The Canadian national anthem, “O Canada,” affirms of our country that “we stand on guard for thee,” a noble sentiment that I suspect is often more honored in the breach than the observance. For “standing on guard” means not only defending our shores from invading armies — what invading armies? — but from those amongst us who would unravel the fabric of civil life. Though the country remains economically viable and maintains a decent standard of living, we could do a much better job at keeping the national tapestry intact, especially when it comes to the strand representing our Jewish citizens.
Several recent events make it hard to resist the impression that anti-Semitism, often masking itself as anti-Zionism — the difference between the two has become negligible — continues to flourish in Canada. I have space here to mention only a few such occasions. The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant confession in the country, has tabled motions to divest from companies involved in building Israel’s security fence or that provide “products, services, or technology” to Israel. And at every major convention, UCC poohbahs, strutting about like lord high auditors in a clerical version of The Mikado, never fail to introduce anti-Israeli boycott resolutions. Naturally, the church has not seriously considered divesting from real human rights offenders and undeniably oppressive regimes, of which there are no scarcity.
Although the divestment motions are annually prorogued (though not defeated), this does not impede church leaders from reintroducing them with enteric regularity at every new session in the hope that they will one day be passed. Church spokesman Bruce Gregersen did not rule out the possibility of a boycott as, in his words, “a means to ending the occupation” — a highly problematic concept in light of the authentic historical context. These facilitators of anti-Israeli propaganda might profit from what University of Haifa professor Steven Plaut calls “an antibiotic of familiarity with Middle East history,” a possible cure for the triple whammy of ignorance, malice, and sophistry.
There are many people, it appears, who are desperately in need of this medicine. When the Royal Ontario Museum hosted an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the summer of this year, protests erupted in Toronto sponsored by various organizations, like Palestine House and the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, which consider the scrolls as “Palestinian artifacts.” This is to be expected, of course, but what is more disquieting is that individual citizens also threw in their lot with the demonstrators. One such incident which made the news involved the owner of a popular French bistro, Le Select, who posted a memo on the restaurant’s website decrying Israelis as looters. The underlying reason for such objections, I’d surmise, is that these ancient texts confirm beyond the slightest fashionable doubt that the Jewish presence in the Holy Land is historically incontestable. Such people seem to think that the Hebrew Bible is an Islamic patrimony.
One recalls as well the comments made on December 12, 2002, by David Ahenakew, then chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. According to this authority, Hitler was right to have “fried” six million Jews. At his trial in April 2005 for inciting public hatred, he stated for the court that he stood by his earlier comments. It took a full two years for Mr. Ahenakew to have his membership in the Order of Canada revoked by the Office of the Governor General. Yet, even though he was finally drummed out of the Order, following a brief resignation Mr. Ahenakew subsequently resumed his position as a senator with the Federation and has now won his court appeal. On February 23, 2009, a Saskatchewan judge found him not guilty of incitement to hatred.
It is only fair to acknowledge here that the Conservative government has reversed its predecessor’s anti-Israel voting pattern at the United Nations, for which it has been roundly taken to task by the likes of the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson, Canada’s most pontificating journalist, who accuses PM Stephen Harper, Canada’s most intelligent politician, of “align[ing] the country with the preferences of the Canada-Israel Committee.” This is to the administration’s credit and a sign that it is at least moving in the right direction, which may well turn out to be temporary should a Liberal administration return to power. The Liberals would likely revert to business as usual. This is called being an “honest broker.”
And one must be thankful, too, for that platoon of brave and honorable Canadians, like National Post columnists Barbara Kay, Robert Fulford, and George Jonas; David Warren at the Ottawa Citizen; national security consultant David Harris of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies; Point de bascule founder Marc Lebuis; and authors Kathy Shaidle, Howard Rotberg, Jamie Glazov, Ezra Levant, and Mark Steyn, who have taken a principled stand against the spreading infection of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism within the body politic.
Nevertheless, the beat — or the beating — goes on. The Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), effectively violating its institutional mandate, tabled a resolution to support organizations and unions engaged in the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel. Ditto the Canadian Postal Workers Union (CPWU), which seems less concerned with delivering the mail to Canadians than with delivering pronunciamentos to Israelis, giving a whole new meaning to the idiom “going postal.”
Our universities, presumably centers of enlightenment, are no better. Concordia University in Montreal, with its large Muslim student body and pusillanimous administration, is a demonstrably hostile environment. In September 2002, a riot fomented by pro-Palestinian and student union activists prevented current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from addressing an audience of students, professors, and members of the public. Concordia came to be known locally as Gaza U.
“Students at the University of Manitoba,” writes Robert Fulford, “found themselves confronted by posters … depicting, among other things, a hook-nosed Hasidic Jew with a star of David pointing a bazooka at the nose of an Arab carrying a slingshot; and an Israeli helicopter with a swastika on top, bombing a baby bottle.” But this is a phenomenon by no means unique to the University of Manitoba.
Security guards at York University in Toronto warned the well-known Jewish scholar and lecturer Daniel Pipes against inflaming his audience, when it was the audience which should have been policed. More recently, Jewish students at York had to be locked inside a building for their own protection against a threatening anti-Semitic mob. Walking about the campus wearing a kippa is contraindicated, but a keffiyeh is perfectly fine. And in June 2009, York sponsored yet another sham Israeli-Palestinian conference whose speakers work in fields unrelated to the Middle East and are notably anti-Israeli in their personal views, one of whom heads a movement to boycott Israeli academics. Under the innocuous title of “Israel/Palestinian Relations: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace,” the conference, funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, was held to promote the so-called bi-national or one-state solution, camouflage for the obliteration of Israel.
The University of Toronto, many of whose staff have joined the divestment campaign against Israel, organized an anti-Zionist hate-fest under the increasingly common and deceptive title “Israel Apartheid Week.” The Université du Québec à Montréal received Leila Shahid, a “former” terrorist involved in several airplane hijackings and a paid propagandist for the Palestinians, with high honors at an ostensibly impartial political conference. This is the same Leila Shahid who recently deponed in Edinburgh on behalf of the radical Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has been charged with “racially motivated conduct.”
As suggested by the Université du Québec’s and Concordia’s hijinks, the political climate in my home province of Quebec, which is still part of Canada, does not differ markedly from the rest of the country and is perhaps even more disturbing. In 2002, the speaker of the National Assembly, Louise Harel (a mayoral candidate in Montreal’s 2009 municipal elections), participated in a pro-Palestinian march and has aided Palestinian groups to file suit against Canadian corporations working with Israel.
Additionally, several members of parliament, both federal and provincial, such as former Liberal cabinet minister Denis Coderre, leader of the Bloc Québécois Gilles Duceppe, former Parti Québécois chief André Boisclair, and Amir Khadir of Solidarité Québécois, marched under Hezbollah flags at public demonstrations in Montreal during the summer 2006 war in the Middle East, condemning Israel as the instigator. These same public figures were conspicuously silent when Hezbollah unleashed its militia against the lawful government of Lebanon and turned its weapons against Sunni and Druse civilians in May 2008, probably because Israel was in no way involved.
Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper reported extensively and sympathetically on the May 2008 “Naqba” demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, implying in no uncertain terms that the creation of Israel, celebrating its 60th anniversary, was little short of a catastrophe (“La Nakba est commémorée en ordre dispersé,” May 16, 2008). The TV and entertainment scene in Quebec is equally troubling. The egregiously anti-Semitic African-French comic Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, whose performances are often banned in his own country, was a welcome guest in Quebec and given star billing on Radio-Canada’s popular telecast Tout le monde en parle.
The country’s anthem asserts our glowing patriotism as we rise to the defense of “the True North strong and free.” I am not convinced. For one thing, we seem to have descended into a state of ethnic bickering and dissembled anti-Semitism leavened by a strain of self-infatuation that strikes me as unearned. For another, the opening bars of “O Canada,” composed by Calixa Lavalée circa 1880, bear an uncanny resemblance to the initial chords of the celebrated “March of the Priests” that begins Act II of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. This can hardly be accidental and prompts a certain skepticism regarding the Canadian spirit of bold independence, originality, and the dignity of unblemished rectitude.
More to the point, a truly mature democracy does not countenance anti-Semitism in any shape or form wherever it may lurk in the body social. Even as I write, a Jewish cemetery in Ottawa has been desecrated, the third such incident in the last two years. The situation today is obviously not as critical as it was when the Mackenzie King administration closed our ports to the St. Louis and sent a ship full of Jewish refugees back to Hitler’s Germany to be slaughtered in the concentration camps. (This poignant and shameful event is related by Irving Abella and Harold Troper in their essential work of Canadian history, None Is Too Many.) Nonetheless, it is a situation that needs to be addressed.
Though in several important respects a better place to live than many other countries around the world, and despite parliamentary commissions to investigate recurring acts of anti-Semitic vandalism, Canada still has a ways to go if we wish to justify the anthem’s ringing proclamation of the “True North strong and free.”