David McGrath of Calgary wrote a poignant letter to the editor (National Post, Saturday, April 10, 2004) concerning racism in Canada.
In his letter, he mentioned me by name, as per how my position against the PQ (Quebec’s Separatist Parti Quebecois) elicited from one of their members a request to B’nai Brith to have me disavowed because of my political view(s).
Rightly; McGrath found it disturbing that my political views in terms of being accepted as an equal Canadian within Quebec should somehow be attached to my Jewishness.
Where McGrath was wrong, was that it wasn’t some obscure Parti Quebecois backbencher who made this request, but none other than Michel Gauthier, the leader (at that time) of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa. And it wasn’t B’nai Brith to whom Gauthier made this demand. It was to the Canadian Jewish Congress which purports to represent all Jews in Canada.
David McGrath was right in his analysis, but lacking in one very important detail.
While it is true that the various levels of government should have attacked the Bloc Quebecois and Michel Gauthier for this utterly stupid and racist (anti-Semitic) request, it is equally true that the Canadian Jewish Congress should have been the first off the block to come out swinging. They didn’t.
The best Jack Jedwab, the Quebec leader of the CJC at that time could say, was that it wasn’t up to him or the CJC to sanction Jews for their private opinions. Tough talk eh?
Had the Canadian Jewish Congress led the way instead of finding a mealy mouthed rebuttal to Michel Gauthier, a real message of intolerance to implied anti-Semitism would have been sent to all levels of government, and to those government leaders who couch their disdain for Jews.
It wasn’t the first or only time I was personally singled out for “special attention” in Quebec for being Jewish.
Huge mainstream Montreal daily newspapers such as La Presse and Journal de Montreal made frequent reference (even in their headlines) of me being an Anglo Juif (Jewish Anglo).
And even at that, there was no response from the Canadian Jewish Congress.
During a live French language television interview (one of many), the host asked me if I was anti-French, and perhaps a bit racist because I stood unconditionally for equal rights, and against Quebec’s language (cultural) policies. My response to him was simple:
“What would you think of me if I referred to Premier Lucien Bouchard as the Franco Catholic? Would that make me racist? How about if that’s the way the recognised English media within Quebec and throughout the rest of Canada referred to Quebec’s Premier?
If so; what does that say about Quebec’s mainstream French media which constantly refer to me as an Anglo Jew”? From the time of that interview, I never heard or read the Anglo Juif remark again. No thanks to the Canadian Jewish Congress.
The firebombing of the Talmud Torah on the eve of the first Passover Seder was a significant event, so significant in fact, that it begged an instant response from the many Canadian Jewish institutions, a response that never really came.
The mainstream Jewish groups were dutifully outraged, and made the appropriate remarks. But that was it.
However; as the news of the attack was becoming public, a good friend of mine, Henry Feldstain and I set out to raise money to put a reward on the heads of those responsible. It didn’t take us more than an hour to raise $5,000, and more than a day to raise $7,500, and more than two days to get pledges for much more if needed.
When I presented this to Syd Stevens of Sun Youth, he told me that we were the first (and only) Jews to put up money for a reward, and that he had already received $5,000 from a French Canadian woman who wanted to remain anonymous.
David McGrath was right about a dearth of real commitment from various levels of government to fight racism, specifically anti-Semitism, but so is the Canadian Jewish community.
As it was once so brilliantly said: If I do not stand for me. Who will stand for me?