Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Poison Gas

Speech laws, including laws against hate speech, are like poison gas. They seem like a great idea when the wind is blowing away from you. However, when the wind changed direction, you become the target of your own efforts.

Here we see a very disturbing example of this in canada.

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.


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. [While this may, or may not, be accurate, it is not anti-semitism.]

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 [It is perfectly legit to compare.] and question the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. [So opposistion to sectarian states is anti-semtic?] One, by Chris Cook, “We Should Nuke Israel,” for instance, was a parody of a column in The Toronto Sun [Neocon owned] 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? [Yes, Why????]

By the way, here in the U.S., words as strong, such as “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocidal” have been applied to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, in academic and law journals such as Gonzaga University’s (10 Gonz. J. Int’l L. 370, 2007). It’s hard to see why the killing and dispossession of civilians shouldn’t be called ethnic cleansing or genocide. [Yes, very hard to see.]

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? [Hmmm.... Nope, they would probaly go after that organization for hate speech!!!]


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. [And even if they didn't do this, they should still be allowed to say what they said.]

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? [Yes, that is a good question.]

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.” [a false and malicious statement] But for how long?



Blogger Dennis L. said...

I find it interesting that you describe Israel as a race-based state considering it offers citizenship, through regular naturalization processes to Christians and Arabs. It has taken in blacks and Indians who follow Judaism. Can you name any Muslim countries where Christians, let alone any Jews, can become citizens? Jordan offers citizenship to Palestinians, do any other Muslim countries do the same? Does Israel or do the Jews issue on a daily basis calls for the annhilation of Muslims? Do Jews (or Christians) routinely describe Muslims as "pigs" and "monkeys." Additionally, you ignore the entire issue of the failure of the Arabs to create a Palestinian state when they controlled the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. I personally believe that your article is extremely biased and lacks historical and intellectual honesty.

5/29/2007 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

The lack of relevance of this response to the subject matter of the post as well as its "kitchen sink" nature makes me think this is a "magaphone" troll cutting and pasting a canned response.

Israel is a sectarian state that is openly committed to preserving its Jewish Majority at all costs. It also has policies that have racial components to them.

It has major politicians and Knesset members that routinely make racist statements and it finds requests that Israel become a state for all its citizens to be threats.

It prohibits intermarriage and proselytization, and has an immigration policy that is heavily race based.

It these and many other ways Israel does not share values with the US.

But most of all, its supporters are responsible for doing substantial harm to Americans and American interests, and they will use claims of ant-Semitism to try to silence any criticism.

This needs to stop.

5/30/2007 12:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Israel is a racist state of the worst kind. A state that daily practices ethnic cleansing in order to keep Palestinians from gaining any power. While new Jewish settlements in the West Bank are government subsidized, the Israeli government puts up roadblocks so that Palestinians can't build new homes.

5/30/2007 05:22:00 PM  

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