Fighting Back When Called a ‘Racist’
Trapped in an Orwellian nightmare, Canadian author Howard Rotberg struggles to clear his name.
August 15, 2008 - 12:30 am
Howard Rotberg still shudders when he remembers hearing the words.
“He is a f***ing Jew!”
His attacker wasn’t a Nazi brownshirt in Germany circa 1938. Rotberg, an author and lawyer, experienced the anti-Semitic verbal attack at a Canadian college town bookstore in 2004.
Rotberg was launching his self-published novel, The Second Catastrophe, at the local Chapters-Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, with over 70% of the nation’s book sales. Incredibly, his novel — about a Jewish professor whose angry words during a lecture land him in trouble — practically came to life before his eyes that night. Years later, Rotberg is still feeling the aftershocks.
Rotberg had no sooner begun his lecture when, as author and columnist Phyllis Chesler later recounted:
Suddenly, two Muslims interrupted his speech. The first disrupter, who identified himself as a Palestinian, accused Rotberg of saying or perhaps thinking that “all Muslims are terrorists.” The disrupter admitted that he had not read the book. A second man, who identified himself as an Iraqi Kurd, began “ranting about how Americans and Israelis are the real terrorists and that democracy is really fascist.” They did not allow Rotberg to speak. According to Rotberg, they used “Gestapo tactics to completely disrupt [my] lecture.” One called Rotberg, the son of a Holocaust survivor, “a f***ing Jew.”
To Rotberg’s amazement, not a single member of the Chapters store staff, which included one young woman in a hijab named Raneem Al-Halimi, intervened — “that is,” writes Chesler, “until Rotberg responded that he would ‘not be called a f***ing Jew.’”
“The store manager came over to me and told me not to swear. I told him that I was the one being sworn at; he said that it didn’t matter. He gathered up the books on the table and escorted me to his office at the back.
“I want you to call the police.” I said.
“What for?” he replied.
“Because these totalitarians just stopped my right to lecture, and are swearing at me, and who knows what they will do next?” I said.
“I don’t have the number,” he claimed.
I couldn’t believe this. “Try 911,” I suggested.
The police were finally called, but they merely cautioned Rotberg’s hecklers and told them to stay away from the store. The responding officer also refused to escort the author to his car.