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Bonnie K. Goodman
Historian, Librarian, and Journalist

News media allows antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the name of free speech

Yesterday morning, October 9, 2023, two days after Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel, I was shocked as I listened to my local radio station, CJAD 800, in Montreal, Canada. They had a pro-Palestinian academic on air interviewed by morning show replacement host Ken Connors. Outraged, I called up the station, but they refused to let anyone speak on air about the attacks on Israel. Instead, I found the following program with another replacement host, David Heurtel, a former Member of the Quebec National Party and Cabinet minister under a Liberal Party government. The host spent most of the three hours dividing the time between pure antisemitic and anti-Zionist hate by spouting a Palestinian pity party; a listener would think that the Palestinians were attacked, not vice versa. The pro-Israel guests included two community leaders. As forceful as they tried, they were tame and refused to criticize the Palestinians as much as the anti-Israel guests did. Stuck in the middle was the token anti-Israel Jewish guest whose rhetoric rivaled the pro-Palestinian Arab guest, giving the illusion that the line-up was not antisemitic.

Our radio station, which claims to be against discrimination, spent the whole morning lineup allowing antisemitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, all in defense of free speech. The radio programming came after protests in the major Canadian cities of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver on Sunday supporting the Palestinians, which mocked and celebrated the unprecedented tragedy in Israel. The call for the protest, “Montreal: All Out for Palestine,” was even more antisemitic; it was posted all over social media, making us wonder what kind of city we live in that tolerates and celebrates such hate.

The protest was held at Dorchester Square downtown before marching to the Israeli Consulate in Westmount. The protesters chanted, “Palestine will be free.” “Disturbing images” have been posted from the protests; however, Canadian media coverage is weak, mostly glossing over the hate speech on Canadian soil, making it seem peaceful. The massacre and carnage against Israeli citizens are the worst we have seen since the Holocaust. The attacks are being called Israel 9/11; however, we never would have allowed Al-Qaida’s point of view of any defense on any media outlets in 2001, so why is demonizing the victims permitted when it happens to Israel? Why are we living in this double standard?

As I walked into my kitchen, where I have the radio non-stop with our local English-language talk radio station, I heard the start of an unbelievable interview. Connors was interviewing retired Universite de Quebec Montreal professor Rachad Antonius. Antonius taught in the sociology department; his area of research is discrimination against Muslims, and he just published a book, “Islam et islamisme en Occident Éléments pour un dialogue.” Antonius started his interview by blaming Israel for the attack because Israel occupied the West Bank. The way he talked made it sound that the Palestinians were the victims rather than Israel.

I did not even listen to the rest of the interview before trying to call the producer; there was no answer, so I called the newsroom. The weekend and holiday reporter just brushed me off and told me to send an email when I said to him that allowing anti-Zionist speakers on a mainstream radio station could incite antisemitism because if they allow such rhetoric, they are giving a stamp of approval to radical listeners that it is speaking hate is acceptable. I tried to get on the caller segment of the next show but was left on the line while another caller was refused on air to comment on the attack. Was it acceptable to stifle free speech in these cases?

At the time of this writing, the Times of Israel, where I blog, reported over 900 Israeli deaths, over 2700 injured, and over 130 hostages taken to Gaza, with rockets flying into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Additionally, over 250 youths were killed at an outside rave, massacred, women raped, and the dead mutilated, as Rabbi Reuben Poupko, the rabbi at local Modern Orthodox synagogue Congregation Beth Israel and Beth Aaron, noted in his interview, it was “medieval barbarism.” The radio station broadcasts seem even more outrageous after, later in the day, news that one of their own in Montreal, Alexandre Look, 33, died at the Tribe of Nova electronic music festival; he was trying to save others and fend off the attackers. The concert in the south of Israel was the site of one of the worst of Hamas’ massacres on Israel’s civilians, with 260 dead.

I decided to listen to the rest of the three-hour program, where they pitted Jewish communal leaders and a commentator against the anti-Zionist pro-Palestinian rhetoric that sounded more like hate speech, surprising from a radio station that never leaves a caller on the line if they find they say anything outside the norm of politically correct. And all the host could ever muster to counter this hate speech by repeatedly commenting in different ways that an attack in Israel is “unprecedented violence attacking civilians, which is shocking.”

The host had two anti-Israel guests; the first was Abrahan Weizfeld, who has a doctorate in political science from UQAM and is the author of The Federation of Palestinian and Hebrew Nations and the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Citizens. Weizfeld is a radical with minimal social media following; he ran an independent political campaign and lost. Surprisingly, a radio station would book a guest between his media irrelevance and extremist views; they only chose him as the token Jew against Israel in the attacks, justifying the rest of the antisemitic guests. Weizfeld is a child of Holocaust survivors; he lives in Montreal and Nablus, Palestine. Weizfeld describes himself as a Jewish bundist heading a bundist organization against Zionism. Weizfeld did not believe Israel should exist; instead, he thought that Jews should assimilate.

Weizfeld’s rhetoric was even more anti-Zionist than some other pro-Palestinian guests. He blamed Israel for not recognizing Palestinian independence and claimed Israel was unsuccessful in integrating into their homeland. Weizfeld questioned Israel’s political strategy and said Netanyahu does not speak for the Jewish world. Instead, he called Israel “a white supremacist government against Palestinians, looking to have domination on Oriental Palestinians and Arab Jews,” which he called the “lower class of the lower class.” Weizfeld declared that the “Zionist government is not representative of the Jewish people but rather represents white protestants.” He called “Hamas a government” and blamed Israel and Netanyahu for “not calling a cease-fire.”

The host then spoke to Ehad Letiaff of the Canadian Boat to Gaza for another Palestinian perspective; I could not even find information about the guest, and I am not sure I had the correct spelling of his name. However, I learned about the initiative, a freedom flotilla trying to break the blockade in Gaza. Letiaff blamed Israel for the attack; he said, “Israel was inhumanizing Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.” He accused Israel of thinking the Palestinian problem would “go away by military control,” but it is “blowing up.” He called on Israel to “give Palestinans lives worthy of human beings, equal rights, and not an occupation.” He called “Gaza an open-air prison” and Israel “going into occupation, treating Palestinians as second-class citizens.”

He justified the attacks: “War begets war.” He called the Palestinians’ actions “defense,” condemning what Israel was doing as a “bombardment.” He compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Canada’s of “indigenous people,” arguing they deserve “equal rights and dignity.” He called the world “silent bystanders,” who are “guilty,” and he called on “Canadians to be proactive.” Letiaff made the token comment to show he is not antisemitic after his antisemitic rant, saying he has Israeli friends. Then he came back blaming Israel, the majority of Israelis, and the government, saying they are “bombing Palestinians to smithereens,” and “slaughtering Palestinian civilians.”

When the host asked him about the Montreal Palestinian Protest, Letiaff justified the protest and its disturbing images that celebrated the attack on Israel. He explained the objections because of a “long history of anger,” accusing Israel of “targeting civilians.” Letiaff admitted he participated in the Montreal protest and had the nerve to say on the radio, “Finally, we have done something that has been done to us in generations.” He called the Israelis terrorists, saying, “You can’t name one terrorist, not the other,” because Israel uses the “excuse of wearing Army fatigue, so not terrorists.” Almost as shocking as the fact that the radio station gave the Palestinian advocate ten minutes to spew antisemitism but that the host ended the interview by thanking him for his comprehensive way,” he explained his side.

We often ask why the Palestinians are winning the public relations war against Israel, and the interviews by the Jewish communal leaders may be why. We are too soft and polite; we are not going for it all as the Palestinian advocates are; instead, we as Jews are, as we have always been historically scared to offend, that we will lose the support of the non-Jewish leaders. Rabbi Poupko put it best: “Intense criticism of Israel emboldens Palestinian terrorists, giving them the right to perpetuate this terrorism.” What could be added is that the media, universities, and organizations that give them a platform encourage their supporters to attack Jews with harassment in the Diaspora.

Jonathan Kalles, a lawyer, political consultant, and commentator, who also graduated from my high school Herzliah High School, gave a pro-Israel political perspective, who discussed the lukewarm condemnations and responses to the attacks from local and provincial politicians. Among them Quebec Solidaire leader, Gabriel Nadeau de Bois, who did not condemn the attacks, Mayor of Montreal Valerie Plante initially “weak statement,” and then city counselor, Araf Salem, who has remained quiet on the attacks, but retweeted a post “criticizing Netanyahu.”

Jonathan Kalles, a lawyer, political consultant, and commentator who also graduated from my high school, Herzliah High School, gave a pro-Israel political perspective, discussing the lukewarm condemnations and responses to the attacks from local and provincial politicians. Among them are Quebec Solidaire leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who did not condemn the attacks; Mayor of Montreal Valerie Plante, who initially made a “weak statement,” and then city counselor Araf Salem, who has remained quiet on the episodes but retweeted a post “criticizing Netanyahu.”

Eta Yudin, the Vice President of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA Quebec), called what happened an “unprecedented attack” that “shocked and was sickening,” “horribly barbaric,” and “9/11 three or four times over.” No other response than “total war” is appropriate. Hamas is continuing the “cycle of violence,” and the “spiraling conflict” will have worldwide repercussions.” Yudin made it clear that “this is a war” since children, elderly Holocaust survivors, and teenagers at the rave in the desert were shot down. The protests “are not helpful,” since “candies handed out in Mississauga are not steps that will move to peace. Yudin called these “manifestations on our street sickening.”

When the host asked Yudin about the “Palestinian point of view,” she responded that they have to “put forward a Palestinian point of view that is different than Hamas” to have the “right to state versus existence.” Yudin finds they must have a viewpoint other than a “cycle of violence about a terrorist organization backed by Iran.” While “Hamas targeted citizens is not two sides of a coin,” neither is a “discussion of peace.” She called Hama’s actions “terrorism and war crimes” since they did not target soldiers; instead, they “invaded, attacked, and targeted defenseless civilians.” The host asked about peace during the Israeli government’s statement that “safety and security for its civilians” are of primary concern. Yudin responded, “Anything else is a conversation about the future.”

Unfortunately, as much as Yudin condemned the Palestinian attacks, neither she nor Rabbi Poupko addressed the airtime given to the pundits spouting antisemitism and anti-Zionism. We have never heard an anti-American perspective since 9/11. It would be unheard of. This seems to happen only with Israel; anti-zionism is given the right to freedom of speech. Even in the interviews, the host favored the pro-Palestinian perspective, proudly expressing that the station was giving both views. Universities, professors, and administrators also use the excuse of freedom of speech to justify pro-Palestinian groups harassing pro-Israel students on campus. The media going that far to justify giving hate speech a platform is a new low. The station is owned by the leading telecommunications company, which also runs one of the country’s two major English news stations. The station has an air of authority, and with the guests, it can be perceived that they sanction those positions that can encourage antisemitic attacks on the Jewish community.

Canada already has one of the highest numbers of antisemitic incidents. In the 2022 audit, Bnei Brith found nearly 2800 incidents last year. The number of incidents is down from 2021, when Israel last engaged in a war with Hamas, but not by much. Most of the incidents were online on social media, including harassment. Quebec usually has the highest rate, but the honor went to Ontario this year. Quebec has yet to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which includes anti-Zionism as part of antisemitism. Antisemitism is already increasing with these protests, and on Sunday, McGill University sent out an email worried about how the attack and war will affect the McGill community, and they are right. The student group, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR), urged fellow students to go to the protest. Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, worries that “we’re seeing protests celebrating that (attacks on civilians) in our own countries.”

In contrast, after there was an outpouring from the Jewish community. The attack might be the largest massacre of Jews and the worst tragedy for the Jewish world since the Holocaust. The support was mainly online on social media. Posts of support, reposting of Israeli news, images with messages of support, Facebook has a skin to add to one’s profile with an Israeli flag, and, of course, the numerous Twitter X posts from all the amateur Israel pundits. It is heartwarming to see this love towards Israel and sympathy towards the victims, the wounded, and their families. Most of them among my list barely comment about anything Jewish and never about Israel. Longtime and career Israel advocates ramped up their posts, but they put in the effort daily to fight the anti-Zionism that allows for an environment of such hate that an attack of this nature can happen to Israel.

However, the big question is, why do we only support Israel when there is an attack or a war? Why do we only speak about antisemitism when there is an attack on our fellow Jews? Most Jewish communities are high holiday Jews attending synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Still, we are also high holiday supporters of Israel, supporting Israel when there is a tragedy. It is not enough; we need this army of Israel advocates year-round to join the only regulars fighting anti-Zionism. The support in a time of trouble resembles the outpouring of support by American Jews during the Six-Day War, again when Diaspora Jews were not as supportive of Israel, often looking at the country as a nuisance they had to care for. Jewish communities are just starting to have rallies in support of Israel.

Just this evening, there was a vigil rally at the Federation CJA building in Montreal as the community mourns Look’s death; other rallies are being planned all over North America, including some virtual. We need to sustain support from the Jewish community for Israel. That is the only way to win the PR war as Israel fights its survival in the military battle. Unfortunately, we never keep the same level of support, but we need to do more. We need to keep the media, like our local radio station, in line and not give those who support terrorism and spew antisemitism the platform to increase their movement. They already outnumber us; we cannot give them a free pass like this. What we need to do in the Montreal Jewish community is make our station apologize to us for airing hatred. Free speech is never a reason to spread antisemitism and anti-Zionism, especially now; we would never tolerate such for any other minority; we need to demand no more double standards. There is no room for any hate because hate is what got us here in the first place.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a librarian, historian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies. Her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over 15 years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, and her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu where she is a top writer.
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