Ezra came into town for a whirlwind stop at Vancouver's Cherie Smith Jewish Book Festival Wednesday night. Someone won a book for knowing the four Canadian cities in which Ezra would find himself over twenty-four hours today/tomorrow. Ezra was introduced by bee man, Mark Winston, who admitted to growing up in Cleveland, where all the Jews were Democrats and all the WASPs Republicans. Winston hadn't met a Republican 'till he was about twenty-five, and thought it novel that we could now be blessed with the company of conservative Jews.
Ezra recounted his story, which I assume is well-known to readers of this blog, of his 900-day Orwellian dance with the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission. He also gave us a brief history lesson on the 1960s-70s campaign to silence an elderly Nazi kook, John Ross Taylor, and his antisemitic telephone answering machine, that led to the provisions in Canada's "human rights" act that allow for the prosecution of telecommunications "likely" to expose someone to hatred or contempt. In doing so, Ezra condemned the Jewish lineage of Canada's "hate speech" censorship laws. "The Jews," he despaired, "so smart as individuals, so dumb as a group". Now, if only someone took that to the Human Rights Commission, how many days of investigations...?
Ezra has mastered the telling of his story and figured out the considerable joke potential in its absurdities, yet like a great jazz musician each time you give him the floor he makes the standard into something fresh and newly embodied; his every gesture and word spins forth in sarcasm and anger that this is how he has come to his public moment in a country whose greatness is/was its freedom. But at the end of the day, Ezra seems to truly believe that the "hate speech" mandate of the "human rights" commissions will in future be abolished.
But I wonder if his attraction to the argument that "censorship is not a Jewish thing", that the Jewish intelligentsia does not support it (except for neurotic Woody Allen types, and the hate law-invested Canadian Jewish Congress) is not really as much an unspoken campaign to change ordinary Jewish minds as it is a confident description or present Canadian reality.
When I asked Ezra where the political opposition to abolishing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was really coming from, he suggested there is a fear within the Harper government (and perhaps the Liberals?), of the damage that sundry demagogues of the left might do, given their taste for self-righteous caricatures of PM Harper as some kind of dangerous man with a semi-secret agenda that threatens our rights. Indeed, since the left has few other kinds of arguments today, one can appreciate that they must be desperate for new material. And, in the present political environment, a few votes in a few ridings could make the difference in an election outcome.
Furthermore, as the recent news makes clear, the Conservative Party has its eye on winning a lot of the Jewish vote away from the Liberal Party of Canada, especially in certain swing ridings. And so I wonder if this is not a good part of the source of politician fears of being condemned for putting "Nazi" hunters out of business. Ezra made fun of Jews who wanted to get even with the Nazis in the 1960s by lobbying for "hate speech" laws, thus empowering themselves with government sticks to have a few whacks at some pathetic representative of the enemy. The real Jew, he suggested, has confidence and fights off his indolence so that he can publicly debate and call out the hateful for all to see and shun, while working at the never-ending task of telling the truth of the Holocaust to each new generation of confused Canadian youth.
I overheard two things of interest as the crowd left the talk: 1) A man said to his apparent wife, in mid-conversation, that something had to have been done about Jim Keegstra teaching hate to the schoolchildren in Alberta. She replied, well maybe we don't need the "human rights" act, but just the criminal code. (While Keegstra was tried under the criminal code, I nonetheless took this as a sign that Ezra had an effect on challenging someone's fear that "Nazis" must be suppressed by bureaucratic censors.) 2) A couple of middle-aged women were made a little gaga by the super-charged talk/performance: "he must have an IQ of... 145!"
The more I think about it, maybe the path to getting rid of Section 13 is to keep Ezra talking and to have the CJC taken over by Jewish mothers...
It must be hell being a public speaker with cameras constantly flashing at you. So I only took one shot of Ezra, not the best I'm afraid (pre-talk, before the arms were flailing).