As far as Mountreal’s Jewish community is concerned, Julius Grey’s timing and statements could not have been more outrageous.
Hundreds of community members called radio talk shows, rabbis, friends and communal organizations last week in response to the renowned lawyer’s public comments that anti-Semitism and the Holocaust were being manipulated by Jewish leaders in an effort to keep the community united.
“I think the Holocaust and anti-Semitism is being used by some elements in Israel and the Jewish community to keep people in the fold,” Grey said April 24 to a group of 30 students at John Abbot College, located near Montreal. His speech was part of a weeklong Holocaust symposium conducted at the college.
“What is happening is a fake, alarmist mentality, because there is effectively no anti-Semitism in North America,” added the lawyer, an expert on constitutional affairs who teaches law at Montreal’s McGill University.
Grey’s comments came only days before Jewish communities around the globe held observances to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In his remarks, Grey was also critical of how the Holocaust is taught to Jewish students. Holocaust studies sand, in particular, sending teen-agers on tours of Nazi death camps has turned the Holocaust into an overhyped political issue, Grey said.
“Each ethnic group creates its own martyrology — that we’re good and kind and we’ve been mistreated. The fact is, if you look around Canada today, you’ll find a society with zero anti-Semitism,” he said.
The fact that Grey is Jewish, born in Poland in 1948 and lost his grandfather in the Holocaust upset community members even more.
“Does Grey know what really happened” in Europe, said child survivor Sidney Zoltak, organizer of the Montreal Memorial Holocaust Center’s Yom Hashoah program.
“Please excuse me if I get a little emotional,” said Zoltak, who noted that in his “hometown of 7,500 Jews, only 70 remained.”
Zoltak said Grey’s comments really touched a nerve with survivors because it was only in the past decade that they have felt free to speak out.
Montreal has one of the highest concentrations of survivors in North America.
Montreal’s Jewish organizations roundly condemned Grey.
A joint statement critical of his comments was issued by Canadian Jewish Congress and the Montreal Memorial Holocaust Center.
Robert Libman, B’nai Birth Canada’s Quebec region director, also slammed Grey during a televised news interview.
The Montreal Memorial Holocaust Center’s director of educational services, Naomi Kramer, said Grey’s views were mistaken.
“I don’t think there’s any conspiracy among Jewish leaders to expropriate the Holocaust to ensure community support,” she said.
Mike Cohen, national communications director at the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that in the past, he never has received so many calls from irate community members on one issue.
“They are quite angry, and naturally it’s a unilateral condemnation of Mr. Grey’s sentiments,” Cohen said.
One person called and said Grey should he protesting against Ottawa’s lack of action against people such as Holocaust denier and Toronto-based hate propaganda publisher Ernst Zundel, not aiding Zundel and his followers, he added.
Cohen said he and CJC Quebec region director Jack Jedwab had been getting early-morning calls at their residences as a result of the emotionally charged issue.
Jedwab said Grey’s comments could be exploited by Holocaust deniers, which, he said, explained why the remarks could be so injurious to the community.
Cohen said, “Imagine being a member of the community and waking up to this as front-page news in your daily paper, coming from a prominent member of your own community. It’s a real shock to the system.”
He was referring to an article that appeared in the Montreal daily newspaper. The Gazette, which covered Grey’s remarks under a headline that read, “Holocaust Exploited By Jews, Grey Says.”
Cohen pointed out that the issue would be dealt with at CJC’s upcoming national plenary May 14-15 in Montreal. At that time, a panel of eight Holocaust experts will discuss related issues in a form moderated by Toronto’s Shirley Solomon, a television talk show host who is herself the child of survivors and often deals with Holocaust and racial issues on her show.
“We should invite Grey to appear,” Cohen said sarcastically.
For Grey’s part, he was unrepentant. He reiterated his views on three radio programs.
“I stand by what I said,” Grey said. “I don’t think it was offensive.”
He felt that people had overreacted to the story in the Gazette.
“I think the headline sounded like Holocaust denial or diminishment. People have been calling me a quisling and an anti-Semite on the radio.” he said.