—the spectre of anti-Semitism.
The long-awaited Final Report of the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) is out at last. It’s more than a year late, but its release coincides nicely with Stephen Harper’s majority victory in May.
The CPCCA “inquiry”
The hearings before this coalition of self-appointed Parliamentarians were unapologetically one-sided. In the words of the Chair, Mario Silva (unaccountably reported only in the Globe & Mail’s print edition):
“The groups basically that we did not hear from were groups predominantly of individuals who started from the premise of condemning the particular coalition of parliamentarians to combat anti-Semitism. I personally feel I didn’t want to give a platform to individuals who had no time for us. Why should we have time for them?”
The funding for this appalling farce, besides taxpayer dollars, remains a mystery. At its site, the CPCCA promised: “We will voluntarily disclose all sources of funding.” Immediate inquiries were made, and the response was: “Thank you for your inquiry. The website describes our funding restrictions and regulations, disclosure of funding will occur with the publication of the report.” As reported in the Globe & Mail, however, the donors remain anonymous. I shall return to this point below, if only in the spirit of irony.
As if to underscore the tendentious nature of this enterprise, the Secretariat of the CPCCA is composed of a writer for the extremist US publication, FrontPage Mag, and a fellow of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
The Final Report
The Report itself is a sinuous, self-serving, alarmist, misleading and fundamentally dangerous document.
The premise upon which the Report is written is that “anti-Semitism,” once simply defined as hatred towards Jews, may now include criticism of Israel. Recourse is had to the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism, which begins well but wanders off into vast realms of ill-defined territory marked by confusing examples of “anti-Semitism” such as this:
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
But we are meant to be reassured, at least for the moment, by this:
Let it be clear: Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, and saying so is wrong. But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium - let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction - is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.
“Legitimate” criticism of Israel is acceptable. But this is a slippery notion. Who decides what is “legitimate?”
While traditional antisemitic acts, such as desecration of Jewish gravestones and firebombing of Jewish schools are easy to identify, identifying the point at which anti-Israel discourse becomes antisemitism is not always clear. This makes it a very sophisticated and insidious form of discrimination, meriting closer examination. [emphasis added]
The vagueness here—which is arguably the key feature and even the theme of the document as a whole—doesn’t deter the CPCCA:
The CPCCA supports and adopts the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism for the purpose of this report and recommends that the Definition be adopted and promoted by the Government of Canada and law enforcement agencies. [emphasis added]
Comparing Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis is held to be outright anti-Semitism, rather than what it is—an over the top moral equivalence. Presumably things get a little tricky in this regard when Israelis do it.
Indeed, as it turns out, we can be anti-Semitic in spite of ourselves:
[W]hether in purpose or effect, the Inquiry Panel concludes that criticism of Israel that is unfounded, based on antisemitic tropes, or that uses antisemitic themes is discriminatory and harmful, and is cause for grave concern. [emphasis added]
A “wave of anti-Semitism”
This is how Mario Silva, Chair of the CPCCA, describes the current situation in Canada.
There are two main sources of data provided in the Report to back up this claim. First, there is a recent report by Statistics Canada.
From this document we learn the following:
In 2009, there were 1,473 hate crimes reported in Canada.
4 out of ten of these crimes that were racially motivated were against Black Canadians (272). Hate crimes against Arabs and West Asians doubled from the year before (from 37 incidents to 75).
Most (54%) hate crimes fell into the “mischief” category: vandalism and graffiti. Violent hate crime was primarily directed at homosexuals.
283 religious-based hate crimes against Jews were reported (70% of all such hate crimes). A 38% increase in hate crimes against Muslims was also recorded: from 26 to 36 incidents.
Unfortunately, target groups other than Jews have not attracted the support of parliamentary coalitions.
The second source of information is the annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents assembled by B’nai Brith. Conservative columnist Jonathan Kay has had a few acerbic words to say about these audits:
Every year, B’nai Brith puts out an “audit” of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada. And every year, the document is reported on by the mass media, which uncritically parrots the group’s absurd contention that anti-Semitism is a growing epidemic in this tolerant country. Reporters politely overlook the fact that B’nai Brith’s definition of “incident” is dumbed down: Any web posting, stray comment, or scrap of graffitti fits the bill. This allows B’nai Brith to reel off thousands of examples.
Most readers don’t stop to scrutinize how trivial these examples are: They just look at the impressive-seeming bar graphs, which purport to show a Jewish community in a constant state of terror. The result: Older Jews with dark historical memories become terrified, and the donations to B’nai Brith come rolling in.
The population of Canada is in excess of 34 million. Even accepting the figures provided indicates that Canada is an exceptionally safe place to be.
The “new anti-Semitism,” the Left and university campuses
Well, we know where all this is going, don’t we?
The Panel Inquiry learned that a significant source of antisemitism in Canada is found on the radical left of the political spectrum. As noted by the UK All-Party Inquiry, since Israel took control of the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria/West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights after a defensive war initiated by numerous Arab and Islamic nations, there has been a shift in sympathy away from Israel. Israel and Jews are increasingly viewed as part of the “establishment” and Arabs and Palestinians are seen as the oppressed.
If nothing else gives away the raw agenda of the Coalition it has to be this tell-tale phrase: “the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria.” Disputed territories? Not under international law. But for the annexationists who penned this Report, millennial claims obviously take precedence. Presumably objecting to this implied assertion could constitute yet another example of “denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination.”
Again, here’s that (dare I suggest strategic?) vagueness that calls out for clarification:
[T]he left increasingly views the Palestinian struggle as the “most legitimate and noble struggle of the underdog.” This view…is “perfectly legitimate,” but it may also, as the Inquiry Panel has heard, “trip over into antisemitism.”
The Report then goes on to attempt to make the case that much criticism of Israel on university campuses is of the illegitimate variety. Israeli Apartheid Week comes in for special mention:
The use of the term “apartheid” is, to use the language of the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism a “den[ial of] the Jewish people their right to self-determination … by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
We must ignore, perhaps, on pain of being declared “anti-Semitic,” the ethnic cleansing of Bedouin from their lands in the South Negev, and the separate but unequal status of Palestinians and settlers
on the West Bank in Judea and Samaria, and the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. To raise these uncomfortable matters could easily be seen in some quarters as denying Jews the right to self-determination. Ethnic politics, unfortunately, is too often a zero-sum game.
But I enjoyed this, in spite of myself:
IAW is also occasionally associated with the use of “symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism.”
No longer do we merely have guilt by association, but by association with…association.
In fairness I must note, however, that Irwin Cotler, an assiduous purveyor of the “new anti-Semitism” concept, has pulled back from the brink.
The Report skilfully interweaves a handful of bona fide anti-Semitic incidents with unverified “reports” of such incidents, and with various activities on the part of critics of the behaviour of the state of Israel. Firebombings, calls for sanctions and boycotts, anti-Semitic graffiti, a conference exploring solutions to the problems of the Middle East, and students shouting down far-right Israeli annexationists like Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Scharansky are all blended together. They’re all equally “anti-Semitic.”
This strategy is ably assisted by a small army of strawmen, like this one:
A similar new manifestation of traditional antisemitic behaviour can be seen on campuses where Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the State of Israel, which is claimed by its enemies to have no right to exist. This manifestation is also exemplified by individuals and governments who call for the destruction of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.
Names? Places? Dates? Details? Nope. Bald assertion will do. There’s a case to be made, after all.
And this one:
[C]riticism of Israel that is similar to the type of criticism levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic, but using traditionally antisemitic themes and holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel crosses the line into discriminatory discourse.
Of particular note is that old chestnut, the alleged “singling out” of Israel:
Judith Cohen, a York University Music Professor and member of CUPE 3903 unit 2, which represents non-tenured professors and teachers’ aides at York University, also noted in her written submission that her local contributes significant resources to protesting against so-called Israeli “apartheid” but “does not designate … Muslim states with histories of repression of other religions, as apartheid, this seems in fact to be an instance of antisemitism masquerading as concern for human rights.”
Let me take a moment to reminisce. Back in the day, many of us organized what was effectively a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa. We didn’t seek the destruction of the country of South Africa, but regime change.
We may well have demonized white South Africans on occasion, and ignored evils elsewhere in the world—rhetoric and commitment to a cause take on a life of their own sometimes. But were we racists, bigots and dupes, or campaigners for social justice? I think history has decided that question.
Moving on, university administrators who have failed to accept the CPCCA script in advance are accused of turning a blind eye to what’s really going on:
We are concerned that by failing to recognize that there is a problem on their campuses, some university administrators are failing in their duties to protect all students. We find this especially problematic because on the one hand, administrators were eager to claim an absence of antisemitism on their campuses, but on the other hand they exhibited little knowledge about the events we have understood tend to spark the most antisemitism.
Even more galling is when they are quoted out of context:
Professor Patrick Monahan, Vice-President Academic and Provost, York University, testified that “conflicts around the Middle East and the debate over the conflict in the Middle East have become the most challenging issues in terms of free expression on university campuses.”
Monahan actually had more to say, which was unaccountably omitted by the Coalition:
The difficulty is that there is a narrative (of antisemitism) that gets picked up by others who never set foot on the campus here, but purport to be experts on the atmosphere on our campuses. It is unfair to the students, because it sows fear, it sows division. It fans flames of more conflict. We hope that your report and work of your committee will not in anyway contribute further to that.
How is it proposed, in any case, that we deal with the anti-Semitism presently raging across Canadian university campuses?
As noted by Ruth Klein of B’nai Brith Canada, it is difficult for universities to keep statistics on antisemitic incidents when they don’t have definitions in their policies. Many may not report these incidents at all.
There’s that infernal vagueness again. And here is the Coalition, ready, aye, ready:
The Inquiry Panel therefore recommends that Canadian universities work together to develop protocols and procedures for the reporting and pooling of information relating to antisemitic incidents on campus, as defined with reference to the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism. All university staff and students should be encouraged to document and report antisemitic incidents whenever they occur. [emphasis added]
So a far-from-clear, all-purpose, almost infinitely applicable definition will be used to solve the problem. Like nature, the new, protean anti-Semitism abhors a vacuum. It will, accordingly, inevitably manifest itself in its many forms and be duly recorded.
In this connection, let me return finally to the question of anti-Semitic tropes, of which, according to the Report, the Left is allegedly fond. The problem, quite simply, is this: a country that invades and occupies other territories will inevitably produce human casualties.
Observing that hundreds of children were killed during Operation Cast Lead is not the Blood Libel, but verifiable fact. Noting that the Gazan water supply was contaminated with heavy metals from the bombardment is not an instance of the mediaeval “Jew as well-poisoner” myth. Pointing out that the recent flotilla to Gaza has been stopped in its tracks after Israel exerted strong diplomatic pressure is not the International Jewish control trope.
But if those stretchy, pliable old shoes fit, we’ll be expected to wear them. No doubt my own comments above with respect to the mysterious financing of the CPCCA, and the sly nature of the Report, will be taken by some as subtle references to well-known Jewish stereotypes.
These tropes are, of course, being deliberately deployed as a rhetorical shield. What would be honest, empirically-based criticism of any other country behaving badly is, in the case of Israel, rather too easily re-cast as anti-Semitism, whether classic or “new.”
Conclusion: what is to be done?
The very lack of specificity that might encourage the more optimistic of us to believe that not much is amiss is a cause for action in itself, according to the Coalition.
[I]t is impossible to do a comprehensive analysis of the level and nature of hate crimes across Canada, as these statistics are not recorded by all police forces. In addition, there is no current standardized definition of an antisemitic crime. The result is that for those jurisdictions that do break down hate crimes by target group, it is still not possible to compare the level of antisemitism across jurisdictions because the information is not collected in a standardized way.
[T]he Inquiry Panel recommends that the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics adopt and promote a standardized definition of “non-criminal antisemitic incident.” This definition should be formulated with reference to the EUMC definition of antisemitism. Given that police are often the first point of contact for individuals who experience such non-criminal yet clearly antisemitic activity, it would be beneficial for police agencies to keep track of these incidents. [emphases added]
In other words, not only crimes, but what we might reasonably refer to as “pre-crimes” should be the subject of on-going police scrutiny.
The Report is careful, however, not to advocate for new legislation to criminalize criticism of Israel, as I and others had feared it might do. Instead, its authors uncover so much vagueness—about what anti-Semitism actually is, about its prevalence, and so on—that it comes across as a clarion call for someone to clarify matters. The Report appears, if only implicitly, to be crying aloud for a political solution to the tidal wave of anti-Semitism engulfing our country, and I suspect one isn’t far off.
The devil is usually held to be in the details, but, in this Report, it’s in the lack of them. No doubt the Harper government, and its leader who has already stated that criticism of Israel is de facto anti-Semitic, will bravely fill in the gaps.
UPDATE: More at Alison’s: a ripple becomes a wave in seven months.
UPPERDATE: (July 12) Some excellent analysis from Macleans.