Ahenakew’s unwilling agent

David Ahenakew’s antisemitism became a national news story even before hate-speech charges were laid. But Ezra Levant is correct to point out that the trial – and the resulting publicity – did more to spread Ahenakew’s opinions on the Holocaust than he ever could have dreamed:

Ahenakew has had Canada’s best PR man these past six years. Forgive my ethnic pride, but few people know how to promote celebrity talent like the Jews do. Ahenakew’s super-agent has been the Canadian Jewish Congress’s Bernie “Burny” Farber — the same turbo-promoter who turned Ernst Zundel from a nobody kook in a hard-hat into an international celebrity; the same one who turned Jim Keegstra, a small-time loser in a small-time town, into a national star.
[…]
As I’ve written before, David Ahenakew had the ear of pretty much no-one until Burny found him. Ahenakew’s grandchildren had to listen to the old fool, and he was still invited to Aboriginal conferences as some sort of superannuated “elder”, but people really didn’t listen to him. He muttered conspiracy theories. We’ve probably all encountered the type — nutty and harmless.
He was a fading star, like Richard Dreyfuss in the early 1980s. But Burny saw the potential in him.
When Ahenakew made some foolish anti-Semitic remarks to a reporter back in 2002, Burny moved fast. He was part of the chorus calling for Ahenakew to be prosecuted for the criminal code section about “hate” — as if a normal human emotion could be criminalized.
After a trial, an appeal and a re-trial — six years of prosecution — Ahenakew was acquitted today.
So what has Burny achieved?
Ahenakew has not changed his mind — he still hates Jews. Probably more than when he was charged with hating them six years ago.
Ahenakew’s statements about Jews have not evanesced into the air, as they would have had he been properly ignored (or informally rebutted, instead of prosecuted by the state). His anti-Semitic views have been repeated countless thousands of times in newspapers, TV shows and, of course, the Internet. The ramblings of a fool have thus received more of an audience than the thoughtful prose of most best-selling authors in Canada.
And Ahenakew’s conspiracy theory — that the Jews control the world, and persecute their enemies — is just a little bit more plausible, certainly in his own mind and that of his supporters.

Chris Selley makes a similar point: “Had [the newspaper reporter to whom Ahenekew vented against the Jooooooos] not broken the story, of course, there wouldn’t have even been the possibility of hatred being incited—yet nobody would suggest punishing the newspaper. Just one of the necessary absurdities of limiting free speech.” Don’t give them any ideas, Chris.
Damian P.

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4 thoughts on “Ahenakew’s unwilling agent

  1. It’s ironic, because Ezra & the WS did exactly what the reporter (and all reporters) did in the Ahenakew case: they published something offensive because that something (Mohammed cartoons / hateful words) was crucial to reporting the story. So when Selley says “no one would suggest…”, it’s actually a case of been there, done that.

  2. Having the pleasure of knowing Ezra and knowing Bernie very well, I am certain they are both serving the interests of Canadians and Canadian Jews as best they can. Bernie is acutely aware of the criteria his organization sets for how to deal with the likes of Ahenakew, or any other anti-Semites in Canada. I was working for a Jewish NGO when this started, and the common approach was – we have laws that we can use to deal with this character, we have a voice to convey our outrage, but we also have the ability to use this opportunity to build bridges with the aboriginal community. CJC and others did that. Good for Bernie, and for them.
    Ezra concerns himself with a narrower vector for action. His free speech crusade trumps pretty much any other interest, and even when he sat on the board of the Canada Israel Committee, he spoke his mind without regard to policy or broader interests. Ezra is passionate and consumed with the rightness of his cause. I appreciate him, and it. But he cannot expect others in positions where they have to consider policy, repercussions in the real world, and the feelings of their constituencies to march to the same drummer as he.

  3. Arieh,
    The main difference between Bernie and Ezra is that Bernie pretends to represent the Jewish Community in Canada, while Ezra is honest enough to admit he only represents himself.
    I have been in Canada for 30 years, always active in my local Jewish Community and I have yet to understand how the CJC represents me. I (and every other Jew I speak to) have never given him any mandate to represent me.
    I happen to believe that freedom of speech is important enough that people who spew out discourse that I loathe should be allowed to do so. And I should have the right to critique these people by showing the absurdity of their thesis.
    I 100% agree with Ezra that Bernie’s actions in many ways are fanning antisemitism and that the Jewish community is worse off having this guy around. By continuously highlighting anti-semites like Zundel, Akinihew and others, he gives them a notoriety that they could only dream of. The real threat to the Jewish community such as the growing amount of violence and intimidation agaist Jews perpetrated by Muslims in Canada is not being addressed because that would require real integrity, leadership and determination, all qualities clearly foreign to Bernie Farber.

  4. Andre, your comments are bang-on. The CJC, led by Bernie Farber has been running down a narrow path of “making-it-look-like” they’re doing something by fighting old, weak, irrelevant caricatures like Ahenakew.

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