Joshua Lieblein: Anti-Semitism from an anti-racist? How unusual.
For years, Jewish people have warned that anti-Zionism among leftists is bleeding into outright bigotry
By: Joshua Lieblein
Have you noticed that people are always surprised to discover avowedly anti-racist folks saying and doing anti-Semitic things? And when those so-called anti-racist folks are called out for straying into anti-Semitism, have you noticed that they tend to double down with protestations of violated freedom of speech? The minimizations and deflections? And, worst of all, the embarrassed silence and foot-dragging from those who have the power to do something about it?
It’s becoming quite the trend.
Of course, I mention it in light of the latest example, that of Laith Marouf, who was hired by the federal government for an anti-racism project, and received $133,000 for same. That is, until numerous anti-Semitic remarks on his social media account were brought to light. Comments like: "You know all those loud mouthed bags of human feces, aka the Jewish White Supremacists; when we liberate Palestine and they have to go back to where they come from, they will return to being low voiced bitches of [their] Christian/Secular White Supremacist Masters."
After several days of equivocation, the Liberals finally cut funding to Marouf’s project and suspended his work. The PM is promising a full review of how he got his funds. However, his comments and views are hardly unheard of, especially in purportedly “anti-racist” spaces.
In the specific case of Marouf, the problem goes deeper than a few hateful tweets. Here, too, there was a pattern of long-standing behaviour that — somehow! — was ignored. Here's a 20-year-old Globe and Mail article detailing Marouf's involvement in the infamous riot at Concordia University where former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak. Glass was smashed. Jews were assaulted and spit on.
For his part, Marouf jumped on the roof of a police vehicle and started hollering through a megaphone. The whole thing was documented by the National Film Board. Even though he had been expelled for spraying anti-Israel graffiti at Concordia, Marouf somehow found himself in charge of the university's TV station, until he was suspended after multiple complaints about his "dictatorial" management style. (And this is how he reportedly treats people who aren't even Zionists!)
At any rate, someone could have asked Mark Goldberg, who has exhaustively chronicled Laith Marouf's online and offline behaviour.
But nobody did.
Worse, Marouf’s example is hardly unique. While there is ample focus on the anti-Semitism running rampant in far-right spaces, we too often gloss over the same bigoted attitudes lurking behind progressive positions like anti-Zionism, and couched in “anti-racist” language. If you haven't noticed this pattern, let me assure you that for the Jewish community, it's very, very old news. We have enough recent and high-profile examples to suggest a form of race-blindness here.
Canada's Green Party nearly implodes last year for … well, a number of reasons, to be sure, but former leader Annamie Paul's pro-Israel leanings chief among them.
Federal NDP candidates Sidney Coles — another individual who made a living by anti-racism — and Dan Osborne are dropped during Election 2021 for various anti-Semitic online mumblings, including Holocaust-questioning and alleging that Israel was hoarding COVID-19 vaccines.
Former Mayor of Ajax Steve Parish supports naming a street after a Nazi boat captain in 2007. When a rabbi and a Holocaust survivor complain, Parish doubled down. When Parish ran for the NDP nomination, the media rediscovered the story, and he apologized and resigned.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and local Liberal MP Iqra Khalid show up at a fundraiser for a hospital. They are photographed with a sign right next to them that reads, "Palestinian Holocaust Made By The Zionists." Crombie and Khalid distance themselves from the sign once made aware of it — days later, of course.
This is all to say nothing of the microaggressions suffered by Jews in so-called anti-racist spaces, from school boards to the public service. Does anyone doubt that if this many incidents, in this short of a time period, were reported for any other minority group, that Canada’s leading leftists (and progressive institutions, including in the media) would be noting the “systemic pattern” here?
I’m not saying anti-racists ignore anti-Semitism entirely. They’re happy to rediscover it every time some white supremacist lunatic attacks a synagogue, or when it may be useful in stopping right-of-centre political efforts.
Further, of course criticism of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians can be a perfectly legitimate endeavour. However, considering many on the left champion the Palestinian cause, it follows that some progressives can find themselves wandering down a garden path in which anti-Zionism inevitably shades into straightforward anti-Semitism.
Some of it may be the result of unconscious bias of a type that we are all guilty of, as per modern anti-racism discourse. And some of this is, very clearly, outright bigotry that attempts to cloak itself in anti-racist discourse and theory. It is ironic that Jews, who have traditionally been considered non-white and outside the pale of mainstream society, are now, paradoxically, cast in the role of oppressors, and even the ultimate white supremacists.
To that end, what if “anti-racist” circles tolerate and even sometimes encourage rhetoric like Marouf’s, as part of the greater goal of opposing human rights abuses in Israel and expressing solidarity with Palestinians? I certainly hope this isn’t the case, because otherwise Marouf’s outbursts look less like the rantings of an extremist and more like the quiet part being shouted out loud (on the public’s dime). Usually, in situations like this, we are helpfully reminded that criticism of Israel, even anti-Zionism, is not anti-Semitism. But unless anti-racists do more to expose the anti-Semites who hide behind anti-racist language, that old saying just comes off as less and less believable.
Joshua Lieblein is the political affairs correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News.
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