|AN UGLY INFECTION - ANTI-SEMITISM IS
NEVER INCIDENTIAL. IT IS ALWAYS INSIDIOUS.
The Gazette Sunday, December 15, 2002
|An ugly infection - Anti-Semitism is never incidental. It is always insidious. It is insidious because it's not just an action but also
Common sense has prevailed at a Montreal university, but that should lull no one into blissful ignorance about the ugliness
infecting campuses across North America.
The ugliness is anti-Semitism. Voices as learned and restrained as that of the president of Harvard University are warning of its virulent renewal in places of higher learning. "I have always ... been put off by those who heard the sound of breaking glass in
every insult ... and conjured up images of Hitler's Kristallnacht at any disagreement with Israel," Harvard's Lawrence Summers
said recently. "Such views have always seemed to me alarmist ... but while they still seem to me unwarranted, they seem rather
less alarmist in the world of today than they did a year ago."
What happened at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal last weekend gives Canadian context to Summers's cautionary note. In
the face of two anonymous threats, administrators cited security concerns as they prohibited Israeli journalist and professor
Gideon Kouts from speaking to the Jewish student group Hillel. After Montreal's Jewish community and others raised proper
hell, the university regained its nerve and stood up for freedom of speech. Kouts graciously - and puckishly - thanked UQAM
for generating publicity that increased his audience.
As The Gazette has written, UQAM officials were right to reverse their ban. Yet the initial, reflexive administrative silencing of Kouts remains deeply troubling, shaking us awake to the reality that anti-Semitism is never incidental. It is always insidious. It is insidious because it's not just an action but also a habit. As much as it is acts of insult or violence, it is even more the habit of
minds schooled to ignore clear patterns of hatred.
UQAM officials would doubtless protest - without question truthfully - that they haven't an anti-Semitic bone in their bodies.
And yet they evidently failed to discern the larger pattern: Kouts, after all, is not the only prominent Israeli recently prevented from speaking at a Montreal (read: Canadian) university. In September, glass-smashing thugs silenced former Israeli prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia.
Apologists quickly absolved the pro-Palestinian holligans responsible for the window breaking. Blame, they argued, belonged to Mr. Netanyahu for being so controversial. Concordia, they maintained, was at fault for letting such a controversial politician
speak. No violent controversy would have occurred, they insisted, had the university foreseen the security risk inherent in Mr. Netanyahu's appearance.
Mob violence, in other words, wasn't the fault of the violent mob. Responsibility, rather was placed on those who saw no reason for a mob or violence. Windows were smashed because the university failed to install glass strong enough to resist pounding fists.
Such insidious logic, once accepted, quickly replicates. Gideon Kouts is a journalist and professor, not a controversial politician. Yet he is also a Jew, invited to Montreal by a Jewish student organization. He is a Jew kicked out of Lebanon last fall for the
crime of being a Jew in Lebanon.
Two threatening phone calls later, he - not the callers - became a security risk. And so those who had silenced Mr. Netanyahu through violence needed no violence to stop - temporarily at least - a second Jew from speaking. Thus are habits of mind developed. Thus is the pattern of intolerance - notably anti-'Semitism - bred.
It is a pattern that finds repetition in the deplorable action of Concordia's Student Union in expelling Hillel, the Jewish student group, on the flimsiest of pretexts. The CSU-Hillel incident might be written off as a petty post-secondary shenanigan were it
not for the chilling, ugly reality that it meant Jewish voices being silenced on a Canadian university campus. History is witness to the evils that can spring from such silencing.
Lawrence Summers was correct that not every cross word between Jews and non-Jews is the start of a new Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. But we have heard glass breaking in the streets of Montreal. Our response must not be the silence of blissful ignorance.
|IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis