Just when it appeared safe to tread in Quebec’s Jewish waters, out comes another politician with anti-Semitic remarks.
Yves Michaud, a 70-year old Quebec nationalist, stated sarcastically on a Dec. 12 talk show on one of Montreal’s top French-language AM radio stations that Jews “are the only people in the history of the world to suffer.”
Michaud’s comments come five years after another Parti Quebecois politician, then-Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, said money and the ethnic vote were to blame for the narrow defeat of a referendum to split Quebec from the rest of Canada. The comments were widely interpreted as a reference to Jews, and were hugely controversial.
Michaud said he had made the comment to Liberal Party Senator Leo Kolber, a Jew, who recently asked Michaud if he is still a separatist.
A member of Quebec’s governing separatist Parti Quebecois, Michaud is a candidate in the culturally diverse Montreal district of Mercier in upcoming elections for the provincial legislature.
“I am a separatist like you are a Jew,” Michaud said he told Kolber. “It took 2,000 years for your people to have a Jewish homeland. If it takes me 10, 50 or 200 more, I can wait.”
Kolber responded that it wasn’t the same, Michaud told talk show host Paul Arcand.
“It’s never the same for them. The Armenians didn’t suffer. The Palestinians aren’t suffering. The Rwandans didn’t suffer,” Michaud said sarcastically.
He said he told Kolber: “It’s always you people. You are the only people in the history of the world to suffer. I was fed up.”
Michaud’s comments were condemned by B’nai Brith Canada, which Michaud also castigated for its support of Israel, calling it “the extremist phalanx of international Zionism.”
Stephen Scheinberg, national chairman of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, was furious about Michaud’s portrayal of Jews.
“His ignorance of the history of human rights is astounding, as he ignores the Jewish heroes and martyrs of the South African freedom struggle, the rabbis who stood shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King,” among other things, said Scheinberg.
A Canadian Alliance party “candidate in the recent federal election was forced to resign when her remarks about an `Asian invasion’ were revealed,” Scheinberg said. “We will be interested to see if” Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard “will similarly safeguard his party from bigotry.”
Bouchard distanced himself from Michaud’s rhetoric, saying, “I am not comfortable with the statements of Mr. Michaud. I disagree with him and I trust he will as soon as possible clarify what he said.”
However, Bouchard said he would not disallow Michaud’s candidacy because of the remarks. Bouchard is chairman of the Parti Quebecois executive committee, which can veto a candidacy with a two-thirds vote.
Despite the uproar over his comments, Michaud is unrepentant.
Robert Libman, Quebec regional director of B’nai Brith Canada, said the anti- Semitism inherent in Michaud’s comments and the sarcastic manner in which they were made were real concerns.
“The way he makes it out, the Jews are constantly complaining, which is a common means anti-Semites have used to denigrate the Jewish community,” Libman said.
Allan Adel, chairman of B’nai Brith Canada in Quebec, presented Michaud as a political “dinosaur” whose election would seriously harm minority groups in the area.
In recent years, the Parti Quebecois “has made an effort in assuming the posture of civic nationalism, but the presence of Michaud in its caucus could bring us back to the days of blaming the `ethnics’ and a return of the dinosaur wing,” Adel said.
CLARIFICATION: A news item that appeared in the Dec. 14 electronic edition about the cancellation of a trip to Israel for U.S. military personnel did not make clear that the Jewish Community Centers Association, which was sponsoring the trip as part of the Birthright Israel program, is going ahead with its other planned trips to Israel in January. The JCCA is bringing 90 participants in two groups in January.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.