Hamilton Spectator Publishes Letters Promoting Antisemitic Tropes & Inciting Violence Against Israel

There’s an important line separating legitimate opinion that enhances the public

discourse, from inflammatory rhetoric that incites hatred and interferes with constructive dialogue. Recently, the Hamilton Spectator crossed the line by publishing letters claiming “the Zionist faction of Canadian Jewry has compromised the government” and another which tacitly argued for war to be waged against the state of Israel.

On May 8, the Spectator gave a platform to Brantford resident Bryan Kerman to not only claim that the “Zionist minority harms Canadian interests,” but that Canadian Jewish Zionists have “compromised” Canada’s government. Here is the letter in full:

Kerman peddled this odious conspiracy theory in an effort to tar Israel, Canadian Jewry, and Canada’s foreign policy all in one brush. You’d expect to see this antisemitic trope in the annals of Holocaust denial websites, but instead, it was published on the commentary pages of the Hamilton Spectator, a publication of Torstar Corporation.

The Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism notes that the “resurgence of the classic anti-Jewish libels including (emphasis added): …  The myth of the ‘new Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ – the tsarist forgery that proclaimed an international Jewish conspiracy bent on world domination – and accuses the Jews of controlling government, the economy, media and public institutions.”

The Ottawa Protocol also reaffirmed that the following falls under the working definition of antisemitism (emphasis added):

“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively – the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy, or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions…

Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.”

Just two days after publishing Kerman’s letter peddling this antisemitic Jewish conspiracy, the Spectator shamefully elected on May 10 to give a platform to another letter writer, Stephen Bryce from Stoney Creek, to tacitly argue that war should be waged against the state of Israel. In so doing, the Spectator fanned the flames of hatred against the Jewish people collectively. Here is the letter in full:

Contrary to Bryce, the only reason Israel engages in war is for self defense purposes as its immediate neighbours and terror proxies seek to wipe Israel off the map and annihilate world Jewry. As to Bryce’s other baseless and inflammatory allegations, Israel has bulldozed homes of Palestinian terrorists and of homes illegally built without permits. Israel’s interdiction of the Mavi Marmara flotilla vessel, a boat that had no humanitarian aid on board, was legally affirmed by the UN Palmer report as a legitimate means to thwart weapons shipments to Hamas terrorists. The state of Israel does not in any way assault women over how they dress. Simply go to Israel, a fashion hub like Milan, New York and Paris and you’ll see that women are permitted (and encouraged) to wear whatever they like. In sharp contrast, Gaza’s Hamas morality police don’t let women swim in the coastal waters or take part in marathons. There’s no merit to Bryce’s libel that Israel wants to “sterilize black immigrants”. Finally, Israel claims its use of white phosphorus, meant to illuminate targets or obscure movements, was permitted under international law and that it took all efforts to avoid civilian deaths in Gaza.

On May 10, HonestReporting Canada contacted Hamilton Spectator Editor-in-Chief Paul Berton conveying our position that both these letters should never have been published. We also requested that the paper undertake some action internally to have a discussion about what constitutes legitimate opinion that promotes debate and when certain opinions can cross the line into incitement and hatred. Regrettably, the Spectator did not publicly atone for its journalistic transgressions. Instead, it elected to allow a debate of sorts to continue on its letters page by featuring several letters criticizing Israel and others which came to Israel’s and the Jewish community’s defense. Of significance, the Spectator published a letter by representatives of the Hamilton Jewish Federation calling on the paper to apologize for publishing Kerman’s antisemitic letter, along with other letters by representatives of the Never Again Group (NAG) and other pro-Israel writers. To add insult to injury, the Spectator gave Bryan Kerman yet another opportunity on May 13 to peddle his antisemitic conspiracy theory that there exists a “theft of independent Canadian foreign policy by Israel.” Kerman contended in his letter published in the Spectator that he had a “… right to say what I believe”.

Of course, no one disputes that final point. Yes, Kerman has the right to free speech and to make antisemitic statements, as abhorrent as they may be, but the Spectator should not give him a platform to do so.

In recent days, the Toronto Star removed an antisemitic commentary from its website after an HonestReporting Canada complaint. As we noted in our alert, “… baseless allegations claiming that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper “take the side of wealthy Canadian Zionists… who pour gold into Conservative party coffers.” does not add to constructive debate and to the marketplace of ideas. Instead, this comment reinforced anti-Semitic tropes of all Jews being wealthy and it stigmatized the Jewish people of Canada with this malevolent stereotype.”

The Spectator’s publication of other letters does not in and of itself redress this situation and absolve the paper of its responsibilities. Hamilton Spectator Editor-In-Chief Paul Berton acknowledged last year that “It’s true I could learn more about the (Mideast) conflict… I have read many books and articles on the region, and still feel totally in the dark. I have never lived in the Middle East, so I cannot really understand it.”

Ultimately, the buck stops with this paper’s most senior editor. While we can’t expect Mr. Berton to be a Mideast expert, at a bare minimum, the Spectator should acknowledge there’s no place in Canadian journalism for the publication of letters promoting antisemitic tropes and inciting violence against Israel. Please call on the Hamilton Spectator to issue a formal apology to remedy this situation. Please send your considered comments to Spectator Editor-in-Chief Paul Berton at: pberton@thespec.com 


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