This is a guest post by Brian Henry
Until recently, the CBC was Canada’s largest publisher of antisemitic material and, in some ways, still is. The problem wasn’t the CBC reporters; it was the audience, posting antisemitic attacks on the CBC website.
Courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer, antisemites could reach far more people by posting on CBC.ca than through the wacko sites that specialize in Jew-hatred. Worse, it was a mainstream audience, not just their fellow bigots.
The antisemitic attacks reached a crescendo during Israel’s recent war with Hamas, but this problem of Jew-haters using the CBC as their message board stretches back for years.
Last April, I wrote about the antisemitic comments that greeted a CBC.ca story about Steven Harper laying a wreath at Auschwitz. For example, a reader calling himself “baltzera” asked which would be cheaper vacation, “a day pass to Disney’s theme park or Dachau?”
Similar filth greeted a story about B’nai Brith’s 2007 audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada, with one reader asserting that Jews are “despised for all the right reasons here and globally.”
Back in 2004, writing in the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente noted the problem with antisemitic reader comments at the CBC, and quoted this one: “Jesus may have been a Jew himself but I know for a fact that he didn’t take part in the eating of blood-filled pastries made from the blood of Palestinian children.”
The theme of Jews thirsting for blood resurfaced during Israel’s war with Hamas. For example, a reader identifying himself as “LoranHayden” portrayed Jews as racist, genocidal baby-killers, savouring “Muslim juice.”
In Canada, anti-Jewish extremists like this are part of the lunatic fringe. On the CBC message boards, they represent the majority.
For example, 536 CBC.ca readers clicked on the link to recommend a comment by “sandy411” in which he compared Israel’s assault on Hamas to the Holocaust and added a reference to Israel wanting “pounds of flesh,” like Shylock the Jew.
“Sandy411” added: “How many tons of Palestinian women and children will settle your account, Israel?” It was the most popular comment of the day.
I wrote to the CBC to complain, citing eight of the most odious comparisons of Jews to Nazis, all of them taken from reader comments on a single story published December 27.
While I waited for a reply, the Hamas war got into full swing and CBC.ca readers began posting more than 1,000 comments a day on the topic. I collected 50 more examples of antisemitic attacks: everything from “DrDavid” referring to Jews as vermin and praising Hitler to “FRTknocker” denigrating Canadian Jews as “zionazis” and telling us to get out of Canada.
I could have found hundreds more, but I took my 50 examples and submitted another complaint.
Two weeks later, the CBC replied. They’d reviewed the comments I’d pointed out and agreed the “vast majority” were unacceptable. They reviewed other comments posted by the same users, found many were just as bad and removed them, too.
Even better, management showed the moderators who screen reader comments the antisemitic attacks that they’d allowed through, made them “aware of the problem users,” and refreshed them “on the issue of anti-Semitism in general.”
Moreover, the CBC agreed that comparisons of Israel (and Jews) to the Nazis and of Gaza to a concentration camp “fall outside acceptable discourse on the topic.”
In short, it was an outstanding, highly professional response. And I wasn’t satisfied.
A glance at recent stories showed the moderators were still allowing some gross antisemitism and Holocaust-taunting to slip through. Besides, though the CBC would block or remove a comment suggesting Jews are baby-killing Nazis, the reader was welcome to come back with some more subtle Jew-baiting.
So I wrote and complained again.
I’m still waiting for a reply but not impatiently, because in the meanwhile – to their great credit – the CBC has gotten better at screening out antisemitic attacks.
Also, they’ve posted a new policy, stating that people who offend the CBC’s policies may have their account suspended. In other words, Jew-haters can get themselves banned.
Most readers commenting at CBC.ca still demonize Israel. They call it racist, terrorist, apartheid. They’re still preparing a rationale for wiping Israel off the map, still in the business of supplying a warrant for genocide.
But the CBC has finally drawn a line. Attacking Jews is going a step too far. So is comparing the Nazi Jew-killers to the Jewish state. That sort of thing used to get posted at the CBC all the time. Not anymore.
The other day here at Harry’s Place some posters dismissed the European Union’s Working Definition of Antisemitism as useless. Not in my experience. I believe I convinced the CBC to ban comparing Israel to the Nazis because I was able to quote the EU Working Paper stating that such comparisons are antisemitic. It could be I’m eloquent, but bureaucratic back-up carries more weight.
Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor. He’s refugee from Canada’s social democratic party, the NDP, and a frequent contributor to H-Antisemitism, a scholarly forum for the discussion of the history of antisemitism. An earlier version of this piece appeared in the 3 March 2009 Jewish Tribune (http://www.jewishtribune.ca/TribuneV2/), a community paper published by B’nai Brith Canada.