A Note on Media Misrepresentation of NAC’s Mission and Connections

A Note on Media Misrepresentation of NAC’s Mission and Connections

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June 1, 2017

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Over the past several months, certain members of the media have misrepresented Never Again Canada (NAC) as being part of an alleged network of “ultra-Zionist” organizations that include the Jewish Defence League (JDL), notably failing to report the fact that, if NAC and the JDL have any commonality of interests, it is in regard to both groups’ focus on fighting against anti-Jewish incitement. 

Aside from that entirely legitimate common goal, the two groups neither comprise a formal network nor affiliate with one another in any other fashion.  Not only is each group set apart by different means and philosophies for achieving the goal of combating anti-Semitic incitement, but the structure of NAC is entirely different from that of the JDL.

For one thing, NAC is essentially a Facebook group, set up just a few years ago, with the primary aim of informing its followers about news and issues related to combating anti-Jewish incitement.  Though many of its followers are members of the Jewish community, NAC is oriented toward the public at large, aiming to reach a diverse base of followers that encompasses all religions, ethnicities, and political orientations – as we firmly believe that the fight against anti-Jewish incitement is fundamentally an issue in the general public interest.   When bigoted entities start targeting Jews, their activities seldom stop at the borders of the Jewish community.  Our followers understand this basic fact.

By contrast, the JDL is seen by many of its supporters within the Jewish community as a vehicle for advocating – often militantly – for various Jewish interests across a wide spectrum of issues, with the fight against anti-Semitic incitement being just one, albeit among the most salient, of those issues.

The JDL was established in 1968 by Meir Kahane, who initially conceived of the group as an urban street patrol defending Jews against inner city crime.  Ever since then, the group has been imprinted with Kahane’s nationalist goals and philosophies, which have carried on with the group well past Kahane’s assassination by an Islamic terrorist back in 1990.

In the ensuing decades, a number of JDL members have been linked by US authorities to a series of violent activities and bombings, resulting in an estimated half a dozen deaths in the United States.  In 2001, the FBI characterized the JDL as a right wing extremist group.

That is the public – or most publicized – face of the JDL.  In Canada, generally within the modern Orthodox Jewish community, the local chapter of the JDL has established a visible presence, often lending out its personnel for security duties at various Jewish community events, with many of them held in synagogues.  At such events – far from being radical right wing venues for incitement against other communities – the main focus of concern has tended to be the dangers posed to the Jewish community and to the State of Israel by way of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incitement.

To many local supporters of the JDL, it is this particular, more benign face of the local JDL chapter that is most visibly seen at the grassroots level in the Jewish community, with the JDL frequently showing up at protests and functions dedicated to fighting against anti-Jewish incitement. Many of the JDL’s most fervent local supporters and members, in fact, made the choice to support the JDL primarily due to its perceived function as being the most effective and the most aggressive vehicle for combating anti-Jewish incitement, not just with speeches, but with on the ground activists who make a point of attending protests to combat anti-Semitism.

In light of this one commonality of interest – the common fight against anti-Semitic incitement – some of NAC’s administrators and followers, on occasion, have posted items that reference the JDL’s anti-incitement activities, and, additionally, have attended anti-incitement protests in which the JDL has had a visible presence.

But that is as far as the purported “connection” between NAC and the JDL goes.  The media mistakenly assumes that the community here is fully aware of the allegations leveled against the JDL in the past, or of the inappropriate activities that have been conducted by some of its members.  To our knowledge, the JDL in Canada has never posted a call to violent incitement against any other communities, nor has it issued directives to its members to engage in such activities.  We are confident that, had it done so, such members would have been prosecuted in accordance with the law, and that the Canadian government would have clamped down on the group for publicly conducting incitement activities against other communities.

These matters are noted not as apologetics for the JDL, nor as approval for any illegal conduct by some of its members, but as an explanation as to why some NAC posters have periodically referenced the JDL, focusing on its more salient anti-incitement activities, to the exclusion of other worrying conduct by some of its members that could be taken in itself as being inciteful against others.   

However, when certain elements in the media over-extend and misrepresent the scope of a purported “connection” between two groups which otherwise have very little to do with one another, other than having an overlapping interest in just one common issue –  the fight against anti-Jewish incitement – it becomes tempting to engage in lazy and irresponsible reporting.

It is a subtle and important point to make – especially when a media organization appears guilty of committing similar “sins” of spurious association that they would otherwise cast on groups like NAC.

By way of example, a few months back, NOW Magazine had published an online article that misrepresented NAC as being part of a “tight-knit” network of “ultra-Zionist” organizations that were holding “anti-Muslim” protests.  The main focus of the article misrepresented NAC – since corrected – as holding a protest in front of the Masjid Mosque on February 17, 2017.

In actual fact, NAC had nothing at all to do with the protest.  NOW’s reportage rested on a singular posting by one of NAC’s administrators, who noted their personal attendance at this protest, and who congratulated like-minded attendees among NAC’s readers.

What NOW failed to report was that many of the attendees had chosen the Masjid Mosque as a protest site due to reports of violent anti-Jewish incitement originating from this venue.  In fact, an incidence of anti-Jewish incitement, at this particular venue, was reported by the National Post on February 22nd, with the following headline:

Liberal Jewish and Muslim MPs condemn Imams who called for the Death of Jews

As NAC had nothing to do with the protest, it could not possibly be responsible for the conduct of the attendees, the vast majority of whom were from groups other than NAC, and some of whom carried inappropriate signage defaming the Muslim community in general.  In any case, NAC had absolutely no visible presence at this protest, nor did it publicize it in advance.

But none of this seemed to matter to the NOW reporter who had focused on NAC, misframing it as an “ultra-Zionist” group whose only interest seemed to be to defame the Muslim community in collusion with other like-minded groups, with NOW referencing the JDL as being one such group purportedly “connected” to NAC.

The accusation itself stood as a group smear against NAC and its followers, negatively impacting NAC’s mission to reach out to members of the Muslim Canadian community to join in the fight to combat anti-Jewish incitement arising from Islamist venues, from individual extremists, and from fundamentalist organizations.

Essentially, NOW ignored the relevant issue of anti-Jewish incitement, and then proceeded to cast aspersions on NAC, as a group, by proposing that it was guilty through alleged association with other groups like the JDL.

NOW’s conduct in this one matter is indeed ironic – and egregiously hypocritical.  If NOW would hold itself to its own journalistic standards of proof, one could arguably make the case that NOW is itself guilty of “associating” with a group of anti-Semites and extreme anti-Zionists, as evidenced by the recent posting on its own site of a video,  from a piece dated April 11, 2017, with the heading “Rabid Jews Go Psycho @AIPAC”.  Without any accompanying explanation, NOW had left the impression that this title was put there with their approval, effectively signifying to its readers that here was an example of “rabid Jews [going] psycho.”

The video itself was taken from a YouTube channel known as Richmond Peace, which features many videos espousing the existence of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.  In posting this video, NOW not only effectively promoted – albeit unwittingly – an epithet against Jews, but effectively publicized a channel that repeatedly references anti-Semitic canards.

The piece itself was authored by Richard Silverstein, an individual who describes himself as a “progressive Zionist”, but who has been accused by others in the Jewish community as being an extreme anti-Zionist who has peddled false accusations in the past against the State of Israel.  In this particular piece, Mr. Silverstein reported on inappropriate activity by JDL members at an AIPAC venue, with NOW posting the aforementioned video that was titled with the hateful epithet against Jews.   

The hateful video has since been deleted by NOW from the article in question, yet NOW has not published any correction notice text to indicate that it had been there in the first place.   In essence, NOW’s traceable connection to the questionable YouTube channel – along with the fact that Mr. Silverstein had sourced it for the article – was simply washed from the record.  No explanation – or apology to the Jewish community – needed.

By contrast, NOW appended a correction notice text at the very end of the article that had smeared NAC as being part of a right wing “ultra-Zionist” network.  The text noted that, indeed, NAC was not responsible for holding the protest in question.  Yet by continuing to leave the accusations against NAC to stand virtually unchanged in the body of the article, a reader would nevertheless likely come away from the article assuming that NAC was the overall mastermind behind this “anti-Muslim” protest, presumably in association with like-minded extremist groups.   

In sum – despite the pro forma gesture by NOW in placing a corrective notice at the very end of an otherwise damaging article – NOW essentially left NAC standing accused in the dock, while at the same time NOW protected itself from any similar damage to its own reputation by deleting any record of NOW’s past association with a questionable YouTube channel, along with any record of NOW’s posting of an anti-Jewish epithet..

Yet if NOW was originally in error in referencing NAC’s presumed responsibility for this protest, then why bother continuing to reference – much less put an essential focus on – NAC as one of the “ultra-Zionist organizations”  behind the protest?  The very point of the article, after all, was to inform the readers about the “tight network” of groups alleged to be behind this protest. So, if NOW was acknowledging its error in holding NAC responsible for the protest, why even bother to continue focusing on – much less referencing – NAC as one of the groups behind the protest?

More to the point, why does NOW continue to mis-frame NAC as an “ultra-Zionist” organization, without bothering to even acknowledge NAC’s stated mission to fight anti-Jewish incitement?  In continuing to publicly misrepresent NAC as an “anti-Muslim” group – with no reference at all to NAC’s anti-Jewish incitement activities – the effect of NOW’s article is to severely damage NAC’s appeal and reputation as a go-to place for all people – Jews, Muslims, and Christians – to learn about and fight against anti-Jewish incitement.

In essence, NOW has raised questionable allegations against a popular group – with tens of thousands of followers – that works toward ending anti-Jewish incitement.  To add to the damage, NOW had lent its own site to the propagation of an anti-Jewish epithet and to the incidental publicizing of a YouTube channel that, in own way, contributes to anti-Jewish incitement.

In sum, NOW has demonized a group dedicated to fighting anti-Jewish incitement while at the same time, it has lent a voice to those who would incite against the Jewish community.

What does all this say about NOW’s treatment of the issue of anti-Jewish incitement?

To be clear, we do not believe at all that NOW has an agenda to promote anti-Semitism in any form.  We readily concede and acknowledge that the inclusion of the offending video was likely due to a lack of knowledge and due diligence– on the part of the responsible editor – in regard to  the video source and its questionable connections.

Why, then, does NOW not extend the same courtesy to NAC – by acknowledging that any incidental “connection” between NAC and the JDL is due to the aforementioned circumstance that some JDL and NAC members share a common, overlapping goal in ending anti-Jewish incitement?

Why does NOW not consider the fact that not all people who are sympathetic to the most salient grassroots portion of the JDL’s activities –  specifically, its fight against anti-Semitic incitement – are necessarily aware of the details of outrageous and illegal conduct committed by some of its more extreme members, both past and present?

If NOW feels itself entitled to paint NAC and its followers with the broad brush of anti-Muslim incitement – while irresponsibly failing to report that NAC more specifically focuses on protesting against anti-Jewish incitement from Islamist sources –  could not NAC and members of the Jewish community just as easily feel themselves entitled to paint NOW as a media entity that enables anti-Jewish incitement while demonizing groups that fight against it?

In the end, it does not serve the public’s interest when the media resorts to sloppy sourcing, misrepresentation of facts, and irresponsible conduct that severely undercuts an ethnic community’s interests.

NAC is a relatively new Facebook group whose massive growth in popularity has meant that a number of voices – sometimes objectionable – do get through.  But NAC will not allow those voices – nor irresponsible reporting by the media – to unilaterally define and misrepresent NAC’s mission.

To date, NAC has sent out a public call inviting Muslim Canadians to join us in a common goal to combat anti-Jewish incitement from extreme Islamist sources.  NAC will continue to appeal to members of this community to feel welcome here, to join us in this common battle in the public interest.

Toward that end, we ask that you disregard the objectionable comments of trolls, cranks, and agent provocateurs who undermine our essential goal – specifically, when their comments and actions work to furnish the media with the cherry-picked “evidence” the media needs in order to ignore and misrepresent our essential mission.

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