There's been a little dust-up in ye olde Canadian blogosphere because, in a reply to a comment (in a thread containing some genuinely anti-semitic commentators), McClelland said, approximately: "if they [some nameless government group, I surmise] came for the Jews, I wouldn't care". This has been read as "anti-semitic" by the afore-mentioned children, as well as many others.
This is why we need more philosophers in public discourse: not caring is not equivalent to judging right. At the very most, not caring is equivalent to judging neutral (i.e., neither right nor wrong). More appropriately, though, not caring is usually symptomatic of a motivational gap between judgement and action. That is, McClelland says he "doesn't care" meaning that, even if he agrees that "coming for the Jews" would be wrong, he isn't sufficiently motiviated to do anything about it. In the very same thread, McClelland commented that he is tired of Jewish groups failing to defend leftists against being accused of anti-semitism -- so, in other words, the motivation that would accompany a judgement of wrong is being overridden by dissatisfaction and cynicism. Which is completely understandable (and, for what it's worth, happens to me all the time).
Kinsella et al. have piled on to try to accuse McClelland of anti-semitism, however, despite the total lack of evidence. Kinsella's piece in the National Disgrace (I won't link to it; I don't link to the paper; find it yourselves) brings up the tired old canard that criticizing actions of the Israeli government is instantly "anti-semitic". By that logic, criticizing the US government is anti-Christian and criticizing the government of Zimbabwe is racist. It's absurd on its very face: criticizing a government, even in very harsh terms, does not make one anti-semitic.
Kinsella also tries to draw the anti-semitic conclusion from comments McClelland has made accusing Jews of being murderers. That is also not anti-semitism. If the connection is "he's a Jew, therefore he's a murderer", then that would be anti-semitism; but what evidence is there that McClelland thinks like this? The answer, once again, is none. The more plausible, and charitable, way of reading McClelland's point is that he is noting the support of many Jews for Israel, despite (e.g.) Israel's vicious retaliation against Lebanon over this past summer (which I also criticized; check the archives), and drawing the not unreasonable conclusion that those Jews are also responsible for the Lebanese deaths. (I'm not endorsing the conclusion, because I don't buy the principle it turns on. However, it's not unreasonable. Noam Chomsky tends to reason like this, as does Peter Singer.)
What else have we got? The tired old "Fuck the Jews" post that McClelland posted some years back, which was clearly -- clearly to non-children and non-idiots, that is -- intended as a provocative thought-experiment? (I'm not saying it was successful, but it was clearly a thought-experiment.)
The very most that McClelland can be accused of is insufficient strength of character to overcome his cynicism and accept the motivation that follows from a judgement of wrong. (And, really, most people can be accused of that. Be honest.) He may also be accused of somewhat tactless phrasing (but, hey, it's a blog: you want cautious reasoning, go find a book). But anti-semitism is a serious charge, and should only be levelled in serious circumstances on the basis of genuine evidence. Terribly unserious people hysterically denouncing a few sentences, and doing it on the basis of blatant misreading, should not be throwing the word "anti-semitism" around. Indeed, they should probably not be allowed near sharp objects without adult supervision.
As an aside, I wonder to what extent this teapot-centred tempest is actually based on the genuine problems facing the federal Liberal party, which both Kinsella and Cherniak foolishly support. It's understandable, if not justifiable, to lash out at other people when something near and dear to one's own heart is failing so badly.
Now, has anyone got anything serious with which to support the charge? Or is this just a pathetic blogswarm against, in this instance, an innocent man?
To forestall any obvious questions, to support an accusation of anti-semitism, you need at least one of the following:
- Evidence of direct harm against Jews or believed Jews
- As (1), but against those who associate with or are believed to associate with Jews
- As (1), but against those who are sympathetic towards or are believed to be sympathetic towards Jews
Furthermore, you also need to be doing it for the following reason:
- Because they're Jews (or believed Jews, or associates of Jews, etc.)
This is, of course, a toy example. The real world doesn't work like this. Belonging to any minority (or majority, for that matter) group doesn't track any one morally objectionable quality, nor a fortiori any set of qualities. This, then, is the error made by racists, anti-semites, sexists, et al: they use a morally irrelevant quality as a proxy for a morally objectionable quality, when there is in fact no such connection between the qualities. This is why when anti-semites try to defend themselves, they'll often point to things like "Jews can't be trusted", "Jews are all thieves", and various other offensive and inaccurate stereotypes. The anti-semite knows that everyone would agree that people who can't be trusted or thieves should be despised, to some extent, so they try to argue that every Jew fits those categories. The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of Jews do not; and those that do do so not because they are Jewish.
Since there is no such evidence in the case of McClelland, it is grossly irresponsible and, in its own right, immoral to accuse him of anti-semitism. I note, with a touch of irony, that this is exactly the sort of accusation made against the left that he claims Jewish groups do not respond to, which he then uses to explain the lack of motivation discussed above. In other words, by accusing Robert McClelland of being an anti-semite, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever (let alone sufficient evidence), Kinsella et al are supporting his claim that he has reason to not care when "they come for the Jews".
The less said about the NDP's "condemnation" of McClelland, the better. I have read the letter. (I believe it was Cherniak who posted a copy of it to his blog.) It was anemic at best. At worst, it was the kind of political ass-covering that I find disgusting. If the NDP are going to be in any way different from the other parties in the federal Parliament, they need to grow a set: when some random idiot with a blog tells them there's an "anti-semite" running the Blogging Dippers, the correct response is "Oh, yeah? Prove it.", not "Well, we find that offensive too; please visit our new official blogroll... vote NDP!" Pathetic. (Is it too late to found a real Socialist party in Canada?)
(I don't have any particular love for McClelland nor the NDP, obviously. I belong to no parties. My association with McClelland is limited to reading his blog and being on the OntarioBlogs blogroll, which he administers. My only point in writing this is to expose how utterly stupid the accusations against him are. Honestly, in a week where Ann Coulter, US right-wing media darling, exposes how viciously prejudiced she is -- yet again -- we have twits like Kinsella running around and talking about Robert McClelland? In a national newspaper, no less?)
UPDATE (about 6pm EST): In discussion in the comments, with Lord Kitchener's Own, I've realized that this may leave readers with the impression that I think there is no ground to blame or censure McClelland for his comments. That is not my point at all; my point is only to focus on the "anti-semitic" label and how it is not at all appropriate. There may be other labels that will stick -- my personal favourites are "excessively cynical" (a character flaw) plus "egregiously offensive" (in the sense of vulgar) -- and thus other reasons to condemn McClelland's conduct.
However, that said, I have also learned, again from comments (this time, from Erik Abbink) that McClelland has been drummed out of the Progressive Bloggers. This strikes me as excessive, particularly given that the PB mods claim his comments were not anti-semitic. If McClelland is guilty of being offensive or too cynical, then, perhaps, the mods could justify some kind of punishment. (Although, really, are character tests now necessary in order to be part of a policy- or principle-based community?) If McClelland were an anti-semite, then that could justify throwing him out of PB. But, if he's not an anti-semite -- as the PB mods admit, and as I have argued -- then this is clearly an excessive, and thus unjustified, response.
So, to summarize. He has not done what some think he has done, but that does not mean he has done nothing. He may have deserved some punishment for what he has done, but he did not deserve this.
Those are my views on the subject. Shift them if you can.