Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The CJC's submission to HUAC North

The Canadian Jewish Congress submitted its recommendations to HUAC North on August 20. Its report blends examples of genuine anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel in a long preamble to a series of recommendations, using specious logic (the Nazis boycotted Jews, some call for boycotting Israel, therefore...) and strategically vague concepts ("anti-Semitism," "the new anti-Semitism") to underpin what is in fact a blueprint for regulating discussion of the Middle East in Canada.

Here are the recommendations, with my commentary:

1) That political leaders stress the need for civil discourse, based on Canadian values, among groups in Canada, especially when dealing with contentious political issues.

No problem there. Civility is indeed a Canadian value. Our elected leaders should certainly call for it. But should incivility, short of hatred or incitement, be against the law?

2) That funding guidelines should be strengthened to withhold any form of government funding or other support for NGOs that preach hatred or antisemitism - particularly those involved in integration and settlement of new Canadians where they may influence understanding of the responsibilities and obligations of Canadian citizenship.

This is a direct slap, of course, at the Canadian Arab Federation, recently stripped of a grant that it legitimately applied for and received because its head called Immigration Minister Jason "no Gypsies" Kenney a name.

But in any case, the definition of anti-Semitism is precisely what's at issue here. The CJC defines it, not only as anti-Jewish expression and actions (school bombing, graffiti, assault, vandalism, etc.), which are already covered by Canadian legislation, but as
criticism of another nation.

To call France a country of "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" is permissible. To call for the nuking of Iran, a commonplace on far-right blogsites, is perfectly within the law. But to call for sanctions against Israel for its depredations in the West Bank and its recent assault on Gaza would become illegal.
If the CJC gets its way, it might even be against the law someday to circulate copies of the Goldstone Report.

3) That the government move quickly to ratify and/or enact the various international instruments dealing with antisemitism (including international commitments to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial, including but not limited to, the Berlin Declaration of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and similar UN resolutions) and prepare constructive suggestions and resolutions befitting its role as host for the 2011 conference.

Obviously international covenants to oppose genuine anti-Semitism are to be applauded. And "constructive suggestions and resolutions" should be welcome at any time. But, just as criticism of Israel is said to be a mask for anti-Semitism, as it undoubtedly is in some instances--David Duke comes to mind--so too can such resolutions and conferences provide cover for advancing Israeli foreign policy initiatives.

The blurring here is strategically deliberate: the honest critic, meanwhile, needs to insist upon a distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel as a nation among other nations, and to hold Israel to the same standards as any other nation.

4) That political and diplomatic leaders take up their special obligation to challenge expressions of antisemitism and threats of genocide in the international arena, including the rejection of such statements by foreign leaders, foreign diplomats and representatives at international forums such as the UN and through international conventions and protocols to which Canada is a signatory.

Obviously any civilized nation should stand up internationally against genocide and real anti-Semitism, and indeed against racism, ethnocentrism and their expression (e.g., "ethnic cleansing") in all of their forms. Given its record of evictions and land-seizures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, however, Israel may not fare too well under such scrutiny.

5) The establishment of a permanent, adequately funded secretariat within the CPCCA to oversee future Coalition activities, monitor implementation of priority recommendations and ensure compliance and accountability (including annual reporting by each Department on the implementation of Inquiry recommendations and other action items within their jurisdictions).

The intent here is clear: CPCCA is to become a permanent inquisitorial body.

6) The creation of a permanent, publicly-accessible “ambassadorial” position under the auspices of the most appropriate Department (Foreign Affairs, Justice, Multiculturalism) to develop and implement policies, projects and research on combating antisemitism, including the provision of funds to NGOs to further these aims. This office should also table an annual Report to Parliament on progress made and challenges outstanding in combating antisemitism in Canada, triggering a government response.

I'd like to see such a position or positions created to deal with all forms of racism and ethnocentrism in Canada. Why should "antisemitism," even in the unexpanded sense, be singled out?

7) That police departments at all levels of jurisdiction be encouraged to establish dedicated hate and bias crime units with a universal, standardized definition of what constitutes such crimes. They should also be encouraged to establish specialized training to understand, recognize and respond to such crimes appropriately.

This, on its face, is unexceptionable. But we know from the entire thrust of this submission that part of the role of "bias and hate crime units" will be to suppress such events as Israeli Apartheid Week. As a Canadian citizen, I object to using the police to enforce one view of Middle East politics across the country.

8) That a national database of hate and bias crimes be developed to track trends and patterns, and that Statistics Canada update and modernize methodologies for capturing and analyzing such data. Data compilation must be as uniform as possible among all jurisdictions to ensure analysis will use comparable information.

This would, in fact, be a very useful tool indeed--an excellent suggestion in itself.

9) That a comprehensive database of antisemitic content on the Internet be established to allow for better understanding and more effective tracking of contemporary manifestations of antisemitism worldwide and in Canada. Such a database would require international agreement on uniform and objective standards and definitions as well as measurement and reporting techniques, in order to ensure all database users globally are comparing similar information.

Again, the problem of "uniform and objective standards" is what's at issue here. "Anti-semitic," to the CJC, has a very broad and ill-defined scope, including, as noted, criticism of the government policies of another country.

10) That the existing statutory “fence of protection,” both in the Criminal Code and in Human Rights legislation, should be reaffirmed and, where appropriate, strengthened.

For this we need some argument backed up with evidence. If by "strengthened," the CJC means making it explicitly illegal to criticize Israel, then this should be resisted might and main.

11) That regulatory measures, especially in the field of telecommunications, that are consistent with Charter standards for the protection of free expression should be considered. This should include ratification of the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime and the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime.

Of course such regulatory measures are already in place, and the subject of a concerted attack by the far Right for some time. I, for one, would like to see evidence that these measures (such as S.13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act) are insufficient. Is it that criticism of Israel is not caught by the current regulatory regime?

12) That appropriate training be provided for members of Federal Boards and Tribunals that deal with hate speech and antisemitism to ensure appropriate application of the law.

Is there evidence that inappropriate rulings have been forthcoming due to a lack of such training, if lack there is? (And as an aside, is "antisemitism," at least in its everyday meaning, not an instance of "hate speech?")

13) That the Security Infrastructure Pilot Project be made permanent with sustainable funding for the Jewish and other at-risk communities to upgrade security at communal institutions in the face of the contemporary threats of violence.

The Pilot Project appears to be a very sound one. But may we have some facts and figures about these "contemporary threats of violence?" The problem is that all we ever seem to receive is anecdotal evidence. In keeping with the CJC's emphasis on uniform standards and data-collection, perhaps such a recommendation requires more than that.

14) That the Government of Canada work with the provinces, courts and police to ensure training and educational opportunities are available within the criminal justice system to help it cope with the unique challenge of hate crimes and antisemitism.

Training and education are always a good thing. But again, much hinges on the working definition of anti-Semitism.

15) That it similarly work with the provinces to develop educational resources to help sensitize Canadian students to the dangers of antisemitism and the importance of joining the struggle against it.


Colleges and Universities are within the provincial sphere of jurisdiction, and are undoubtedly entitled to the respect that is accorded to the principle of academic freedom. Nevertheless, it is on the campuses of these institutions that some of the most troubling and pernicious manifestations of the new antisemitism have arisen. The Government of Canada and the Parliamentary Inquiry can each play constructive roles in helping academic institutions better meet the challenges posed by the new antisemitism. The Inquiry should recommend:

16) That the Federal Government and/or the Inquiry consider offering assistance sponsoring conferences and other similar initiatives, or the issuance of statements of principle to help combat hate on campus.

There is a lot simply assumed here. Besides introducing the undefined concept, "new antisemitism," which, it is fairly safe to say, means criticism of Israel unacceptable to the CJC, campus "anti-Semitism" is simply taken as a given (although students and faculty at universities like York are strongly contesting this.) At the beginning of the submission, this is made abundantly clear:

Antisemitism may now no longer speak of a goal to make a country Judenrein (cleansed of Jews) but instead it may aim for a world that is Judenstaatrein (cleansed of a Jewish State): Israel within the community of nations becomes the stand-in for the individual Jew and anti-Zionism becomes the new antisemitism.

There are those who claim that the linking of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is a misleading attempt to shield Israel from legitimate criticism of its behaviours. This position is incorrect. One has only to look at the vibrancy of debate on Israeli policies and practices that takes place within the Jewish state itself to realize that Israel has no immunity from legitimate criticism. Nor should it. While not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, some criticism does cross that line, and it does so by invoking very specific themes.

This is simply pernicious. Comparing criticism of one nation among nations to the Holocaust is an appeal to emotion and a grossly dishonest tactic--a classic Godwin maneouvre. The indisputable "vibrancy of debate" within Israel is one thing, but the CJC evidently wants no such vibrancy here at home.

Once again, of course, we get the obligatory reference to permissible "legitimate criticism," but no examples are ever provided when such handwaves are made. A straight question to the CJC: are the activities during Israeli Apartheid Week "legitimate" or "illegitimate"? If the latter, should such activities be made illegal?

17) That the Federal Government and/or the Inquiry work with the provinces to help administrators develop suitable tools and structures to deal with this burgeoning problem in an effective and principled manner.

I have no idea what this recommendation means concretely.


What we have in this submission is an unmistakable call for the full weight of the law to be applied against critics of Israel. By suitably redefining anti-Semitism, the CJC is attempting to impose one view of the Middle East on all Canadians.

Unfortunately, the agency would appear to be preaching to the converted.

The CJC has friends in high places.
Our Prime Minister has gone so far as to claim that criticism of Israel in anti-Semitic per se, and then goes much, much further:

Some of the criticism brewing in Canada against the state of Israel, including from some members of Parliament, is similar to the attitude of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned yesterday. [emphasis added]

And, as readers of my previous post will know, HUAC North has already telegraphed its own conclusions.

Anyone interested in maintaining a "vibrancy of debate" on Middle East issues in Canada has every right to be alarmed at what's going on, right under our noses, and as yet miserably under-reported by the mainstream media.
Will the CJC's Maximum Programme for debate control find its way into law, thanks to Harper, HUAC North, and a Parliament cowed into silent support for fear of being called "anti-Semitic" on the hustings?

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