Anti-Social Media: When Mud is Thrown in All Directions

Nov. 23, 2020

By DAVE GORDON

If there was social media 3,000 years ago, Jews would have been bitterly divided over King David. The big scandal would be that he sent Uriah, husband of Batsheva, to purposefully die on the battlefield in order to take her as his own.

There would be a camp defending him: He’s a holy leader, the Messiah will come from him, he built Jerusalem! And a camp boiling with rage: He’s a misogynist, narcissist, evil, a murderer!

And it would fire from both ends; anyone who says otherwise is a traitor to our people. 

Surely we’re nodding, as though we’re reading a biting Onion satire serving as painful metaphor.

Something similar occurred lately to one of our community members, Rafi Yablonsky, who wrote about the blowback from his Facebook post congratulating Kamala Harris on her election as U.S. Vice-President. The epithets hurled at him were disgraceful – a shameful lack of civility and respectful discourse.

He should be – we all should be – rightfully outraged. 

With due respect to Rafi, whom I admire for his invaluable Jewish community service, I have an addendum. I believe he ought to have also chided his own side, even if in passing, so as not to give the impression such behaviours are limited to the right.

He complains there are Jews who are labeled “heretics” for not supporting Donald Trump, while I contend, at the same time, that it’s important to know there are Jews who are labeled heretics (and much worse) for supporting Trump.

He inadvertently provides evidence for this, in his “two kinds of Jews” theory:

“There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his [Trump’s] hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us.” 

So, one is either a Trump-supporting Jew who encourages hate in all its forms, or a morally upstanding anti-Trump Jew. This us/them black/white characterization is overly-simplistic, lacks crucial nuance, and implicitly paints “other” Jews as terrible people.

I have met scores of kind, good-hearted Jews who support Trump.

There are swaths of LGBTQ+, Latinos, Blacks and women who voted for him, too. Are they all hate-enablers?

No one can judge another’s character based simply on where their X is on their ballot. What I know about any given Trump voter is virtually nothing, because I do not have a looking glass into the heads of 73 million people. And neither does anyone else.

Here’s what some might find unbelievable. For every tweet, policy or malapropism that is perceived to be anti-woman, anti-minorities, or anti-LGBTQ+, there are Trump supporters who can explain a completely opposite perspective that they believe invalidates the accusation. And as we’ve undoubtedly heard, there are supporters who vote for policy over personality.

That doesn’t make them bad people. Misguided, perhaps. Uninformed, perhaps. Or, to their minds, wise. Whichever the case, they, like anyone, deserve to be treated with dignity.

So while Rafi is correct to reproach Trump-supporters who were disrespectful, it’s an error of omission to avoid mentioning the same issues that exist on the opposing end. 

I cannot count the number of times I have seen Trump and those who support him called Nazis, haters, and racists. This is especially true from the six “A’s:” activists, academia, athletes, artists, authors and anchors. The most recent example is CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who equated Trump with Nazis. Comparisons like these are being normalized; trivializing the Shoah by the day.

And to paraphrase Rafi, “there are Jews who ignore, or worse, laud and emulate this hatred.” I’ve seen Jews on social media compare Trump to Hitler, and compare his Jewish supporters to kapos, and not a peep – not even a “thumbs down” – from their friends. 

Just after the election, a prominent and respected member of our community stated on his Facebook wall that he believes Trump is “evil.” (What does that make Heinrich Himmler? “Super-evil?”) This individual also said Trump’s supporters are evil, and asked to be unfriended from anyone who supports the president.

By his reckoning, a person cannot simultaneously be a decent human being, and still think Trump may have accomplished some good (or at least, believe him better than the alternative). 

One must pass a “political purity test” even to be virtual friends with him.

How does unity, so vigorously preached, spring from such intolerance? 

So it’s clear: My political positions are complicated. I might be seen defending conservative positions online, but I also hold many classic liberal beliefs, and surprisingly, a couple of leftist ones.

I would sooner enjoy a dinner with a mensch with whom I differ than have so much as a l’chaim with a shmuck who votes like I do. 

This isn’t achieved through “othering,” which actually goes beyond just Trump, or Obama, or any politician. On social media, going as far back as the day I first signed in to Facebook in 2007, I saw disdain and derision in place of disagreement, on both sides. Particularly during election years. It got personal.

Obsessed as we are when Israel is demonized, and when Jews as a whole are dehumanized, somehow there’s no overlap in lesson when we do this to our fellow. 

In the early 20th century, author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about the French philosophe Voltaire, to whom the quote is often misattributed, famously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

The 21st century needs an updated version: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will admonish those who demean you for saying it.”


Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon’s writing has appeared in more than 100 media outlets around the world, including the National Post, Toronto Star, Washington Times, BBC, Montreal Gazette, and Baltimore Sun. His website is www.DaveGordonWrites.com 

Hamilton Jewish Book Fair, Holocaust Education Week Combine

Oct. 30, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Holocaust heroes and survivors. Mossad spies. Infamous Nazis. Wealthy Jews who once controlled Shanghai.

These and other inviting subjects are set to be explored at Hamilton’s Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week.

Usually separate events, the celebration of Jewish books and Shoah memorial has been combined into a series of online programs this year.

Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said that in the age of COVID, merging the events made sense.

“Instead of asking people to register separately for both events we’d do them together,” he told the CJR. “It’s also a chance for some of our young families to get familiar with Holocaust Education Week.

“We think it’s important for our young people to learn about that now and not wait for a teacher to bring it up in school,” he added.

“Everyone has a responsibility to talk about the Holocaust, not only in educational settings but conversations need to take place at home. It is shocking that a large number of young Canadians are unaware that over six million Jewish men, women and children were killed during the Holocaust.”

The plan for this year is to centre around nine books – five during book festival events Nov. 1-4 and four during Holocaust week, Nov. 8-12.

Leading off the book festival is Jonathan Kaufman presenting on his book The Last King of Shanghai. It chronicles the moral compromises, foresight and generosity of two extraordinary Jewish families – the Sassoons and the Kadoories – who ruled over Chinese business and politics for more than 175 years.

Both originally from Baghdad, they profited from the Opium Wars that tore China apart and then survived the communist takeover of the country.

Now the director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Kaufman spent 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

In an interview, Kaufman said the idea for the book was born in the late 1970s when, newly arrived in China, he began to see traces of a century of Jewish influence on the country.

In addition to being a story of wealth and power, Kaufman said the book adds an important piece to our understanding of Jewish history.

“We tend to think of Jewish history as the stories of poor European immigrants who work hard and rise to great heights,” he said. “This is another part of the history of Jews who also worked hard and climbed to great heights.”

Kaufman is also the author of A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe and Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America, which won a National Jewish Book Award.

The book festival will also include presentations on Red Sea Spies, the true story of the Mossad operation that used a diving resort on the coast of Somalia as a cover to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews and smuggle them to Israel. The book was written by long-time BBC Middle East correspondent Raffi Berg.

On Nov. 2, former New York Times reporter Howard Blum will discuss his book Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill and Stalin. It’s the true story of a Nazi plot to destroy the leaders of the Allies during their Tehran conference in 1943. With their leaders dead, the German hope was that the stricken Allies would then be willing to make peace with the Third Reich.

Concealed, to be presented Nov. 3 by author Esther Amini, tells the story of her struggles growing up in Queens, N.Y. in the 1960s – the daughter of Jewish-Iranian refugees trying to find a balance between her parents’ traditions and her longing for American freedom.

The final book festival presentation is slated for Nov.4. The title for that night will be Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb’s recounting of family lore and secrets from her grandmother chronicling the lives of four generations of women and the men who loved them.

Holocaust Education Week events kick off Nov. 8 with a presentation of Toronto author Kathy Kacer’s true story, The Brushmaker’s Daughter.

It tells the tale of a 12-year-old German-Jewish girl and her blind father on the run from the Nazis. They are sheltered by brush factory owner Otto Weidt, who employs blind Jewish workers in his factory, determined to save as many as he can.

Kacer, a former psychologist, has written often about the Holocaust and the people who struggled against it. In an interview, she said “as soon as I heard about this, I knew it would be the next story I would tell. The example of individuals who exhibit that kind of moral strength is a great one, especially today. Capturing stories like this is even more important today. We still have a small window of opportunity today to capture those stories.”

Kacer added that while the central character of the story is fictional, Weidt and his factory are historical. Weidt and all the people he helped are now dead but the factory itself survives and has been turned into a museum.

Capturing Holocaust stories, she added, is important because her parents were both survivors: Her mother hid during the war while her father survived a concentration camp.

On Nov. 9, author A. J. Sidransky will discuss his novel The Interpreter, the story of a 23-year-old American G.I. Kurt Berlin, who returns to Europe to help interrogate captured Nazis as part of a program to recruit them to work against the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War.

Former Nazi hunter David Marwell will discuss his book Mengele: Unmasking the “Angel of Death” on Nov. 10. The book explores how an ambitious researcher could become a faithful servant of the Nazi cause.

Marwell served as chief of investigative research at the U. S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations in the 1980s and worked on the hunt for the notorious “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele.

The final book presentation for the week is slated for Nov. 12, when journalist Peter Ross Range will discuss The Unfathomable Ascent, his detailing of Adolf Hitler’s eight-year march to the pinnacle of German politics.

Holocaust Education Week also incorporates the virtual exhibit Vad Vashem: Shoah: How Was it Humanly Possible, and the Nov. 15 special presentation Voices of our Holocaust Survivors with young Hamiltonians interviewing Holocaust survivors.

Times and details for all events are available at https://jewishhamilton.org/2020jewishbookfestival

Editorial: Joining Together to Battle Hate

Oct. 6, 2020

Mainstream Jewish and Muslim organizations join human rights groups, anti-hate communities, and peace and labour organizations, all working toward one goal. Impossible?

The joining of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and two dozen other faith-based and ethno-cultural groups might have once seemed a lofty goal, perhaps even unattainable.

And then came a maelstrom: Nazis and white supremacists openly rallying in the United States; murders at mosques and synagogues; right-wing extremist attacks in Canadian cities; reports by experts of hundreds of new hate groups in Canada; and, of course, COVID.

The world changed in the blink of an eye. It became a much more dangerous place, especially if you are Muslim, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ+, or a person of colour.

Police, of course, investigate crime, but still seem to find it difficult to wrap their heads around hate crime. While anti-hate laws exist, they are rarely invoked, and when they are, investigations can take an incredibly long time. For example, the conviction of those behind Your Ward News, a hateful, antisemitic, misogynistic publication, took five years from the date of the first complaint against it. This was unacceptable for targeted groups.

No amount of group advocacy moved the needle. Indeed, things got worse. Reports began to circulate that the Canadian military harboured numerous recruits who were members of well-known hate groups or had been recently radicalized online. A new political party, the Canadian National Party – racist, deeply antisemitic, and parroting Nazi rhetoric of emptying Canada of Jews – was accorded official party status, allowing it to issue tax receipts for charitable deductions.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a caretaker at a downtown Toronto mosque, was brutally murdered while monitoring those entering the building. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (chaired by CJR publisher Bernie Farber) revealed that the alleged killer has ties to a satanic neo-Nazi organization.

And still no action from any level of government.

Mustafa Farooq, the newly minted executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), decided to do something. Farooq called upon civil society players, through their organizations, to come together and demand better, demand protection, demand change.

As a result, a “Call to Action” was organized by Mustafa through the offices of NCCM. A myriad of human rights groups and faith communities have now signed on to a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (found here).

The World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Amnesty International, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Baha’i community of Canada, and the African Canadian National Council, are just some of the 26 signatories. Individually, some of these groups don’t play well together in the sandbox, but here, all have recognized the danger by speaking in one loud voice.

These Canadians are demanding from their government that the hundreds of white supremacist, alt right, and neo-Nazi groups be disbanded; for better legal tools, including improved use of anti-terrorism laws for domestic hate groups; better enforcement of laws for social media sites to ensure heavy fines against platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok for disseminating hate, and much more. Civil society, now joined in all its facets, has had enough.