These Shoes Were Made for Walking

The Jewish community can learn from its “righteous gentiles.”

The Jewish community is now under siege as it confronts a global wave of antisemitic virulence not seen since the 1930s. Almost everywhere we look, we observe the unmistakable signs of a mounting assault on the Jewish people, whether in the state of Israel surrounded by genocidal enemies or in the Diaspora, especially in Europe where Jews must increasingly remain alert or suppress their identity in the face of ramifying acts of vandalism and a devil’s assortment of hate crimes.

As if this were not enough, the situation is complicated by a bitter historical irony endemic to the Jewish people itself, namely, the tendency to engage in various forms of fratricidal conflict even as it is under sustained attack. The biblical record is dispositive, as is the political drama of the ages in which time and again an endangered community descends into a maelstrom of warring factions, thus rendering it ever more vulnerable to the predations of its adversaries.

We note this peculiar dilemma unfolding in every quarter of the compass. In Israel, the judicial, academic and literary Left form what I’m tempted to call an unintelligentsia that diligently works against the very survival of the nation, often siding with or abetting those—European-funded NGOs, Palestinian irredentists—who are intent on destroying it. It is as if they are paying their karmic debt for the sin of being Israelis. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of many in the Diaspora who embrace the bogus Palestinian narrative, promote “interfaith dialogue” with duplicitous Muslim clerics and organizations, make common cause with anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish campus groups, or consider the state of Israel a historical liability.

Such manifestations of canting dishonor are evident everywhere in the West, not only in Europe but in America as well. Much has been written about Reconstructionist congregations, Jewish university administrators, Jewish student associations, diverse pseudo-rabbinical groups (for an extensive list, see my The Big Lie and Hear, O Israel!), and large formal organizations (the most notorious of these being Jeremy Ben-Ami’s J Street), often linked with a leftwing political orientation, that proliferate in the U.S. Similarly, there is a strong “collaborative” inclination in my own country of Canada, on the level of both major Jewish social institutions, such as the former and influential Canadian Jewish Congress more preoccupied with a scattering of Nazi  skinheads than with the growing Islamic threat, and of smaller, ad hoc coalitions like the Shalom-Salaam “dialogue group” that inveighs against Israeli “aggression” and supposed brutality.

A case in point is provided in microcosm in my home town of Montreal where, even as I write, a boycott of a Jewish-owned shoe store which sells Israeli products is in progress. The campaign against Chaussures Naot (Naot Shoes), which threatens to put the establishment out of business, is prosecuted by a group that styles itself as Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU) and accuses Israel of practicing apartheid and other human rights violations. Every Saturday afternoon, PAJU pickets the store, attempting to dissuade potential customers from entering on the most important shopping day of the week.  Naturally, these very same people would not dream of picketing the Jewish General Hospital, built with Jewish money, using Israeli medical innovations and serving the public irrespective of race, religion or ethnic origin, whose care they may one day require.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a panCanadian amalgamation of the Quebec-Israel Committee, the Quebec Jewish Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee and the Canadian Jewish Congress, initially adopted a hands-off, observer status vis à vis the PAJU demonstrators. But even this marginal and “evaluative” presence was, presumably, regarded as too intrusive. According to a report in The Canadian Jewish News, CIJA has since backed off, claiming that the battle has now been won thanks to public and official support for the embattled business, and concerned lest pro-Israel activism “may be associated in the public mind with activism that mocks traditional Muslims or associates Muslims as a people with repression.”

No surprise here for an organization which Isi Leibler, chair of the Diaspora- Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has described as a “cowardly” and “undemocratic body headed by professional public relations consultants.” After all, CIJA has circulated an internal document promoting a “risk-averse” approach and titled “The Ten Commandments,” instructing its members to take a low public profile. Commandment 5 states, in part: “Do not directly attack or assign blame to the Palestinians or their leadership.” Commandment 7: “Do not ask the government of Canada to appear—or be—more favourable to Israel.” Commandment 9: “Do not attack the media for being biased against Israel.” This form of anti-advocacy is known in the Yiddish idiom as the sha shtil philosophy—hush hush, do not speak up—an attitude whose consequences across the generations have been monstrous.

This reaction is typical of many Jewish groups and organizations that fall into line with a general policy of political correctness and craven appeasement rather than assume a resolute moral stance against the spreading plague of antisemitism and its deceptive confederate, anti-Zionism. In refusing to take issue the enemy, they effectively empower political covens like PAJU, Shalom-Salaam and numerous others. What is even stranger in this particular instance is that CIJA’s vice-president and spokesman Luciano Del Negro, who is not Jewish, allegedly has a damaging past of affiliations with the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Canada (PCCml), modeled on the late Albanian prime minister Enver Hoxha’s ultra-totalitarian Party of Labor. Indeed, according to the nationalist Tribune libre de Vigile, Del Negro was at one time Secretary General of the PCCml.

Quebec activist Rhéal Mathieu, writing in the Vigile, remembers Del Negro as a staunch fascist, as an ardent admirer of Hitler and a reader of Mein Kampf who “trimbalait son bible nazie sous son bras” (“lugged his Nazi bible under his arm”). After marrying former Liberal Member of Parliament Marlene Jennings, Del Negro perhaps found his tainted past something of an embarrassment and quickly reconditioned himself as a Zionist, becoming Director General in 2006 of the Quebec-Israel Committee. It is, of course, possible that Del Negro experienced a genuine change of heart—such things have been known to happen—but for many observers the odor of opportunism is not so readily dispelled.

In any event, it does seem curious that such a man should become a porte-parole for the Jewish community—or perhaps it is to be expected, given the servile and nebular character of so many Jewish public organizations apparently more interested in defending their privs and perks than in defending Jewish enterprises. But from time to time there is good news too. Enter a new pro-Jewish group, Les Amis Québécois d’Israël (Quebec Friends of Israel), to complement the smattering of other pro-Jewish and pro-Israel groups, such as Amitiés Québec-Israël (Quebec-Israel Friendship Society) directed by former Quebec civil servant Jean-Marie Gélinas, and Concordia University professor Fred Krantz’s Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR). Created in the summer of 2011, the voluntary and unfunded Les Amis Québécois d’Israël is led by the redoubtable Daniel Laprès, formerly political counsellor for two Liberal Foreign Affairs ministers, Lloyd Axworthy and Bill Graham. Laprès eventually quit the Liberal Party in opposition to its laissez-faire multicultural policies and, as he says, “je me suis découvert de plus en plus néo-conservateur” (“I found myself more and more neoconservative”). (Personal communication.)

Like Del Negro, Laprès is not Jewish; but unlike Del Negro (as many believe), he is a stalwart and loyal supporter of the Jewish state, diagnoses antisemitism as a cancer eating away at the entrails of civil society that requires immediate and vigorous intervention, is prepared to act consistently and forcefully upon his ideas, and is convinced that an Israeli or Jewish shop forced to close its doors “à cause d'une campagne haineuse et mensongère serait un désastre moral pour ma propre société, et serait aussi le début d'une intensification de ces campagnes de harcèlement qui, dans les faits, sont directement inspirées des Nazis des années 1930. Je ne veux pas de ça chez moi” (“owing to a hateful and lying campaign would be a moral disaster for my own society, and would also be the beginning of an intensification of these campaigns of harassment which, in effect, are directly inspired by the Nazis during the 1930s. I don’t want any of this in my own home”).

Apart from writing and speaking against antisemitic social bullying and economic intimidation, Laprès, as we have seen, has assembled his own cadre of anti-protestors to support the Jewish shoe store and determine that PAJU and likeminded cabals do not scare off customers. They carry placards contesting the injustice of boycotting small merchants and praising Israel as a haven for gays, for protecting religious freedom and for ensuring gender equality. Some irony-steeped examples (in translation): Israel is a refuge for Arab gays: Death to Israel. Israel guarantees freedom of conscience: Death to Israel. Beating one’s wife is a criminal act in Israel: Death to Israel. Israel does not execute dissidents as in Iran: Death to Israel. On one occasion, they dressed in burkas (ordered from Egypt) to parody the fundamentalist strain of Islam, but the joke was lost on their opponents. Zealots, as has often been remarked, have no sense of humor.

From Laprès’ perspective, Del Negro’s reason for exiting the fray is wholly misguided. The battle is not won, but is perilously close to being lost. Moreover, the anti-protestors cast no aspersions on “traditional Muslims,” as Del Negro had alleged they did with their signs, or even remotely accuse them of malfeasance. This allegation is only a species of misdirection. Laprès is also suspicious of established figures like one David Ouellette, who goes by the title of Associate Director of CIJA and who, Laprès claims, has apparently wielded his authority to discredit independent pro-Israel groups such as the Quebec Friends of Israel. The Del Negros and Ouellettes of the current parochial scene are legion by other names—readers can no doubt supply their own dramatis personae.

For as Laprès argues, the resistance put forward by outfits like CIJA against the activities of truly committed advocacy groups is standard practice among many of the official representatives of the Jewish community. It is the result of a turf war for power, prestige, exclusive rights, jealously hoarded prerogatives and emoluments—their magistère, as the French sayat the expense of more honest and dedicated groups fighting the antisemitic and anti-Zionist pathology. As Sally Zerker astutely writes in The Canadian Jewish News, “the defence is more effective if it comes from a myriad of sources.” The shutting  down or inhibiting of such “myriad sources” and “aggressive voices” is also, most likely, an expression of the desire of these super-agencies to ingratiate themselves with what they perceive as the status quo. Don’t rock the boat, even if the boat is sinking.

This is the sort of thing that takes place along the entire spectrum of Jewish community action. If groups like CIJA were actually doing their jobs, they would patronize Chaussures Naot and purchase Israeli-made shoes from a Jewish proprietor, for that is one of the ways they could reputably walk the walk. As it is, they only talk the talk, and the talk they talk is chiefly disingenuous and self-serving. It is, in short and for the most part, vapid and hypocritical babble.

Regrettably, the Jewish community at large is hobbled by self-doubt, vivisected by partisan politics and riven by competing ideologies, while in too many cases attempting to placate rather than to challenge its multiple assailants. Certainly, it has its own communitarian defenders, Jewish writers, diplomats and bloggers unafraid to take a principled stand. But it can also learn a lesson from those it has designated as “righteous gentiles,” who walk, so to speak, in Naot shoes.

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