OK, I'll admit it. I'm confused.
In 2002 David Ahenakew uttered some hateful words about Jews, Hitler and the Holocaust. He was charged and convicted of hate speech, and now he's been stripped of his Order of Canada membership. In 2002, then-MP Jim Pankiw sent out to his constituents a vicious, racist pamphlet called "Stop Indian Crime" and the RCMP declined to prosecute. (Imagine the furor if an MP had put out a pamphlet called, "Stop Jewish Crime.")
What forces determine the fate of racist loud-mouths in Canada?
As soon as Ahenakew's words reached the public ear, the Canadian Jewish Congress was on the job. The CJC called for an RCMP hate-crimes investigation, and asked Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson for a review of his Order of Canada membership.
Who is the CJC? The organization describes itself as "The Jewish community's official voice on public affairs." Here is the beginning of its Mission Statement:
Canadian Jewish Congress is the democratically elected, national organizational voice of the Jewish community of Canada. It serves as the community's vehicle for defence and representation. Committed to preserving and strengthening Jewish life, CJC acts on matters affecting the status, rights and welfare of the Canadian Jewish community, other Diaspora communities and the Jewish people in Israel.
In today's Globe and Mail, we learn that Peter C. Newman went the extra mile in the Ahenakew case, lobbying fellow-members of the Order of Canada and expressing considerable displeasure that the committee that decides such things was willing to wait until the completion of Ahenakew's trial. As we know, that decision was reversed, and the process began, as Newman so charmingly puts it, to have Ahenakew "drummed" out of the Order.
Whoops. Did I say "lobbying?"
Yesterday Lloyd Barber, a former president of the University of Regina, companion of the Order of Canada and the man who originally proposed Ahenakew for membership in the Order, used the l-word himself:
"Don't forget that the Jewish lobby is a very powerful lobby," he said. "It's not the only powerful lobby, but it's a very powerful lobby."
That was asking for trouble, and he got it. According to the Globe, Bernie Farber, executive director of the CJC, went ballistic.
"I find it sad and obscene that anybody in a position of influence or respect in this country would be provoking comment about Jewish conspiracy theories," he said. "It's sick, obscene and anti-Semitic."
Now, hold on a minute. This is where I'm getting bewildered. We know that the CJC advocates publicly for the Jewish community. We know that Peter Newman used his considerable power and prestige to organize support for stripping Ahenakew of his honour; moreover, Newman is not just incidentally Jewish in this matter, although he is quite correct in pointing out that non-Jews were on side as well.
No one should be surprised by this, or even particularly offended. When people feel themselves under attack, they will fight back; and if they happen to be reasonably well-organized and well-placed (in comparison, say, with the Metis activist, John Melenchuk, who went after Jim Pankiw), then they will enjoy substantial success in their efforts.
That's just common sense. The NAACP in the US is an example of an organization that advocated effectively for decades, although it was an uphill battle a good deal of the way. I can't see them being the least bit offended by having their efforts described, in part, as "lobbying." Nor, closer to home, can I imagine outrage at the Assembly of First Nations were it to be described as an Aboriginal lobby group. But somehow the CJC is different. Someone has to explain this to me.
In the meantime, is Lloyd Barber next in line to lose his Order of Canada membership? If so, it will no doubt take organized efforts: advocacy, public statements, letter-writing campaigns. But you mustn't call it lobbying.