Amplifying Israel lobby style attacks dangerous for the left

National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa

Canada’s preeminent left-wing publication has found itself on the same side as Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, B’nai B’rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). This doesn’t bode well for Palestine solidarity and the left’s ability to withstand being ‘Corbynized’.

Recently the Ottawa Citizen published Royal Military College professor Lubomyr Luciuk’s ruminations on an official Holocaust memorial headlined “Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument must include Ukrainians”. Read most charitably, the prominent right wing Ukrainian–Canadian nationalist’s commentary seeks to broaden public understanding of the scope of Nazi crimes. Read at its worst, the commentary downplays Jewish suffering in a bid to absolve Ukrainian nationalists for slaughtering Jews and Poles during World War II.

Amidst the rehabilitation of Ukrainian neo-Nazis that’s been part of NATO’s proxy war with Russia, it’s important to challenge Luciuk’s ideology, as I’ve done. But not by bolstering anti-Palestinian and anti-left ideological forces, which is what Jeremy Appel did in his Canadian Dimension critique.

Appel began his response to Luciuk by proclaiming “On the second night of Hanukkah, the Postmedia-owned Ottawa Citizen published a crude piece of gross Holocaust revisionism from a Ukrainian nationalist academic.” The column almost certainly had nothing to do with the “second night of Hanukkah” and linking it to the eight-day Festival of Lights is an emotionally manipulative way to centre Jewish victimhood. It’s a common Israel lobby tactic.

Three weeks ago the Director of Education at Neil Orlowsky claimed a protest in Toronto against settler colonial Israeli NGO Regavim was antisemitic partly on the grounds it took place “on Shabbat” (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) and the head of the Jewish National Fund announced he wouldn’t speak to a Green Party resolution critical of his racist organization because it was initially planned for the Saturday of the party’s weekend convention (once raised the Greens were willing to shift the schedule). Maybe the most egregious example of an Israel lobby group playing victim by linking their criticism to an emotionally charged date was B’nai B’rith publicizing their attack against the 2012 Québec student strike on what would have been Anne Frank’s birthday. With the chant “S-S PVM, police politique!” student protesters often denounced police repression by comparing the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) to the Nazi SS secret police, prompting B’nai B’rith to condemn protesters on the Nazi victim and child author’s 83rd birthday. Leftists should abhor these tactics.

More substantially, Appel is defending a Holocaust Monument instigated by Conservative MP Tim Uppal. The Stephen Harper acolyte decided to push for the monument after a Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee sponsored trip to Israel’s Yad Vashem in 2010. At about the same time Uppal spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and sponsored a House of Commons resolution condemning Israeli Apartheid Week, which social justice activists organized on many university campuses.

The Holocaust Monument in Ottawa is part of what Norman Finkelstein has labeled the “Holocaust Industry”. When the monument opened in 2017 Ha’aretz columnist Amira Hass pointed this out in a column headlined “Redundant Monuments and the Contest of Victimhood”. The Israeli journalist wrote: “Why should Canada and Britain, two countries that were not conquered by Nazi Germany and which did not suffer its genocide policies, have to add another memorial to commemorate the murder of Europe’s Jews? Is it really because they refused to take in Jewish refugees in time and in numbers that would have enabled saving many, or because these countries have Jewish citizens who are survivors or children of survivors? Who needs another large-scale monument when the Holocaust is already commemorated and mentioned in the West more than any other dark period in history?

“Canada and Britain have obviously declared us Jews as winners in the prestigious contest of who is the greatest victim. But the really big winner is the State of Israel, which presents itself as the representative of the entire Jewish nation, past and present. While exploiting victims of the Holocaust, it refuses to part from its legacy of expropriation and expulsion of the Palestinians.”

In The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein argues that the US Jewish establishment has exploited the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for economic and political gain and to further the interests of Israel. Finkelstein shows how discussion of the Nazi Holocaust grew exponentially after the June 1967 Six Day war.

Prior to that war, which provided a decisive service to US geopolitical aims in the Middle East, the genocide of European Jewry was a topic largely relegated to private forums and among left-wing intellectuals. As I detail in my 2010 book Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid, the Nazi Holocaust was not widely discussed in Canada in the two decades after the Second World War. One study concluded that between 1945 and 1960 Canadian Jewry exhibited “collective amnesia” regarding the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. “B’nai B’rith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress displayed little interest [in discussing Nazi crimes] immediately after the war,” wrote Professor Henry Srebrnik in the Jewish Tribune. When a National Jewish Black Book Committee (with Albert Einstein as honorary chair) published The Black Book: The Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People in 1946, Srebrnik continues, “the book went almost unnoticed in Canada. Valia Hirsch, the executive secretary of the [National Jewish Black Book] committee, voiced her concerns that no meetings had been held in the Jewish communities of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, or Hamilton, to bring it to the attention of the Jewish community. The Canadian Jewish Congress had ordered 100 copies of the book in the summer of 1946, but had never bothered, according to Hirsch, to obtain them from Canada Customs. The CJC indicated a year later that they were no longer interested and ‘cannot use them.’”

Numerous commentators trace the establishment Jewish community’s interest in Nazi crimes to the Six Day War. Holocaust memorials proliferated after Israel smashed Egyptian-led pan-Arabism in six days of fighting, providing a decisive service to US geopolitical aims. Nearly three decades after the Second World War, in 1972, the Canadian Jewish Congress and its local federations began to establish standing committees on the Nazi Holocaust. The first Canadian Holocaust memorial was established in Montreal in 1977.

Since Finkelstein published his book in 2000 commemorations of Nazi crimes against European Jewry have grown multifold. Two months ago, for instance, the Doug Ford government mandated that all Grade 6 students in Ontario had to learn about the Nazi Holocaust.

There are various angles by which to consider the Holocaust Monument and Appel’s angry reaction. The first way is to look at Nazi crimes. A majority of Canadian adults likely know six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis, but I’d bet not even 1 in 10 know nearly 20 million Slavs were killed (fewer still know 20 million Chinese were killed in World War II). While not all these deaths occurred the same way, leftists shouldn’t be seeking to further entrench a narrow, exclusivist, understanding of Nazi violence. Even from the standpoint of challenging NATO’s proxy war with Russia, it’s a poor tactic. The current rehabilitation of Ukrainian neo-Nazis to fight Russia has a parallel with the European/North American elite’s pre-war dalliance with Hitler because of his dislike of Russia/communism. That ended badly.

(The Canadian Jewish News lists the leftist Appel as one of its three “Reporting Contributors”. In that anti-Palestinian publication last month Appel wrote about a $25 million donation the federal government made to the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, which is operated by the Jewish Federation of Vancouver. The Jewish Federation of Vancouver channels millions of dollars to projects in Israel and leading apartheid lobby group “CIJA is the advocacy agent of Jewish Federations across Canada.” Appel’s article about the federal government funding the JCC framed it positively, ignoring how the influx of public money would bolster a decidedly anti-Palestinian and anti-left organization.)

Amira Hass pointed out another way to look at the Holocaust Monument. In her 2017 column she noted that “out of the 30 official monuments in Ottawa, there is only one devoted to First Nations, and even that one commemorates only the war veterans among them.” Ottawa prefers to memorialize the Nazi murder of European Jewry over Canada’s genocide of First Nations.

The left should tread carefully when bolstering decidedly anti-left forces. The Israel lobby regularly references the Nazis to attack Palestine solidarity. In fact, the apartheid lobby is obsessed with pressing institutions and governments to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. That IHRA definition was used to undermine eco-socialist British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin. For their part, the established Canadian Jewish organizations have repeatedly cried “antisemitism”/Holocaust desecration to attack non-Palestine focused progressive movements. As mentioned above, during the remarkable 2012 student strike in Quebec, B’nai B’rith “condemned” protesters’ purported “display of hate …that has outraged the Jewish community.” In 2016, the Canadian Jewish News reacted strongly after delegates at the NDP convention supported the leftish Leap Manifesto. They published an editorial and front-page story expressing concern about the growth of the left within the party. During her 2017 NDP leadership bid, B’nai B’rith used the decimation of European Jewry to attack leftist MP Niki Ashton and in 2021 CIJA attacked the left wing of the NDP when Ashton organized a fundraiser for the Progressive International with Corbyn. Recently CIJA put out an action alert headlined “Jagmeet Singh: Your Middle East Policy is Dangerous for Jews” while also attacking leftist Ontario MPP Joel Harden.

One of the main points of attack against any eco-socialist, internationalist, politician/movement that might gain steam in Canada will be to label it antisemitic and link it to the Nazi’s destruction of European Jewry. What’s the plan to deal with these inevitable attacks?

It’s certainly not for Canada’s preeminent left media outlet to publish a defence of a monument promoted by the Israel lobby with manipulative claims about the “second day of Hanukkah”.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, B’nai B’rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs all criticized Luciuk’s column and the Ottawa Citizen published a counter op-ed and letters.

Canadian Dimension shouldn’t amplify ideologies and forces used against Palestinians and the left.

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