Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Official Jews and Levantian Jews

I attended the forum last night sponsored by the Canadian Jewish Congress, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, and the Temple Sholom: Responding to Antisemitism: Are we too thin-skinned?

There may have been 2-300 people there - I didn't attempt a count - most of whom were Jews and I would guess members of the reform Temple Sholom. Almost everyone had reached middle-age and I was quickly joined by some (judging from accents) German Jewish ladies who put me me in nostalgic mind of my grandparents, people who could never solve the mystery of antisemitism in their day and who consequently didn't know whether to run away or remain identified with the Jewish community.

My feeling was there was an assumed consensus in the temple about the answer to the evening's official question. No, we are not too thin skinned, though the question was rarely directly addressed and there was no questioning of the question itself, which I see as acknowledging a little too openly the mindset of the “anti-Zionists” who accuse neurotic Jews of using their supposed victim status to do nasty things to the Palestinians.

Mark Freiman

First to speak was the CJC's national President, Mark Freiman (the CJC's CEO, Bernie Farber had also been scheduled to attend but, we were told, he is suffering from laryngitis and the doctor wouldn't let him travel).

Freiman began by lauding both the government of Canada for announcing that it will host an international conference on antisemitism and the Parliamentary coalition that has set itself up to study antisemitism. Clearly, Freiman thinks antisemitism is a growing problem. He then offered a little history lesson, pointing to various assumed causes of historical antisemisitm (economic, theological, etc.) reminding us of the day when pseudo-scientific “antisemites” were proud of coining the name and racial theory. But he left the ultimate nature of antisemitism unspoken, as an apparent mystery. Today, he says, no antisemite wants the name, and in polite society everyone wants to appear anti-antisemitic.

Freiman, who generally impresses as having the mind of a highly-disciplined, poker-faced, lawyer then offered one of his few moves to sarcasm, rejecting those who tell us today we only have to (not) worry about kooks and crackpots typing on the internet in their parents' basements.

Let me interject that this was a cheap shot at those who love the (is it originally Mark Steyn's?) “basement Nazi” metaphor. Our argument is that while having a “human rights” speech police is for various reasons a bad or impracticable idea in the age of the internet, there nonetheless really is a growing antisemitism given today's left-Islamist alliance focused, nominally, on hating Israel. We further argue that it is the likes of the CJC who, in encouraging the Canadian state to assume censorship powers, only have the courage or desire (like generals fighting the last war) to focus prosecution on the non-Islamic, i.e. poor white, anachronistically “Nazi”, margins of antisemitism, knowing full well the problems that would ensue if official Jews and official Muslims in Canada went full-tilt in trying to silence alleged Jewish and/or Islamic “hate speech”. This in turn leads to charges that the “official Jews” don't have the courage of their convictions, and by extension to claims that our “justice” on questions of freedom of expression in Canada is becoming dangerously arbitrary, guided by the whims of a political correctness that can always backfire on Jews.

But, as I say, Mr. Freiman speaks like a lawyer dilligently arguing his side of the case, not that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was the central issue of the night (though it was clearly closely under the surface of the discussion). One might keep in mind that anti-group defamation law has been a central concern of organized Jews in Canada; groups like the CJC have been leaders in lobbying for such laws, going back to the 1930s. And it appears it is the CJC's intent to focus the recent moves by Canada's government and Parliament, to study antisemitism, on the new forms of left-Islamist, or “anti-Zionist”, antisemitism. But after this study happens, it was not made clear to me if Freiman wants our so-called “human rights” or “administrative” law to be the lead agent in trying to shut up the new antisemitism on the internet and in other public media.

Freiman went on to suggest that anti-Zionists are telling the Parliamentary inquiry on antisemitism that its existence is not necessary. Freiman then suggested that the age-old hatred of Jews is always in search of an alibi. Judeophobia survives like an organism by successfully mutating over time.

Freiman then attempted to explain when criticism of Israel becomes a problem of antsemitism. Briefly, his point was that when this criticism of the state of Israel has as its intent, at least in part, to convey some more general comment about the badness of Jews or Judaism, to convey some lesson on Jewish evil, then “anti-Zionism” is just another example of antisemitism or Judeophobia looking for respectability.

Accordingly, Freiman says the CJC will ask for a “broad and realistic” definition of antisemitism by the Parliamentary committee, one that includes anti-Zionism; and it will seek measures to monitor, assess, and combat antisemitism, but he did not specify. He concluded that this is being done not because we (the CJC) are over-sensitive, but because we are asserting Canadian values of tolerance, decency, and intellectual honesty.

Robert Daum

The floor was then turned over to Rabbi Robert Daum, the newly-appointed, founding director of the Iona Pacfic: Inter-Religious Centre of the Vancouver School of Theology, at UBC. Rabbi Daum, raised and educated in the USA, contrasted the lawyer Freiman by speaking like a postmodern liberal academic whose principle purpose in taking the stage is somewhat less to assert oneself in conveying a series of tightly logical propositions, than to assert the importance of our giving much consideration to some supposed basis on which all sides can fairly contribute to the debate.

One of Daum's main points was that we have to be sensitive to the difference between intentional and inadvertent antisemitism. Our response to antisemitism must be sensitive to context; we have good reasons to be thin-skinned, given recent historical contexts, but still we must try to get inside the mind or world view of the other.

Speaking about today's “political” antisemitism, evidenced in charges of “Israeli Apartheid”, Daum said we are witnessing a devolution of discussion into a dangerous Manicheanism of simple-minded black and white, good and evil. Daum on the one hand declared he is repulsed by the current focus on boycotts of Israel; but he is also repulsed by Jews who, in heated debate, call other Jews names like “self-hating” or “kapo”. For Daum, such names are a refusal of a Jewish need both to guard jealously the use of language associated with the Nazis and the Shoah, and to understand the genuine motivations of our political opponents and the true complexity of our conflicts. The discourse that reduces all to a battle of heroes and villains is the central problem of our times, for it is only from within such a mindset that one can find the reason to excuse, for example, suicide bombing as simply a “misdemeanor” in a larger “heroic” struggle.

Daum thus, in supposedly rejecting binary thinking, falls into the postmodern trap and performs a yet bigger binary: that which pits the sensitive postmodern discourse theorist – Daum recommends we read the work of Bernard Harrison – against the simplistic Manichean. The message is ultimately Utopian for, in fact, there is no escape from binary thinking but only a perennial challenge to deepen our understanding of its basis in the origin of language. But I'll try not to use this reporting as an excuse to lecture on this central point of Generative Anthropology.

Daum then discussed the recent devolution, at Kelowna, of the United Church of Canada's national congress into a discussion of “Israeli apartheid”. He suggested that a need to respond to this was one of the motivating reasons for the evening's forum. However he then blamed the UCC fiasco only on fringe elements within the church and on rules that allow a single local presbytery to circulate egregiously offensive materials and resolutions.

He then made some comment which I did not entirely catch, about how the circulation of hate speech was a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the Shoah. He concluded by invoking the need to embrace “teachable moments”: when people within or without our (jewish) community inadvertently shame our community we need to respond not with arched backs but with an eye to building mutually respectful personal relationships.

Philip Bregman

The moderator for the evening, Temple Sholom's Rabbi Philip Bregman, then took the floor joking that he was less kind that Daum; “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...”

Rabbi Bregman then told a story about how he had just taken Barbara Kay's recent column on the rising antisemitism in Canada with him to the local Jewish day school. He said the column provoked from the students their own stories of antisemitism. He suggested this was something quite new in recent memory. Vancouver kids had in recent decades not reported, or only occasionally reported, antisemitic incidents to Bregman. And yet all of a sudden this week he had heard from five students, with more hands raised in the class, who had received antisemitic slurs. Bregman said these insults came from kids from a variety of racial backgrounds. He typified the incidents in terms of a tussle on the hockey rink or basketball court which results in a charge of “dirty Jew”. I thought he was probably re-presenting the actual language used: how many kids in Vancouver today would know to preface Jew with the classical “dirty” and not, say, the f word? One can imagine perhaps only those raised in particularly clean-obsessed religions, or with “old-fashioned”, Jew-as-market-cheat, antisemitism; but Bregman suggested his recent experience is evidence that the new antisemitism is a widespread political agenda “filtering down” now to youth. In any case, the invocation of the “dirty Jew” left me with the impression that something ritualistic was going on, whatever the basis in today's lived reality for the ritual's re-performance tonight.

Robert Matas and Barbara Yaffe

Two Jewish journalists were then invited to the podium to offer their own thoughts, partly in response to the prepared presentations of Freiman and Daum. First off, Robert Matas of the Globe and Mail revealed a deeply conciliatory intent, though as with Daum, I don't think he can escape from binary thinking. He did not deny the recent rise in antisemitism that the Parliamentary committee is discussing, but he also noted official statistics that suggest a decline in specific hate crimes, of which Blacks in Canada are twice as often the target as Jews (on a per capita basis?). He remarked on how the Calgary police, in responding to recent antisemitic graffiti attacks in that city, were notably pro-active in denouncing this vandalism as hate crime. He suggested this reveals a new sensitivity in Canada, one partly attributable to the efforts of the CJC.

He then went on to defend the media against accusations of bias, particularly in regard to reporting on Israel. He suggested there is a great desire among his colleagues to be neutral and accurate and to get the story right, though he had to admit that the number of corrections his paper has had to publish, concerning stories on Israel, suggested there was often incompetence, which is not to be confused with antisemitism; the corrections also reveal a genuine desire to get it right. He was not happy that the media are accused of bias when they do their job, as he understands it, in providing a range of opinions on Israel. He suggested that when Jews shout “antisemitism” at the media, it just sounds to journalists like name calling, and it is thus counter-productive. Many "ethnic" communities have declared war on the media he said, but like Obama declaring war on Fox news, doing so only hurts them in the battle for public opinion. The solution, he suggested, is for people to engage the media which in turn will just hold up the mirror.

I will leave it to readers to judge to what extent such a journalistically orthodox desire to escape the binaries of us and them is self-deceiving.

Next up was Barbara Yaffe of the Vancouver Sun who was the only speaker to confront directly the question posed in the chosen title for the forum. She said we Jews have exactly the right thickness of skin, apparently well-adjusted by experience. She suggested that in her 30-plus years as a reporter she has encountered no community that is as sophisticated in dealing with the media as is the Jewish community.

And yet she said there is no question that Israel is vilified in this world - and so also in the media, a listener might assume - way out of proportion to its size as a country.

Speaking in point form, she said the challenge for the Jewish community is to know where to draw the line with legitimate criticism of the media. What is at stake is freedom of speech, and a Jewish community appearing to attack this freedom in combatting antisemitism could be the target of a serious backlash. We must be very specific where we draw the line, though she did not go into details.


There was then a little time for questions from the floor. Questions had to be submitted, handwritten, on pieces of paper the organizers had provided and they were then filtered and handed to the speakers; only a small number of the submitted questions were asked.

Mark Freiman answered two questions, the first dealing with what is legitimate criticism of Israel. Freiman suggested any criticism that entails, as its likely solution, that Israel commit suicide or lose its specifically Jewish identity, needs to be rejected as antisemitic. He then answered the only question on the topic that is probably of most interest to readers of this blog. The questioner said s/he had been convinced by attending the recent Jewish Book Festival (i.e. Ezra Levant's presentation - see my piece here) of the need to do away with Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and for Canadians to rely only on the criminal code to police hate speech.

Freiman replied by saying the Human Rights Commissions and the criminal code serve two different functions and target two different problems. He argued that the criminal code is designed to punish the evil doer and hence it has the highest evidentiary and procedural standards to insure protection of the innocent. On the other hand, “human rights”, and/or “administrative” law is aimed at the message itself (not the messenger) and is meant to condemn misuses of our public media and means of communications. He said explicitly that the purpose of the HRCs is not to punish but to denounce hateful messages.

Those who have been sent through the HRC kangaroo court mill and fined and suffered court orders that they not speak publicly, forevermore, on certain issues, would no doubt laugh bitterly at such a bald statement of legal theory that paid no respect to actual experience with the inevitably corrupting, i.e. politicized, attempts to apply such a law. But it was not clear if Freiman was offering a comment on the history of the HRCs or on the future direction the CJC will be lobbying for, as if it might one day be possible to have HRCs that don't punish those they target. He acknowledged there are difficulties and problems with the HRCs, but then seemed to discount these by saying there are problems with the courts as well. If we get rid of Section 13, he said, we give up our commitment to combat hateful messages.

I will take this last statement as the moment to offer some concluding observations on the event. It will seem ridiculous to many "free speechers" for someone to suggest that we necessarily give up our commitment to combat (illegitimate?) resentments, or “hate”, if we give up Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. One can be publicly active in denouncing and marginalizing sundry hatreds, without desiring for there to be an ultimate state arbiter deciding - only G-d knows how this could ever be done apolitically - just whose resentments deserve public denunciation and whose not. But that Freiman said this, to this kind of forum, in all sincerity, and, I suspect, touched a chord in doing so, is something we should maybe consider in the spirit of Rabbi Daum's call to get inside the head of the other.

What those of us who are battling against the existence of Section 13 inevitably confront is the nature of Jewish experience, and some of its established “common sense”, which has something to do with Barbara Yaffe's observation that Jews have the most sophisticated forms of “ethnic” organization in Canada. I am talking, I suspect, about a common sense rooted both in modern Jewish historical experience and in the very founding nature of Judaism itself.

Historically, Jews have of course lived as the other, as the minority within various societies. But this, in my understanding, has not been simply a two-way relationship of majority vs. minority, but a variously triangular relationship in which Jews have often had to contend, and sometimes ally, with either or both the aristocratic and official, or the plebeian or popular elements and resentments in their society.

Now is not the time to attempt any serious historical analysis, but i'll just note that in the experience of Jews in Western Christian nations, there developed from the eighteenth century the opportunity to become enfranchised co-participants in secular national cultures. Jews could now identify not only with Judaism but with a shared secular high culture. While the potential for scapegoating violence and discrimination that the Jews faced often came not simply from either aristocratic/official or from plebeian elements, but from both when it became convenient for the system as a whole to attempt to bond itself against “the Jew”, especially the jew of the marketplace (a bonding in which some secular Jews, or nominal converts to Christianity, like Karl Marx, attempted to participate), Jews could not simply live nonchalantly with a “pox on both your houses”. One had to place bets with one side or another.

Inevitably, as Jews became educated and had access to bureaucratic jobs in Western Europe, they were more likely to associate with aristocratic and official elements within their societies, and perhaps more often with high, and not popular, culture – and they could, indeed, in their often highly educated, and idealized procedural neutrality, be variously useful to those official elements. At the end of the day, it may be that no one is going to save you, as the rise of the Nazis demonstrated; but in the Europe of old, I think Jews did sometimes have a better chance of being saved from antisemitic violence by having a relationship with official society than by attempting, as perhaps did many a Jewish communist, the more difficult challenge of transforming popular culture away from its antisemitic resentments (of course communism had ambitions to also control high and official culture and not just popular culture).

In any case, respect for the law, and not so much for unconsidered popular resentment, is fundamental to Judaism. The point being, historically many Jews have had little reason to put their faith in nothing but a free-wheeling freedom of speech. It was not a realistic, immediately available, option in most places outside North America.

Still, I am one of those of who can't but look at the Nazi experience as proof of anything other than the idea that Jews may only be safe in a society that goes out of its way to maximize individual freedom, even if this means having to keep the state away from policing hate speech, and spending our own individual time and energy to encourage other individuals to take up the task of defending each other's freedom. Accordingly, one wonders how well does the founding logic of the secularizing, state-associating Jew of Europe work in the context of modern North America? I think a study of the Canadian Jewish Congress might allow one to claim that something of the attitudes of middle-class German and perhaps English Jews was transferred to North America in its development of an “official Jewry”.

I observe a speaker like Mark Freiman and genuinely admire his mind but it is nonetheless clearly the mind of a lawyer. If there is a problem, he looks for a legal solution, just as Rabbi Daum looks for an academic solution to the problem of antisemitism. I am not sure, whatever arguments the Ezra Levants of the world put in front of the Freimans that the two are ever really going to connect in a shared common sense, or whether that is necessary. A “Levantian” might try to invoke the idea that the only real solution can come within a maximally free civil society, with unfettered free speech. But, as I am suggesting, this is deeply counter-intuitive to one kind of Jewish experience rooted not just in modern history but perhaps in the very nature of Judaism itself.

To be a Jew is to carry the sign of the people who, depending on whether you favour a religious or an anthropological account, were either the first chosen by God, or the first to discover fully, through their own humanistic genius, the (idea of) the One God. The Jews were thus the first to define, or systematically explore, the idea of there being fundamentally only one kind of (human) Being, however variously represented that Being is by different cultures. Jews took a lead in transforming the polytheist understanding of our humanity. But, the point is, as Eric Gans argues, they could only do this, and remain Jews, by assuming a certain kind of legalistic identity.

What does it mean to remember Moses' revelation on Mt. Sinai of the G-d who does not offer his people a name to be called, but only a paradoxical statement: I am what I am?

If I take on the task of communicating my understanding of the meaning of that revelation to the entirety of humanity, I might well think that it best that I become a Christian for therein lies a means or reason to evangelize the world and not just my fellow Jews. But while Christianity may be a fine and great thing for most people, one that genuinely furthers the Jewish revelation, if I, as a Jew, take that route, do I entirely remember the human nature and meaning of the Mosaic, or indeed any, revelation into our common humanity? Does remembering the nature of this or any story well require there to remain some Jews walking about on this earth?

This is the paradox that every Jew has to face. It may well be – I believe it is – that essential to the meaning of our discovery of the one God, or his equivalent role in a secular anthropology, is the knowledge that someone had to go first in signing a covenant with this God, or someone had to go first in making more systematic what can only be intuitive, unstated, in the polytheist world - the idea that there is ultimately only kind of human Being, and a purely transcendent God who can't be named and invoked at will to change our fate in the worldly world as we seek, in our conflicts, to gain the upper hand over other children of God.

In short, in order to say "we're all the same", someone has to go first, someone has to be different, refusing, unlike everyone previously in human history, to have a special name for G-d.

Jewish chosenness is not a sign of G-d's favouritism; Jews believe, with experience, that they will be both rewarded and punished according to their conduct in keeping the covenant and that their G-d is eveyone's G-d. Rather, chosenness is fundamentally a sign of G-d's willingness to restrain himself, in order to make a deal with humans, and hence to assert the fundamental nature of human freedom to discover a world that need not be understood as infused with unknowable animal spirits.

Humanity will forget something about that which happened at Sinai – someone being chosen to go first - if everyone becomes a Jew or everyone a Christian, or Muslim. Jewish survival is a living reminder of the distinctive nature or burden of firstness, a reminder that is realized or renewed through the various distinctive forms of Jewish identity today. It's not particularly heroic this identity, but generally a simple sign of faith in the given law, as the basis of freedom through learned discipline that the humanly-consistent Creation offers to us. There are thus "official Jews" and their supporters who genuinely believe in the possibility of a "hate speech" law that could be administered in a way that treated all people equally, without politicizing the definition of unacceptable speech, without these laws being one day corrupted and used to promote antisemitism. I think they're wrong, but sincere.

As noted, the keeper of the sign of firstness, a Jew, cannot be an evangelizing knight or a soldier of Allah without ceasing to be a Jew. Since he cannot readily be a dashing hero to the gentile, Jewish identity often takes refuge in respect for the law, a sign of solidarity with both fellow Jews, and humanity. But today a Jew can also remember the lesson laid down at Sinai by furthering the spirit of Exodus and discovery for all humanity by involving oneself in the opportunities the secular world provides for going first in some new kind of human discovery, be this in science, the arts, the law, etc.

In any case, whatever you think of my analysis, one of the claims made a few times at the forum is that we need to attend to the problem of communications as it is so easy for miscommunication of our genuine intent to occur in passionate debates over antisemitism. And it is perhaps true, as I have been suggesting, that there are not a lot of ways for Jews to speak, as Jews, to the rest of humanity without risking a slippery slope on which they might stop being distinctively Jewish and disappear in a common, forgetful, mission to evangelize the world. Thus the Jewish community, while involving itself today in all arenas of civil society, tends, when it looks for a representative Jewish voice or position, to defer to the learned and to the law, to an “official Jew”. Ezra Levant, in contrast, may be good example of someone who is remembering Sinai by extending the meaning of Exodus in our times.

An inclusive perspective may entail realization that neither the Freiman, nor the Levant, can simply do away with the other if we are to sustain Jewish identity. This may be a paradox we cannot solve, which is a happy realization for an irresolvable paradox is one that never dies; but if so, it is a paradox with which we will simply have to fight, hopefully in productive ways, forever.

So perhaps Jewish organizations, by their very nature, are always going to attract lawyers who are going to tend to seek legal solutions to the problems they feel they have to confront. And so there needs to be “Levantian Jews” to question “official Jews”, forever. The happy thing is, every Canadian gets a vote on the issue currently in play. Contact your MP and tell him or her what you think of Section 13 and whether we need government to police antisemitism, and by extension any other form of prejudice some group may hold against you, though of course we could have "hate speech" laws that targeted only antisemitism. I wonder how well that would work.

Don't miss Jonathan Narvey's pre-forum comments.


winnifred martin said...

Thank you very much for an incisive and analytical dissection of what sounds like an inspired evening.

Having lived in Vancouver's Jewish community I would think that 300 people is a very large crowd for such an event. People are interested more so it seems than Mr. Levant's earlier address in the same city that brought together only 50 people for the closing session of the largest Jewish Bookfair in Western Canada.

I too have heard Mr. Freiman speak and was also taken with his insight and intellect. Its too bad Mr. Farber was sick because he may have added another perspective though I highly doubt it would have been much different from that of his president. That said, Mr. Farber is a fine raconteur, a persuasive speaker much admired by Canadian Jewry. I’m sure he was missed.

I too am convinced that the Levant’s of the world and the Freiman's present two distinct Jewish views. The difference for me is in the presentation. Freiman, who it seems performed much the same as he did when I heard him at the CJC plenary, is bright, intuitive and argues on a high plain. Many people buy rightly into that intellect. Levant on the other hand is crude, engages in character assassination as a means by which to win his point. In the end he wins over only those who are already followers. It’s a poor form of argumentation, one which through your excellent report here emphasizes the intellect over the gutter.

Thank you again for a most enlightened assessment.

Pete Charnie said...

I too want to add my commendation to you truepeer for an outstanding analysis. Makes me regret not being there but your report made it feel like I was in the room.

Having read Winnifred's comment I am not sure I totally agree with her position. While she is quite correct in her description of Mr. Levant's hyper-critical style I for one do not believe that the vast majority of Canadians, Jews and others, are comfortable with the method Levant uses.

Truthfully it’s a shame. He isn't a dummy by any stretch and it would be quite wonderful to be able to watch an intellectual debate between say Mr. Freiman and Mr. Levant or Mr. Farber and Mr. Levant. However I doubt very much and understand completely that either farber or Freiman would ever be caught dead debating Levant. They wouldn't and couldn't engage in such (as Winnie puts it) gutter-style debate.

The large crowd at the event does tell me that there is a keen interest in this issue and people are looking for answers. Canadians, I believe, do have a comfort level with our anti-hate laws and your description of Mr. Freiman's position I think dovetails with the average Canadian. I know you will disagree with that assessment but it is what I honestly feel.

Unlike Winnifred I have never heard Mr. Freiman speak but I did hear Mr. Farber at a forum at Harbourfront here in Toronto a few years back debating Alan Borovoy. It was heated and engaging but neither stooped to the levels of Mr. Levant and his friends. Both made their points and I think the audience felt they dueled to a draw.

I note this only to take away from what you and how you, Truepeer have written here; with passion and intellect devoid of accusations and ad hominem attacks.

Perhaps this kind of forum you described here, the large crowd in attendance will be a sign to those like Mr. Levant to change tactics (not positions) and begin to argue with intellectual passion instead of like a bully boy intent on wounding an opponent rather than convincing an audience.

Thank you for this it was an excellent read.

Jonathon Narvey said...

I think we're in agreement on the issues of hate speech, censorship and reliance on HRCs. I'm glad to see these topics were at least mentioned, indicating the speakers were aware that there is no monolithic agreement on these issues in the community.

I'm surprised there was no discussion of dealing with antisemitism not merely on the Internet or in the schoolyard, but in the city centers. Time after time, "official" Jewish representatives are content to herd their aging cohorts into synagogues and community centers to hear lectures and pro-Israel speeches. Increasingly, I believe the "anti-Zionists" will from time to time need to be confronted robustly in our public gathering places -- not violently, but merely with a presence and quantifiable show of solidarity. It is not acceptable any longer to surrender the public spaces in the belief that the status quo and public apathy is the true counter to a movement that today had breadth without depth. This situation will not hold.

Given the historic demographic smallness of the Jewish community in this country that is not going to change (except to become even smaller), Jews will need to engage their non-Jewish friends and allies. This will involve a subtle yet honest reframing of the issues as not merely antisemitism but anti-modernism and proto-fascism.

Given the propensity of the Jewish community (like virtually all ethnic communities) to tribalism and looking inward for strength and support, what I suggest surely seems counter-intuitive. But I really do think this strategy is both viable and necessary.

Blazing Cat Fur said...

An excellent piece Trupeers. I can't help but note that the CJC's hope to amend ( I assume) the CHRA to include a definition of anti-zionism will be a fatally wrong turn as, any way you slice it, this effort will be regarded as an attempt to silence political speech. They would do well to heed carefully Yaffe's advice.

jaycurrie said...

Thank you for this.

I was tempted to hop the ferry and come over but I am not at all sure I have a position when it comes to the question of whether the Jews are or are not "too thin skinned". I was very interested to see Freiman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, palm the same card he did before the Parliamentary committee as he pretended that you could attack the message whilst leaving the messenger unscathed.

This suggests a detachment from reality which is both unfortunate and unworthy for a man of his obvious intelligence. But I suspect it is the best he could come up with in defence of s. 13.

Denyse O'Leary said...

As a free speech blogger and journalist, I, for one, was deeply disappointed in what I read.

I don't think a single one of those people gets it.

For example, Barbara Kay's column was not about incidental insults to Jewish children, but a great and growing level of anti-Semitism among new immigrant families from Muslim countries - that is tolerated by a cowardly school board administration. Do you imagine that the HRCs will be going after the administrations any time soon? Crickets chirp.

- The "human rights" Commissions are increasingly widely perceived as a shakedown racket, and for good reason. Of course, such rackets are vulnerable to getting taken over by, say, Islamists, who may then use them to go after Jews or anyone else whose words or existence "blasphemes" Islam.

- As I see it, there are three stages in the "human rights" metastasis:

1. The Chill - Catholic priests and traditional Protestant pastors are hounded and fined and spend money they don't really have defending themselves against lone gay activists who don't like traditional Christian teachings on the gay lifestyle. As if they have any choice but to teach the Church's views. Newspapers daren't permit themselves any frank discussion of obvious and sometimes coercive agendas of identified "victim" groups.

2. The Shakedown - frightened people often pay up when the "human rights" busybody demands it, or in advance of his call. Maybe it is a gay bed and breakfast owner who is allergic to dogs and doesn't want one in his home, maybe it is a restauranteur who gets it in the neck for asking a pot smoker to move out of his doorway, but that guy had a "medical pot" licence, so he is the "disabled", and therefore, the "victim". Never mind that the restauranteur is supposed to enforce a no smoking ban anyway.

It's the perfect setup for shakedown, with many civil servants getting well-paid jobs in the bargain, to hound and help shake down their fellow citizens.

3. The Takeover - The Islamist sees the opportunity to move in on such a sweet racket. He can readily work with the leftist because neither of them believes in traditional civil rights and liberties. That's what happened to Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant. It was terrible for them, but their experience galvanized the media against infamous Section 13 and "human rights" Commissions in general. The almost unanimous vote of the Conservative Party against Section 13 should tell you something too. Plus the fact that the first MP to speak out, Keith Martin, is a Liberal and belongs to a visible minority. And so forth.

Note that I only mentioned one Jew as a "human rights" target, Ezra Levant. And he is leading the charge against the racket, thank G-d.

What none of the speakers seemed to get is that most people don't even think about Jews when they think about "human rights" Commissions. They think about Chill, Shakedown, and Takeover, and more and more people are thinking about that, too.

In Toronto, where I live, the police protect Islamist-directed "death to the Jews" marches, and warn civil rights activists who protest them. That's part of the Takeover stage, of course.

One outcome of the fact that the metastasis has proceeded this far is that a government conference on anti-Semitism may not do much good. Most attendees will probably refuse to acknowledge the Islamist strain of anti-Semitism, currently by far the most virulent, as many recent events attest, and as Barbara Kay valiantly reports.

Much like holding a conference on sexually transmitted diseases that pointedly avoids discussion of AIDS.

The sad thing is, you do have heroes in the Jewish community, like Kay and Levant. Why not get behind them while there is time?

truepeers said...

Thanks everyone for the comments; much to sleep on.

Pete Charnie said...

coutabacA few words of response to Ms. O’Leary:

I read Ms. Kay's piece with great interest. I then googled the salient points but could find nothing to sustain her story. In other words and with all respect to Ms. Kay, while such anecdotes may have some basis in reality, they remain anecdotes until proof is offered to the story itself.

• Ms. O’Leary writes: "The "human rights" Commissions are increasingly widely perceived as a shakedown racket, and for good reason. Of course, such rackets are vulnerable to getting taken over by, say, Islamists, who may then use them to go after Jews or anyone else whose words or existence "blasphemes" Islam."

It is true that many here in the right wing blogosphere supported by some in the MSM paint the HRC as Ms. O’Leary states. Yet, other than the Levant and MacLeans cases both of which ultimately were unsuccessful, I see no other corroboration for her thesis.

I do agree that the administration of both federal and provincial HRCs require a major overhaul but unless and until I see a real and consistent flow of abuse as described by Ms. O’Leary, I will hold back on such criticism.

• Ms. O’Leary states: "In Toronto, where I live, the police protect Islamist-directed "death to the Jews" marches, and warn civil rights activists who protest them." This is indeed news to me. Can Ms. O’Leary please offer up some proof of this? If true I would agree that with her assessment entirely.

• Finally she notes: "One outcome of the fact that the metastasis has proceeded this far is that a government conference on anti-Semitism may not do much good. Most attendees will probably refuse to acknowledge the Islamist strain of anti-Semitism, currently by far the most virulent, as many recent events attest, and as Barbara Kay valiantly reports."

I have read some of the submissions from the Jewish community, including what she would label the "official Jews" such as Mr. Freiman's group. These submissions tackle Islamist anti-Semitism directly.

Blazing Cat Fur said...

It is true that many here in the right wing blogosphere supported by some in the MSM paint the HRC as Ms. O’Leary states. Yet, other than the Levant and MacLeans cases both of which ultimately were unsuccessful, I see no other corroboration for her thesis

THE HRC's not a shakedown racket? Pete that is either wishful thinking on your part or willful ignorance.

Xanthippa said...


Your analysis of the 'hate speech' issue is excellent.

A nag:
Mr. Daub's representation of Mani's teachings as simplistic division into black and white, right and wrong, seems rather ill-informed. Mani fused Judeo-Christian monolatry (for both Christianity and Judeism are not forms of monotheism, but monolatry) with gnosticism and a dash of Eastern mysticism (as opposed to Western mysticism, which is fundamentally different and quite irreconcilable with the Eastern form). His teachings are not really 'simplistic' - one can even find echoes of Jungian psychoanalysis by paralleling Mani's 'twin' with 'anima/animus'...

Sorry - I get distracted and can rant on for hours... Back to focus: quite a write-up!

The question remains, then: how to reconcile these different aspects and self-perceptions within the Jewish community in a healthy, constructive way, so that the united community will throw its support behind 'individual freedoms' and thus assure its own protection in the future?

Because, that IS the question, is it not?

truepeers said...


I think this is the demo Denyse is talking about.

Pete Charnie said...

Thank you truepeers. I am familair with the ugly scenaio. In fact what I asked for wa some proof that the police saw this while it happened, heard it and did nothing.

Marky Mark said...

I like the idea of CPCCA coming up with a definition of anti-Semitism even if it doesn't have the force of law. That was the essence of my own submission to CPCCA. Don't you think if a definition were out there that the VPL would not as easily hosted the GF event?

truepeers said...

Marky Mark,

I don't know; why do you think the VPL, or anyone, would pay attention to just a definition of antisemitism that would be one among many that are out there? Because it comes from Parliament? Well, maybe, but I'd still worry that would only be a first step for those who want legislation to shut people up and that would be a very slippery slope. Also, as soon as there were an official Parliamentary definition, there would emerge the semi-official counter definition that the "anti-Zionist" would get together to formulate. And that would have currency that you can only get from being a "dissident" of the Canadian state. And if you know the politics of the majority of librarians, could they resist using it?

But in general I'm not opposed to the idea of anyone, including Parliament, getting involved in the work of measuring and naming our shared reality, if they are doing this in an attempt to renew or deepen our understandings of what is going on today; in other words, if they are doing the opposite of the work of Political Correctness which works to narrow our vision of reality down to a few permissible sentiments and imperatives that forever police those of us who like to name and construct and argue over free visions of a shared reality - i.e. visions with a potential to get people actively negotiating their differences, creating new differences. PC feels one must be forever vigiliant about offending someone, which means essentially never letting anyone say or do anything a little too different, too free, that might bring a new reality, and hence victim claim, into play.

In other words, PC is, in the terms of this post, anti-firstness.

Anyway, since you're interested in the VPL. Did you know that during Ramadan this year they allowed someone from a mosque/Da'wah centre
to put up a bizarre poster display where they handed out free Korans and various proselytizing literature, at the main branch, downtown Vancouver? I haven't blogged on this yet, because I meant to do some research on the party who put up the display and haven't done that yet.

The general intent of the posters was to show all kinds of Islamic holy sites and also to suggest that all kinds of sciences and things, e.g. Niagara Falls, the human brain, solar system, flowers in spring, are somehow of Islamic interest.

On one of the posters there was a picture of the Dome of the Rock and surrounding neighborhood (not surprisingly, there was no indication that this was anything other than an Islamic place). Underneath this were the following captions. I wonder if this would meet your definition of antisemitic




Quran 5.8: "O ye who believe stand out firmly for God/Allah as witness to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice"



truepeers said...

I should add, that it was not so much the captions that offended me, though I was offended by the apparent suggestion that Israel commits war crimes and crimes against humanity. What offends me is that I cannot imagine the VPL allowing Christians to use the public space to proselytize, or Jews to put up a pro-Israel display.

Marky Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blazing Cat Fur said...

That would doubtless never happen Tru at any library.

Marky Mark said...

I'm thinking about a definition being used to influence discretion, primarily among online publishers. The MSM doesn't let in stuff that is across the line. Online publications can be different-some allow comments, some don't and some do but only on a moderated basis.

I've seen the VPL speaker contribute comments to online publications where each comment links to his site and various columns he has written. The effect is to sanitize those columns and give them a wider audience. If one assumes that some of those columns contain statements that would be caught by such a test, you have a better chance of convincing an online publisher not to publish the comments (or at least not with the links) if such a "made in Canada" test exists.

truepeers said...


I have no problem with people working to keep their websites free of evil comments. I would recommend it to everyone (though no doubt some would find my blog evil). My idea of freedom of speech does not include allowing people to ruin free exchange of ideas by jumping in and taking things down into the trash heap where no one is very free. But i think this has to be the work of individual policing. I fear that any process that would involve government in arbitrating, if only prescriptively, what is and is not acceptable would be taken over by a PC ethic that would just further narrow down what we should be able to say.

It may seem like a mere Parliamentary definition on antisemitism would not really be any kind of government arbitration. But this would lead to demands for a Parliamentary definition on Islamophobia or, as the OIC/UN puts it, the "defamation of religions"; and soon enough wouldn't there be all kinds of moral pressure, perhaps with threats of consumer boycotts, on the web sites you are talking about. "How dare you allow that Zionazi to leave a comment?" Again, I am not opposed to moral suasion and boycotts but when it is given a governmental seal of approval I think we are limiting not maximizing the free debate through which real morality can hopefully be revealed.

What I'm worrying about is that we get onto a track where what cannot be said does not just include the antisemitic conspiracy nuts but much else besides, including much necessary criticism of certain religions. But I'd like to hear if you think I am being unrealistic.

There is also the practical problem of how a website with lots of commenters can afford to follow every link from their page to another; and to how many more after that?

truepeers said...

In other words, why not lobby for a council of independent experts to come up with a definition of antisemitism that could be used as you intend? Maybe this council could include anyone interested in antisemitism that others so interested would listen to and negotiate ideas. Then, the "other side", could come up with their own experts and a full fight could ensue, but no one would feel they were fighting against official edict. IN other words, just what kind of debate is most likely to reveal truth to those who witness it?

truepeers said...


The question remains, then: how to reconcile these different aspects and self-perceptions within the Jewish community in a healthy, constructive way, so that the united community will throw its support behind 'individual freedoms' and thus assure its own protection in the future?

Because, that IS the question, is it not?

-yes i think guaranteeing individual freedom is Jews' best bet, not that there are any absolute sure things in this world; but also I think we need to pay attention to Jonathan Narvey's comments and think about how not just Jews can become reconciled to certain freedoms but how all kinds of people in our society can become active defenders of free individuals and nations everywhere. We need a greater sense of a covenant where we work to guarantee each other's work in maintaining freedom. We need a full-scale push against the reigning victimary ideologies that make defending Western nations and true liberal values into some kind of hate crime. I'd love to hear some more thoughts on how to do this.

Marky Mark said...


Your perspective is quite convincing. We shall see what the coalition recommends and then what the governmennt does. It isn't clear to me that legislation of any sort is going to be part of the outcome.

Xanthippa said...

Ah, Truepeers, that is difficult...

Of course, I DO agree that this understanding that the smallest unit of each and every group is the individual, and that guaranteeing the rights of each single individual guarantees, in no uncertain way, that each and every group of individuals' rights and freedoms will hereby be best protected.

I asked the question about thus unifying the Jewish community because that was the topic of your post: and because I truly think that this community is a reflection of much of the society. OK - not precise copy, but, in general, it is a fair statement that there are portions of the 'larger society' which directly correspond to the very polarization you have described in your post.

Yes, I know this is not an 'answer'! If I had one, I would be broadcasting it far and wide!

Alas, accurately studying the current perceptions and their roots can be a useful tool in developing a coping strategy, if you will. I am a slow thinker - and first to admit this - but, I have been pondering this for some time. Still, my conclusions are incomplete....

I think that the political views are greatly impacted by our spiritual and religious perceptions and beliefs (or lack thereof). Any explanation of our position has to be entrenched in specific theological imagery/scriptural references in order to make any significant impact.

Now, I may trace my descent (direct female line) from Jewish ancestry, the connection is tenuous and my knowledge of the Jewish dogma is theoretical, rather than practical. Thus, I am poorly equipped to form a well-crafted, compelling argument which practicing Jews would find compelling...or any other specific religious group (all my religious education is theoretical and/or anecdotal).

Thus, I recognize that I am not qualified to answer, as you ask. However, working together with members of various faiths, I think I could be of help.... making their contribution more, shall we say, effective. But, first, a major debate (back and forth and mutual education) would have to take place!

Of course - I AM available!

truepeers said...


You can't be that slow a thinker since you're far ahead of many people. Just what is the best speed for serious thinking anyway?
Mathematics requires one kind of mind that perhaps favours youth and speed; the humanities is something else again, since it requires patience and wisdom so that one can deal in what is fundamentally paradoxical.

I am not a well-educated Jew if by that you mean having a religious education. But I can see how I have inherited a Jewish identity from my family and its culture. Many people think of this kind of thing as the "ethnic" side of Judaism, but I don't think that's quite the right word for I think we are talking about the cultural survival of ideas/ways of being that are not specifically ethnic, i.e. rooted in a particular geographic, temporal, or social environment, but rather something that is carried across time and place and indeed across ethnicities (there are many identifiably Jewish ethnicities). This identity, while perhaps not strictly religious, is a kind of national/universalizing identity that has its origins in the conception of a covenant that transcends time and place.

As I was suggesting in this post, i think there is more than one way to identify with the founding event of Judaism and to inhabit the signs and stories that come out of that event. A good Jew may well be an orthodox, law-keeping, Jew, for the reasons Eric Gans makes in the column I link in the post. But Gans, himself not greatly interested in ritual practise i believe, demonstrates through his self-consciously Jewish intellectual achievement that the Mosaic revelation can be remembered in a way that is historically innovative in our time. I imagine someone unfamiliar with Gans' work could read that column and think whoever is writing this is full of himself or just incoherent. And yet I think it's right that he is talking about a "new way of thinking" that is yet unknown to almost everyone in the intelligentsia. So he is making a heck of a grand claim about himself, the lonely "Bronx Romantic". But to those relatively few familiar with his achievement, who have patiently figured out what he's talking about, I expect it reads as a fairly frank and not-too-humble, not-too-egotistical, account. Not only is his a new way of thinking about human origins, but also about what it means to identify with the religious, i.e. anthropological, revolution that is the Mosaic revelation. His frankness about his paradoxically unknown achievement is perhaps simply a way of re-presenting the spirit of the Mosaic "i am what i am", an idea whose power is slowly and often anonymously unfolded through time.

No one key opens all doors. In recognizing the fundamental importance of religious perceptions to political ones, you too share in what Gans calls "originary thinking". Originary thinking is seeking to understand humanity in terms of its origins as a language-using/religious species. And this is what formal religion also does, though not so self-consciously. Religion is a form of anthropology that usually attempts to understand humanity in terms of some conception of its origins.

Don't sell yourself short.