Sunday, November 27, 2011

Antisemitism in Canada – Why Now?

I originally published this piece in the Canadian Jewish News, April 21, 2004. It remains just as relevant now as then.

Across the country, the firebombing of a Jewish day school in Montreal appalled Canadians. Why did it happen? Why now?

I see four root causes.

First, the terrorist attacks of September 11 radicalized anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiment in Canada and around the world. Much of the far left has always considered America and Israel as a single enemy and the primary source of evil in world affairs. While September 11 demonstrated to most people that there are much nastier people around, the far left wasn’t prepared to give up their vision of America the evil.

For example, in his essay, “The War in Afghanistan,” Noam Chomsky claims that America’s war of self-defence was a far greater moral wrong than the terrorist attacks themselves. Much of the left followed Chomsky’s lead. But many people, some Canadians among them, defended their vision of American evil by adopting the notion that the U.S. and/or Israel (or simply "the Jews") were responsible for the September 11 attacks.

Such conspiratorial thinking, which in Canada used to belong exclusively to neo-Nazi propagandists like Ernst Zundel, suddenly became mainstream. Three Toronto Star columnists have promoted the notion of September 11 as an American plot - Michelle Landsberg, Thomas Walkom, and Antonia Zerbisias. Zebisias went so far as to praise an antisemitic web site and recommend it to her readers (a recommendation that she partially disowned after B’nai Brith called her on it.)

Second, opposition to the American-led war against Saddam Hussein popularized anti-Americanism throughout Canada and licensed its expression. When MP Carolyn Parrish said, “Damn Americans, I hate those bastards,” she likely generated more support for the Liberals, not less. And when Canadians opened the door to anti-Americanism, its anti-Jewish twin also snuck in.

Why did America invade Iraq? The answer, according to some conspiracy-minded Canadians, is that America is controlled by Jewish, neo-Conservatives - a cabal that puts Israel’s interests ahead of America’s and, more generally, plots for America to conquer the world.

For example, in an article titled, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They’re Jewish?” Kalle Lasn, editor of the Canadian magazine Adbusters, produces a list of American neo-conservatives with a bullet (or perhaps it’s a little yellow star) beside each Jew. “Half of the them are Jewish,” he writes, in case his readers can’t count. And he says, they control “Rumsfeld’s Defense Department.”

Lasn adds, rather darkly, “One wonders what Israeli-American relations, and indeed what American relations with the rest of the world would look like if [they] … were also in charge at [the] State [Department].”

This idea of Jewish puppet masters is simply a rehash of the century old myth of the Elders of Zion, which in times past was so fervently embraced by Adolph Hitler.
Third, the train bombings in Madrid demonstrated that terrorism works. The bombers of the Montreal day school simply followed the Madrid example, but fortunately burned only books, not people. Next time, according to the note left by the fire bombers, they might do worse.

Fourth, and most importantly, antisemitism in Canada has been activated by the continual portrayal of Israel as murderous and monstrous and not just by the far left but in mainstream media and by mainstream politicians.

To give just one example, the CBC’s Mary Lou Finlay opened a recent interview with a representative of the Palestinian Authority by asking him for his reaction to the Israeli "murder" of Ahmed Yassin. I assumed she’d made an embarrassing slip until Russ Germain introduced a later segment of the program with a clearly scripted line about the world crying "bloody murder."

Have you ever heard anyone on the CBC refer to any of Hamas’s deliberate killings of Israeli civilians – men, women or children – as “murder”?

The CBC’s condemnation of Israel’s “murder” of Ahmed Yassin and Canada’s foreign minister’s condemnation of the assassination were mere peeps in the worldwide outcry against Israel. That outcry was louder, more widespread and vastly more heated than have been any objections to the hundreds of killings and thousands of injuries Yassin’s terrorist organization has inflicted on ordinary people going about their daily lives.

That outcry was surely heard by the people who firebombed the Montreal Jewish day school. When they wrote that their attack was retribution for the Israeli assassination Ahmed Yassin, I imagine they expected praise for their actions. Surely, they were surprised that Canadians unanimously denounced their attack, with the Toronto Star and the CBC as appalled as everyone else. Then again, perhaps the bombers are familiar with hypocrisy.

From the trial of the bomber, we now know that my cause #4 was spot on. The bomber himself explained how the frenzied reporting of the Israeli assassination of the leader of the Hamas terrorist organization, Ahmed Yassin, incited him to go and firebomb a Jewish primary school.

On the other hand, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d cut cause #3 – the Madrid Train Bombing. All successful terrorist acts encourage further terrorism; in that respect the Madrid bombing wasn’t special.

Occupy Wall Street, a tale of the .1 percent

Unlike in Canada, where the Occupy movement has aroused nothing more than mild annoyance or weary tolerance, in the United States, Occupy Wall Street has a lot of support. Many Americans see the movement as a manifesation of their outrage over the country's deep economic troubles.

However, while many Americans identify with the anger of the Occupiers, their claim to represent the 99% who aren't rich is ludicrous. A mix of anarchists, Marxists, anti-imperialists and Israel-haters - the Occupiers themselves represent the deeply delusional point one percent.

In the New Yorker, Mattathias Schwartz has written an excellent piece on the leaders of the Occupy Movement and in particular that noted Canadian purveyor of antisemitisem Kalle Lasn...

The Origins and Futue of Occupy Wall Street

Kalle Lasn spends most nights shuffling clippings into a binder of plastic sleeves, each of which represents one page of an issue of Adbusters, a bimonthly magazine that he founded and edits. It is a tactile process, like making a collage, and occasionally Lasn will run a page with his own looped cursive scrawl on it. From this absorbing work, Lasn acquired the habit of avoiding the news after dark. So it was not until the morning of Tuesday, November 15th, that he learned that hundreds of police officers had massed in lower Manhattan at 1 A.M. and cleared the camp at Zuccotti Park. If anyone could claim responsibility for the Zuccotti situation, it was Lasn: Adbusters had come up with the idea of an encampment, the date the initial occupation would start, and the name of the protest—Occupy Wall Street. Now the epicenter of the movement had been raided. Lasn began thinking of reasons that this might be a good thing.

Lasn is sixty-nine years old and lives with his wife on a five-acre farm outside Vancouver. He has thinning white hair and the small eyes of a bulldog. In a lilting voice, he speaks of “a dark age coming for humanity” and of “killing capitalism,” alternating gusts of passion with gentle laughter. He has learned not to let premonitions of apocalypse spoil his good mood.

The magazine, which he founded twenty-two years ago, depicts the developed world as a nightmare of environmental collapse and spiritual hollowness, driven to the brink of destruction by its consumer appetites. Adbusters’ images—a breastfeeding baby tattooed with corporate logos; a smiling Barack Obama with a clown’s ball on his nose—are combined with equally provocative texts and turned into a paginated montage. Adbusters is not the only radical magazine calling for the end of life as we know it, but it is by far the best-looking.

Lasn was interrupted by a phone call about the Zuccotti eviction while in bed, reading Julian Barnes’s “The Sense of an Ending.” He rose and checked his e-mail. There was a message from Micah White, Adbusters’ senior editor and Lasn’s closest collaborator.

“Eerie timing!” White wrote. Earlier that night, Adbusters had sent out its most recent “tactical briefing”—a mass e-mail to ninety thousand friends of the magazine—proposing that the nation’s Occupy protesters throw a party in mid-December, declare victory, and withdraw from their encampments. A few hours later, officers from the New York Police Department began handing out notices stating that the park had become dangerous and unsanitary, and ordering the protesters to leave, so that it could be cleaned. Those who refused to go were arrested, and whatever they left behind was carried off by the Department of Sanitation, to a depot on West Fifty-seventh Street. After a long night of angry marches and meetings, the protesters were allowed back into Zuccotti, with newly enforced prohibitions on tents and on lying down. The protest continued, but the fifty-nine days of rude, anarchic freedom on a patch of granite in lower Manhattan were over.

White reached Lasn by telephone shortly before nine. Lasn was in the bathtub, and White told him details that he had learned online about the eviction. The police had established a strict media cordon, blocking access from nearby streets. “It was a military-style operation,” he said. These words made Lasn think of the bloody uprising in Syria. He quickly decided that the apparent end of Zuccotti was not a tragedy but the latest in a series of crisis-driven opportunities, what he calls “revolutionary moments,” akin to the slapping of a Tunisian fruit vender. “I just can’t believe how stupid Bloomberg can be!” he said to me later that day. “This means escalation. A raising of the stakes. It’s one step closer to, you know, a revolution.” ... more