When “Leftists” use “Antisemitism” Smears to weaken Palestinian Solidarity 

While it’s near impossible to sidestep nationalist, imperialist and supremacist ideas, “leftists” should at least not promote prevailing anti-Palestinian ideological strictures. Despite the horrors Israel’s unleashed in Gaza, some who ‘stand with Palestine’ still prioritize Jewish sensitivities over opposing Canadian support for genocide.

In a hundred days 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, 60,000 seriously injured and 2 million displaced in Gaza. Half a million in Gaza are facing famine conditions and basically everyone is hungry. If Israeli-imposed hunger, disease and lack of medical care persists hundreds of thousands may end up dying. And the state perpetrating this genocide has long encaged, occupied and ethnically cleansed those it is slaughtering.

Amidst the genocide that Canada has enabled, some self-declared leftists still devote significant energy to smearing anti-genocide activists or trying to have their speaking events cancelled for purported “antisemitism”. Two months ago, some individuals associated with Independent Jewish Voices pushed to cancel my participation in a Palestinian Youth Movement and International League of People’s Struggles event in Ottawa. More recently, the anonymous X account Jane Austen Marxist posted, “In case there’s any doubt about Yves Engler’s antisemitism at this point (there isn’t)” atop a screenshot highlighting a passage from one of my articles. It noted, “With outsized influence in Hollywood and other domains, Jewish cultural influence is significant.” (Anyone interested in the broader context can read my full article here.) A hodgepodge of rightists and leftists liked or retweeted the statement.

There was no attempt to show how my statement was incorrect or even to explain how it was anti-Jewish. For them, stating that Jews have outsized influence in Hollywood can only be a “trope” or “dog whistle” and thus unmentionable. But my statement is factual, as this 2014 Globe and Mail article demonstrates. In a stunning 2008 Los Angeles Times article headlined “Who runs Hollywood? C’mon” Joel Stein writes:

How deeply Jewish is Hollywood? When the studio chiefs took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago to demand that the Screen Actors Guild settle its contract, the open letter was signed by: News Corp. President Peter Chernin (Jewish), Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey (Jewish), Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger (Jewish), Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton (surprise, Dutch Jew), Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer (Jewish), CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves (so Jewish his great uncle was the first prime minister of Israel), MGM Chairman Harry Sloan (Jewish) and NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker (mega-Jewish). If either of the Weinstein brothers had signed, this group would have not only the power to shut down all film production but to form a minyan with enough Fiji water on hand to fill a mikvah. The person they were yelling at in that ad was SAG President Alan Rosenberg (take a guess). The scathing rebuttal to the ad was written by entertainment super-agent Ari Emanuel (Jew with Israeli parents)… The Jews are so dominant, I had to scour the trades to come up with six Gentiles in high positions at entertainment companies. When I called them to talk about their incredible advancement, five of them refused to talk to me, apparently out of fear of insulting Jews. The sixth, AMC President Charlie Collier, turned out to be Jewish.

The demographic make-up at the top of the US entertainment/media industry would have had to shift dramatically for my innocuous “outsized influence” statement to be incorrect. Do those smearing me have alternative data or any coherent rebuttal? No. In fact, they would likely respond to my quoting Stein’s story about Jewish influence in Hollywood by doubling down on their smear. For them presenting any data that demonstrates “outsized Jewish influence” anywhere is another act of antisemitism. The effect is to be unable to describe how widespread and effective anti-Palestinianism is and why, which, of course, are necessary steps in combatting this form of racism.

A near universal, if undeclared, rule when discussing antisemitism in Canada is that one can only cite a single sociological indicator for status/oppression. Of the twenty most commonly employed categories in discussions of racism — income levels, incarceration rates, educational attainment, life expectancy, home ownership, positions on corporate boards, etc. — hate crime data is the only indicator one can mention. It’s no coincidence that hate crimes is the only widely used indicator of discrimination in which the Jewish community fairs poorly. While the genocide lobby exaggerates the scope of the problem, Canadian Jews are substantially over represented as victims of hate crimes. But they fare better (often significantly so) than other groups on the other indicators commonly employed to identify status/oppression.

A broader discussion of the community’s standing doesn’t excuse acts of hate or prejudice against Jews, but it does relativize the impact of antisemitism in Canada. This is important when the genocide lobby explicitly counterposes antisemitism with Palestine solidarity. In a stark example, the Trudeau government recently criticized South Africa’s case to the International Court of Justice against Israel for purportedly impacting Canadian Jews. The government statement noted, “We must ensure that the procedural steps in this case are not used to foster Antisemitism and targeting of Jewish neighbourhoods, businesses, and individuals.” So, an international legal case to end a genocide is objectionable because it may impact Canadian Jews!

When lobbyists, politicians and the media are explicitly counterposing antisemitism with stopping a genocide, internationalist and anti-racist minded individuals must avoid fueling the antisemitism panic and reinforcing the nationalist, imperialist and supremacist bias towards Canadian Jewish sensitivities. Even if one believed all the apartheid lobby’s most outlandish claims about the anti-genocide movement’s contribution to antisemitism, they barely register compared to the horrors Canada has enabled in Gaza. Let’s say Ottawa seriously pushing back against Israel’s atrocities — by calling it genocide, suspending arms permits and seeking to staunch the flow of subsidized charitable donations — restrained Israel’s barbarity by 1%. This would have saved 300 lives and led to 20,000 fewer Palestinians displaced and 5,000 fewer facing famine conditions. Anyone professing internationalist, humanist and anti-racist values would easily accept all (and some) of the apartheid lobby’s bigotry claims in exchange. But our political culture is highly nationalistic, imperialistic and supremacist. (In reality the Palestine solidarity movement is responsible for little antisemitism and there’s no reason why Canada couldn’t end its genocidal complicity with little spillover.)

Those implying that antisemitism is a major problem in Canada and that one must be hyper sensitive about “tropes” when discussing the Jewish community’s relations to Palestine are requiring those opposed to colonialism to fight with a hand tied behind their backs. They are saying we must be hyper sensitive to a form of discrimination, but can’t investigate the socioeconomic status of the community purportedly under threat. They are saying it’s illegitimate to cite “outsized Jewish influence” at the upper echelons of Hollywood even when it helps explain the cultural weight of antisemitism accusations and why few in the generally liberal movie industry have publicly denounced the genocide. They are saying mentioning Jewish wealth and power is antisemitic despite it contributing to the effectiveness of the apartheid lobby.

How many Palestinians have to be slaughtered before we stop prioritizing the sensitivities of a generally well-off Canadian group over a colonized people facing genocide?

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.