Let's say I have a problem with the Chinese government. Despite maintaining the vestiges and rhetoric of Communism, the Chinese economy is ruthlessly capitalist and anti-worker. I loathe sweatshops and company "unions" that exist merely as another layer of management. I have my doubts about some of the Falun Gong's more outlandish claims, and I think they're a cult, but I don't doubt that they are persecuted just for practicing their wacky religion. I think Tibet has every right to be independent.
Now, am I anti-Chinese for saying these things? Am I anti-Communist? Would anyone
in their right mind associate criticism of state policy and government with ill will towards the people of said country, particularly when the solutions I would propose (stronger and better-enforced labour law and environmental regulations, higher wages, real unions that fight on behalf of their workers, an open and transparent democratic process, freedom of religion, and an independent Tibet) would benefit the vast majority of people in China and disadvantage only a small elite (well, and it would have a negative impact on elites here, as well as most of us in the West who enjoy cheap products made in sweatshops, but I think that's a small price to pay for social justice).
I do know a couple people who would vehemently disagree with everything I just said, but I don't believe, in general, that my position in regards to the Chinese government is incredibly controversial or offensive. In fact, there are very few countries where I wouldn't have some sort of loud, vehement critique of government policy. (Bolivia is headed in the right direction. Venezuela was, and then Chavez came down with a bad case of the megalomaniacals.) I criticize the Canadian government all the time, but it's seldom that I'm accused of being anti-Canadian.* Criticism of the American government is a bit of a different bird—one does get accused of anti-Americanism. But it's generally held that disliking the policies of a given country can be easily separated from one's feelings about the people of that country, the religion and culture practiced by people who live in that country, and so on.
Well, you know. Unless it's Israel. If you're talking about Israel, any criticism of state policy or suggestion that maybe the Palestinians means that you probably have Protocols of the Elders of Zion
stashed away on your bookshelf somewhere.**
I do understand the political reasons for the conflation of Israeli policy and all Jewish people, everywhere
; it's an arrangement that very much benefits the Israeli government. And, in fairness, a majority of the Jewish citizens of Israel and Jews in the diaspora support the things that the Israeli government does, so it's not an entirely accurate conflation. It isn't, however, an accurate
conflation either, particularly where the diaspora is concerned, and it's as silly as expecting that everyone of Chinese heritage has Mao's Little Red Book memorized.
I mention this, of course, because of the worrying report from the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism,
which has concluded that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada. I mean, it would be worrisome if it were true, which it isn't. The report is flawed because it lumps in one definition of anti-Semitism, which is any criticism of the State of Israel, with the traditional definition of anti-Semitism, which includes racially-motivated violence and neo-Nazis painting swastikas on synagogue doors. The latter category is really uncommon here; in fact, it's been years
since I've seen a Nazi swastika or a neo-Nazi in Toronto. As a Jew in Canada, I feel pretty safe, actually. As a woman, maybe not so much. I don't doubt that there are still some anti-Semites out there, but Jews don't face anywhere near the level of danger and harassment faced by, let's say, First Nations people. You will notice that there is no Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Racism and Violence Against Indigenous Canadians, though far more Native Canadians than Jews are the victims of systemic discrimination, poverty, racist rhetoric, and racially motivated attacks.
I imagine that if the CPCCA had only focused on incidents that were anti-Semitic, they wouldn't have had much of a report, and our illustrious government might have been forced to conclude that there was no real reason for an inquiry into anti-Semitism as somehow separate from other forms of racism in Canada. But rather than just admitting that they were wasting time and money, the CPCCA has decided to justify its ludicrous conclusions and exclusion of interest groups, including Jewish groups, who might have provided a more balanced perspective:
Over 10 days of hearings between November, 2009, and February, 2010, the CPCCA’s 22 members heard from 74 witnesses, including federal and provincial cabinet ministers, diplomats, university administrators, academics, chiefs of police, journalists and other interested individuals.
But many groups that do not embrace the new definition of anti-Semitism – including Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Seriously Free Speech, and Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East – were refused the opportunity to testify.
“The groups basically that we did not hear from were groups predominantly of individuals who started from the premise of condemning the particular coalition of parliamentarians to combat anti-Semitism,” said [Mario Silva, former MP who chaired the coalition]. “I personally feel I didn’t want to give a platform to individuals who had no time for us. Why should we have time for them?”
Right. Why listen to people who disagree with us in a supposed democracy? The CPCCA only
makes sense when framed in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict and as a tool with which to bash anyone, Jews included, who is even slightly in favour of Palestinian human rights.
Closely related to the CPCCA story is the news that the Canadian Jewish Congress
is no more. I'm not all that surprised, given that the organization has been irrelevant for some time now, except that I am kind of surprised. I've had no shortage of criticism of the CJC or Bernie Farber in the past, but in the current political context, Farber is actually pretty sensible
, which means that as a leader in an increasingly polarized community, he was doomed from the get-go. The CJC is now the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy
; the name change is obviously a sharp turn to the right and an indication that the needs and aspirations of the Canadian Jewish community are no longer the first priority of Canadian Jewish leaders. The only
thing that needs to be advocated for is the foreign policy of a tiny country on the other side of the planet.
Just so I don't get strawwomaned by my resident troll—yes, obviously, there are some anti-Semites who criticize Israel. There are still people who hate Jews. This is a Bad Thing and those people ought to be called out. However, my great-grandmother fled the pogroms in Russia. My grandfather could not open up a business in his own name. My mother was forced to sing songs and recite the prayers of a religion that was not hers when she was in school. I was also forced to recite the prayers of another religion when I was in school, but thanks to an alliance between Jewish and Muslim parents, that ended by the time I was in fourth grade. Today, we are not systemically oppressed as a race, culture, or ethnicity in Canada.
And that is awesome.
It's progress that there's no longer any need for an organization like the CJC, and I also think it's awesome that anti-Semitism is largely non-existent and irrelevant in my country. We should celebrate and take that struggle as a model to ensure an end to systemic racism against other ethnicities. What one shouldn't
do, however, is take that progress and use it as political capital to quash freedom of expression and stomp all over the rights of people who are
still discriminated against, to move the goalposts and redefine terms so that racist policies can be framed in anti-racist language.* I totally am, of course. But that's a different issue.
** I actually have a copy. Given to me by another Jew. I am pretty sure 90% of the North American market for the existing copies of that book is Jews buying copies for other Jews because we think that shit is hilarious. The other 10% consists of 9/11 Truthers and neo-Nazis.