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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

December 22, 2002

Nobody says it better

Rosie DiManno tees off in her latest column entitled Latest rant - part of new wave of anti-Semitism

Now we know where mainstream Canadian society draws the line on anti-Semitism: claiming Hitler was right when he "fried'' 6 million Jews - that's, like, really, really bad. And we are, nearly all of us,
agreed. Even those voices that are predictably hostile to Jews have disassociated themselves from the hateful screed delivered last week by David Ahenakew, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, while others judiciously held their tongue. It's useful to determine what is colossally unacceptable because, in the wake of 9/11, it has become - and the logic escapes me - bizarrely okay to beat up on Jews, to pull Judaism
and Israel into the maelstrom of terrorist politics and radical militancy. The Sept. 11 atrocities have been exploited by Israel's enemies and virulent anti-Semites. They've turned global terrorism on its head and somehow made Israel the catalyst for any conflagration that might erupt in the Mideast - rather than blaming rampaging jihadists or provocateurs such as Saddam Hussein. Sensitivity to perceived discrimination has become entirely a one-way street. This is particularly the case when justifying (rationalizing) the murderous escapades of Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a larger campaign to promote Palestinian sovereignty - and Palestinians are the persecuted darlings of an international media generally unsympathetic to Israel. (For which I do not blame ordinary Palestinians on the ground, who are weary of all the mayhem committed in their name, which has done nothing to improve their circumstances; quite the contrary.)

But do not for a moment think that Ahenakew's semi-coherent rant - in which he also teed off on "goddamned immigrants, East Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, whites and so forth" - was merely one nutbar's tirade. I'm wondering how Ahenakew's comments were received at the moment he made them during a short speech at a federation conference and before he expounded in an interview with a Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter. Did they boo and hiss and throw buns? If no one stood up to denounce Ahenakew, why not? Were they embarrassed for him? Did they stare at their feet and shift uncomfortably in their seats? Because a passive reception invests such repugnant views with the veneer of tacit acceptance. We have only one sharp journalist's efforts to thank for exposing Ahenakew for the cretin he is, tearful apologies (four days after the story broke) notwithstanding. I, as a "Jew-loving bitch" (guilty), get tons of e-mail expressing exactly the same sentiments, in just the same kind of ugly language, and not from anonymous sources either, but from many who feel increasingly emboldened about expressing their unadulterated anti-Semitism.

That's the environment we've created in Canada by repeatedly and smugly bashing Israel. We've encouraged the hate-mongers, those who've never accepted Israel's right to exist, to come out into the open, to bask in our tolerance. So they proclaim their righteous anti-Semitism in tones of escalating vehemence. Perhaps there's even some benefit to be gained from such brazen declarations. A few have suggested that it's useful to know what people are really thinking inside their pointy little heads - all the better to reject both them and their base views. Know your enemies and all that. If we'd been paying closer attention to Ahenakew - and according to some who've covered his career, the native leader has expressed such contemptible sentiments before - perhaps he would not have received that Order of Canada in the first place. (Though it's entirely possible to serve one community valiantly while having no other redeemable qualities.) Unlike some Jewish organizations - and Jews are pathetically willing to accept apologies - I do not trust the sincerity of Ahenakew's mea culpa. He mentioned something about poor health but offered no further explanation. I suspect what Ahenakew is most sorry about is the damage he's caused to himself, not the offence he gave to Jews. Nor should he have apologized on behalf of native peoples, because the sin was entirely his own. The First Nations people had nothing to do with it, although it was heartening to see how quickly and emphatically Ahenakew was condemned by the likes of Matthew Coon Come, leader of the Assembly of First Nations, who noted the strong support of "our Jewish brothers and sisters" in native struggles against discrimination. It was proper for Ahenakew to resign from all his official positions for his monstrous comments, but I doubt there's any way he can rehabilitate himself publicly. He's done. For someone who's had an active public life, let that - and the public's revulsion - be his punishment. I see no point in continuing an RCMP investigation under Canada's hate laws.

If we must prosecute hate-mongering (a bad law), let that legislation be used, at most, against those who incite hatred - by which I mean incitement that constitutes a direct threat against an individual or an identifiable group. Hurtful, heinous commentary is just that - commentary. And free speech means the freedom to expose one's own stupidity. Of course, that's easy for me to say. I'm not a Jew, not a person who daily has to absorb the increasingly shrill indictment of Jewry and condemnation of Israel. I don't live in constant fear of random terrorism and bombers. But I am alarmed by the new wave of anti-Semitism sweeping across a world not six decades removed from the Holocaust. There are survivors amongst us still who remember Kristallnacht and the concentration camps and the lonely vulnerability of embryonic Israel.

The rhetoric aimed at Jews, at Israel, in the last year has been breathtaking, beyond all political rationalizing, even from intractable enemies. But those declared enemies are not the greatest source of dread for Jews, even as bombers continue to strike both inside and outside Israel. What they fear most, I think, is the incipient anti-Semitism that masquerades as something else: the passive accommodation of hostile voices and repellant agendas, the legitimizing atmosphere that abets hatred. I hold my nose and defend the rights of people who promote detestable views, because I've found no satisfactory compromise for free speech. But it sickens me all the same. In slamming David Ahenakew, we've really nothing to feel self-satisfied about. He's a fool and a caricature of anti-Semitism, indeed, of generic racism. But he's not the asp in our bossom.
There must be a medal we can give her.