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September 23, 2009

Jason Kenney, the most right wing member of the Harper's cabinet

Yves Engler

Yves EnglerWhich Canadians suffer more discrimination: Those of African descent, Muslims, Latin Americans, South Asians, East Asians, Arabs, First Nations or Jews?

If you answer the latter, take your place alongside the Harper government and other sectors of the political elite that attack a largely historic form of oppression to advance a present day pro-imperial foreign-policy and anti-immigrant/anti-aboriginal domestic agenda.

Despite a loud chorus claiming otherwise, anti-Semitism is a mere fig leaf of its former oppressive character.

Six decades ago “none is too many” was the order of the day in Ottawa, which rejected Jewish refugees escaping Nazi concentration camps. This hostile anti-semitic climate continued into the 1950s with institutions such as McGill University in Montreal imposing quotas on Jewish students. But Christianity’s decline, combined with a rise in antiracist politics has significantly undercut anti-Semitism as a social force in Canada.

Today, Jews are largely seen as white people. Canada's Jewish community is well represented among institutions of influence in this country and there is very little in terms of structural racism against Jews (which is not to say there isn't significant cultural stereotyping, which must be challenged). But in an inversion of reality, the more anti-Semitism declines as a social force the more it concerns the political elite.


As a way to silence critics of Israel, of course. More generally, the Conservatives, supported by the Jewish establishment, allege anti-Semitism to advance a broadly pro-empire foreign-policy.

In April 2009, Harper explained: "we are very concerned that, around the world, anti-Semitism is growing in volume and acceptance."

A month later, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister (formerly Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity) Jason Kenney told a European audience, "peaceful and pluralistic Canada sees signs that this evil [anti-Semitism] is newly resurgent." Then, in a statement bordering on Holocaust denial, he added, “I also very acutely understand the nature of the new anti-Semitism, and I think it’s even more dangerous than the old European anti-Semitism.”

There have been few similar proclamations about racism directed towards First Nations, Blacks or any other group in Canada.

A Canadian Newsstand search for Jason Kenney Islamophobia; Jason Kenney racism against Blacks; Jason Kenney missing Native/Aboriginal women brings up nothing of substance. On the other hand, a search of Jason Kenney and anti-Semitism elicited dozens of articles, including many strong comments from the Minister.

The Conservatives, which get few Jewish votes but are close with its right-wing establishment, have used the politics of anti-Semitism to crowd out action regarding more oppressive forms of bigotry.

Despite the fact that Muslims and Blacks are more likely to be targeted, “Jewish organizations have received 84 per cent of the funding announcements under a federal program that provides security for groups at risk of being attacked in hate crimes," reported the Canadian Press three weeks ago. "Forty-six of the 55 projects funded by Ottawa since February 2008 belonged to Jewish community groups.”

At the level of international diplomacy the Harper government’s cries of anti-Semitism are a transparent attempt to silence critics of Israeli crimes. But there is more to it. The accusations of anti-Semitism are a way to advance a broader right-wing foreign-policy agenda.

Beyond defending Israel, there are a number of recent instances where anti-Semitism has been used by Canadian politicians to advance 'white' or imperial policies.

Last April, Virginie Levesque, a spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy in Venezuela, accused socialist oriented president Hugo Chavez of anti-Semitism. “The Canadian Embassy has encouraged and continues to encourage the Venezuelan government to follow through on its commitment to reject and combat anti-Semitism and to do its utmost to ensure the security of the Jewish community and its religious and cultural centers.”

That same month, two Liberal MPs presented a petition to the House of Commons claiming an increase in state-backed anti-Semitism in Venezuela. Former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said Venezuela has seen a "delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel." These unsubstantiated accusations of anti-Semitism are designed to further demonize a government that threatens North American capitalist/geopolitical interests.

Additionally, Canada was the first country to withdraw from last April's World Conference against Racism in Geneva. Defending Israel was part of the Harper government's motivation for pulling out of the conference; they also had little interest in discussing the dispossession of First Nations, colonialism or the African slave trade. An "anti-Semitic anti-West hate fest dressed up as anti-racism conference" is how one unnamed Canadian official described the meeting.

Claiming the conference was anti-Semitic was the only politically palatable justification for withdrawing. In fact, Israel was barely on the agenda as Naomi Klein describes in this month's Harper's Magazine. She points out how pro-Israel groups effectively undermined extensive efforts by (largely) black activists to force the international community to define colonialism and the slave trade as crimes against humanity. "Perhaps the best way to describe the convergence of interests in Geneva is to say that pro Israel groups succeeded in convincing 10 governments to boycott a conference that they never wanted to come to anyway."

It's particularly ironic that the Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister has been the most fervent proponent of anti-Semitism politics. Claims of anti-Semitism do not in any way challenge white supremacy, something a multiculturalism minister should take on.

Harper gave Jason Kenney, the most right wing member of his cabinet, the immigration and multiculturalism portfolio.

Is that because the Conservative party's (anti-aboriginal, anti-immigrant) base opposes multiculturalism? Does the focus on claims of “racism” against white Jews simply offer a convenient cover for continued white supremacy?

Yves Engler is the author of the recently released The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy; available at

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