A letter of mine in the Vancouver Sun today, this one about the “Disappearing Palestine” ads on public transit here in the city. I try to defend the ads against the absurd charge that they target Jews. Click here to read it (second entry from the top).
I am writing to express my wholehearted support for your decision to display the pro-Palestinian transit ads recently unveiled at the Vancouver City Centre Skytrain station and on several buses. The ads offer an important perspective that needs to be heard as part of any informed debate on the Middle East conflict.
My praise may sound a bit strange, since, as you yourselves have noted, “within defined limits TransLink has no legal authority to decline advertising content.” A 2009 Supreme Court decision established that TransLink, as a public body, is bound by the free speech provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Nevertheless, I insist on applauding you during the minor melee currently underway in the city’s media. Please do not feel deterred or bullied by the individuals and organizations that have criticized the ads in recent days — shamelessly conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, even going so far as to threaten legal action. I myself am Jewish and do not feel unsafe or offended in the least. Many members of the Palestine Awareness Coalition, the group responsible for the ads, happen to be Jewish as well. And while neither they nor I make any claim to be representative of all Vancouver Jews, to characterize the Jewish community as monolithically mortified by the ads, as strongly implied by some media coverage, is clearly ridiculous.
Ethno-religious affiliations are one thing; politics are another. Most people are perfectly capable of looking beyond the former in coming to opinions on the latter.
Thank you for standing up for the principle of freedom of expression and for facilitating a public discussion that needs to be had.
David Taub Bancroft
I have been blogging for nearly four months now, and am embarrassed to admit that — contrary to firmly established best blogging practices — I have yet to engage in the art of personal attack. Today, I intend to correct this error and make the anonymous overlords of the blogarchy proud. The target of my wrath? None other than the king of personal attacks himself, the Canadian pundit and convicted libelist who never fails to find himself on the wrong side of every issue — from tobacco to Israel-Palestine to climate change — Mr. Ezra Levant.
But first, a little about me. I am Jewish. Secular, to be sure, and about as assimilated as they come. Nevertheless, my Jewish identity has always been important to me, and it is as a Jew that I take offence at Levant’s self-serving habit of screaming “anti-Semitism” every time someone disagrees with him.
Levant fired back more than once on his TV show, The Source — painting The Tyee as an unprincipled receptacle of foreign funds and propaganda. But in the following clip, barely thirty seconds into his segment, he inexplicably seeks to place his Judaism at the heart of Nagata’s attack:
“I mean, I’m quite sure that a far left-wing magazine like The Tyee didn’t mean anything by stuffing an uppity Jew’s mouth with money,” he explains sarcastically, referring to a part of the video that frankly had nothing to do with his religious or cultural identity. Nagata was poking fun at Levant’s tendency to argue on behalf of such wealthy interests as oil and tobacco companies, a practice which — and here’s the shocker! — is neither universal among Jews nor exclusive to Jews.
A similar thing happened a year ago when The Mark published an article by Donald Gutstein about the shape of right-wing media in Canada — including such personalities as Levant — and their impact on environmental politics. Levant replied in the comments as charmingly as ever:
Some good connecting of the dots here. By [sic] why avoid the obvious? I’m a Jew; so is my book publisher Doug Pepper; so is Chapters boss Heather Reisman; so is Sun TV’s Kory Teneycke; and so is Laureen Harper. The oilsands are clearly part of a neo-con project to undermine OPEC.
Yet another instance, far more dramatic than the others, came at a tar sands debate (which I saw in person) between Levant and Ben West of the Wilderness Committee. An Indigenous activist by the name of Gitz Crazyboy (who had earlier been heckling Levant from the audience) was invited onstage by West to offer his perspective, and Levant absolutely flipped out:
Crazyboy used the word “holocaust” to describe the environmental impact of the tar sands, and it is understandable why Levant might have taken offence. But after Levant made his displeasure known, Crazyboy tried to put his word choice in the context of his people’s traditional belief in the inherent moral value of the Earth as a whole. Then he apologized to Levant, who steadfastly refused the olive branch.
In a blog post following the debate, Levant made no mention of Crazyboy’s explanation or apology. Nor did he give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his regrettable word choice to a lack of linguistic sensitivity which, while hurtful, was unintended. Instead, the young activist was proclaimed an anti-Semite and “professional Jew-baiter,” plain and simple. Take as evidence his apparent participation in — the horror! — Palestinian solidarity events.
I don’t know if Levant actually believes the accusations he dishes out, or simply uses them for political advantage. If the former, this is the sign of a delusionally conspiratorial mindset. Anti-Semitism in Canada is almost a throwback — certainly nowhere near as common as Islamophobia or bigotry against First Nations. For Levant to toss a serious charge like this around so casually is to diminish those rare instances of Canadian anti-Semitism that still do occur (attacks on Jewish institutions in Montreal, for example), as well as the far more common acts of hatred against Jews elsewhere in the world.
So please, Ezra, disagree with me politically — disagree with whomever you like — but remember this: it does our people no favours to cry wolf with racism.