There’s a new cartoon controversy – this time in Canada. And the controversy is that there hasn’t been one. Some three weeks ago, in close succession, anti-Semitic cartoons – at least two of which appeared to have been borrowed from Der Sturmer – were published on the editorial pages of three mainstream newspapers in the Canadian province of Quebec. The cartoons concerned the meeting between Mario Dumont, the leader of Quebec’s opposition party, the Action Democratique du Quebec, with fundraisers who had traditionally supported Quebec’s Liberal Party – the party currently in power. Some of the fundraisers were Jewish businessmen.
One cartoon, in Montreal’s fiscally conservative but otherwise left-leaning La Presse, showed Dumont dressed up as an ultra-orthodox Jew, sporting sidecurls and a broad-brimmed fur hat, with a sinister and crazed expression on his face. “Next week, I’ll be courted by nude cyclists...” he says. No matter that Quebec’s Jews are mostly secular and bilingual, or that the ultra-orthodox make up a minuscule minority of Quebec Jewry – less than 5%. The same paper’s page one headline, “Dumont courtise par la communaute juive,” was included inside the cartoon. The fact that Dumont’s having met with Jewish fundraisers earned it front page coverage speaks volumes, as does use of the word “courtise,” or “courted.” Dumont, it seems, was being seduced by those who would lead him down the primrose path.
Another cartoon, from Sherbrooke, Quebec’s middle-of-the-road La Tribune, features Dumont with dollar signs in his eyes, hands outstretched towards two hook-nosed, kippah-wearing, hunched Jews, again with the sidecurls. “Soyez les bienvenus, mes amis,” he tells them, but each letter “s” in the text has been changed to a dollar sign.
A third, from Montreal’s nationalist, intellectual newspaper of record, Le Devoir, shows Dumont in a t-shirt with a “kosher” stamp in it. He says, “Desormais, je suis certifie casher,” or, “From now on, I am certified kosher.” Arguably, it is the least appalling of the three.
It is difficult to argue that these cartoons are anything but anti-Semitic. It is also difficult to argue that the papers in question should not be allowed to publish them, if their editors and publishers see fit. What is cause for concern is the very lack of concern, the lack of reaction, in Quebec, and the almost complete media silence in the rest of Canada, but for the blogosphere and small, community papers.
Two non-commital editorials appeared in the right-of-centre English-Canadian media two weeks after the cartoons initially appeared. Each essentially said, “Things are different in Quebec: French-Canadians are, er, distinct.” It is as though we are being asked to believe this sort of thing is akin to the alleged Quebecois joie de vivre, just another trait of which our francophone co-citizens are possessed.
In fact, this is quite a touchy subject in Canada. Quebec’s nationalist movement has long been tainted with anti-Semitism. And Quebec is, without question, the most anti-Israeli and most anti-American of the Canadian provinces, earning it the nickname “Quebecistan.” The anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne, for example, is hugely popular in Quebec (far more so than in France), invited to mainstream comedy festivals and onto publicly-funded radio, where he receives a sympathetic welcome.
This is not to say there is no anti-Semitism elsewhere in Canada. But were such cartoons to appear in the Globe and Mail (a national paper out of Toronto) or the Calgary Herald or Vancouver Sun, all hell would break loose.
More intellectually lazy still, some have tried to draw a parallelwith the Danish Mohammed cartoons, stating that if one encouraged their publication, one should rejoice at these cartoons. I am not suggesting that these cartoons should not have run. Personally, I find them over the line, but each editorial page should decide such things for themselves. It should also be noted that Le Devoir was, to its credit, the only mainstream publication in Canada to run (one of) the Danish cartoons. I did believe the Danish cartoons should be published – but I took no delight in the cartoons themselves, or the reaction they engendered. And that is where a more accurate comparison can be made.
So far, no one in Quebec’s Jewish community – or any Jewish community anywhere – has rioted, burned any embassies, threatened beheadings or caused the cartoonists in question to go into perpetual hiding. And the silence in Canada’s mainstream media has been deafening... and revealing.