Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The L-Word

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.

9 comments:

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

You make an interesting point in your post Dawg, but I think it is pretty easy to understand why the Jewish community would be particularly sensitive (if, perhaps in this case overly sensitive) to being called a "Jewish lobby". The reason for this increased sensitivity (in relation to the other minorities you mention) is that other minorities are rarely accused of secretly controlling the world, while the Jewish community often is.

When the NAACP lobbies successfully to advance the interests of the community it represents, I never hear people say that the "black-controlled media", or the "black controlled banks" are up to their old tricks again, because that would be such a ridiculous statement. And you never hear of a secret "Native conspiracy" that is secretly controlling the levers of power throughout the world.

But with the Jewish community, some crackpot somewhere (and often in uncomfortably "mainstream" places) will always seem to claim that successful lobbying by a Jewish community group is evidence of the bias of the "Jew-controlled media" or the "Jewish bankers" or the "Jewish conspiracy" that secretly controls the world.

Of course it's just as ridiculous to suggest that the Jewish community secretly controls the world as it would be to suggest that the Native community does, but that doesn't stop crazy anti-semetic people from saying it ALL THE TIME. So, while in this case the CJC may have over reacted a bit to being called a "lobby group" I think their sensitivity to these types of accusations (that they're "lobbying" or, in other words, secretly exerting undue influence in the corridors of power) is completely understandable.

Jason Cherniak said...

I think it's more than that. The problem here is not referring to a "Jewish lobby", but saying that Ahenakew only lost his order because of the "strength" of the lobby. The suggestion is basically that Jews are powerful and forced this action. It ignores the fact that the Jewish lobby actually convinced people of their opinion and, thus, takes away from the real message - that Ahenakew lost his order because he said things that are not acceptable for members of Canada's order.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Yes,

And what Jason said too, of course. It's not just that the CJC is called a "lobby group" that is the problem. The problem is the idea that Ahenakew only lost his Order of Canada because of pressure from the "powerful" CJC. I know PLENTY of non-Jewish Canadians who are THRILLED today that Ahenakew has lost this honour for saying such despicable things (and then worse, claiming that he was only being punished because of the bigotry of people towards the native community... and not because what he did was wrong...) and NONE of those people was lobbied by the CJC.

Given Jason's excellent point here, I think I'm inclined to take back my earlier statement that maybe the CJC is over-reacting!

Dr. Dawg said...

Lord Kitchener's Own writes:

"I never hear people say that the 'black-controlled media', or the "black controlled banks" are up to their old tricks again, because that would be such a ridiculous statement. And you never hear of a secret 'Native conspiracy' that is secretly controlling the levers of power throughout the world."

Of course you don't. These are relatively powerless groups struggling for equality. I'm not sure one could describe the Canadian Jewish community in those terms.

Of course conspiracy-talk is foolish, paranoid, and sometimes hateful. But it's possible to go too far the other way. Is there a "Jewish lobby?" Of course there is--the CJC, by its own self-definition. Does it include fairly influential people? Of course it does. Does it use the means at its disposal to advance its interests as a group? Well, if it doesn't, it's the only advocacy organization in the world that fails to.

But I'm not arguing, in any case, that Ahenakew only lost his Order of Canada membership because of the CJC and Peter Newman. I have been saying something a little different and a lot more general: that there seems to be a double standard in operation here in Canada. Here is what today's Edmonton Sun had to say:

"Ahenakew has been subjected to three years of public ridicule, scorn and humiliation. Every newspaper pundit in Canada has torn a strip or three off him, and we daresay that Canadians generally hold him in contempt for what he said."

I have no reason to doubt the truth of these comments. And they have nothing to do with any alleged "Jewish conspiracy." But just compare what Ahenakew has faced compared to Jim Pankiw. Try a Google search: Ahenakew and his anti-semitism score three times the hits than do Pankiw and his anti-Aboriginal racism. Has Pankiw ever been a household word? Do Canadians "generally hold him in contempt for what he said?"

In my earlier post and in this one, I have not been making the claim or suggesting that Ahenakew is the victim solely of a Jewish lobby. The latter clearly played a significant role, but that's not the whole story, and it's wide of the point I have been trying to make, which is this:

Ahenakew was an uppity Aboriginal who got (well) out of line. And the power structure (by which I do NOT mean the CJC, but the white establishment as a whole, including its media) slapped him down with far more vigour and enthusiasm than it does when anti-Aboriginal racism is at issue.

Ahenakew is not a nice guy, obviously, although his record of achievement is nonetheless substantial for all that. But neither is Jim Pankiw. Now, compare their accomplishments, and compare their fates.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Well, I'm not as familiar with Pankiw as I am with Ahenakew (which you may claim proves your point... but I'm not so sure) but as far as I know (and please educate me, as I admit to some ignorance here) Pankiw's pamphlet, which I believe was the most controversial thing associated with him, was basically a disgusting rant about "Indian crime" suggesting that natives are all criminals. Now that is disgusting, and should be condemned, but is it not qualitiatively different from someone saying that Hitler was right to "fry" six million Jews??? I think engaging in racial stereotypes and slurs is abhorrent, but isn't it of another quality than celebrating or condoning GENOCIDE!!! (again, if you can show me some worse things Pankiw has said, then maybe that's another story...).

Also, I don't think it's strange that an erstwhile MP, who can't even get elected anymore is given less press for his insane comments than a member of the Order of Canada who (was) seen as a leader in his community. Perhaps the worst thing about Ahenakew's comments is that they bring disrepute to Native people everywhere, as long as he is seen as representative of the Native community.

Most importantly, even if Pankiw's comments had been identical to Ahenakew's I think we hold members of the Order of Canada to a HIGHER STANDARD. Maybe if Pankiw was a member of the Order of Canada he would have received more attention. And I'm certain that if Ahenakew had acknowledged his error, and resigned from the Order you would not have heard much about him either. But he didn't. Instead, he claimed that this was all a big conspiracy against "his people" (guess who's behind the conspiracy) and that he would not give up an honour that was meant for his people, not just for him. If he were contrite, I'd cut him some slack, but worse than his defiance, is that he is hiding behind his heritage (I'm a Native, and therefore when I am attacked it's because I'm a Native, no matter what insane thing I'm being attacked for), and thereby he is besmirching his entire community by association. It's painful to see legitimate First Nations leaders try to navigate these waters as they try to condemn one man's comments while that man is insisting that he is only being condemned because he is a member of the First Nations. I'm sorry, but I don't think Ahenakew is being attacked because he is a Native any more than I believe that the police framed O.J. because he's black.

Ahenakew is a (former) member of the Order of Canada who made disgusting comments about a genocide, refused to retract them (let alone apologize), CONTINUED making disgusting comments, disingenuously claimed he was being persecuted for being a Native Canadian, and was convicted of a crime in a court of law. As far as I know, SEVERAL of those things are not applicable to Pankiw's situation.

Finally, call me naive, but I don't think this is about an "uppity" native getting out of line and being slapped down by the powers that be. I'd suggest that if some white Anglo-Saxon Protestant had made those comments about Jews and the holocaust, refused to take them back, made more disgusting comments, and then claimed that the only reason he was being attacked was because he was a white Christian, it probably wouldn't have taken three years to yank his order of Canada away (and I certainly HOPE it wouldn't).

Dr. Dawg said...

Lord Kitchener writes:

"Ahenakew is a (former) member of the Order of Canada who made disgusting comments about a genocide, refused to retract them (let alone apologize), CONTINUED making disgusting comments, disingenuously claimed he was being persecuted for being a Native Canadian, and was convicted of a crime in a court of law. As far as I know, SEVERAL of those things are not applicable to Pankiw's situation."

1) He actually DID apologize. Here's the story: http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2002
/12/17/ahenakew021217. (Pankiw didn’t, by the way.)

2) But his apology, reported as “emotional,” wasn't enough. Neither was his resignation as leader of the FSIN. He was still dragged through the courts, still hounded for nearly three years. Being the type of person he is, no wonder he angrily retracted his apology and essentially said "F-- you" to everyone. It doesn't mean his apology wasn't genuine. It means that the rejection of that apology pissed him off. Ahenakew reacts, he doesn't reflect. We all know people like that.

3) The point I have been trying to make all along is that the vigour with which he was pursued suggests it was not merely the comments themselves that were at issue. Bobby Hull made some dumb remarks about Hitler and Blacks some time ago, he made his apology to the CJC, and he was forgiven. But Ahenakew was not. Why not?

4) You're right, Jim Pankiw, a sitting MP, didn't get convicted of a hate crime. That's because he wasn't *charged" with a hate crime, or indeed with anything at all. The RCMP declined to prosecute. What would have happened had he sent out a pamphlet entitled "Stop Jewish Crime"? Would an apology have sufficed?

A simple Google search indicates that Pankiw had quite a record of making racist comments. In fact he was finally turfed from the then-Alliance caucus for that sort of thing.

My point? That anti-Aboriginal racism is not taken as seriously as anti-Semitism in Canada. I have tried to suggest reasons why this might be. I am neither defending the remarks that Ahenakew made, nor am I blaming all of his woes on the CJC. I am simply making an observation, and backing it up.

Perhaps we are reaching the point of diminishing returns here. But let me leave you with a reference to a provocative article in CounterPunch, on the subject of unequal racisms:

http://shunpiking.com/ol0108/neumann.htm

Nothing to do with Ahenakew, but it may be pertinent.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I don't know if an apology would have sufficed had Pankiw had written "Stop Jewish Crime" but I do know that calling all Jews criminals is still quantitatively different from saying that the Jews started WWII and that Hitler was right to kill 6 million of them because they were a "disease".

Here's a quote from a recent article on his trial:

Irwin already heard Monday how Ahenakew mentioned in his speech that he believed the Jews started the Second World War. A reporter later asked him for an interview, taped it and published his remarks.

"How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?" Ahenakew told the reporter. "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe.

"That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the God-damned world. And look what they're doing..."


I just don't see how anything I've seen that Pankiw has written or said comes ANYWHERE CLOSE to this.

It's probably true that anti-Semetism is taken more seriously in Canada than anti-Aboriginal hatred, and that is deplorable and inexcusable. But I just don't buy that Ahenakew is a victim of anti-Aboriginal sentiment in this case, and I really never will.

As for his apology, it was certainly emotional, but it seems to me quite clear now that he was upset at being humiliated, not for what he said. Again from the coverage of the trial:

Mr. Ahenakew said that although he still stands behind his anti-Semitic views, he doesn't plan on talking about them in public any more.

"I'm sorry for what I said," he said. "I won't do it again unless I'm absolutely forced to."

When Crown prosecutor Brent Klause questioned him about the sincerity of his emotional December, 2002, apology about the tirade, which included a promise to reach out to the Jewish community, he was evasive and testy. He said Jewish people placed unfair demands upon him after his well-publicized rant, including asking him to travel to Israel to apologize. "It was a one-way street," he said.

When asked specifically by Mr. Klause whether he was sorry that Holocaust survivors may have been offended by his remarks, Mr. Ahenakew shot back: "I am a holocaust victim. We lost over 100 million people over the last 500 years."

Mr. Ahenakew also rejected Mr. Klause's argument that Jews and aboriginals could identify with each other. "We're not the same culture," he said. "We cannot mix our culture with yours and expect it to work."


I'm sorry, but it just seems to me that these are the words of an unrepentent bigot, and the fact that his people have been brutalized and killed throughout history does nothing to excuse his conduct, or suggest to me that he is being treated unfairly (in fact, it makes his comments about the victims of a similar genocide to the one experienced by his own people even more disturbing, as you would think he would know better).

I will just never, ever, ever believe that Ahenakew is a victim here, just like I can't believe that his apology is sincere. He's apparently held views like this since serving in Germany in 1951, and even after everything that happened he still belives it.

It's incredible.

Dr. Dawg said...

Lord Kitchener writes:

"Ahenakew is a (former) member of the Order of Canada who made disgusting comments about a genocide, refused to retract them (let alone apologize), CONTINUED making disgusting comments, disingenuously claimed he was being persecuted for being a Native Canadian, and was convicted of a crime in a court of law. As far as I know, SEVERAL of those things are not applicable to Pankiw's situation."

1) He actually DID apologize. Here's the story: http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2002
/12/17/ahenakew021217. (Pankiw didn’t, by the way.)

2) But his apology, reported as “emotional,” wasn't enough. Neither was his resignation as leader of the FSIN. He was still dragged through the courts, still hounded for nearly three years. Being the type of person he is, no wonder he angrily retracted his apology and essentially said "F-- you" to everyone. It doesn't mean his apology wasn't genuine. It means that the rejection of that apology pissed him off. Ahenakew reacts, he doesn't reflect. We all know people like that.

3) The point I have been trying to make all along is that the vigour with which he was pursued suggests it was not merely the comments themselves that were at issue. Bobby Hull made some dumb remarks about Hitler and Blacks some time ago, he made his apology to the CJC, and he was forgiven. But Ahenakew was not. Why not?

4) You're right, Jim Pankiw, a sitting MP, didn't get convicted of a hate crime. That's because he wasn't *charged" with a hate crime, or indeed with anything at all. The RCMP declined to prosecute. What would have happened had he sent out a pamphlet entitled "Stop Jewish Crime"? Would an apology have sufficed?

A simple Google search indicates that Pankiw had quite a record of making racist comments. In fact he was finally turfed from the then-Alliance caucus for that sort of thing.

My point? That anti-Aboriginal racism is not taken as seriously as anti-Semitism in Canada. I have tried to suggest reasons why this might be. I am neither defending the remarks that Ahenakew made, nor am I blaming all of his woes on the CJC. I am simply making an observation, and backing it up.

Perhaps we are reaching the point of diminishing returns here. But let me leave you with a reference to a provocative article in CounterPunch, on the subject of unequal racisms:

http://shunpiking.com/ol0108/neumann.htm

Nothing to do with Ahenakew, but it may be pertinent.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I don't know if an apology would have sufficed had Pankiw had written "Stop Jewish Crime" but I do know that calling all Jews criminals is still quantitatively different from saying that the Jews started WWII and that Hitler was right to kill 6 million of them because they were a "disease".

Here's a quote from a recent article on his trial:

Irwin already heard Monday how Ahenakew mentioned in his speech that he believed the Jews started the Second World War. A reporter later asked him for an interview, taped it and published his remarks.

"How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?" Ahenakew told the reporter. "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe.

"That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the God-damned world. And look what they're doing..."


I just don't see how anything I've seen that Pankiw has written or said comes ANYWHERE CLOSE to this.

It's probably true that anti-Semetism is taken more seriously in Canada than anti-Aboriginal hatred, and that is deplorable and inexcusable. But I just don't buy that Ahenakew is a victim of anti-Aboriginal sentiment in this case, and I really never will.

As for his apology, it was certainly emotional, but it seems to me quite clear now that he was upset at being humiliated, not for what he said. Again from the coverage of the trial:

Mr. Ahenakew said that although he still stands behind his anti-Semitic views, he doesn't plan on talking about them in public any more.

"I'm sorry for what I said," he said. "I won't do it again unless I'm absolutely forced to."

When Crown prosecutor Brent Klause questioned him about the sincerity of his emotional December, 2002, apology about the tirade, which included a promise to reach out to the Jewish community, he was evasive and testy. He said Jewish people placed unfair demands upon him after his well-publicized rant, including asking him to travel to Israel to apologize. "It was a one-way street," he said.

When asked specifically by Mr. Klause whether he was sorry that Holocaust survivors may have been offended by his remarks, Mr. Ahenakew shot back: "I am a holocaust victim. We lost over 100 million people over the last 500 years."

Mr. Ahenakew also rejected Mr. Klause's argument that Jews and aboriginals could identify with each other. "We're not the same culture," he said. "We cannot mix our culture with yours and expect it to work."


I'm sorry, but it just seems to me that these are the words of an unrepentent bigot, and the fact that his people have been brutalized and killed throughout history does nothing to excuse his conduct, or suggest to me that he is being treated unfairly (in fact, it makes his comments about the victims of a similar genocide to the one experienced by his own people even more disturbing, as you would think he would know better).

I will just never, ever, ever believe that Ahenakew is a victim here, just like I can't believe that his apology is sincere. He's apparently held views like this since serving in Germany in 1951, and even after everything that happened he still belives it.

It's incredible.