Circus At The Levant

“Being a Jew isn’t like being Black or being gay or being a woman, or even Israeli where many Jews come from. Being a Jew is a choice, like being a Blood or Crip.

Jews are the medieval prototype of the Occupy Wall Street movement; a shiftless group of hobo’s that doesn’t believe in property rights for themselves – they’re nomads – or for others.  They rob people blind.

Jew is a culture synonymous with swindlers.  The phrase Jew and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb.  He ‘jewed’ me.

Well the Jews have ‘jewed’ us.

This scourge has come to Canada as false refugees, here to jew us again, to rob us blind, as they have done in the Middle East for centuries.”

In September 2012, the star of a Canada’s “most controversial news channel” took to the air, refused to be cowed by those who’d surely “blow (their) hate crime whistle,” and proudly read what is arguably the most racist, offensive monologue the news channel has aired to date.

And for a network whose very existence depends on fomented outrage, that’s saying something.

Impossible, you might think. Surely if any network, particularly one billing itself as “Canada’s home for hard news and straight talk,” aired such a repulsive screed, Canadians, who’d never stand for such intolerance, would be up in arms, calling for the censure of the network; the termination of the news personality in question.

Or at least, being Canadian and all, would politely request an apology.

Indeed, you’d be right. The excerpt seen above has been altered ever-so-slightly: The word Gypsy replaced with Jew; gypped with jewed; Europe with Middle East.

Are you still repulsed?

The network in question, Sun News, and the personality, Ezra Levant, certainly had no qualms about what aired.

In fact, it wasn’t until Kory Teneycke, former spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and current Vice President of Sun News, was pleading to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for his networks’ inclusion in basic cable packages across the country – a full six months after the segment aired – that Levant expressed any reservations about that episode, prompting a surprise on-air apology, followed by a farcical you’ve-been-a-naughty-boy! finger-wagging from Teneycke for good measure.

Should you think the apology was at all sincere and unrelated to Sun News’ application to the CBSC, consider that shortly after the original broadcast, a joint op-ed from three respected, influential Jewish figures – former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber,  Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger, and president of Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee Avrum Rosensweig – appeared in the National Post, condemning Levant’s “contemptible screed;” Noting that, just as the Jews were targeted during the Holocaust, so too were the Roma.

“There is even a Roma proverb that speaks of Jews and Roma trudging to the gas chambers together,” wrote Farber et al. “Andje jekh than hamisajlo amaro vushar ande’l bova: ‘Our ashes are mingled in the ovens’.”

What was Levant’s response to Farber, a man Levant has never shied away from sparring in the past? Absolute silence.

Though, after the apology, Levant was back to lobbing insults, calling Farber a “self-hating Jew,” a “censor and a liar”, and “too stupid to really be Jewish.”

You see, Levant likes to style himself the ultimate defender of all things Jewish; the decider of who qualifies as a ‘real’ Jew, the exposer of traitors and pretenders, labeling anyone who dares cross him, a “jew-hater.”

And, as evidenced by his attacks on Farber, not even fellow Jews are safe from Levant’s  nonsense.

In 2010, Levant penned an atrocious, ripped-from-the-furthest-corners-of-the-conservative-conspiratorial-blogosphere column for The Sun chain of papers titled Moral Hollowness At Work in which he, in great detail, slandered philanthropist Geroge Soros – a favorite boogyman of the American far right fringe – alleging, among other things, that Soros, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust, was secretly a “Nazi collaborator (who) turned on other Jews to spare himself.”

After Soros threatened both Levant and Sun Media with a hefty lawsuit, both a retraction and apology were issued, reading, in part:

“A column by Ezra Levant contained false statements about George Soros and his conduct as a young teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary. The management of Sun Media wishes to state that there is no basis for the statements in the column and they should not have been made.”

This is what Levant does: He deliberately mischaracterizes, misconstrues, and misrepresents – and often entirely fabricates – facts to suit his narrative.

His most recent misreporting stems from a confrontation that erupted between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at a rally in Calgary on July 18th; a gathering initially meant to express solidarity with the people of Gaza.

To hear Levant tell it, “Pro-Hamas thugs … took over the streets of Calgary,” streets where “Arab extremists (chase) Jews and Gentiles;” where “Queen Elizabeth’s laws don’t rule … Sharia law does.”

It was “a throwback to anti-Semitic ground troops of Germany in the 1930s!” That’s right. An otherwise uneventful rally, according to Levant, could have been mistaken for Hitler’s Brownshirts carrying out street violence against Jews.

How on earth could Calgary, in a few short minutes, have transformed from a beacon of tolerance to a scene straight out of Gaza and/or Nazi Germany?

First at fault: Nenshi.

Apparently Levant learned nothing from his previous attempt to smear Calgary’s Mayor: His campaign to paint Nenshi as an intolerant Muslim who targeted Christians was so mind-numbingly absurd that even The Calgary Sun refused to climb aboard.

Still, on Twitter, Levant recycled the accusations against the Mayor, claiming Nenshi ‘harassed’ the noble Artur Pawlowski — Canada’s own Westboro Baptist preacher: a rank homophobe who claimed the historic floods of 2013 were a result, in part, of God’s “weeping for the perversions of homosexuality;” who protested this summer’s World Pride in Toronto with a giant “Satan Loves Fags” banner — yet hadn’t condemned the “violent Arab thugs.”

On air, Levant called Nenshi “a disgrace,” a man who “never shuts up about anything” but “hasn’t said a word” about July 18th.

In truth, however, Nenshi, who announced on July 15 that he was off to a family wedding, wasn’t even in Calgary in the days leading up to, during, or following the rally. And upon his return, he did, in fact, speak on the issue.

Of course, had Levant acknowledged either of these things, he wouldn’t have been able to rally his troops to spend days hurling slurs and accusations at the Mayor on Levant’s behalf.

Second at fault: The Calgary Police.

Granted, CPS’ approach, or lack thereof, at the rally was bungled from the get-go, and the police admitted as much. However, Levant’s assertions of political influence, calling the police liars, alleging bias, willful blindness, and a hand-off approach out of concern for maintaining diversity  is not just untrue, but grossly irresponsible.

Alas, responsible journalism is a lousy means of inciting backlash.

While there’s no excusing the violence that occurred at the July 18 rally, as the police rightly noted: both sides were at fault.  What transpired was the result of a small segment of agitators from both sides looking for a fight.

There’s a reason Levant failed to delve into the profiles of some of the Pro-Israel protesters as did those on the pro-Palestinian side: It would kill his narrative.

For example: Two of the pro-Israel demonstrators involved in the scuffle – including the man in the orange shirt featured in the ‘evidence’ photos Levant himself helped circulate – are well-known provocateurs Merle Terlesky and Jeff Willerton: a pair notorious for an altercation at Calgary’s 2006 Pride parade, where, waving “No Pride In Sodomy” signs and shouting homophobic slurs at marchers, Terlesky was punched to the ground.

But facts be damned, Levant’s got an axe in desperate need of grinding and persecutory delusions screaming for validation; So on Thurday, July 31, Levant will host his own rally, a “REAL Canadian” rally.

A “rally to take back Canadian streets from violent thugs!”

The successful, peaceful, pro-Israel rally which was held in the days following the contentious rally was an inadequate repudiation of the violence, it seems.

And not-at-all lucrative.

Just as freedom isn’t free, outrage doesn’t come cheap, and Lord knows Levant isn’t about to fund this traveling circus.

As Levant admits in his call to action/invitation to the rally/plea for donations: “This isn’t about Israel or Gaza at all.”

Indeed. This is about Levant; about feeding his ego and growing his brand, not to mention his bank account.


 

Ending The Stigma

This op-ed appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on January 28, 2014.

 

On Dec. 29, Christopher Peloso, the 40-year-old husband of former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman, was reported missing.

“Freedom from depression has been elusive for Christopher,” Smitherman tweeted on the eve of the 29th. “We fear for his safety.”

A followup tweet issued just hours later linked to a brief statement which confirmed that Peloso had been found dead, noting (the family) would “find comfort somehow in knowing that he has found peace from the depression that has wreaked havoc on his mind.”

At Peloso’s memorial, Smitherman eulogized his late husband, telling those assembled in the Toronto community centre he would “not be afraid, in Christopher’s name, to tell his story and to tell our story … A man took his life because the pain in his brain was unrelenting.”

Smitherman addressed those who might be dealing with depression: “If you’re holding something back and you bring it out into public life, it is the first step and it is cathartic and it is powerful.”

To that end, Peloso’s father, Reno, spoke of his son, noting “Chris suffered from depression and committed suicide and there is no shame in that.”

Not only was this a powerful message to send during a period of such personal grief, but it was a remarkable, and incredibly necessary, break from the norm; of glossing over the heart of the tragic situation; of speaking in euphemisms and dancing around the issue that caused so much pain, such unrelenting anguish, that the only reprieve Peloso thought he could find was through death.

Though Peloso’s loved ones were widely lauded for their openness in discussing his lifelong battle with depression, the notion that suicide be addressed so matter-of-factly proved disquieting for many. Some feared that accepting Peloso’s final act without judgment somehow glorified it, that failing to attach shame or scorn to the suicide essentially validated, or worse, encouraged it.

These widely held, though unfounded, concerns demonstrate why it was necessary for Peloso’s family to address his illness — including its end — so candidly: to break the stigma about what it is to live with, or die from, mental illness, so that others might find the courage to seek help for their own demons, or, for those who have lost love ones in a similar manner, to leave behind the guilt or sense of having failed the deceased.

And breaking the silence, erasing the stigma, is what Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign on Jan. 28 is all about.

One in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Yet a report from the Canadian Medical Association revealed that only half of Canadians would tell a friend if they had a family member with a mental illness, as compared to disclosing a family member’s diagnosis of cancer (72 per cent) or diabetes (68 per cent). But why is that? Like any ailment, mental illness manifests in a number of ways, and to varying degrees of severity. Not every cancer is treatable; broken bones don’t always heal correctly the first time. Some diabetics are able to manage through diet alone, while others require multiple shots of insulin, daily. That lack of understanding of what constitutes mental illness, especially when it presents as a chronic or severe condition, is what drives the stigma surrounding it. And the apprehension about openly discussing the more extreme cases of mental illness — those who self-harm, commit suicide, are plagued by intrusive, sometimes violent thoughts, are crippled by rituals or compulsions — only furthers the ignorance surrounding such conditions.

The same CMA report found nearly a third of Canadians reported being fearful of being around someone suffering from a mental illness; almost half believing people use the illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and fewer than half reporting a desire or willingness to associate with a friend who was diagnosed with a mental illness.

How terribly sad. It should be noted, however, that such beliefs aren’t because people want to exclude or isolate those suffering from a mental illness. Only recently have people begun to buck the societal norm of only speaking of mental illness in whispers, of “othering” those who suffer. In many cases, people want to better understand; they are genuinely interested in learning more about what it means to live with a mental illness, about the challenges faced not only by those diagnosed, but how their experiences, in turn, affect the lives of those around them.

The problem is, they are unsure of what, or how, to ask.

They don’t want to intrude, are afraid of offending. So they instead make assumptions, quietly draw their own conclusions.

Which then leads to misconceptions, feeds into the fear, and further perpetuates the stigma. This is why Bell’s Lets Talk campaign is so important: It provides a platform for a genuine conversation between those living with mental illness and those who’ve never experienced it. Those afraid to ask questions can follow as people share their stories of living with the disease, silently gaining a better understanding of what it means to have a mental illness. Many who suffer in silence find strength in seeing others talk openly about their own struggles and, in turn, find the courage to open up, and if they haven’t already, seek help.

The family of Christopher Peloso understood the value in having a candid dialogue about the illness that plagued him, and ultimately claimed his life. They were, in essence, doing exactly what the Let’s Talk campaign aims to accomplish on a larger scale: To end the stigma surrounding mental illness, talk openly and honestly about all aspects of the disease, foster a better understanding about life with mental illness, and to encourage those who are suffering to reach out.

There is no shame in having a mental illness, and there’s no weakness in seeking help.

And there’s no better time than now to talk about it. So Let’s Talk, Canada.

 

Poppy Wars

This op-ed appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on November 11, 2013

“Ottawa Students Don’t Care If ‘White Poppy’ Offends Veterans!” screamed the Sun News headline.

In what has become the annual stopgap war between the War On Halloween and War On Christmas, the Poppy War was again trotted out as a means of politicizing a day of Remembrance, of asserting some sort of self-ascribed conservative monopoly on supporting the military over the stereotypical “hippie, anti-war pacifists” on the left.

A quick scan through the comments on any of the multiple stories urging readers to get angry over the Rideau Institute’s White Poppy campaign demonstrates just how successful that call to arms was.

“I guess these pacifists would have preferred the world to stand peacefully by while Hitler gassed millions of Jewish people,” reads one comment. “I will personally call out, injure and defame ANYONE I see in public wearing a white one!” states another. And perhaps the least enlightening, but most telling comment (written, of course, in ALL CAPS): “NEVER WTF WHITE POPPIES CANT SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS WERE BECOME SOME COUNTRY THAT NEVER STANDS UP FOR WHAT OUR FOR FATHERS CREATED. COPS WEARING TURBINES IN ARE LEGIONS AND POLICE FORCE. STOP TRYING TO CHANGE ARE TRADITIONS YOU SHOULD BE DEPORTED.”

Sigh. So many errors, so little space.

The white poppy movement is nothing new; it was an idea born out of the U.K. in the 1930s as a way of remembering those killed in the line of duty, but with an added emphasis, in the view of the wearers, on a push for peace. What this idea has become, however, is a well-intentioned, though ultimately misguided, push to “refocus” our attention on Remembrance Day, to stop “celebrating and glorifying war” and instead to “remember for peace.”

The thing is, that’s precisely what Remembrance Day is for. When we don the Red Poppy, that enduring symbol of sacrifice captured so beautifully in John McRae’s poem In Flanders Fields, we don’t do so with the intention of marking the next year’s ceremony with an expanded list of soldiers to commemorate. We stand in solidarity with those who fought, or are still fighting, on our behalf. We mourn those who died in battle, acknowledge the survivors and express gratitude for every soldier’s service to our country. And we do so while reflecting on the brutality of war, pushing for a future free of conflict, where diplomacy is chosen over deployment.

Both poppy camps are essentially working toward a common cause: reflecting on past atrocities in the hopes of avoiding future conflict. However, as the two sides fight over whose approach is nobler, the very people whom they claim to support are squeezed out of the conversation.

Completely lost in this red versus white battle of egos is the plight our soldiers currently face right here at home.

Our soldiers, veterans, aren’t exactly concerned with the colour of poppy on your lapel; they’re too busy fighting the government — the very Conservatives who never pass up a photo op with those in uniform, who use their proclaimed support for the troops as an attack on the opposition — for the basic benefits and support to which they’re entitled.

Right now, soldiers wounded in Afghanistan are being delayed compensation as the federal Conservatives seek to overturn a B.C. Supreme Court decision permitting veterans to sue for their benefits.

Elsewhere, wounded soldiers are being discharged ahead of their time, disqualifying them from a military pension.Hundreds of jobs have been slashed at Veterans Affairs, leaving the most vulnerable of the veteran population without access to critical, front-line workers, destroying lives in the process.

The Last Post Fund, intended to provide impoverished veterans with a dignified burial, has rejected over two-thirds of applications received since 2006 — 67 per cent of veterans’ families have been turned down. When a non-partisan motion was presented in Parliament to improve the fund’s eligibility requirements, it was voted down by the Conservatives.

As Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino takes to the radio to compare himself, an ex-police officer, to soldiers who’ve served “in the trenches,” veterans who actually served on the front lines are gagged.

Wounded soldiers are being made to sign agreements stating they will not criticize their senior officers or air their grievances on social media. That’s right: those who fought for our freedoms are having their own curtailed, lest what they have to say reflect poorly on the military or the government.

And heaven forbid the public find out they’ve been calling for Fantino to be removed from his position.

Rather than fighting each other over the colour of a symbol of remembrance, those in the trenches of the Poppy Wars would do well to direct their energy toward fighting for a better future for our veterans.

Our soldiers need more than a single day of remembrance; more than a “moment of silence” for their service. They need a government that pays them more than lip service and a public whose support goes beyond chest-thumping patriotism.

Lord knows they’ve earned it.