Chris Cook of the University of Victoria Gorilla Radio (GO-rilla, as in, our furry friends or cousins… or descendants, depending on your evolutionary perspective and level of optimism about the human race) writes:
“For American readers who value and feel protected by the First Amendment (right to free speech), it may seem strange that a country would enshrine in law the opposite condition; but Hate Crime legislation in this country is widely supported. Canada is an ethnically and politically diverse country, consisting of minority populations from the world over, and it was deemed fair-minded to ensure all are protected from the “tyranny of the majority.” But it’s a double-edged sword, making possible an abuse of the statutes, allowing an equally odious tyranny, the stifling of dissent and criticism by a dedicated minority.”
Cook’s problem is that one edge of this sword just fell on a web-site he edits, the Peace, Earth and Justice News, “a non-profit, all-volunteer, non-hierarchical media organization” based in Victoria whose mission (as described in its Constitution) is to report on “climate change and other environmental issues, war and peace in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and human rights and other matters of social justice.”
PEJ has been operating since 1996 and is owned by the small (annual budget of a few hundred dollars and all volunteer staff), non-profit Prometheus Institute, British Columbia, where Cook was a senior editor until February this year.
On May 17 PEJ publisher Alan Rycroft received a letter from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, signed by the deputy secretary general Richard Tardiff, claiming that PEJ had violated Canadian law by posting anti-Semitic material, according to a complaint filed with its legal department by Harry Abrams, a Victoria businessman and British Columbia representative for the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith, Canada, which joins him in the complaint.
PEJ publishes materials from activists around the world, including some who have published on American websites like Counterpunch and Dissident Voice. It is an alternative paper that by definition carries news not covered in the mainstream press and those stories are naturally controversial, often criticizing the actions of powerful entities, including governments. Naturally, that includes the Canadian government. And naturally, also, the Israeli government.
As soon as PEJ received the letter, it removed from its web-site the eighteen articles that Harry Abrams alleges were anti-Semitic.
PEJ did this as a matter of courtesy to Abrams and to show goodwill, according to Joan Russow, one of the directors, pending the outcome of an inquiry by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In any case, PEJ does not endorse articles or comments published on it, to begin with. But, PEJ is, in addition, expressly non-discriminatory. As Dr. Russow, said in a letter to Mr. Abrams on December 31, 2006:
“Anti-Semitism and other prejudicial materials are not allowed on our site — after all PEJ News exists to promote equality and freedom for all — we are the Peace, Earth and Justice News. To the best of our knowledge no anti-Semitic or hate material is on PEJ.org.”
Indeed, it was she who invited Mr. Abrams (in December 2006) to inspect the articles on the site and see if anything was anti-Semitic, including comments from the public.
The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), whose “General Expectations of Canada” (as posted on the web, “CJC Brief to DFAIT on UN Human Rights Commission,” Feb 19, 2004 ) are not nearly as objective or non-discriminatory.
The CJC tells Canada’s Jewish citizens to take “constructive interventions against resolutions or motions” made in Canada that:
1.blame only Israel and its policies for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
2. indict Israel’s legitimate counter-terrorism measures with no reference to or condemnation of Palestinian terrorism.
3. deny or undermine Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East (my emphasis).
4. employ existentially threatening language such as referring to Israel as a “racist” or “apartheid” state and apply terms such as ["genocide"(?)], or “ethnic cleansing” to the conflict.
5. are based upon inaccurate media information or Palestinian Authority propaganda.
6. predetermine the outcome of direct, bilateral negotiations in keeping with UN Resolution 242 and 338 or circumvent such a process.
At the same time, Canada’s delegates must support and encourage efforts at the UNCHR that:
1. will ensure a comprehensive accounting of international human rights situations such that grievous international human rights issues are not ignored or soft-pedalled [sic] as a result of a politicized, anti-Israel agenda.
2. highlight the crippling impact of continuing Palestinian terrorism — which has been explicitly legitimized in the CHR resolutions — on the peace process and on attempts to establish a true human rights regime in the Middle East.
3. draw attention to the deficiencies within the Palestinian Authority regarding human rights and the building of a viable civil society for the Palestinian people.”
And B’nai Brith’s positions are even more partisan than this. Thus it is that Anita Bromberg, in-house legal counsel for B’nai Brith, Canada, has joined Mr. Abrams in the complaint against PEJ’s peace activism, because, she says, the articles “are virulently anti-Israel to the point that they meet the criteria of crossing the line of legitimate criticism of the state straight into anti-Semitism.”
What, according to the complaint, is anti-Semitic?
“The idea that Israel has no right to exist or that Israel is an apartheid state,” says Mr. Abrams. Also, any comparison of Zionists to Nazis.
Were there such articles?
In the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Lebanon, several pieces did compare Israeli policy with Nazi persecution of Jews and question the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. One, by Chris Cook, “We Should Nuke Israel,” for instance, was a parody of a column in The Toronto Sun proposing a tactical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Cook simply replaced the word “Iran” with “Israel,” “Ahmadinejad” with “Olmert,” “Muslim” with “Jew” and tagged the following paragraph at the end, ironically recommending that the article be acted upon by the Human Rights Commission:
“This amazingly ignorant, hateful, and frankly criminal article has been redacted. ‘Israel’ appears where the murderous and racist author, Michael Coren originally wrote ‘Iran.’ Likewise other slight alterations have been performed. There is, in what remains of this country Canada, hate crime legislation. Unlike Mr. Coren’s, and his Toronto Sun publisher’s heroes in the United States, Canadian media is expected to live up to certain standards. Promoting hatred and proposing the destruction of human life fail miserably to live up to the expected, and legislated, mandates for publishers. I recommend those offended by Mr. Coren’s modest proposal write the Sun, Coren, and the CRTC. Mr. Coren can be reached here.”
This is strong language, yes. But why, we wonder, does the Canadian Human Rights Commission not also write a letter to the columnist in The Toronto Sun, who proposed a real nuclear hit on Iran with a straight face. Why instead attack a column written in transparent satire in response to the former? Are the human rights of Iranians — or of Palestinians — less worthy of attention than the human rights of Israelis?
By the way, in the US, words such as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” have been applied to the torture at Abu Ghraib in academic and law journals, such as Gonzaga University 10 Gonz. J. Int’l L. 370 (2007). If torture of prisoners in Iraq can be described in this way without American human rights activists objecting, it’s hard to see why the killing and dispossession of the civilian population in Palestine shouldn’t be called ethnic cleansing or genocide.
And, would the CHRC also rush so zealously to investigate on behalf of an organization that claimed Canada — or the U.S. — was a Christian country?
After the letter was received at PEJ and the offending articles removed, Ingmar Lee, one of PEJ’s editors, posted a piece by university professor Shahid Alam, one that just appeared in Dissident Voice, and makes a scholarly criticism of Jewish exceptionalism as “inseparable from Israeli exceptionalism and Israeli history” (“Chosenness and Israeli Exceptionalism“) in a manner no different from — and more measured than — any number of dissections of American exceptionalism (and some forms of Christian fundamentalism), which PEJ has also published.
The fact that it has shows clearly that PEJ was, in this instance, simply following its mission of attacking injustice wherever it finds it and defending human rights, no matter whose. Its criticism of Israel as a race-based state was simply part of its universal secular defense of human rights.
But defending universal secular human rights which, by the way, is stated policy in the State Department turns out now to be the promotion of “ongoing hatred affecting persons identifiable as Jews and/or as citizens of Israel.” Indeed, Harry Abrams and B’nai Brith state that Abrams has “reasonable grounds for believing that I have been discriminated against.”
The only trouble with that is that the criticism in the articles is directed at the policies of the state of Israel, not at Mr. Abrams personally.
Should we conclude that Mr. Abrams sees himself as indistinguishable from the Israeli government? Or that B’nai Brith’s interest in human rights is indistinguishable from the vested interests of the Israeli government?
So far, Canada’s Globe and Mail, which published the story on May 24, has also published PEJ’s vigorous characterization of the charges as “calumnies.” But for how long?
The same day, Ingmar Lee was forced to resign as editor of PEJ for the bad judgment of publishing Alam’s article after the complaint was received, because the article is “slanderous to all Jews,” uses the word Zionist as a “slander” like Nazi, and may be a “hate crime” under Canadian law (in the words of PEJ publisher, Rycroft).
A semantic question: Is it also a slander to refer to Nazis as “Nazis”?