Some are too quick to paint Quebecers as anti-Semitic

We have a strong anti-war tradition here and sympathy for Palestinian cause

Politique étrangère et Militarisation du Canada

You would think the Mideast crisis would be enough to hold people's full attention. Some chose, instead, to use Sunday's anti-war protest in Montreal to paint Quebec as anti-Semitic and terrorist-friendly.
The phenomenon never ceases to amaze me. There are always some in this country who'll jump at any chance to label Quebec as racist. The bad news is that these intolerant statements are impossible to ignore.
The good news is their number has gone down. But it's impossible to ignore Barbara Kay's recent column in the National Post - [The Rise of Quebecistan->1510].
Calling the protest a "pro-terrorist rally," Kay feared Quebec could one day become the new "Londonistan" - a chilling reference, more so after yesterday's events, to young, homegrown, radical Muslims in London.
This, she says, stems from "reflexive anti-Americanism and a fat streak of anti-Semitism that has marked the intellectual discourse of Quebec throughout its history." This makes Quebec the "most anti-Israel of the provinces" and the "most vulnerable to tolerance for Islamist terrorist sympathizers."
Whether this reflects ignorance and/or intolerance is a mystery. But it does point to a larger problem: the tendency to see this complex issue through a black-and-white prism. For some, Israel is always right. For others, it's always wrong.
In this crisis, some see anyone who questions Israel's actions in Lebanon as anti-Israel and antiSemitic and to be pronounced guilty by association with the terrorist Hezbollah.
Of course, there are those who oppose Israel's actions because they want to see it wiped off the map. Those are anti-Semites and they can be found in any city, in any country.
There were some at the Montreal rally. Any protest against Israel's actions held anywhere will do that.
But there were 15,000 marchers. I watched the protest from St. Denis St. The pro-Hezbollah, mostly Arab marchers, were easy to identify with their cries of "Israel-terrorist" and some signs equating Israel to Hitler.
But most marchers I spoke with just wanted the civilian deaths and the destruction in Lebanon to stop. If Kay enjoys Quebec history, she might want to know there's a very strong pacifist tradition here.
Rightly or wrongly, most Quebecers are anti-war. Any war. As for the Middle East, like many Westerners, they do tend to see Israel more readily as the "aggressor," whether or not it is.
The reason is not anti-Semitism. It's the ongoing injustice that they believe Palestinians suffer for want of their own state alongside Israel. In most Western countries, this injustice colours the perception of any Mideast conflict.
Still, the crux of the issue is that support of Israel's right to exist and defend itself cannot preclude the questioning of its government's strategies in protecting that right.
The real question here is whether Israel's actions in Lebanon are going too far without achieving the legitimate goal of disarming Hezbollah. This is being debated in Canada, the United States, Europe, the UN and Israel itself. Why would Quebecers be labelled especially anti-Semitic for doing the same?
In yesterday's Jerusalem Post, an Israeli army colonel and a Meretz Party Knesset member warned against a major ground offensive: "This dreadful decision will be very grave in terms of unnecessary bloodshed." Is he anti-Israel? Of course not.
This week, I had dinner with a young, former Israeli soldier who was once stationed in Lebanon and Gaza. We had a free and respectful discussion. He was bright and extremely informative. We ended up agreeing on some things and not on others. Our mutual friend, who is also Jewish, disagreed with him as well on some issues.
We talked about the protest without anyone bringing up the "Quebec is anti-Semitic" refrain. I was the only one who felt that politicians should have stayed home, stated their position publicly elsewhere and let citizens and pressure groups march and express themselves freely.
We did what yesterday's Gazette editorial wisely advised. We kept our exchanges civil. And, I would add, pleasant.
Ad-hominen accusations of anti-Semitism against those who support Israel's right to exist, but oppose its government's current actions, do nothing to enhance the quality of democratic debate and inter-community relations here.
True anti-Semitism and terrorism are real enough in the world to waste any outrage by unjustly associating an entire otherwise peaceful and open people with it - in this case, francophone Quebecers.
Columnist misquoted columnist
_ The Montreal Gazette Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Letter - In her column Friday ("Some are too quick to paint Quebecers as anti-Semitic," Aug. 11), Josee Legault misquotes the words from my National Post column of Aug. 9, "The Rise of Quebecistan."

I did not say "a fat streak of anti-Semitism...has marked the intellectual discourse of Quebec..." I said "a fat streak of anti-Semitism...has marbled the intellectual discourse..."

Some people might find this a distinction without a difference. But in fact the first word suggests that anti-Semitism defines the discourse of Quebec intellectuals, whereas what I actually said suggests that intellectual discourse here is on the whole meaty and rich, but that it is marred by an unhealthy layer of "fat". A meaningful difference.

Barbara Kay
_ Montreal

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