Should Clayton Ruby be considered a left hero?

Clayton Ruby came to my attention in 2002 when I was a vice president in the Concordia Student Union. With two other self-declared leftists, Ruby penned a Globe and Mail commentary condemning our internationalist, feminist and anti-capitalist minded union. In “No more double standard” he viciously attacked the UN campaign to compensate for racial slavery and the anticorporate globalization movement in a sort of precursor to the smears faced by British labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The op-ed read:

The singularity of focus on Israel, which is increasingly common within the Canadian left (for example, equating Israel with apartheid South Africa), raises our fears that anti-Semitism has emerged as a powerful force in the polemic.

The infamous non-governmental organization forum at the UN World Conference Against Racism held in Durban last year produced a climax of international hostility to Israel. Hatred rained down on Jewish delegates, and anti-Semites didn’t even refer to the differentiation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which in the past provided them with moral cover.

The forum established a new permissiveness for anti-Jewish expression, whether on the streets at antiglobalization demonstrations, at polite social functions or in college classrooms. In Canada, ‘Death to the Jews’ has now been chanted at Palestinian-organized protests and coins have been tossed at Jewish students, raising the old canard of Jewish usury. Just this week, the Concordia University Student Union moved to freeze the budget of the campus chapter of Hillel, the international Jewish student group, and suspended its right to set up campus information tables.

Meanwhile, a vocal part of the Canadian left has persisted in making the artificial distinction between Israel and Zionism, on one hand, and Jewish identity on the other. For the vast majority of Jews — leftists and others — Israel, Jews, Zionism and Judaism are inextricably bound and not so conveniently separable by terminological sleight of hand. The Jewishness of Israel is central, not irrelevant, to the debate on the Mideast.

A balanced analysis of the Middle East should be based on universally accepted, measurable standards of conduct. Israel should be held accountable, but no more accountable than other nations, including Palestine. …

We reject any allegation that our historical and moral responsibility to speak out against the demonization of Israel represents an attempt to censor critics of Israel. It is the refusal to consider the anti-Semitism present in the Middle East debate that represents the most dangerous form of political prohibition.

Not just Jewish leftists, but all leftists, have a right and obligation to denounce anti-Semitism wherever and whenever they see it. That includes the debate about Israel and Palestine. We reject as anti-Semitic the shameful double standard applied to the only Jewish state.

Ruby didn’t simply express anti-Palestinian views – as he did on many other occasions – he employed his progressive credentials to smear the left in the pages of Canada’s establishment newspaper. If it was a genuine conversation with the left, wouldn’t you publish it in Canadian Dimension or Rabble? Apparently, the op-ed was organized by anti-Palestinian Canadian Jewish Congress leader Bernie Farber.

The right would subsequently cite the op-ed to attack the left. Four years later the Globe and Mail editorial board (“CUPE and Israel”) quoted Ruby’s op-ed to attack the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario) after it passed a resolution in support of the Palestinian civil society’s BDS movement.

Ruby never apologized for his smear of the left or anti-Palestinian positions. But when Ruby died left media and commentators simply ignored his anti-Palestinian, anti-left, diatribe. Former left NDP MP Svend Robinson set the tone with a widely shared and cited tweet as well as interviews and an article in Canadian Dimension. (Rick Salutin, to his credit, referenced his long-time friend’s anti-Palestinian views in his Toronto Star column on Ruby.)

But the apartheid lobby wasn’t silent about Ruby’s support for Israel. Giddy with the progressive glow swirling around Ruby, a week after his death the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) tweeted out Ruby’s Globe and Mail op-ed, noting “deeply saddened by the loss of Clayton Ruby, a champion for justice who co-authored this prescient op-ed in ’02. The phenomenon he warned of has now unfortunately embedded itself in the public discourse to the shame and detriment of progressivism.”

The pro-apartheid chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network Bernie Farber quote tweeted CIJA, noting “Grateful to read this important tribute to a Canadian Jewish hero. Honoured to have played a professional role in the development of the linked op-ed.” Farber tagged staunch anti-Palestinian activist Irwin Cotler who praised Ruby in his Globe and Mail obituary. He also tagged the country’s leading apartheid organization United Jewish Appeal Toronto, which is launching its annual fundraising campaign next month with a conversation between former US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Clayton Ruby was a rare example of a lawyer from a well-to-do background who put his skills at the service of many important progressive causes. He was rightly praised for that. But along with the good came the bad and the ugly. We should not ignore his smear against the left and anti-Palestinian positions.

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