Outrage from Montreal Jews has prompted a French-language newspaper to withdraw a Person of the Year competition that included Yasser Arafat as a candidate.
The competition in the daily La Presse — which also featured Canada’s new prime minister, Paul Martin, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, champion cyclist Lance Armstrong and author Yan Martel, among others — asked readers to vote at the newspaper’s Web site.
Bios were included with each personality. Arafat’s bio portrayed the Palestinian Authority president in a noble light.
“Many people from different cultural backgrounds sent e-mails and letters of complaint,” said Philip Elharar, the Quebec-Israel Committee’s director of public affairs. “From what I understand, a serious number of people contacted them,” he said. “I think they were bombarded with complaints.”
“It’s a shame, really, that they chose him. So much corruption surrounds this man,” he continued. “It’s unbelievable that Arafat would receive such an honor from a reputable newspaper like La Presse. People at La Presse are not stupid. Perhaps they were not consulted by the people who do their Web site.”
Real-estate consultant Julia Coriat, a French-speaking Jews, said she was incensed when she read Arafat’s bio.
“It’s all lies. I wanted to be sick when I saw what they wrote about him,” she said.
The bio began by lauding Arafat for his “courage and tenacity” in the advancement of the Palestinian cause and the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
The story began on Dec. 11, Coriat said, when La Presse ran four names in the newspaper, asking people to go to the Web site and vote for one of them, from among a larger list totaling 12 people.
Coriat has the newspaper delivered to her home daily — primarily, she said, so that she can monitor the paper’s take on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I saw Prime Minister Martin, Premiers Charest and Chirac, and Yasser Arafat, like he was a respected world leader. I was shocked,” she said.
Coriat immediately wrote an e-mail protesting Arafat’s inclusion and sent it to her friends. Many such e-mails were circulated over the course of the next two days, including one from the Quebec-Israel Committee.
“I heard from many people, not only Jews, but Quebecois as well, who were very troubled by this,” she said.
Eric Clement, who is in charge of the paper’s Web site, cyberpresse, told JTA that the paper had been deluged with e-mails and letters, “mainly from the Jewish community.”
“We have withdrawn Mr. Arafat’s name,” he said. “In fact, we have stopped the competition altogether.”
“Initially, we wanted to just suggest names among many that people could vote for. We wanted the public to come up with names,” he said. “After all the letters and e-mails, we decided it had not been a good idea. We made a mistake.”
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.