Thursday, September 04, 2008

What Is It With All These Crackpots, And Is 'Anti-Semite' The Right Term For Them?

Given the strange evolution of antisemitism from a clearly-defined feature of the far right to a kind of nebulous and weirdly-shrouded spectre abroad throughout the pseudo-left, I have some sympathy for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May for uttering a less than coherent explanation for her decision to dump the crank John Shavluk. For one thing, there's something more than meets the eye going on here.

It brings to mind the current conniptions among British Greens, among whom there are responsible party members concerned that the party should be mindful of the way antisemitism veils itself in fashionable "anti-Zionism" nowadays. For their trouble they have been attacked by the "Green Left" faction, which is using the work of a drooling antisemite of a cartoonist to accuse the concerned party members of attempting to impose some sort of censorship on the party.

In May's statements there is also an echo of the difficulty American progressives have found in figuring out what name to give the vulgarity of U.S. Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. She's that 911-Was-An-Inside-Job enthusiast who tried to cajole $10 million from a Saudi prince by expressing sympathy for his anti-Israel diatribes. McKinney was formerly with the Democratic Party, which rid itself of her despite her spectacular successes in raising campaign funds from dodgy Israel-haters.

In ditching Shavluk as the candidate for Newton-North Delta, May makes much of the Green Party's “respect for diversity" and its encouragement of "dialogue, diversity, peace and cooperation." There was this: “We condemn anti-Semitism," but then this strangely passive-aggressive sentence: “I communicated with John and thanked him for his work on behalf of the Green Party but explained that he will not be a candidate because his views are not consistent with our philosophy."

So is she saying Shavluk is an antisemite or not? What on earth is she thanking him for? And what is it about his "views," precisely, that are so unsuited to the Greens' philosophy that May sees fit to pull Shavluk's candidacy papers?

And why now? The guy's been an obvious freakjob for years. Shavluk's bit about how the US government itself attacked the "shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters" otherwise known as the World Trade Center in New York was from two years ago. Is there no Google function on any of the computers at Green Party HQ?

It's also useful to note that May got on the case, and the news media noticed, only after the bright Vancouver bloggist Robert Jago did some basic but journeyman sleuthing. In this way the Shavluk case is a re-run of the Green Party's April, 2007 defenestration of its résumé-padding (see note*) Vancouver candidate Kevin Potvin, who had confessed that his response to the September 11 attacks was "Beautiful!" and "I felt an urge to pump my fist in the air." The news media didn't pick up on Potvin's questionable suitability for public office back then, either, until after Sean Holman's intrepid Public Eye Online did the mainstream media's homework.

A year earlier, there was the case of Shavluk's fellow Delta politico, poor young Thomas Hubert, a New Democrat who became a Liberal. Hubert was found to have praised Hezbollah, slagged off Israel as "the most vile nation on earth", and cheered on the exodus of Jews from the federal Liberal Party, following the party's flaccid support for Israel during the Lebanon crisis. Hubert's words were these: “The only issue that matters to them is the defence of a ‘state' that survives on the blood of innocent people.”

What struck me then about the Hubert controversy was the utter ordinariness of his comments in the context of his political mileu. It wasn't Hubert that I found so sinister, but the hideous banality of what Hubert said. It involves this same strange thing that the British novelist Martin Amis called an "endocrinal state" that is so commonplace these days in matters related to Jews, and to Israel, which I was on about in The Vancouver Sun a few months ago. Said Amis: "I know we're supposed to be grown up about it and not fling around accusations of anti-Semitism, but I don't see any other explanation."

Perhaps this same dilemma - we don't see any other explanation - might account for Elizabeth's strangely vague phraseology. It's as though we all know disgusting and dangerous ugliness when we see it, but we don't have the proper words to fully describe what it is - what it is about Shavluk's "views," in this instance - that is so revolting. To report that Shavluk was merely ditched "over an allegedly anti-Semitic remark in a blog by Mr. Shavluk several years ago," which is the way the Globe and Mail put it, doesn't quite cut it, does it?

This is what I mean when I say there's something more than meets the eye going on here. I don't quite know what to make of it, but I'm bold enough to claim that the trajectory of antisemitism from its fascist haunts to the realm of pseudo-leftism is at least partly the explanation.

Whatever it is, for the time being: Good Work, Robert Jago.

UPDATE: Another Truther crackpot shows up as a Green Party candidate, only this time, you don't need to comb through obscure interwebs discussion fora from years ago to read his hallucinations: It's all right there, right now, on the Green Party's own website: Why was the FBI investigation of hijackers shut down? Why were military response stand down orders issued? Why were distracting war games set up on 9/11 of all days? Why did building 7, not attacked at all, collapse like controlled demolition? Plus: In other words our government is following blindly the footsteps of the USA in Guantanamo!

Elizabeth May says: Hey, no problem.

UPDATE II: From Norm Geras's place, in Britain, Eve Gerrard writes that the Green Party "has an explicit policy of giving no platform to racists, and hence would not join in campaigns with the BNP, nonetheless it is ready to do so with overtly anti-Semitic organizations such as Hizbollah and Hamas. The Green Party's leading female speaker (and president-in-waiting), Caroline Lucas, publicly supports an economic and cultural boycott of Israel. Other high-profile Green speakers, including its leading male speaker Derek Wall, have expressed overt support for the academic boycott of Israel, even though several legal opinions have been given to the effect that such a boycott, including the reluctantly watered-down version which was passed at the last UCU conference, would fall foul of the Race Relations Act."


Since this post appeared, Potvin has been subjecting me to a barrage of annoying and vaguely threatening emails. He began by accusing me of taking money from Jewish groups to "place certain articles in media" (classy guy), and he also alleges that I libeled him by using the term "résumé-padding" here. That was a reference to a Wikipedia entry Potvin wrote about himself a couple years back.

In that Wikipedia entry, Potvin claimed that his work had appeared in Harpers Magazine and the Atlantic, when in fact he'd only had a letter to the editor published once, in each - a fact he now does not deny (this was also the subject of a Globe and Mail story a couple of years ago that must have been embarrassing for Potvin; the Globe refused Potvin's demands for some sort of retraction).

Anyway, I call that "résumé-padding." Potvin says it's libelous to call it that. I will leave it to the millions of people who read this blog to decide.

But no comments allowed.


Blogger Patrick Ross said...

I suspect my attitude toward this won't be popular with many Green party supporters, BUT:

A fringe party inevitably attracts fringe candidates. I don't honestly believe there's anything in the Green party policy-wise that is attracting all of these 9/11 "truth" weirdos to the party.

They're a fringe party, and they're vulnerable to this kind of weirdness. Those even further out on the fringes will inevitably try to pull the party even further into the fringes.

We saw it happen with the Reform party and Terry Long. We've seen it with the Green party and Kevin Potvin. What matters now is what the party does to prevent these incidents in future.

In other words: vet their candidates.

1:08 AM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

Leaving aside this wanker's beliefs, his style and his grammar are amazing. This is a party candidate for... whatever?

I know some assistant janitors who are expressing themselves much much better.

3:55 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

On Snoopy's point, Shavluk's bizarre illiteracy by itself should have been sufficient to have warned the Greens away from him, but to Patrick's related point: I don't think you're being unfair to the Greens at all. They may not like your choice of the word "fringe," but it's a valid point - there was clearly no vetting involved here at all. It's not like Shavluk is a perfectly upstanding and attractive personality that the Greens accepted and then rejected after having discovered something dodgy about his past. Everything about Shavluk is dodgy, and the only thing he is known for is being dodgy.

I suspect that "vetting" explains perhaps more than you even intended.

The Greens may not be a distinctly left-wing phenomenon, and would probably object to that conception. But the Green Party does more or less function as a phenomenon of the Left, i.e. it pits itself against what we used to call "the monied interests," it presents what it regards as a fundamental challenge to the status quo and the economic order, and it anticipates some degree of state intervention to protect the public interest in healthy ecosystems, etc.

Most importantly, it is a counterculture phenomenon, and it is across the broad spectrum of the liberal left that we have lately seen the spread of deranged and unhinged politics - i.e. the paranoia underlying political conspiracy theories. This could be described as a "vetting problem." It seems to be related to a sort of Rainbow Coalition approach to politics, a sort of big-tent approach where you let anyone in, and overlook their eccentricities, so long as they're "against" all the right things (the corporations, the US, Israel, whatever). The rest isn't about doing anything, it's about being, which gives rise to identity politics. The result is any number of embarrassments, the Shavluk type being just one example. Like that old truism: If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

Heh. I concur.

What actually surprised me about this, though, is that based on the content of his post, I kind of expected John Shavluk to be some strung-out skinny unshaven weirdo wearing stoner glasses and an Iron Maiden T-shirt.

Apparently he cleans up fairly well.

Now for the question of antisemitism:

I don't honestly believe antisemitism has ever been a "clearly-defined feature of the far right" any more than homophobia or base racism has ever been.

I'll certainly agree that various far-right movements have embraced antisemitism, homophobia and base racism more doggedly than many other groups, who have treated it as something to be soirited away and hidden under layers of passive aggression expressed toward Jews under the guise of various criticisms of Isarel (not that all criticisms of Israel are antisemitic -- there's a lot going on regarding Israel that is fair target for criticism).

One only need remember that it was a Liberal government under William Lyon Mackenzie King that refused to accept Jewish refugees from Germany prior to WWII. Eventually, that ship was forced to go back to Germany, and those poor people wound up suffering a rather ignomious fate.

I think all political movements have to be wary about these things finding a home within them.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Perhaps I should have described antisemitism as having been historically "a defining feature" of the far right, but I would heartily concede that antisemitism, racism and homophobia have been commonplace features, at times, on the Left.

Speaking of which, a couple of years ago, I went to great lengths to find a real example of some Zionist "equating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism," which was said to be a major factor in the curtailment of free debate about the Hezbollah War. I wanted evidence of some real live Jew - not, say, some anonymous semi-literate blogger - committing this offence, anywhere, in any forum, in any context.

Where was the evidence?

I was deluged with responses along the lines of "Are you kidding?" and "Where have you been?" and "It happens all the time." Still, no one could give me one unambiguous example of a Jew actually doing this, and I reached the reluctant conclusion that this meme-thing, which was so thoroughly ubiquitous on the Left, worked exactly like a classic antisemitic canard, of the Jews-make-matzos-from-the-blood-of-Christians variety.
It was not only commonplace on the Left, it appeared to universally accepted as "true" on the Left. A "defining feature," you could say. This is what I mean when I refer to the trajectory of antisemitism from its more familiar haunts on the far right to a sort of shrouded spectre haunting the pseudo-left.

I found all this rather disturbing, to say the least. Later, I discovered that Allan Dershowitz had actually gone so far as to go on national television in the US and publicly offer a reward of several thousand dollars to anyone who came up with a case of this actually happening - of some Jew equating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Last time I checked, nobody has collected that reward.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

Things like that remind me of Norman Mailer's theories on virtual reality ideologies.

A virtual reality ideology is based on assumptions that form the very basis of reality to individuals who subscribe to these ideologies. Not only will they not consider the validity of any idea found outside the "system", so to speak, but the answer must always be found within the system.

Thus, it's assumed that Jews equate any criticism of Israel with antisemitism. If anyone asks for even a single example of such, they're accused of being out of touch with reality.

Such things are actually becoming more and more pervasive, unfortunately.

12:36 PM  
Blogger richard said...

I miss feeling like the Greens were a party with candidates I'd enjoy breaking bread with. At times I've thought of them as the only such party, although I've voted several different ways over the years, federally and provincially, usually with confidence in my decision.

But this, this rattles me badly.

11:01 PM  
Blogger L said...

Mr G., I believe I've expressed to you and some other anti-fascists a bit of worry, that there is an overlap between deep-green *coercive* environmentalism and spit-flecked Jew hatred. Actually I consider the case proven, and this chump Shavluk as merely a late and minor incidence of it. His innovation isn't just in the realm of millenarian paranoia or Internet illiteracy, tho; dude's new blood libel is to accuse Da Jooz of *purposely shoddy building techniques.* I mean, c'mon! Jesu was a carpenter, and let's be polite about the Chosen - you can't run a hook-nosed world-dominating cabal without you measure twice, and cut once.

Seriously, Terry? -- how many assholes does the global ecosystem need? Maybe the environment can look after itself.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Ian King said...

Well, the Greens face the same thing Reform did in the early-90s; a party with an anti-establishment tone, on the rise and susceptible to being infiltrated by bigoted, hate-filled scum who share this point or that. How many neo-Nazis and fellow travellers did Preston Manning have to shoo away back in the day? Tons. Now it's the Greens' turn to weed out the conspirizioids and hatemongers.

There was no riding association in Vancouver-Kingsway when Potvin stepped up -- this info came from one of those Greens I'd break bread with any time. Potvin was elected by acclamation at a meeting held ten blocks north of his riding. Doubt there was much more scrutiny in Newton-North Delta; the Greens are pretty weak in that area. With that little infrastructure, there's no possibility of the sort of vetting the Big Three do.

Despite a couple of full-slate campaigns and a whack of public funding, the Greens are still an empty vessel, so you get all sorts. This is compunded by them moving back and forth between a leftish (but really hippy) sort of environmentalism and eco-capitalism depending on who's leader, so the party is harder to pin down than the Big Three. (Shit, if you read the BC Green's 2005 platform, they called for economic interference and government programs that would make the New Democrats blush... and most of the press potrayed the Greens as to the right of the NDP.) So hyper-coercive eco-socialists, green capitalists, people who can't handle traditional party discipline and plain old nutcases all find a niche in the party. I don't think that there's a direct connection between coercive deep greens and anti-semitic whackjobbery; just an environment (loose discipline, a party with some prospects to elect MPs, decent resources) that is attractive for people looking for a platform.

11:33 PM  
Blogger langmann said...

Racism has never "shifted" from the right to the left.

It has been in both the left and the right since those terms were created. Examine the racism that existed in early Trade Unions, and the political parties of the US, Britain and Canada and you will find amongst Libertarian and Liberal parties Racists who hated Jews, Blacks, Irish or whatever and expressed it quite vocally.

Racism is NOT NEW to the left, nor is it to the right. The right cannot tolerate racists for long, as they get exposed quickly and the media stigma of being right wing is being racist and hence people who are right wing and not racist will chase off those people before the damage can be done.

You do a great job assessing why racism remains in the left. And why it is tolerated.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Neo Conservative said...

"patrick ross says... I don't honestly believe antisemitism has ever been a 'clearly-defined feature of the far right'..."

patrick... that's so absurd, it's not even a statement that needs defending.

you want anti-semitism... how about you take a closer look at "the protocols of the elders of cc"?


8:29 PM  

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