FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Canadian Left and Israel

Most progressives would agree that opposing all forms of racism is a key element of what makes them left wing. But it is not always straightforward how best to confront white privilege, avoid cultural appropriation, tackle colonial attitudes towards indigenous peoples or avoid being labelled anti-Jewish when working for Palestinian human rights. And in the later case, accusations of Left anti-Semitism actually mask a more significant racism problem on the Left.

In response to the recent controversy at Chicago’s Dyke March Toronto activist Alex Hundert tweeted “And to think ppl keep tryna ridicule me for calling out #antisemitism on the Left… #leftfail.” The self-declared radical linked to a Ha’aretz story headlined “Chicago ‘Dyke March‘ Bans Jewish Pride Flags: ‘They Made People Feel Unsafe’”.  But according to march organizersJewish Voices for Peace and Electronic Intifada the whole thing was a set-up and part of an orchestrated attack by a pro-Israel queer group. In one of many efforts to turn the Dyke March incident against critics of Israel and the left more generally, New York Times opinion section editor Bari Weiss opined that by echoing criticism of Israeli policy in recent years left Jews have opened the door to pogroms or genocide (“if history has taught the Jews anything it’s that this kind of contortion never ends well”), concluding that “anti-Semitism remains as much a problem on the far-left as it is on the alt-right.”

The Dyke March incident is not the first time Hundert has taken up this criticism of Left political movements. “Everytime I’m almost ready to start organizing again,” the former Upper Canada College student tweeted a couple months ago, “I see some stupid left antisemitism that reminds me I’m glad I switched to advocacy.” Hundert is echoing an increasingly common refrain. At the liberal end of the dominant media the CBC’s Neil MacDonald asked last year “Has the activist left decided anti-Semitism doesn’t exist?” while the far right Rebel denounced “Tom Mulcair, Olivia Chow and the NDP’s huge anti-Semitic problem”. For its part, B’nai Brith has specifically cited “far-left-winggroups”, alongside “anti-Israel agitators”, as a major source of anti-Semitic incidents in its annual audit. During the 2012 Québec student strike B’nai B’rith condemned protesters purported “hate …that has outraged the Jewish community.” A Canadian Jewish News editorial and front page cover about the NDP supporting the Leap Manifesto in 2016 suggests the Jewish community’s leading organ would likely cry “anti-Semitism” if the NDP elects a left-wing leader.

Internationally Zionist groups, media commentators and Blairites in the British Labour Party whipped up an “anti-Semitism” crisis last year to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Similar accusations were levelled earlier this year at leftist French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and previously against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Let me be clear: Anti-Jewish prejudice exists on the left. Many who bemoan “Zionist controlled governments” and other such formulations are referencing stereotypical tropes about Jewish control. Some ‘Jews as Jesus killers’ prejudice also lingers in a country with Christian (colonial) roots. Anti-Semitism should be condemned since all forms of ethnic/religious discrimination are wrong. Additionally, simplistic ethnic/religious explanations of power do a disservice to movements seeking to make the world better a place.

But, while it exists, left anti-Jewish prejudice should be put in context. Is there more anti-Jewish prejudice on the left than anti-black, indigenous, south Asian, Chinese, etc. racism? Or how about patriarchal attitudes? Or even class bias against “unskilled” workers? But, unlike indigenous or black people or women, Jews are not underrepresented in positions of influence on the Canadian Left, just as they are not underrepresented in the structures of power in this country.

So, what is going on with this focus on the left’s anti-Semitism? The answer is obvious. It is a way for supporters of Israel to shut down criticism of that country.

While one hears a great deal about the relatively marginal problem of left anti-Semitism, explicit Jewish/Israeli supremacism passes with little comment. NDP officials, for instance, continue to promote the openly racist Jewish National Fund. Five months after speaking at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington D.C., Hélène Laverdière participated in a November 2016 JNF tree planting ceremony in Jerusalem. During a visit to Israel with Canada’s Governor General the NDP’s foreign critic attended a ceremony with JNF World Chairman Danny Atar. In 2011 Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter donned a JNF hat as he planted a tree at a JNF garden. Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer was honoured at a 2006 JNF Negev Dinner in Winnipeg and cabinet minister Christine Melnick received the same honour in 2011. During a 2010 trip to Israel subsequent Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger signed an accord with the JNF while water stewardship minister Melnick spoke at the opening ceremony for a park built in Jaffa by the JNF, Tel Aviv Foundation and Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable. (In MayMelnick won a B’nai Brith Zionist action figures prize for writing a piece about a friend who helped conquer East Jerusalem and then later joined the JNF).

In 2013 Green Party leader Elizabeth May attended a JNF Ottawa fundraiser, even lauding “the great work that’s [the JNF] done in making the desert bloom.” May’s comment erased the existence of the indigenous Palestinians and promoted an explicitly racist institution that has Judaized historically Arab areas and continues to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in its land use policies, as the UN, US State Department and the organization’s own website make clear.

While less flagrantly supremacist than supporting the JNF, most left politicians, representatives and commentators express support for a “Jewish state”. From a Palestinian, or internationalist, perspective this is a decidedly racist characterization and goes against hundreds of years of left support for a secular state.

In an effort to appease critics, some left organizations have even stated formally that opposing a Jewish supremacist state is itself a form of discrimination. After being raked over the coals for refusing a politicized resolution calling on it to align with a pro-Israel group in promoting Holocaust Education Week, the Ryerson Student Union recently adopted the spurious “Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism” as part of its definition of anti-Jewish prejudice. The Protocol conflatesopposition to political Zionism with anti-Jewish prejudice or, in other words, it says it is anti-Semitic to oppose a “Jewish state”. Promoted by Students Supporting Israel and Stand With Us Canada, the student union’s move was immediately applauded by staunch Israeli nationalist National Postcolumnist Barbara Kay.

Even individuals and groups focused on challenging racism often provide an exemption for explicit Jewish/Israeli racism. In January one of Toronto’s leading anti-racist writers, Desmond Cole, spoke at a forum on “increased racist and xenophobic attacks” in the time of Trump with three individuals (Bernie Farber, Karen Mock and Warren Kinsella) who have ties to the only (to my knowledge) explicitly racist institution sanctioned by the Canadian state to give tax write-offs: the JNF.

After I recently wrote about Warren Kinsella speaking at a Jewish Defense League meeting in 2009, it came to light that a moderator made the former Canada-Israel Committee board member part of a private Toronto Facebook group set up to oppose overtly racist groups like the JDL. In a sign he still condones explicit racism, last year Kinsella condemned a Green Party of Canada resolution calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to rescind the JNF’s charitable status because of its “discrimination against non-Jews in Israel.” (Imagine someone who spoke at a KKK meeting or defended them being invited to a private antiracist Facebook group.) The sober reality is that large swaths of the left still accept, even promote, explicit Jewish/Israeli racism.

When Hundert, Macdonald, B’nai Brith etc. attack the left for being anti-Jewish they reinforce an ideological climate that still sees many labour leaders, NGO representatives, left politicians etc. remaining silent in the face of substantial Canadian support for the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism, precisely because they fear being labeled “anti-Semitic”. Whatever one’s motives in launching these attacks on anti-Semitism, their effect is to deter Canadians from condemning our foreign minister for calling Israel a “close friend”, opposing Palestinian rights at the UN, delivering aid to prop up Israel’s illegal occupation and subsidizing charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements.

More articles by:

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

August 13, 2020
David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa
Nine Mile Ride: Why Police Reform Always Results in More Police Violence, Not Less
Vijay Prashad
Why a Growing Force in Brazil Is Charging That President Jair Bolsonaro Has Committed Crimes Against Humanity
Brett Wilkins
Teaching Torture: The Death and Legacy of Dan Mitrione
Joseph Scalia III
Yellowstone Imperiled by Compromise
Binoy Kampmark
Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
Margot Rathke
The Stimulus Deal Should Include Free College
Thomas Knapp
America Doesn’t Have Real Presidential Debates, But It Should
George Ochenski
Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future
Ted Rall
Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is … ZZZZZ
Purusottam Thakur
‘If We Don’t Work, Who’ll Produce the Harvest?’
Robert Dreyfuss
October Surprise: Will War with Iran Be Trump’s Election Eve Shocker?
Gary Leupp
The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President
James Haught
The Pandemic Disproves God
Robert Koehler
Election Theft and the Reluctant Democracy
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid
Binoy Kampmark
Mealy-Mouthed Universities: Academic Freedom and the Pavlou Problem Down Under
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail