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May 12, 2010

Professor Keefer's statement at Ottawa press conference

The Canadian Charger

More by this author...

Antisemitism Real and Imagined: Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism

Lady Elgin Room, Lord Elgin Hotel, 100 Elgin Street, Ottawa

Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 11:00 am

Mesdames et Messieurs de la presse,

Je vous remercie d’être venus; thank you for coming. The Canadian Charger, an alternative news commentary website, was launched in July 2009. Today, a little more than nine months later, The Canadian Charger is publishing a first book, Antisemitism Real and Imagined: Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism.

I would like to tell you how this book came into being.

I first heard last August of a parliamentary coalition that was soliciting public input for an inquiry into antisemitism—in particular, antisemitism in Canadian higher education and in the media.

Several features of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism’s call for submissions struck me as peculiar: its suggestions that the blood libel is to an alarming degree being circulated in Canada, its declarations that Jewish students are being ridiculed, threatened, and intimidated on Canadian campuses, and its indications that “anti-Zionism is being used as a cover for antisemitism,” and that significant numbers of people—Canadians, one must presume—are calling “for the destruction of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.”

Given that the CPCCA was initiating a process of public consultation and research, rather than reporting the conclusions of a study already carried out, such statements, presented without supporting evidence, seemed both improper and inflammatory. It became clear by October 2009 that submissions in any way critical of the CPCCA’s bias, and of its obvious intention to identify criticisms of Israel as antisemitism (and thus, by implication, as incitements of racial hatred), were being excluded from the sessions of oral testimony.

After The Canadian Charger had published several texts rejected by the inquiry, it occurred to us that a collection of responses to the CPCCA could be a valuable resource both for Canadian parliamentarians and for the public at large.

I would recommend beginning a reading of this book with the texts by individual scholars, teachers, public intellectuals and citizen activists which are gathered in the first of the book’s three parts—and which are in turn moving, engaging, and challenging.

Their authors speak, as I wrote in my introduction, “from firmly grounded ethical principles, and from an unswerving devotion to peace, to justice, and to universal human rights. They speak from a shared conviction that the truth must be faced and must be told; they speak from the evidence; and they speak from the heart.”

More than half of these contributors, as it happens, are Jewish.

The second of the book’s three parts is devoted to submissions addressed to the CPCCA by human rights organizations. You may remember that when the Bloc Québécois withdrew from participation in the CPCCA and denounced its lack of impartiality, it cited as evidence of bias the refusal—despite the Bloc members’ explicit request—to include Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and the Canadian Arab Federation in the sessions of oral testimony. Rejected texts by these and by five other human rights organizations make up this second part of the book.

As I remarked in my introduction, these organizations, like the individual contributors, “offer powerful analyses of the material evidence, the human facts, the cultural traditions, and the ethical and legal principles through which we can understand the chasm separating real from imagined antisemitism.” 

This distinction between “real” and “imagined” antisemitism appears also in the book’s subtitle. I can best explain it by commenting briefly on my own contributions to the book, which consist, apart from its introduction, of the three long chapters which make up the book’s third and final section.

The first of these offers a summary account of the disgraceful history of antisemitism in Canada— which includes the shameful fact that during the years from 1933 to 1939, when hundreds of thousands of European Jews were fleeing from Nazism, Canada accepted, on a per capita basis, only one-fifth as many Jewish refugees as did Britain, the United States, and Australia. After the war, Canadian diplomats took a leading role in the UN deliberations that led to the founding of the state of Israel.

But there is evidence that Canada’s position was motivated, not by any sudden abandonment of antisemitism, but rather by a deeper racist contempt for Arabs and for Muslims, together with a recognition that Holocaust survivors who could be persuaded to settle in Palestine would not be seeking admission to Canada.

This all too real antisemitism manifested itself as well in various forms of systematic discrimination against Canadian Jews. But over the past four decades and more, it has been declining steadily in Canada, the United States, and in Western Europe. Though this toxic prejudice remains as vicious, as cowardly, and as potentially violent as ever, it is now a residual phenomenon, the property of socially and politically marginalized groups.

The second of my chapters in the third part of the book offers an extended analysis of the statistical evidence relating to antisemitic and other hate crimes.

Gerald Caplan in the Globe and Mail and Jonathan Kay in the National Post have expressed doubt about the annual audits published by B’nai Brith Canada, which show antisemitism to be alarmingly on the rise.

Their intuitions are supported by Statistics Canada and Toronto police data; and my comparative analysis of survey and incident-report data from Britain and elsewhere suggests that B’nai Brith’s data has not been screened with the care and integrity shown by the Community Security Trust in the UK.

This chapter reveals that the claims made by the CPCCA about a supposed resurgence of antisemitism in Canada and elsewhere are conspicuously untrue.

My final chapter provides evidence to show that the CPCCA’s claims about antisemitic persecution in universities are equally dubious.

This chapter also subjects the rhetoric and ideology of what the CPCCA calls the “new antisemitism” to critical scrutiny, and shows that that this notion, which rests upon a transfer of the tropes of real antisemitism to the “collective Jew” of the state of Israel, is an unacceptable attempt to immunize the violently illegal actions of a state from criticism.

Real antisemities are of course hostile to Israel, but the attempt to label all criticism of Israeli crimes of state as antisemitism produces an empty category of imagined antisemitism.

Is there danger of a possible revival of real antisemitism?

The contributors to this book agree that there is.

When mainstream Jewish organizations declare (falsely, as this book demonstrates) that Canadian Jews are united in supporting Israel’s violent and illegal treatment of the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they are effectively inviting naïve and ill-informed young people to give ear to the malicious insinuations of antisemites, and to blame an entire people for the crimes of a state. 

Within Israel itself, it is widely understood that ongoing crimes of state—including the policies of settlement and apartheid in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, and military attacks on civilian populations like the infamous Operation Cast Lead—are also incitements of antisemitism. 

If the CPCCA is genuinely concerned to avoid any possible resurgence of antisemitism in Canada, it will demand that the Canadian government reverse its present diplomatic and economic support for these policies.

As I have remarked in my introduction:

The CPCCA’s final report, when it appears, can be measured by comparison with the ways in which this book’s contributors treat the same questions—offering models of humane and rigorous analysis, in solidarity with the oppressed.

In solidarity with the oppressed: isn’t that where the prophetic tradition within Judaism, together with international human rights law, insists we all should stand?

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