Robert Fisk misrepresents Stephen Harper’s views on antisemitism (Part 2)

In our previous post, we refuted Robert Fisk’s claim, in his latest column at The Independent, that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper argued that mere criticism of Israel can be a form of anti-Semitism.

Now, we’ll look at another allegation in his piece, a charge levelled in the headline.

fisk graphic

Fisk explains:

But in Canada – and I had to literally rub my eyes when I read this – the totally pro-Israeli Conservative government of Stephen Harper intends to list the boycotting of Israel as a “hate crime”.

This is preposterous. If I decline to buy Israeli-produced oranges at a British supermarket, this doesn’t make me a Nazi murderer. To criticise Israel doesn’t turn Canadians into Jew-haters. A number of liberal Jewish groups have protested against Harper’s proposed new law – far too many Jewish organisations have praised it – on the grounds that it assumes that all Jews support Israel or approve of its actions. And since Jews are also members of boycott-Israel groups, Harper’s Comic Cuts new law would have to put Jews on trial in Canada for anti-Semitism.

The dark little catch in all this is that last year Canada changed its definition of hate speech to include statements made against “national origin”, not just race and religion. Thus statements or speeches critical of Israel – like a number of public lectures I have given in Canada – may now be classed as statements against Jews (even though Jews are often among the organisers of my own speaking engagements in America). And, in due course, editorials in papers such as the Toronto Star can be deemed anti-Semitic and thus worthy of being denounced as a “hate-crime”.

So, is Fisk correct? Does Harper’s government intend to list the boycotting of Israel as a “hate crime”.

No, it doesn’t, according to Canadian news reports published a week before Fisk’s column.

CBC News, in an article titled “Tories deny plan to use hate crime laws against Israel boycotters“, cited Canadian government officials’ flatly denying charges leveled in an earlier CBC News report

The federal Conservatives are denying there’s any basis to a CBC News story saying the government is signalling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel.

Asked Tuesday whether the government planned to use hate crime laws against Israel boycotters, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said “No,” adding there are provisions in the Criminal Code to deal with hate speech and propaganda “and we trust in our justice system to enforce those regulations.”

Following the publication of the story on Monday, Jeremy Laurin, a spokesman for Blaney, said that “this story is inaccurate and ridiculous. These laws have been on the books for many years and have not changed.”​

Blaney’s office further dismissed the CBC story by noting that they “won’t dignify [their] bizarre conspiracy theory with further comment.”

So, while Fisk likely based his column on the original CBC report, published on May 11th, he evidently didn’t notice the CBC’s follow-up story (and subsequent news articles elsewhere), published later in the day, contradicting their original report. 

It seems reasonable to expect a professional journalist with decades of experience to engage in some basic fact-checking before making such a allegation.  We encourage editors at The Independent to revise Fisk’s column accordingly. 

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