‘Free speech,’ ‘freedom,’ the CRTC and Sun News

On being called ‘anti-Semitic’ and a ‘liar’ by Ezra Levant

Ezra Levant, for a day or so, made me his poster child for anti-Semitism shortly after the human rights org I work for (KAIROS Canada) was defunded in the Bev Oda/CIDA debacle.

A little personal history.

Downtown Toronto born and bred, raised by English-Scottish immigrants who, as a result of being shipped away from their homes when they were children due to the Luftwaffe’s bombing of English cities, instilled in me a deep fundamental antagonism towards all things Nazi.

Despite living in neighbourhoods and attending grade and high schools that were generously populated by Jews I really didn’t know what a Jew was until my mid teens.  Began to self-educate on the holocaust.  Read Anne Frank, then later Primo Levi and Eli Wiesel (I still read, periodically, his Hasidic portraits ‘Souls on Fire’) whose books were, as they have been for so many, devastating and also transformative in my understanding of human nature, human possibility, good and evil, racism.  In university on to Kozinski, Frankl, Hannah Arendt’s brilliant portrayal of Eichmann, and, through my prof at Trent U. (Jonathan Bordo), the 9.5 hour soul crushing holocaust witness documentary, ‘Shoah‘.

Halfway through my undergrad I hitchhiked across Europe to Israel to visit a friend studying in Jerusalem, and hitchhiked through Israel, north south east west.

I sent my first son to kindergarten at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in downtown Toronto, under the Buddha-like eyes of the inimitable Helene Comay.

In September 2009 I was hired by KAIROS Canada, a faith based ecological justice and human rights org, as their New Media Program Coordinator.  At the end of November all of KAIROS’ CIDA funding was cut and two weeks later Canadian MP Jason Kenney announced in Israel that KAIROS had been cut because it was “anti-Semitic”.  I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  The notion was absurd.  Our Middle East Program Coordinator was an Israeli Jew. Kenney was confusing criticism of Israel, with criticism of ethnicity.

Yours truly hosted on Ezra Levant’s website

Days later I was watching the KAIROS website stats (which were soaring) when I saw a high number of visitors coming to KAIROS’ Palestine-Israel page from a blog by someone called Ezra Levant.  I didn’t know who Ezra Levant was but I checked the source page of the visitors.  I was astonished to find Mr. Levant going on a tirade about KAIROS, anti-Semitism, and about deleted pages of links.  As it turned out, Levant had unwittingly (or not) put in a false URL (http://www.kairoscanada.org/en/rights-and-trade/focus-countries/palestine-israel/israel-palestine-links/en/rights-and-trade/focus-countries/palestine-israel/ – it’s still on his site) which can’t be found because it doesn’t exist, and never did.  I submitted a comment, directing him to the correct page.  I also pointed out that nothing of relevance on the site had been changed (it’s a big website, with multiple global projects – stuff is going up and coming down all the time).   To my complete astonishment I was, the next day, Levant’s poster child for anti-Semitism: my photo is still on his blog, and he supplied a direct link to my personal website, taunting that I was a liar bearing false witness for money (if only….. let’s just say that working for a human rights org is a very poor pathway to wealth. Writing half-baked opinion junkets, serving as a tobacco and oil advocate, and hosting a tabloid style TV show; now there *is* good money in that!).

Seeing that was one of the most sickening feelings I’ve ever had:  to be labelled an ‘anti-Semite’ by a complete stranger, who also happens to be a very popular pundit, publisher and, obviously by necessity, libel lawyer. Reading the comments made after his blog postings was just beyond belief, and then a disturbing, deranged, email at my workplace from some looney ultra-orthodox fundamentalist making threats and citing that he could find the whereabouts of my family (I’m a dad). A Google search on my name led, first and foremost, to Levant’s blog postings.

There was nothing I could do to reply.  I was way out of my league, and I would be used as a spokesperson for KAIROS, which I was decidedly not. It was clear that Levant had no real interest in facts, and I had never come across the kind of distortion-just-this-side-of-libel that is Levant’s stock and trade. As far as I could tell he was baiting me, and baiting KAIROS. KAIROS steered clear, and I had to suck it up. I eventually took some solace in the list of others who have also been called anti-Semitic by the likes of Levant: Bob Rae, Irwin Cottler, Gerald Caplan, the United Nations, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, etc, etc…

To my mind the likes of Kenney and Levant are doing a supreme disservice to Jews.  They are using the term “anti-Semitism” to play political games.  “Anti-Semitism” has always meant to me, as it does to most, racism towards people of Jewish descent (the obvious fact that folks of Arabic descent are also ‘Semitic’ is another discussion).  I’ve never felt any animosity towards Jewish people whatsoever, any more than I feel antagonism towards anyone based on their race*.  It’s just not part of my make-up. The likes of Kenney and Levant have, however, spread the term “anti-Semitism” to refer to anyone who criticizes the state of Israel (or, in my case, anyone who works for an organization that criticizes Israel).

This is a very foolish strategy.  Firstly you run the risk of severely alienating all the folks who have no racial animosity towards Jews whatsoever (including the many Jews who are themselves critical of the state of Israel).   To the generation of westerners reared on the evils of Nazism and the holocaust, being called an anti-Semite is a very serious accusation. Secondly, by lumping Amnesty International, Oxfam, KAIROS, etc, in with fanatical bigoted white supremacists the meaning of the word “anti-Semitism” is very severely eroded.  It ceases to have any traction or relevance whatsoever, and this is very very unfortunate indeed, because anti-Semitism most definitely really does exist, and it is most definitely utterly abhorrent.

 

 

* This is potentially facile.  I don’t feel ‘antagonism’ towards anyone based on their race, but I I have, like any other socialized human being, internalized racial, class, and gender categories which can be discriminatory.  This I continue to try and understand, and ameliorate.