Something that looks a lot like anti-Semitism is alive and well in Canada, and the past few weeks provided three examples of this unfortunate trend. First, the Ontario branch of CUPE, one of the country's largest labour unions, called for a total boycott of Israel. Then, a Toronto-based task force for the United Church, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, not only called for a boycott of Israeli goods, but also congratulated CUPE for its stand.
Meanwhile, in Montreal, a notorious anti-Semitic stand-up comic from France was enthusiastically applauded by large audiences, who apparently thought his nauseating tirades about Jews and the Holocaust were extremely funny.
Of course, CUPE and the United Church's anti-Israel activists will tell you that their positions are just about Israel's policies and have nothing to do with Jews. But the line between anti-Semitism and obsessive anti-Zionism is thin and blurry. It certainly is perfectly acceptable to criticize the state of Israel, but the practice can become anti-Semitic when only the Jewish state is singled out as a rogue state, in a world that contains so many horrible regimes.
And I would argue that it's anti-Semitic to call, as CUPE did, for an unconditional right of return of all Palestinian refugees, since such a massive demographic change would mean the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
Now to Dieudonné Mbala Mbala, the French comic who is banned from public TV and most theatres in his native country because of his virulent anti-Semitism -- something he too tries to disguise as support for Palestinians.
In one of his earlier sketches, he was dressed as an orthodox Jew who does the Nazi salute while shouting "Isra-Heil!" He says the Jews rule the world and doesn't exclude the possibility the AIDS virus was invented by Jews to decimate Africa. He says the slave trade was run by Jews -- who now "are recycled in the banking business." He is a great admirer of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man who wants the Jewish state wiped off the planet. While not denying the Holocaust, Dieudonné considers that the museums commemorating the genocide are akin to "memorial pornography."
In his last show, he has Bernard-Henri Levy, a French Jewish writer, telling a shopkeeper: "With six million dead behind me, couldn't you give me a better price?" Although his last show got bad reviews from the critics, Dieudonné remains a hit in Quebec, Last fall, he was treated as a star on Radio-Canada's flagship talk show, Tout le monde en parle. The host and the other guests in the studio commiserated with his plight at the hands of France's "Jewish lobby." They gullibly swallowed his explanation that all he does is criticize Israel. They rolled in laughter when Dieudonné described how he wanted to title a show that was supposed to be some sort of apology for his "Isra-Heil" remark: "My apologies, up your asses!" Radio-Canada liked Dieudonné's performance so much that they delayed the 11 o'clock news by 15 minutes so that the part with Dieudonné could be broadcast in its entirety. (Tout le monde en parle is recorded in advance and edited so that it can fit into a two-hour time slot.)
As a strong believer in freedom of speech, I don't think that Dieudonné should be prevented from airing his views, no more than I thought Ernst Zundel should have been prosecuted for denying the Holocaust. But such views should either be ignored or confronted. The scandal is that Radio-Canada offered Dieudonné a free ride, and that everybody in the studio wholeheartedly agreed with him.
Somehow, the popularity of comic shows in Quebec -- most of which are filled with profanities -- has reached a point where many people believe that one can laugh about anything and that nothing is sacred. A cultural columnist, puzzled by Dieudonné's success, suggests that Quebeckers may not be as concerned as the French by the Holocaust, since it happened in Europe. What a lame excuse! The Nazi genocide concerns every human being. And Canada, which refused entry to so many Jewish refugees who were desperately trying to escape their fate, should be especially concerned.