Dear, Ms. Clean: I’m afraid our policy is to ban un-Islamic activity. Normally, if anyone tries to show a movie in Gaza, we shoot him in the knee and send him to an Israeli hospital. But for Mr. Greyson’s homosexual film, we will behead him. Yours in solidarity, etc. etc.”

Oh, well. Maybe I can organize a special showing at Le Select Bistro, the Toronto restaurant that sparked the “Boycott the Royal Ontario Museum!” movement.

It’s like this: Israel lent the ancient Torah scrolls and other fragments of Hebrew holy books known as the Dead Sea Scrolls to the ROM for a special exhibit. Whoa! Talk about cultural imperialism. Those scrolls are Palestinian!

I’m so upset no other restaurant in Toronto gets this that I’m boycotting all of them!

But most especially, we’ve got to boycott the Liquor Control Board!

Listen: I’ve got two favourite groups – the Israeli Apartheid Coalition, which tries to keep Zionists apart from the rest of mankind, and Co-dependent Jewish Voices, a group for Jews who have converted to anti-imperialism but are still confused. You might have heard them called Lefty Jews for Jesus, because of their identity issues, don't you know, and because the United Church funded them (but regretted it).

Anyway, the Apartheid Coalition and the Co-dependents organized a demo against the LCBO, because it sells Israeli wines. And what happened? Hundreds of Jews showed up and bought out the store’s entire stock! That’s so not fair!

And Zionists play the same trick all the time. The Tel Aviv films at TIIF all sold out, and ticket sales for the Dead Sea scrolls skyrocketed. Now marketing people actually phone and ask to be boycotted!

Don’t let it get you down, though, because next, you’ve got to burn all your Leonard Cohen books, CDs and posters.
Whenever those of us in the movement hear that some musician plans to tour Israel, we bombard them with mail, begging them to enforce Israeli apartheid. But they ignore us! They just go and play concerts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as if Israelis are people, too.

And don’t forget to boycott Starbucks – though maybe you already know about this from the news. British anti-Zionists decided that the chairman of Starbucks, Howard Shultz, has a Zionist-sounding name, so they started fire-bombing Starbucks franchises. Whoa! Talk about revolutionary.

The next step was a biggy for me because I’m no longer a perky 14-year-old, but you’ve got to boycott Wonderbra. Not many people know this, but they’re a Zionist entity!

So how do you get this info? Well, the Apartheid Coalition keeps a list and so does Stormfront. But if you visit their site, don’t go thinking the swastika and the Iron Cross are anti-Zionist symbols. True, Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch thinks SS jackets and Iron Crosses are way cool, but his fetish hasn’t been approved yet.

Next, whatever you do, stay out of hospitals! Okay, maybe you’ve been in a horrific accident, but the miracle procedure that could save your life was probably developed in Israel! Better to take two aspirins and stay in bed.

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein – who is the coolest anti-Zionist ever – she says Israelis actually like terrorism, because it creates a market for stuff they’re good at making.
I confess, at first I couldn't get my head around this, but when I thought about how important Israeli medical know-how is to the world, it began to make sense!

Finally, to enforce Israeli apartheid, we’ve got to get radical. Think about this: the first two Hebrew letters are alef and bet. Yes, Alef-bet … Alphabet! So, as of the end of this sentence, I’m taking the ultimate step and boycotting the written word – that’ll show those Zionists!

Note: Additional instructions on boycotting Zionist entities can be found on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saeky9I5T9c&feature=related

Nora Clean” was previously published on Harry’s Place here and on Dust My Broom.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The United Church has a Jewish problem


The anti-Israel activists in the United Church of Canada outdid themselves this year. For the church’s national Council, they tabled four anti-Israel proposals that were unrivalled for venom.


Three of the proposals came from Toronto (the fourth from Montreal) and were the work of a small clique of Israel-bashers who use the United Church to promote their agenda. But it’s no accident that Israel-haters find the UC a comfortable home.


Although it recognizes Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, the UC consistently objects to Israel defending itself against attack. Instead, it spreads the lie that Israel is guilty of “collective punishment and violence … on the Palestinian people.”


There is, of course, one side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that targets a civilian population, but it’s not Israel.


The UC does call on both the Palestinians and the Israelis to end all violence but the UC blames only Israel. In January, Reverend David Giuliano, Moderator of the United Church of Canada (the church’s highest official) called the violence a “consequence of the hatred and hostility bred by the occupation.”


So, according to the Moderator, not only is Israel responsible for its own deeds, but also for breeding hatred into the Palestinians. Thanks to the Israelis, the Palestinians can’t help themselves; they’re compelled to fire rockets at hospitals and lob mortars at kindergartens.
The Moderator’s stance is bad enough, but even worse, no matter how vile the Israel-haters within the church become, the UC still defends them.


The Reverend Bruce Gregerson, a spokesman for the UC, admits that seeking to undermine Israel’s existence is antisemitic. But, he says, the boycott proposals merely tried to encourage Israel “to make moves toward peace.”


Uh-huh. Israel is a liberal democracy like Canada, committed to the equality of all its citizens. Yet the proposals called Israel “evil” and compared it to apartheid South Africa – a racist state that was removed from the political map.


The proposals called on the people of Israel to be cut off from the rest of humankind, with a boycott of all Israeli athletes, scholars and cultural institutions.


They called for economic warfare against Israel, with a boycott of all Israeli products and of all “companies supporting the Zionist policies of Israel.”


The process boycotters use to identify Zionist companies is mystical but apparently productive, as the proposals listed dozens, including the Arsenal Football Club (owned by Jews, you know), Huggies diapers, and Victoria’s Secret lingerie.


As a resolution to the conflict, the boycott proposals called for the 4 million descendants of Palestinians displaced by Arab wars against Israel to be allowed to settle in Israel and thus end the “evil” of Zionism by transforming Israel into another Arab state.


On the other hand, the boycotters didn’t urge the Palestinians to do anything. They didn’t call on the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks, even though Israel has repeatedly offered to do so.


Nor did the boycotters urge Hamas to give up on terror, recognize Israel, or even renounce their ambition to slaughter Jews everywhere, as called for in Hamas’s constitution. The boycott proposals didn’t even refer to Hamas except to confer legitimacy on it as “the newly elected Palestinian party.”


Moreover, while seeking to wipe Israel off the map and implicitly siding with the terrorists, the boycotters spread the lie that some Jewish members of Parliament are Israeli citizens and implied they’re potential traitors.


As it turned out, the Council rejected the language of the proposals – the references to apartheid, the suggestion that Jews are disloyal and so forth, and it rejected a national boycott as too divisive.


However, the Council did invite member churches to boycott Israel and reaffirmed its stance that Israel is solely to blame for the conflict, calling on its churches to “resist the occupation.”


I’m disturbed that the UC has adopted the language of terrorists.


Moreover, if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank without a peace agreement, expecting it to become a launching pad for rocket and mortar attacks as happened with Gaza, would this satisfy the United Church?


Not for a moment. The Council declared Gaza still occupied, although every last Israeli left years ago. Apparently, like the rest of the anti-Israel crowd, the UC can’t stand to let the occupation go.


Finally, the Council committed itself to the World Council of Churches’ Amman Declaration, which calls for settling millions of Palestinians in Israel, thus transforming it into an Arab state.


At the Council, many representatives did speak in Israel’s favour, and doubtless these speakers represented the majority of ordinary church members.


However, as an institution, the United Church of Canada used this Council to assert its abiding hostility toward Israel.


Ah, well. I’ll do my bit by spending against the boycott. The kids are too old for diapers, but I’m sure my wife would like some Zionist lingerie.


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This article previously appeared on the Dust My Broom blog, and on Harry's Place in Britain. It was first published, in a shorter version, in the August 20, 2009, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B'nai Brith Canada.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hamas runs wild in Gaza

Another day, another tale of Israeli soldiers misbehaving. The last time this happened back in March, I was horrified when I picked up my Toronto Star and read about Israeli soldiers saying they’d witnessed deliberate murders of Palestinians. But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that such “news” is usually bogus.


Sure enough, the next day, it began to come out that these weren’t eye-witness reports, merely rumours, and that some of the soldiers passing on stories of abuse weren’t even in Gaza.

No real surprise. The Israeli army (the IDF) has a well-deserved reputation for professionalism and decency. Most of the soldiers involved in large operations are ordinary people, like me and you. They were called up to help clear the rocket launching sites out of Gaza, and they behaved well and occasionally heroically. (See here.)

However, the Toronto Star followed up its original yarn with an article explaining how war dehumanizes, resulting in indiscriminate killing. This story tried for even-handedness in that it wasn’t just about Israel.

It noted how the Palestinians glorify terrorism and referred to Hamas’s TV programming for children in which J is for Jihad and S is for Shahid – a martyr who kills Jews for Allah.
But the Star’s premise was all wrong. In this conflict, only Hamas targeted civilians.

Indeed, not only does Hamas attempt to murder Israelis, it’s also careless of Palestinian lives. Its soldiers shed their uniforms and hid behind civilians. They used mosques as weapon depots and fired upon Israeli troops from houses.

For its part, Israel went to extraordinary lengths to spare civilians, individually phoning residents of buildings and warning them to get out – a level of care never taken by any other army in the history of warfare. (For a military perspective on this see here.)

When the IDF eventually released the results of its investigation into the allegations, the Star did report it, but as in most of the media, the article was brief and buried in the back pages.
Worse, after stating the IDF had dismissed the allegations as hearsay, the bulk of the story repeated details of some of the worst allegations. And of course it’s details that stick in a reader’s mind.

The Star also left out that the IDF had meticulously tracked the rumours back to their sources and found they were simply untrue.

That won’t happen again, because this time around, the sources of the rumours have been carefully concealed.

For Israel’s reputation, this makes little difference. If the IDF were able to investigate the allegations, the media would again report the conclusions in a paragraph buried in the back pages and would again use the IDF’s report mainly as an opportunity to refresh the original allegations.
This isn’t malice (not usually). It’s just that when the Toronto Star headlines a story: “Israeli troops run wild in Gaza,” it sells papers. A story headlined: “Israeli troops behave well” is merely true.

“If it bleeds it leads,” as the saying goes. So when a source offers them blood, journalists have a hard time saying no, even if the story can’t be verified and the source has an axe to grind.

This is the case with the latest allegations. The reports come from Breaking the Silence, an organization dedicated to blackening the image of Israel’s military. As for the allegations themselves, they’re at least third hand: Breaking the Silence saying what a soldier says that another soldier told him.

Breaking the Silence claims the stories come from soldiers who were in Gaza and claims they edited the stories only to conceal the soldiers’ identities. But because of that concealment, not a word can be verified.

Nonetheless, most media applied little scepticism. The Toronto Star put the story on the front page, with the sensationalist headline: “Gaza invasion: ‘If you’re not sure – kill.’” But midway through, the Star did at least get around to mentioning Israel’s side of the story.

The Globe and Mail’s article was much worse, with no pretence of even-handedness and not a whiff of skepticism.

CBC.ca did a far better job. Its story is full of the language of doubt: “Breaking the Silence…said it has testimony.” The soldiers, “say they took part in January's military operation in Gaza.” The soldiers “are claiming.” The soldiers “allege...”

The CBC article noted the difficulty of verifying any of the information, gave space to the IDF’s rebuttal starting in the second paragraph – not halfway through the article – and as befits such a dodgy story, CBC.ca buried it in the back web-pages.

By foregoing sensationalism, the CBC surely missed getting people’s attention. But they kept their integrity, and hopefully, in the long run, that counts for more, even in the news business.

Of course it's possible that some of the stories reported by Breaking the Silence are true or partially true. In every war there's a danger of soldiers abusing the civilian population. It's occasionally happened with Canadian soldiers and with Israeli soldiers, too.

We know this because, like all well-disciplined armies, the IDF investigates allegations of abuse and, when evidence of a crime exists, prosecutes. The other day, a soldier was convicted of stealing a Palestinian's credit card, and the IDF is pursuing a dozen other criminal investigations.

But by concealing the soldiers' identities, Breaking the Silence has insured that nothing can be done about their allegations - no investigation, no disciplinary action or exoneration, no changes made to do a better job of protecting civilians next time around.

But then Breaking the Silence isn't interested in protecting Palestinian civilians. The Israeli army is much more interested in doing that.


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A shorter version of this piece previously appeared in the July 28, 2009, Jewish Tribune, and on Dust My Broom.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Academic circus


Gary Goodyear, Minister for Science and Technology, recently called for the reconsideration of a $20,000 grant for a conference about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at York University. In response, James Turk, president of the Canadian University Teachers Association, called for Goodyear’s resignation.


The two men are just doing their jobs. Goodyear represents the people of Canada. He had reason to believe that “Israel/Palestine Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” might be more a propaganda exercise than an academic conference, and so he questioned whether Canadians should pay for the event.


For his part, Turk represents university teachers. His job is to get as much money as he can for the country’s universities and professors, preferably with no questions asked and no strings attached.


Speakers at the supposedly academic conference represented a rogue’s gallery of anti-Israel activists. For example, no one would mistake Ali Abunimah for an academic. He’s a professional propagandist and the co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a website that glamorizes terrorism as "resistance" and considers all of Israel occupied Palestinian territory.


Abunimah didn’t merely give a talk at the York conference. He was a member of the advisory committee, responsible for recommending the conference speakers. I'm not as familiar with the other organizers, but I'm confident that if David Duke (former Grand Wizard of the Klan) were on a committee recommending speakers for a conference about the future of the American South and what to do about tensions between Blacks and Whites, nobody would be saying, "But he's only one of the organizers – the rest aren't as bad."


Of course, when he called for Goodyear’s resignation, Turk didn’t go into details about what Abunimah and other anti-Israel activists were doing at a supposedly academic conference. He simply wrapped himself in the banner of academic freedom. This isn’t a convincing stance.
First, there’s bad blood between the CAUT and Goodyear. When the government budgeted an extra $2 billion for university infrastructure, the CAUT chose to complain about a $148 million cut to research funding. The CAUT met with Goodyear to press their case, but according to a CAUT official, Goodyear eventually: “stormed out of the room warning that we’ve burned all our bridges with them.”


With this fight over money already poisoning the relationship, it’s not surprising Turk found an excuse to call for Goodyear’s resignation.


Second, CAUT stands up for academic freedom only if it fits their self-interest or political bias. When the University and Colleges Union in Britain called for the blacklisting of Israeli scholars, most university presidents across Canada and hundreds of Canadian professors decried the move as an outrage against academic freedom (not to mention a clear cut case of bigotry). But the CAUT kept quiet.


I could understand if the CAUT felt they had no business meddling in Middle Eastern politics, but in fact, the CAUT issued a statement just this past January condemning Israel’s offensive in Gaza.


Strangely, in the year preceding the offensive, as thousands of Palestinian rockets and mortars rained down on Israeli towns, the CAUT issued no statements condemning this terrorism, nor even a friendly warning that sooner or later the Israelis were sure to respond.


The CAUT statement singled out Israel’s bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza, but didn’t object to Hamas having turned the school into a bomb-making factory. Nor did the CAUT ever condemn the Palestinian rocket attack on Sapir College in the Negev – an attack that killed a student there.


The CAUT also condemns Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank. These checkpoints have proven effective at stopping suicide attacks. But while preventing mass murder, checkpoints also make students late for school, and so the CAUT calls for Israel to take them down.


Third, politicizing the campus doesn’t enhance academic freedom; it restricts it. For Jews, York University is already hostile territory. The Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario’s infamous motion to boycott Israel originated with the CUPE local at York, with people who consider all of Israel occupied Palestinian territory.


Two of the prime movers of CUPE’s boycott resolution were Rafeef Zadiah and Adam Hanieh, both of whom spoke at the Israel/Palestine conference.


York also hosts an annual anti-Israel hate-fest, known as Israel Apartheid Week. Jewish students have been threatened by fellow students and harassed by instructors. And in February, a mob chased a group of mostly Jewish students, shouting: “Israelis off campus,” “Racist Zionists,” “Die, bitch, go back to Israel,” “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus,” “Fucking Jew” and so forth.


The mob then besieged the Jewish students in the local Hillel office until the police arrived and freed them.


If the CAUT were really interested in academic freedom, James Turk would be battling to preserve the campus as place for open inquiry, free of intimidation. He’d be condemning professors who use their podium to indoctrinate students. And he would have been the first in line to ask whether this conference at York really met the standards of academic inquiry.


The conference turned out pretty much as everyone expected; that is, it was largely given over to demonizing Israel. According to reports (here and here for starters), speakers presented Israel as a racist, apartheid state, as a military machine intent on dominating the Palestinians, as an illegitimate entity that ought to be replaced.


At the conference, the Palestinians were presented purely as victims. The possibility that they might share some responsibility for the conflict simply wasn’t entertained. And although the conference was subtitled “Paths to Peace,” there was no discussion about re-invigorating the peace process.


“Zionists” were blamed even for domestic violence perpetrated by Palestinian men against Palestinian women.


As for the few speakers who were sufficiently well-meaning to express sympathy for Israel, they were jeered and heckled.


Before receiving funding, the conference did go through a peer review process. Evidently that process didn’t work. As Professor Martin Lockshin of York University put it: “[The peer review process] failed to distinguish between political activism and academic research” (here).


Why didn’t Andrew Turk concern himself about whether the conference at York might really be a propaganda event? Because for the CAUT, academic freedom is a rhetorical device, not a real concern.


Still, even by the light of the CAUT’s grab the money and run philosophy, Turk should notice that the shenanigans at York are turning away donors and may end up costing the university millions. Indeed, one professor at York already objects to “Zionists” being involved in fund-raising.


More generally, if it wants Canadians to be enthusiastic about funding university research, the CAUT should be doing its best to insure that money is spent well, not squandered on an anti-Israel circus.


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A shorter version of this article previously appeared in the July 2, 2009, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B'nai Brith Canada, on the Dust My Broom blog, and on Harry's Place in Britain

Friday, July 3, 2009

The one-state conference at York University: A Rogue’s Gallery


Some serious and well-meaning academics attended the conference at York University. If they were sufficiently well-meaning to express sympathy for Israel, they were abused and heckled from the floor. “This is an academic conference or at least it’s supposed to be,” protested Na’ama Carmi, a conference speaker from Haifa University.

Carmi was brave to attend, but if she supposed it was ever seriously meant as an academic conference, she was mistaken. Really, it was a propaganda event. Discussion of any Palestinian responsibility for the conflict was excluded, while Israel was under constant attack. The conference’s purpose was political; namely, to attack the legitimacy of the State of Israel and to present the replacement of Israel with a bi-national Palestinian-Jewish state as a legitimate alternative policy goal.

The one-state solution isn’t supported by either Israelis or Palestinians. Rather, recent polls show 74% of Palestinians and 78% of Israelis would support a two-state solution. Indeed, no one seriously interested in resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict promotes the idea of a single Israeli-Palestinian state. Rather, the one-state solution is recognized as a rationalization for destroying Israel in order to replace it with a Palestinian state.

Here's a few of the cnfernce attendees:

Ali Abunimah: No one would mistake Abunimah for an academic. He’s a professional propagandist and the co-founder of Electronic Intifada. Electronic Intifada supports the murder of innocent men, women and children as "resistance." Abunimah demonizes Israel as an apartheid state and engages in Jew-baiting by likening Israelis to Nazis.

Abunimah won’t merely be presenting at the York conference. He’s a member of the advisory committee, responsible for recommending the conference speakers. I'm not as familiar with the other organizers, but I'm confident that if David Duke (former Grand Wizard of the Klan) were on a committee recommending speakers for a conference about the future of the American South and what to do about tensions between Blacks and Whites, nobody would be saying, "But he's only one of the organizers – the rest aren't as bad."

Abigail Bakan: Bakan is Professor of Political Studies and Women's Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada. She’s also a leader the Trotskyite group, the International Socialists (a Canadian branch of Britain’s Socialist Worker’s Party) and a leader of the anti-Israel group known as NION.

Bakan reportedly was one of the representatives of NION at the 2007 Cairo conference, where radical Islamist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Jamaat al-Islamiya (a branch of al-Qaeda best known for murdering 71 tourists in Egypt in 1997) sat down to talk strategy with the worldwide “anti-imperialist” left.

The Cairo Conference Declaration was big on Hezbollah’s “heroic resistance” to the “Zionist entity.” (Yes, that’s the term they use.) And the conference praised Hamas’s “refusal to surrender to… the Oslo agreements,” and called for “a revival of the Intifada and the weapon of resistance.” In other words: two states living in peace, no; human bombs, yes.
The conference also urged boycotts against the Zionist entity in order to bring about its demise, a course of action Bakan pursues as best she can.

Rafeef Zadiah and Adam Hanieh: Zadiah and Hanieh are both PhD candidates at York and leaders of the anti-Israel group, the Coalition Against Israel Apartheid. This Apartheid group also participated in the Cairo Conference, and Zadiah and Hanieh are active in the anti-Israel boycott movement. As members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, they worked to bring about CUPE Ontario’s resolution to boycott Israel.

Omar Barghouti is a professional propagandist, not an academic,. He’s a leader of the anti-Israel boycott movement. Barghouti denigrates Israel as an apartheid state and argues that Israeli scholars, artists and musicians should be blacklisted - cut off from the rest of humanity. According to Barghouti, anyone who engages in intellectual or artisitic co-operation with Israelis is guilty of “moral blindness.” “Dialogue does not work,” says Barghouti.

Marc Ellis: A professor at Baylor College, Ellis argues that Jews worship violence and that Torah scrolls in synagogues should be replaced with replicas of helicopter gunships as symbols of what Jews really believe in. At the conference Ellis is reported to have expressed the wish that Israel would suffer a catastrophe to teach it a lesson, but alas, any such catastrophe would also engulf Palestine and the surrounding Arab states.

Jeff Halper: Halper is a pro-Palestinian activist, not an academic. He runs an organization opposing the demolition of illegally constructed Palestinian houses. According to Gerald Steinberg, of NGO Monitor:

[Halper] participated in sailing a few small boats from Cyprus to
Hamas-controlled Gaza, hoping to engage in a publicity-generating confrontations
with the Israeli navy.
Halper often appears in support of Naim Ateek, whose
speeches include classical anti-Semitic references, such as accusing Israel of
"crucifying Palestinians." …
An Israeli columnist recently witnessed Halper
urging "his Muslim listeners in an American university to reject the Arab peace
initiative, because it serves the Muslim tyrants. He told his audience that
Israel is a force that serves world capitalism, in the framework of the attempt
to make enormous populations in the world disappear.

Dana Olwan is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University, but her area is English literature. She wasn’t invited to the conference as an academic, but as an anti-Israel activist, national chair of Students for Palestinian Human Rights. Olwan spreads lies such as the claim that Israel’s creation “was legitimized through racist Zionist narratives that depicted Palestinians … as “semi-savage.” She also writes that Israel “actively engages in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” a claim that is not only unture, but absurdly so as the Palestinians have had a sustained population boom for the last 40 years. At the conference, Olwan’s was speaking on using the one-state solution as a “rhetorical strategy for activists.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rats don’t vote

With this strike on in Toronto, we may end up with the plague, but at least we’ll get rid of McGuinty and Miller.

A poll shows that 80% of Torontonians want Premier Dalton McGuinty to legislate our striking city workers back to work. Astonishingly, Dalton seems content to let the strike run. I’m embarrassed to say I voted for this guy.

Windsor has put up with a strike by city workers for more than two months. But if Dalton didn’t have a chauffeur to drive him around, he’d know Toronto isn’t like Windsor. We’re not known for our patience.

Two months! That will take us right through the summer. That’s two months of no swimming pools, no summer camps, no daycare. Two months of garbage stinking and rotting in the streets. With such a feast laid out, our rat population will quadruple. The premier seems to have forgotten that rats don’t vote.

I give Dalton a week to stop dithering. Then if he hasn’t brought in back-to-work legislation, he’s toast.

Mayor Miller is already gone – he just doesn’t know it yet. Before the strike started, our NDP mayor’s approval ratings had already sunk to 43%.

To date, his response to the strike has been to come down heavy – not on the strikers, but on voters. He’s established a zero tolerance policy for garbage dumping. It’s a $380 fine, he’s warned us repeatedly – a $380 fine that can go up to thousands if you’re really messy.

Why the heavy hand? Because as soon as the strike was announced, people started dumping garbage in parks. They didn’t even wait for a missed pick-up day. Why? Because we’re ticked off.

Of course this is terribly misguided, Torontonians shouldn't dump garbage in parks. We should bring it straight to the steps of the Legislature, to City Hall, and to the offices of the two CUPE locals that are on strike, at 110 Laird Drive and 34 St. Patrick Street.

We now have 20 official temporary dumps / rat-breeding grounds, but in the first days of the strike, well-behaved Torontonians took their trash to transfer stations. They learned their lesson quick. Strikers wouldn’t let them in. The strikers blocked access completely or allowed one person in every 15 minutes, causing two-hour waits.

Were the strikers arrested for public mischief, as you or I would be? Don’t be silly.

But what about ticked off people who left their garbage bags at the entrance to a blocked transfer station? That’s a $380 fine, please. Ka-ching!

I doubt Torontonians will wait till election day to show our displeasure. People imagine that a couple thousand angry Tamils were a problem – what with blocking the Gardner Expressway and all. Ha!

Wait until there are mountains of garbage rotting in the street, and see what happens. There are two and a half million people in this city and none of them very patient.

Note: This piece previously appeared on Dust My Broom

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"I can tell you what it’s like," Yocheved Menashe

Here’s another reaction to “7 Jewish Children.” It’s from my friend Yocheved (Yo for short) in Israel….

I can tell you what it's like to be a teacher of grade 11 and 12 students whose school bus just ran over a land mine, which for some reason didn't explode immediately but shortly thereafter. It's a miracle of G/d that they were all still alive to talk about it – and I was the first one they told.

I can tell you what it's like to have a class discussion, with kids from different grades and different schools, to find that every one of them has been directly affected by a suicide attack – me included.

I can tell you what it's like when a suicide attack occurs and you're frantic until you get to school and can make sure all your students are present and accounted for.

I can tell you what it's like to see a bombed out bus.

I can tell you what it's like to have a student in your class whose parent was killed in a suicide attack.

I can tell you what it's like to be on a bus on your way to teach young people or on your way home when it's stoned by Palestinians. Or what it's like when they’ve surrounded the bus and boxed it in with trucks and a mob, including children, and you're stuck there until the IDF comes to get you out.

I can tell you what it's like to have two of Israel's finest guard you with assault rifles while you wait for a bus.

I can tell you what it's like when I do get to the school and I get to teach the greatest kids in the world. I wouldn't live anywhere else.

All the best,
Yo
Jerusalem, Israel
(Formerly of Toronto)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"7 Jewish Children" & ugly knit blankets

My husband and I were both listening to Michael Enright's CBC show last Sunday when he played a "read" of “Seven Jewish Children.”
We’re not dumb as stumps. We generally have the intelligence to have lively discussions on many views of many topics. But neither one of us could follow what was going on.

He thought it was seven sets of parents talking to seven children. I thought it was supposed to represent the voices of children, but that it was some freaky sort of nostalgia because the voices were all adult.

When they got to the part that went something like "Tell her we didn't mean to kill the babies," I couldn't listen anymore.

In the AGO they have a display of ugly knit blankets laid out on the floor. Somehow this too is art, but I don't get that either. I find myself irritated that this collection of thrift store uglies is given space and credibility in an art gallery. The play annoys me in the same way.

Margaret Beach

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What it’s actually like to raise kids in Israel, an Israeli mother’s reaction to “Seven Jewish Children”

What really annoys me about the Caryl Churchill play is this: I’m an Israeli parent. I have raised 5 children in Israel, which is no easy task, over and above the normal difficulties of parenting. Like the majority of Israeli parents I have wrestled with the dilemma of how to raise happy, balanced children in an environment with so many instances of violence and fear.

One has to cope with the fears of a child whose father and / or brother has gone to war. One has to cope with the anxieties of children forced to wear a gas mask for hours at a time for weeks on end and forbidden to leave the house. One has to cope with the nightmares resulting from seemingly unending terror attacks. One has to decide on a balance between the freedoms a teenager demands and the obvious dangers. One has to comfort teenagers who have buried friends.

But all the while, from their infancy, one tries not to opt for the easiest route. So one buys children’s books promoting Arab-Israeli co-existance. One takes them to play with the children of Arab friends. One encourages them to study hard in Arabic lessons in school. One discusses current affairs and politics, taking care to present the other point of view. When they go to the army one makes sure that they discuss their difficulties and moral dilemmas over a shabbat meal.

And then along comes Caryl Churchill and makes a complete stereotypical lie out of all those years of parenting and all those sleepless nights of dilemma.

- An Israeli Nurse (and Mom)

Photo: Israeli & Palestinian children at a soccer camp near Haifa with Argentinean football coach Daniel Passarella, 2008

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Seven Jewish Children," an incitement to hatred

There are those who delight in Jews admitting to their crimes, and with confessions in short supply, they invent them. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is one such invention. Supposedly written by Jews, though actually concocted by the Czarist secret police in about 1895, the Protocols outlines a Jewish plot for world domination. It’s the stuff of comic books but was Hitler’s guiding text.

“Seven Jewish Children,” a ten-minute play by Caryl Churchill, follows in the tradition of the Protocols. The play pretends to show Jews discussing what to tell their children at seven points in modern Jewish history, beginning with the Holocaust and ending with the recent conflict in Gaza.

Using this set-up, Churchill has her Jews confess to the worst lies of the Israel-haters. But Churchill goes a step further than usual: her play drops the standard “anti-Zionist” fig leaf and explicitly targets Jews.

Churchill’s Jews trade on the Holocaust: “Tell her we’re the ones to be sorry for,” they say. “Tell her they [the Palestinians] can’t talk suffering to us.”

Churchill’s Jews confess to having become Nazis: “Tell her we’re the iron fist now.”

The world hates Churchill’s Jews, but they’re defiant and declare themselves superior: “Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people,”

Churchill’s Jews are genocidal and racist and revel in killing Palestinians: “Tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they’re animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.”

Churchill’s Jews are child killers: “Tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names, why not tell her, the whole world knows why shouldn’t she know? Tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies?”

In short, like the Protocols, “Seven Jewish Children” has all the sophistication of a bad comic book. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the play less dangerous. Performed in respectable venues, the play may help make supposed crimes of the Jews a subject for legitimate debate.

Also, there’s an audience that’s hungry to hear nasty things about the Jews, especially among the chattering classes in Britain. It’s no surprise the play was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England.

For its part, Britain’s Guardian newspaper was so eager to spread Churchill’s propaganda worldwide that they commissioned their own production and made it available on-line.The Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington praised the play, stating that Churchill: “Shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the ‘otherness’ of Palestinians.”

In fact, Jewish children aren’t “bred” for anything. Nor are they taught to be racists, as Billington and Churchill suggest – not in my house, nor in other Jewish homes in Canada, Israel or elsewhere. And, for the record, we don’t kill babies, either.

The play had its Canadian premiere on May 3 at the Espace Geordie in Montreal. It was directed by Rose Plotek, who teaches drama at York University’s Glendon College, and was sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices Montreal.

Independent Jewish Voices labels itself a group for Jews opposed to Israeli policies. More accurately, it’s a group for Jews who have converted to the orthodoxy of the far Left.

With so many Jews associated with it, the Montreal production is reminiscent of medieval times when Jewish converts to Christianity would make a career of slandering their former co-religionists.

I wish this play had sunk into the obscurity it deserves. Unfortunately, its extremism has insured that “Seven Jewish Children” has been widely noticed.

The National Post devoted a front-page story to the controversy over the play.
On the Radio Canada website, the CBC promoted the play with a short puff piece headlined: “Une pi├Ęce pour les enfants de Gaza.”

In English, the CBC devoted the first hour of “The Sunday Edition” to the play. Michael Enright, the show’s host, interviewed Howard Jacobson, an English novelist and one of the play’s most articulate critics.

Enright also interviewed Abby Lippman of the IJV and put some sharp questions to her. Unfortunately, the program began by broadcasting a reading of the play – all 10 antisemitic minutes.

“Seven Jewish Children” will make its Toronto debut at Theatre Passe Muraille, where I’ve seen many plays. I won’t be going there any more.


Notes: Be sure to read "What it's actually like to raise Israeli kids, an Israeli mother's reaction to "Seven Jewish Children." It's short and from the heart:
here.

Howard Jacobson has an excellent piece in the Independent on “Seven Jewish Children” and contemporary antisemitism in Britain here.

Dave Rich and Mark Gardner of the Community Service Trust (the body that monitors anti-Jewish racism in Britain) have a piece analysing the antisemitism of “Seven Jewish Children” here.

This article, "'Seven Jewish Children,' an incitement to hatred," previously appeared in the 7 May 2009 Jewish Tribune, a community newspaper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada, in the Canadian blog Dust My Broom, the British blog Harry’s Place, and will be in the May 20 edition of the Jewish Post & News in Winnipeg.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The new antisemites & the CBC

I've received a reply from the Manager of Moderation at the CBC (posted below), and I think his reply shows they're taking the issue of antisemitism seriously.

In an earlier email to the moderator, I suggested the CBC follow the Globe and Mail's example and entirely close down comments on stories concerning the Middle East, and the CBC moderator now says they will revisit this option.

Good. Even apart from the open antisemitism (which the CBC is now seriously trying to block), the majority of people posting at the CBC demonize Israel as an evil, racist, terrorist, apartheid entity that has no right to exist.

These Israel-haters will argue that they aren't old-fashioned antisemites. Yes, they have an irrational loathing of Israel. Yes, half the Jews in the world happen to live in Israel. Yes, the Israel-haters often extend their loathing to Israel's supporters, thus including the other half of the world's Jews. But, they will argue, they're not racists. They've nothing against Jews who convert to their religion.

I think that's true enough; the Israel-haters aren't old-fashioned racist antisemites; they're post-Holocaust anti-racist antisemites.

But for Jews, this is a distinction without a difference.

Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran don't bother to disguise their Jew-hatred or their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And even when they’re not directly propagandizing on behalf of these terrorists (which they do often enough), our contemporary antisemites are busily inventing a rationale for the genocidal intentions of Iran and company.

For its part - courtesy of Canadian taxpayers - the CBC provides Canada's most important forum for Israel-haters to promote their views, in effect for promoting genocide. That's why I say, close it down.

CBC Responds

Here's the reply from the CBC's Moderation Manager (i.e., the person in charge of the team that screens what gets posted on the CBC's message boards)


Apologies for the delay in responding. Thank you for your e-mail of February 17, once again drawing our attention to anti-Semitic messages you found in the audience comments pages on CBC.CA.

I acknowledge that on a handful of highly controversial topics - the Middle East, among them - it continues to be a challenge for us to provide an open and lively forum for Canadians to share their often strong opinions, while at the same time, maintaining a space where people feel safe and comfortable participating. We have not always been successful.I have read the comments and users you pointed out in your e-mail and agree that many contravene our submission guidelines. I have once again reviewed them with the moderation team.

Moreover, since my e-mail to you a month ago (February 4), we have taken additional steps to tighten up our procedures respecting abusive posts. We have requested our technical team to make a number of changes to the system designed to improve the quality of our moderation. The changes will make it easier for the moderators to assess pending comments, and to deal effectively with problematic users. As an example - and as you suggested - one of those changes
will automatically highlight the posts of known problem users. Our procedures include banning users - and we do. (Although, we have found that it has not been particularly effective, since the user will simply register another account. This puts the moderation team at a disadvantage because we don’t know who to look out for. We also find these re-registrants can return with decreased community spirit.) But we have also adopted a new procedure that will allow us to issue a temporary suspension, or “time out,” for users who fail to follow the guidelines, in order to give us more time to assess their contributions. We have made more changes, as well, and posted them here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourbeststuff/2009/03/your_comments_ii_news_from_the.html

Despite our precautions, when dealing with a projected 1,500,000 comments this year, our efforts will minimize problematic comments from appearing but cannot totally eliminate them. If comments appear that fall outside our guidelines, we will remove them as quickly as possible.

We are continuing to reinforce our procedures and strengthen our team. We believe there are good reasons for not banning comments entirely on Middle East stories, for example, as some other news sites do, (including The Globe and Mail), but that is a decision we will continue to review.

Finally, yes, the Moderation Manager uses a generic name because of the sensitive nature of the position. Thank you again for writing us. I hope my reply has reassured you of the continuing integrity of our service.

Sincerely,

CBC Moderator

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The CBC bans Jew-haters

Until recently, the CBC was Canada’s largest publisher of antisemitic material.
In some ways, it still is.

The problem hasn't been the CBC reporters; it's the audience, posting antisemitic attacks on the CBC website.

Courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer, antisemites can reach far more people by posting on CBC.ca than through the wacko sites that specialize in Jew-hatred. Worse, they can preach to a mainstream audience, not just their fellow bigots.

The antisemitic attacks reached a crescendo during Israel’s recent war with Hamas, but this problem of Jew-haters using the CBC as their message board stretches back for years.

Last April, I wrote about the antisemitic comments that greeted a CBC.ca story about Steven Harper laying a wreath at Auschwitz (http://tinyurl.com/d62oxl). For example, a reader calling himself “baltzera” asked which would be cheaper vacation, “a day pass to Disney’s theme park or Dachau?”

Similar filth greeted a story about B’nai Brith’s 2007 audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada, with one reader asserting that Jews are “despised for all the right reasons here and globally.”

Back in 2004, writing in the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente noted the problem with antisemitic reader comments at the CBC, and quoted this one: "Jesus may have been a Jew himself but I know for a fact that he didn't take part in the eating of blood-filled pastries made from the blood of Palestinian children."

The theme of Jews thirsting for blood resurfaced during Israel’s war with Hamas. For example, a reader identifying himself as “LoranHayden” portrayed Jews as racist, genocidal baby-killers, savouring “Muslim juice.”
In Canada, anti-Jewish extremists like this are part of the lunatic fringe. On the CBC message boards, they represent the majority.

For example, 536 CBC.ca readers clicked on the link to recommend a comment by “sandy411” in which he compared Israel’s assault on Hamas to the Holocaust and added a reference to Israel wanting “pounds of flesh,” like Shylock the Jew.
“Sandy411” added: “How many tons of Palestinian women and children will settle your account, Israel?” It was the most popular comment of the day.
I wrote to the CBC to complain, citing eight of the most odious comparisons of Jews to Nazis, all of them taken from reader comments on a single story published December 27.

While I waited for a reply, the Hamas war got into full swing and CBC.ca readers began posting more than 1,000 comments a day on the topic. I collected 50 more examples of antisemitic attacks: everything from “DrDavid” referring to Jews as vermin and praising Hitler to “FRTknocker” denigrating Canadian Jews as “zionazis” and telling us to get out of Canada.
I could have found hundreds more, but I took my 50 examples and submitted another complaint.

Two weeks later, the CBC replied. They’d reviewed the comments I’d pointed out and agreed the “vast majority” were unacceptable. They reviewed other comments posted by the same users, found many were just as bad and removed them, too.

Even better, management showed the moderators who screen reader comments the antisemitic attacks that they'd allowed through, made them “aware of the problem users,” and refreshed them “on the issue of anti-Semitism in general.”
Moreover, the CBC agreed that comparisons of Israel (and Jews) to the Nazis and of Gaza to a concentration camp “fall outside acceptable discourse on the topic.”

In short, it was an outstanding, highly professional response. And I wasn’t satisfied.

A glance at recent stories showed the moderators were still allowing some gross antisemitism and Holocaust-taunting to slip through. Besides, though the CBC would block or remove a comment suggesting Jews are baby-killing Nazis, the reader was welcome to come back with some more subtle Jew-baiting.
So I wrote and complained again (http://tinyurl.com/butgrb).

I’m still waiting for a reply but not impatiently, because in the meanwhile – to their great credit – the CBC has gotten better at screening out antisemitic attacks.

Also, they’ve posted a new policy, stating that people who offend the CBC’s policies may have their account suspended. In other words, Jew-haters can get themselves banned.

Most readers commenting at CBC.ca still demonize Israel. They call it racist, terrorist, apartheid; they're still preparing a rationale for wiping Israel off the map, still in the business of supplying a warrant for genocide.

But the CBC has finally drawn a line. Explicitly attacking Jews is going a step too far. So is comparing the Nazi Jew-killers to the Jewish state. That sort of thing used to get posted at the CBC all the time. Not anymore.

Earlier versions of this piece appeared in the 3 March 2009 Jewish Tribune, a community paper published by B’nai Brith Canada, at Harry's Place in Britain - where lots of people commented, and on Honest Reporting Canada blog. "Scaramouche" takes issue with me here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Al-Jazeera north

Earlier versions of this article appeared in the 17 June 2008 Jewish Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/c2tlyy), a community paper published weekly by B'nai Brith Canada, and on the Engage website (http://tinyurl.com/anbvnw).

To the great surprise of no one, Tony Burman, former editor-in-chief of the CBC has accepted a senior position at Al-Jazeera’s English language news service.

Burman was always a fan of Al-J. In November 2007 while still in charge of all CBC news and current affairs, Burman published an essay applauding Al-J and arguing that Canadians should get to watch its new English language service (http://tinyurl.com/2bntd6).

Millions of people around the world already watch Al-J in English, and cable companies could make it available in Canada, too. But they don’t because the Canadian Radio and Television Commission ruled that cable companies must insure Al-J conforms to broadcasting regulations that forbid “abusive comment.”

Al-J’s Arabic service features guests who are open Jew-haters and Holocaust deniers – material that might constitute a criminal offence in Canada, never mind a mere breach of broadcasting regulations.

In his essay published on CBC’s website, Burman remarked that Al-J “had been accused by some Canadian groups of ‘anti-Semitism.’” Apparently Burman couldn’t see the antisemitism or didn’t have a problem with it, because having noted the accusation, he ignored it.

What’s more, after watching the first few days of Al-J’s English language service, Burman wrote: “I couldn’t detect any pattern of overt ‘bias’ in its handling of the key issues.”

The rest of the world sees Al-J’s anti-Israel and anti-Western bias. But not Burman. Apparently Al-Jazeera tells it the way Tony Burman sees it.

Burman isn’t the first CBC journalist to join Al-J. Talking bubblehead Avi Lewis announced his move to Al-J months ago. At the CBC, Lewis hosted a string of failed talk shows with a distinct loony left bias. Al-J had no problem with his track record of cancelled shows. I wonder why.

For his new employer, Lewis heads up a program called “Frontline USA,” which is following the U.S. elections. One of Front Line’s first programs looked at the so-called Israel lobby, which Front Line implied, has American politics and media pretty much under its thumb (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aitqHMmIjFs).

By way of proof, Front Line examined media reaction to Louis Farrakhan’s endorsement of Barak Obama. Farrakhan leads the Nation of Islam and is infamous for saying that Jews have a “gutter religion” and similar charming remarks.

An endorsement from a notorious bigot – no matter how unwelcome – was news, and the media pursued Obama for his response. But Front Line suggested there was something extraordinary about the media’s reaction. Front Line’s apparent message: look how Obama is forced to fall all over himself to appease the Jews.

The program had a certain stink about it, but that can’t be – Lewis is Jewish himself, right? No wonder Al-J loves him.

Some other CBC journalists write as if they’re auditioning for Al-J. Perhaps they are. Neil McDonald, for example, who for now, still works for the CBC, keeping track of the Jews on our dime.

A recent article of McDonald’s, “Is Obama anti-Israel?” concerned anti-Obama emails circulating on the internet. These emails allege that Obama asked to be sworn into the U.S. Senate on the Quran, that he refuses to recite the American pledge of allegiance, and similar nonsense (http://tinyurl.com/bmkzk7).

McDonald writes: “The messages are aimed principally at American evangelical Christians and American Jews.” McDonald seems to have simply invented this claim. Certainly, he cites no proof, and in fact, emails like this aren’t “aimed” at anyone. They spread virally: people who like the email forward it to everyone in their address books.

Who forwards anti-Obama emails? People who dislike Obama of course, and mostly that’s not Jews. According to polls at least 60% of American Jews support Obama – compared to 45% of all Americans.

But McDonald wants to pretend that, if Obama has been tainted as anti-Israel, it’s because of reactionary Jews and conservative Christians.

He notes that usually closer to 80% of Jews support the Democrats, not just 60%. “A shift of 20 percentage points can matter a great deal in places like Pennsylvania and Florida,” McDonald claims.

Hardly. Florida’s population is 4% Jewish. Twenty percent of that is less than 1 percentage point. Pennsylvania is just 2% Jewish – as is the United States overall.

Jews never decide American elections. However it’s true that Obama’s attitude toward Israel does affect his chances of winning, but that’s because in America, close to 80% of everybody subscribes to basic Zionism. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, atheist, Christian or Hindu – support for Israel is part of the American national consensus. That’s a fact McDonald just doesn’t want to report.

But hopefully McDonald is burnishing his resume. I’m sure Al-J would snap him up, and the CBC’s loss would be our gain. Go, man. Go!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

CBC plays host to antisemites

Earlier versions of this article appeared in the 28 May 2008 Jewish Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/c2tlyy), a community paper published weekly by B'nai Brith Canada, and on the Engage website (http://tinyurl.com/anbvnw).

Cranks and bigots are always looking for a soapbox. We saw this in Quebec when the provincial government put on a travelling sideshow called the Bouchard-Taylor Commission.

The commission explored the question of reasonable accommodation of minority groups. It also gave a platform to a parade of angry people who stepped up to the microphones to complain about Jews, Muslims and immigrants.

But the bigot brigade doesn’t have to wait for the sort of once in a lifetime opportunity provided by the B-T Commission. News media such as the CBC provide a public forum for antisemitism every day.

Check it out. Go to CBC.ca and have a look at the comments section following articles related to Jews or Israel.

When Stephen Harper laid a wreath at Aushwitz, a reader calling himself baltzera objected. “I got a bad feeling about this one,” he wrote. “Getting a little too close to Americans and Jews, aren’t we folks? … I’m stuck here watching my Canada deteriorate and become another vassal of Zionist and American imperialists.”

Later baltzera added: “I’m thinking of vacation next year and have to watch my spending. Which is cheaper? A day pass to Disney’s theme park or Dachau.”

Another reader calling himself cbczifit accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing of Palestine” and added, “Zionists control the U.S. foreign policy.”

Similarly, a reader, going by the name Patrice, accused Israel of “genocide” and continually compared Israel to the Nazis – which seems to be a favourite form of Jew-baiting these days.

Another CBC.ca article reported on B’nai Brith’s annual audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada. A few readers expressed dismay at how often Jews are harassed and shock about the firebombing of a Jewish community centre. Most of the comments, though, were directed against Jews.

A fellow identifying himself as archboca defended harassment of Canadian Jews as “a reaction to what is going on in the middle east,” where he explained, the real Semites are the Arabs and the Israel is the anti-Semite.

Archboca also condemned the B’nai Brith because it “is very active in hunting down former German soldiers close to the Nazi government.”

While archboca’s support for war criminals suggests he speaks from some point on the neo-Nazi right, his sentiments were echoed from the anti-Jewish left.

This “so-called antisemitism,” wrote a fellow calling himself Bobalink, is nothing but an attempt to recast “Israel and Jews as ‘victims’ rather than perpetrators of human rights violations.”
Jews aren’t really even Semites, wrote Bobalink, yet they misuse this term for “silencing public criticism of the state of Israel’s policies.” And, he said, “their influence is so pervasive that most western media and journalists will practice a form of ‘self-censorship’ … rather than print … criticism of Israeli history.”

EastVanMan summed up a few of the main anti-Jewish smears: “This report is rubbish… You lot best tidy your own house before you come and disapprove of how people perceive these people. I am not fond of Jewish and often Zionist control of media… Your despised for all the right reasons here and globally.”

Well, I’m relieved to be “despised for all the right reasons.” It’s not mere prejudice – antisemitism doesn’t even exist! Rather “my lot” is despised because we control the media and commit human rights violations. Personally, I can’t recall doing either but perhaps manipulation and cruelty come so naturally to my lot that I do it in my sleep.

I could go on. This is only a sample of the nasty comments posted in response to the articles about Harper’s visit to Aushwitz and about BB’s audit of antisemitic incidents. CBC readers posted many more such slurs – as they do in response to every article related to Jews.
And mind you, these are moderated discussions. I can only imagine the comments the CBC moderator blocked or removed after someone complained.

Antisemitic comments at the CBC and the Guardian and at the websites of other media do matter. First, the Judeaphobes encourage each other and swap propaganda.

In one comment, Patrice recommends people read Israel Shahak, a notorious antisemite. As Paul Bogadanor notes, Shahak’s “articles and translations carry titles such as The Jewish Hatred Towards Christianity, The Jewish Laundry of Drug Money, The Jews Who Run the USA” (http://tinyurl.com/as3tvt).

Another poster explains that Israel actually treats Palestinians worse than the Nazis treated Jews because, you see, the Nazis killed Jews quickly.

Can people truly believe such things? Probably not. But they repeat them and so the lies spread.

Second, on media websites, the anti-Jewish fringe meets the centre; on these soapboxes the bigots are no longer raving just to themselves.

Third, words lead to action. In November, while the B-T Commission was holding public hearings, antisemitic incidents spiked. Likely the trigger was that parade of bigots stepping up to the microphones to complain about Jews.

Of course, most of the rants on the media sites don’t target Jews directly. Rather, they demonize Israel, written by people who, I expect, would hand out sweets if Israel were erased from the pages of history.

We’re not antisemitic, these people claim: we don’t foam at the mouth when we think of Jews – only when we think of Israel. And if half the world’s Jews happen to live in Israel? Well, too bad for them, eh?

Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor, and a refugee from Canada’s social democratic party, the NDP.

P.S. The B’nai Brith’s audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada in 2007 is available here: http://www.bnaibrith.ca/publications/audit2007/audit2007.html

Information from the BB’s annual audits is incorporated into an analysis of antisemitism worldwide compiled by the Stephen Roth Institute in Tel Aviv. Their 2007 report is available here: http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2007/gen-analysis-07.pdf
Photo: Gate to the SS compound at Dachau

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The CBC should ban Jew-haters

Dear Moderator,

Thank you very much for your reply, and please, no need to apologize for the delay; I know you're busy.

I'm pleased you're treating the problem of antisemitic reader comments with due seriousness. And I'm very glad indeed that you've tightened up your stance regarding comparisons to concentration camps and Nazism and agree with me that these comparisons fall outside acceptable discourse on the topic.

However, I glanced at the reader comments for one recent story, "Livni, Netanyahu vie for Israeli coalition partners," (Feb 12, 2009, http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/02/12/israel-election.html#socialcomments) and found a posting by JordanThornton in which he claims Israel turned Gaza into: "the world's largest Concentration Camp."

In the the very next reader posting, "TheFacts," wrote:
Israel bring allways the Holocaust subject to life ..... Israel: what about the Holocaust you inflict Palestinians? ((2009/02/12 at 8:38 PM ET)


So again, while it's great that you've tightened up your stance, please be aware that these comparisons continue to slip past the moderators.

Also, it's good that you removed the antisemitic attacks I pointed out [in my last email] and that you found and removed many more such attacks.

Unfortunately, this is a case of cleaning up a program after it's already been broadcast.

You write that:
Our users are quick to alert us to these cases via the 'report abuse' link.
But the 50-plus comments I noted had already been up for hours if not days. If I'd had time to look at all the thousands of comments posted throughout the Gaza crisis, I'm sure I would have found many more antisemitic attacks - many hundreds more. And of course your team did find plenty of other antisemitic comments posted by the users I alerted you to.

So while it's certainly useful, the 'report abuse' link is no answer to the problem.

For myself, I do often use the 'report abuse' link, but I use it with a sense of futility, knowing that the offensive comment has already been broadcast and that most of the people who are going to read it already have. Moreover, reporting abuse takes time, since I feel it's necessary to explain the problem with a given posting, as it's already been screened and okayed by a moderator. Finally, merely deleting their worst postings is in some ways a service to the bigots: it disguises where they're coming from and may result in making them appear halfway credible.

I was much more encouraged to hear that you've reviewed the inappropriate postings with your moderation team, refreshed your team on the issue of antisemitism and, most especially, that you've made them aware of the problem users.

Do you have a feature that automatically highlights comments by these users as they come in? If not, I'd think your IT people could set up something like that quite easily.

In the meanwhile, I note that antisemitic attacks continue to slip through. For example, on February 6, the day after your reply to me, "FRTknocker" (who believes the CBC is a "Zionist mouthpiece") contributed a rant against "Zionists," by which he means "Jews," specifically including Canadian Jews, and brings up the old antisemitic canard that Jews ("Zionists") believe they're "the elite, chosen people":

More zionist lies.

It is the PALESTINIANS attacking the terrorist occupiers. One
of the many problems with the zionist mouthpiece is that it tries to get us (the non-zionist public) to believe that everyone who attacks the zionist/terrorist occupiers is a member of hamas. PALESTINIANS attack the zionist terrorists because said terrorists have invaded the Palestinians' land and are murdering their women and babies en-masse. If you take a country by force, displace and exterminate it's people, then call yourselves 'the chosen people'; those who you've invaded will likely respond with violence.

Are you terrorist/zionist sympathizers starting to get the picture?! No. Of course not. Because many of you have been brainwashed into believing zionist bs since you were children. Growing up you were stuffed with all this bs about you being the elite, chosen people, and now your agendas on zionism/israel etc etc have been ingrained.
People raised this way will likely believe their own lies until their time on this earth is finished. It is really sad.

ZIONISM IS TERRORISM!

77 People recommended this comment Report abuse - Reported

(Posted 2009/02/06 at 9:00 AM ET)

This is the same FRTknocker who (as I pointed out in my last email) invited Canadian Jews to leave, writing:
Go home zionazis. We want none of your fascist, racist terrorism here in Canada.
(2009/01/09 at 2:13 PM)
I don't understand the CBC's reluctance to ban problem users, especially as this problem of Jew-haters using the CBC as their message board isn't new.

Last year, when Stephen Harper laid a wreath at Auschwitz (story April 5, 2008, http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/04/05/harper-poland.html#storycomments), a reader calling himself baltzera objected, writing:
I got a bad feeling about this one. Getting a little too close
to Americans and Jews, aren't we folks? I'm stuck here watching my Canada deteriorate and become another vassal of Zionist and American imperialists.
Later baltzera added:
I'm thinking of vacation next year and have to watch my spending. Which is cheaper? A day pass to Disney?s theme park or Dachau.
Similarly, a reader, going by the name Patrice, accused Israel of genocide and continually compared Israel to the Nazis, which seems to be the 21st Century equivalent of calling Jews "kikes."

On April 9, 2008, another CBC.ca article reported on B'nai Brith's annual audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2008/04/09/anti-semitic-incidents.html#storycomments). Some readers expressed dismay at how often Jews are harassed and shock about the firebombing of a Jewish community centre. Many comments, though, were directed against Jews.

A fellow identifying himself as "archboca" defended harassment of Canadian Jews as: "a reaction to what is going on in the Middle East," where he explained, the real Semites are the Arabs and the Israel is the anti-Semite.

Archboca also condemned the B'nai Brith because it: "is very active in hunting down former German soldiers close to the Nazi government."

While archboca's support for war criminals suggests he speaks from some point on the neo-Nazi right, his sentiments were echoed from the anti-Jewish left.

This "so-called antisemitism," wrote a fellow calling himself "Bobalink," is nothing but an attempt to recast "Israel and Jews as 'victims' rather than perpetrators of human rights violations."

Jews aren't really even Semites, wrote Bobalink, yet they misuse this term for "silencing public criticism of the state of Israel's policies." And, he said, "their influence is so pervasive that most western media and journalists will practice a form of 'self-censorship'" rather than print "criticism of Israeli history."

EastVanMan summed up a few of the main anti-Jewish smears:
This report is rubbish? You lot best tidy your own house before you come and disapprove of how people perceive these people. I am not fond of Jewish and often Zionist control of media? Your despised for all the right reasons here and globally.
As far back as April 8, 2004, writing in the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente noted the problem with antisemitic reader comments at the CBC, and quoted this one:

Jesus may have been a Jew himself but I know for a fact that he didn't take part in the eating of blood-filled pastries made from the blood of Palestinian children. (http://tinyurl.com/bww5wc)

The theme of Jews thirsting for blood resurfaced during the crisis in Gaza. For example, on January 2, 2009, a reader identifying himself as "LoranHayden" (a problem user if ever there was one) portrayed Jews as rejoicing in "Muslim juice":

Gideon: "Great news, my friend - did you not see the explosions next to the mosque? sadly, there were no swine inside, but we did manage to wipe out a potential sty of their young. Oh, we are doing very well now, Moshe!"

Moshe: "Oh, my good and righteous friend, Gideon - I agree. What can I do, but agree with this continued and beautifully bloody affair - tell me, was there vapor? Was there Muslim juice?"

Gideon: "Yes, my friend - there was Muslim juice - look now
and you can see from our ultra high-tech surveillance drones - given to us from our good friend Condoleeza Rice - see how they bleed, Moshe? See how the tanks keep progressing regardless of their tracks being slick and lubricated with human blood. Yes, this is a good week for Israel - the very best ever!"

(Posted 2009/01/02 at 6:29 PM ET, "Foreign passport holders exit Gaza" http://tinyurl.com/dlzxnh).

I applaud the CBC's desire to "provide an open forum for debate for all Canadians." But in reality, this isn't a forum for all Canadians; it's dominated by a hate-filled fringe represented by the likes of LoranHayden. Within Canada, only a tiny minority subscribes to anti-Jewish politics. On these forums, they're a majority.

For example, as of February 14th, 536 people have recommended a posting by "sandy411" in which he compares Israel's war with Hamas to the Holocaust and adds a reference to Israel wanting "pounds of flesh" - like Shylock the Jew - and adds:
How many tons of Palestinian women and children will settle your account, Israel? (http://tinyurl.com/b9bjy9)
Similarly, 769 readers have recommended a posting by "Bobsan" (on 2009/01/08 at 1:40 AM ET), comparing what the Nazis did to the Jews to what Israel does to the Palestinians.

I don't see how this problem can begin to get turned around unless the CBC starts banning problem users. Banning repeat (or even first time) offenders is standard procedure on most message boards; it's how they remain functional.

In other CBC programming, if guests start making racist comments on-air, the CBC doesn't invite them back. But for its reader comments pages, the CBC has made an exception, and the result has been to turn them into a playground for bigots.

I urge the CBC to change its policies and to ban problem users.

Yours truly,
Brian from Toronto

P.S. I notice you don't sign your name. I assume this isn't a lapse in professionalism but reflects your delicate position as referee for highly emotional topics?

P.P.S. For Jews (as opposed to antisemites), "chosen-ness" is the theological concept that Jews have additional religious obligations; for example, Jews traditionally observe 613 commandments, not just the usual 10.