Friday, March 20, 2009

Weekend contest: the new "anti-Semitism"

Our virginal Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, is on a tear these days. Fresh from slashing a grant to a Muslim organization allegedly guilty of "anti-Semitism," he is now vowing a "zero-tolerance approach toward anti-Semitism" in which recipients of all government grants will be screened.

As I've mentioned before, the new "anti-Semitism," as opposed to the so-called "new anti-Semitism," is a label too often used by elements of the Right to silence opponents of Israeli state policy. Ditto "anti-Semitic" and "anti-Semite."

I'm trying to choose my words carefully, by the way, because one commentator here some time ago argued that even to say this is anti-Semitic. The natural reaction to being slurred in this fashion now has a name. It's called the "Livingstone Formulation," and it's deployed thus: to object to being silenced implies that there are silencers, and we all know who you think they are. So if you're accused of anti-Semitism, button your lip and slink away, please. And stop complaining about being silenced.

Alas, some of us just can't shut up. We take noisy exception, for example, to former human rights advocate Michael Ignatieff's recent decorticated attack on Israeli Apartheid Week and CUPE-Ontario's opposition to joint weapons research projects. And we're more than a little critical of Canada's own Matthew Hopkins and his "zero-tolerance" policy, which he has already begun to implement by shutting down a language instruction program whose chief beneficiaries were Chinese.

Now, many have probably noted that each fresh example of demonization tends to be prefaced with a little disclaimer: "Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic." (Actually, Kenney has not seen fit to deliver even that mild assurance.) So a little two-part contest is in order, and let's try to keep it light and humorous.

First, readers are invited to suggest a criticism of Israel that might theoretically pass this bar. Contestants should make a good argument to defend each example, but should also come up with creative counter-arguments that would make these examples "anti-Semitic."

For instance: slow bus service from Airport City to Tel Aviv. Argument: such a benign comment couldn't possibly be anti-Semitic, because not only is it true, but some of the bus drivers might be Arabs. Counter-argument: why are you singling out bus service in Israel when you can never get a bus into Ottawa from Barrhaven? Anti-Semitism! No government grant for you!

Secondly, suggest a novel application of the term "anti-Semite." Entries will be judged on their degree of vacuousness. (No supporting arguments are necessary: indeed, they would be counter-productive.) In the 1960s, an era populated by its own demons, a baseball player in the American League once said that any pitcher throwing a beanball was a "Communist." That's hard to top in the present context, but do try.

Contest closes sometime Sunday evening, whenever the distinguished panel of judge gets around to it.

UPDATE: (March 23) This proved to be quite a challenge. There were many entries, but more than a few were incomplete. I'd have to award the 1st prize to "forgot to buy tinfoil" for this entry, with Adam C. a close runner-up for this one. No third prize, but honourable mention to, "knygathin_zhaum," for historical recall here, and (by popular demand) to Mordechai for some of the subtlest humour I have encountered on a topic known to be fraught.

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