I originally published this piece in the Canadian Jewish News, April 21, 2004. It remains just as relevant now as then.
Across the country, the firebombing of a Jewish day school in Montreal appalled Canadians. Why did it happen? Why now?
I see four root causes.
First, the terrorist attacks of September 11 radicalized anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiment in Canada and around the world. Much of the far left has always considered America and Israel as a single enemy and the primary source of evil in world affairs. While September 11 demonstrated to most people that there are much nastier people around, the far left wasn’t prepared to give up their vision of America the evil.
For example, in his essay, “The War in Afghanistan,” Noam Chomsky claims that America’s war of self-defence was a far greater moral wrong than the terrorist attacks themselves. Much of the left followed Chomsky’s lead. But many people, some Canadians among them, defended their vision of American evil by adopting the notion that the U.S. and/or Israel (or simply "the Jews") were responsible for the September 11 attacks.
Such conspiratorial thinking, which in Canada used to belong exclusively to neo-Nazi propagandists like Ernst Zundel, suddenly became mainstream. Three Toronto Star columnists have promoted the notion of September 11 as an American plot - Michelle Landsberg, Thomas Walkom, and Antonia Zerbisias. Zebisias went so far as to praise an antisemitic web site and recommend it to her readers (a recommendation that she partially disowned after B’nai Brith called her on it.)
Second, opposition to the American-led war against Saddam Hussein popularized anti-Americanism throughout Canada and licensed its expression. When MP Carolyn Parrish said, “Damn Americans, I hate those bastards,” she likely generated more support for the Liberals, not less. And when Canadians opened the door to anti-Americanism, its anti-Jewish twin also snuck in.
Why did America invade Iraq? The answer, according to some conspiracy-minded Canadians, is that America is controlled by Jewish, neo-Conservatives - a cabal that puts Israel’s interests ahead of America’s and, more generally, plots for America to conquer the world.
For example, in an article titled, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They’re Jewish?” Kalle Lasn, editor of the Canadian magazine Adbusters, produces a list of American neo-conservatives with a bullet (or perhaps it’s a little yellow star) beside each Jew. “Half of the them are Jewish,” he writes, in case his readers can’t count. And he says, they control “Rumsfeld’s Defense Department.”
Lasn adds, rather darkly, “One wonders what Israeli-American relations, and indeed what American relations with the rest of the world would look like if [they] … were also in charge at [the] State [Department].”
This idea of Jewish puppet masters is simply a rehash of the century old myth of the Elders of Zion, which in times past was so fervently embraced by Adolph Hitler.
Third, the train bombings in Madrid demonstrated that terrorism works. The bombers of the Montreal day school simply followed the Madrid example, but fortunately burned only books, not people. Next time, according to the note left by the fire bombers, they might do worse.
Fourth, and most importantly, antisemitism in Canada has been activated by the continual portrayal of Israel as murderous and monstrous and not just by the far left but in mainstream media and by mainstream politicians.
To give just one example, the CBC’s Mary Lou Finlay opened a recent interview with a representative of the Palestinian Authority by asking him for his reaction to the Israeli "murder" of Ahmed Yassin. I assumed she’d made an embarrassing slip until Russ Germain introduced a later segment of the program with a clearly scripted line about the world crying "bloody murder."
Have you ever heard anyone on the CBC refer to any of Hamas’s deliberate killings of Israeli civilians – men, women or children – as “murder”?
The CBC’s condemnation of Israel’s “murder” of Ahmed Yassin and Canada’s foreign minister’s condemnation of the assassination were mere peeps in the worldwide outcry against Israel. That outcry was louder, more widespread and vastly more heated than have been any objections to the hundreds of killings and thousands of injuries Yassin’s terrorist organization has inflicted on ordinary people going about their daily lives.
That outcry was surely heard by the people who firebombed the Montreal Jewish day school. When they wrote that their attack was retribution for the Israeli assassination Ahmed Yassin, I imagine they expected praise for their actions. Surely, they were surprised that Canadians unanimously denounced their attack, with the Toronto Star and the CBC as appalled as everyone else. Then again, perhaps the bombers are familiar with hypocrisy.
From the trial of the bomber, we now know that my cause #4 was spot on. The bomber himself explained how the frenzied reporting of the Israeli assassination of the leader of the Hamas terrorist organization, Ahmed Yassin, incited him to go and firebomb a Jewish primary school.
On the other hand, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d cut cause #3 – the Madrid Train Bombing. All successful terrorist acts encourage further terrorism; in that respect the Madrid bombing wasn’t special.