Courtesy of the Quebec chapter of B'nai Brith, there's a very strange controversy brewing in the federal riding of Outremont where a by-election is due this fall.
B'nai Brith fired off a strongly worded press release demanding Liberal leader St?phane Dion dump his handpicked candidate, respected international relations expert Jocelyn Coulon, whom Dion wants as his foreign affairs minister should he ever form a government.
The human rights watchdog says Coulon has a "well-documented anti-Israel bias," a "hostile attitude toward Israel," "anti-U.S. rhetoric" and that his calls for the end of the isolation of Hamas "ought to disqualify him."
According to this week's West End Chronicle, Mo?se Moghrabi, B'nai Brith's legal counsel for Quebec, warned, in an email to B'nai Brith leadership, that Coulon "is a subtle individual with very pro-Arab/pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel/anti-American/anti-West views."
Steven Slomovitch, also of B'nai Brith, is quoted as saying Coulon's views are "obviously a grave concern to the Jewish people."
It is perhaps the last sentence that contains B'nai Brith's main problem here. It is growing increasingly tiresome to have that organization sound as if it speaks for the "Jewish people," among whom there is a much greater variety of viewpoints than there is at B'nai Brith. Regarding Coulon, it's important to note the Quebec-Israel Committee was quick to voice its disagreement with B'nai Brith.
But it's also troubling to see B'nai Brith act in a way that can undermine high-profile people's reputations by making an unfounded case against those it says are anti-Israel. Others have expressed views that B'nai Brith has labelled as anti-Semitic, xenophobic, intolerant, and so on.
Anyone who has read Coulon's columns, whether they agree with him or not, would need a very fertile imagination to brand his opinions as anti-Israel.
Last June, B'nai Brith also went after Serge Chapleau, La Presse's brilliant cartoonist. It called his cartoon of Mario Dumont dressed as a Hasid "grossly offensive" and a reminder of "the worst anti-Semitic ravings." To call this accusation false is an understatement.
In December 2000, Yves Michaud also got a taste of B'nai Brith's medicine. Saying that he had peppered an interview to CKAC with "insults against Jews," it also asked then-Premier Lucien Bouchard to dump him as a potential Parti Qu?b?cois candidate for the riding of Mercier.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Two days later, the National Assembly adopted unanimously a shameful motion of censure against Michaud. Bouchard resigned on Jan. 11, jumping at the chance to dump the PQ and present himself as a paragon of tolerance against what he now saw as his party's xenophobic tendencies.
In its press release applauding Bouchard for fighting the PQ's "sectarian and intolerant" attitude, B'nai Brith referred to Michaud's "manifestations of xenophobia and intolerance."
To be sure, B'nai Brith has the freedom of expression. If it disagrees with some of Coulon's views, it can debate with him. But freedom of expression also carries the notion of responsibility.
Is it responsible to keep making these kinds of accusations without firm evidence or to try to keep honest citizens out of politics by calling on their leaders to axe them?
It not only risks hurting reputations needlessly - and a reputation is a precious thing in life. It can also have dire impact on careers. This is not a game. This is serious stuff. When B'nai Brith publishes its annual report on anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, it names people, sometimes with no reason, including respected journalists, without weighing the possible consequences.
When it does this, B'nai Brith also helps trivialize the real thing. Words have meaning. Being anti-Israel means something, so does being xenophobic, anti-Semitic, intolerant or racist.
By crying wolf, using such grave words when they're not warranted, we risk missing the real thing when it does rear its ugly head.
B'nai Brith is too quick to brand people as anti-Israel
Rights organization is guilty of overkill and risks undermining its own mission