Sears: Convoy inquiry reveals another Canadian intelligence fiasco

One of the better commentaries. Paul Wells on substack continues to have a number of must read commentaries:

The developed world grudgingly accepts that its intelligence agencies have a perennially poor performance record. Despite the tens of billions of dollars we spend on them, their list of failures is breathtaking: Iraq, 9/11, prediction that Afghanistans would survive and Ukraine wouldn’t. 

In Canada, we have our own humiliations: Air India and the rendition of Canadian citizens to be tortured in police states. The most recent horror is CSIS’s employ of a human trafficker as its agent, then lying about it to allies.

The guru of intelligence history, Christopher Andrew (“The Secret World”), observes that these disasters are rarely a failure in intelligence collection. More often it is failures in sharing, analysis, and execution. However, as the convoy inquiry (officially, the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency) has made glaringly clear, Canadian intelligence and police agencies often fail at collection, as well. 

Bizarrely, CSIS, RCMP and OPP have for years failed to understand and master the power of social media. They monitor the obscure hate sites peripatetically. They fail to see patterns, share findings, or dig into identities and connections. Shopify does a better job at it than Canadian security agencies. Perhaps we should retain them. 

It is the absence of an aggressive outbound social media strategy that is even more astonishing. No agency smacks down misinformation, calls out lies and disinformation, let alone offers a more Canadian view on issues from race to terrorism. The reason may be that they fear to be seen to be “political.” No other NATO country’s spooks are so meek, they use surrogates.

Several police and intelligence agency leaders have shared with me their frustration at their bosses failure to understand the essential role an effective social media strategy has today. It is predictably, generational. Mine doesn’t get it, my son’s generation do.

The OPP’s nose-stretchers are a case in point. Their witnesses claimed on the one hand that the Ottawa Police Service did not digest their intel warnings about the convoy’s potential for violence. Then in the same testimony they concede they did not have any “specific” evidence of such tendencies. Nor can they claim that they raised the alarm with any other agency or police service with the intensity their intel teams were shouting for.

A teen at a screen in their basement could have pointed them to the dozens of cases of inciteful rhetoric and the open calls for violent overthrow of the government, months in advance. The Inquiry has made clear this needs to be addressed urgently: work the social media platforms faster, more deeply, and share your findings. 

The second revelation of the Inquiry: little has changed since Bob Rae revealed the staggering cost in lives of CSIS and the RCMP’s mutual enmity. They treat each other, and their political masters, as interfering and untrustworthy threats. Why was their no high-level forum among three levels of government, and their agencies, weeks before the convoy arrived.

Blaming the dysfunctional state that the Ottawa police had descended to is a useful out for the OPP and RCMP. It is no defence, however, for their failure to do everything they could to ensure public safety. John Morden in his blistering assessment of the G20 Summit disaster made all of these points crystal clear more than a decade ago. No one, apparently, took him seriously.

The politicians hiding under their desks for the first two weeks are the most galling: Premier Ford refusing to even attend a high-level meeting, Justin Trudeau clinging to his “separation of powers” fig leaf until dropping it in favour of the Emergency Declaration, as his inner circle finally realized that this was going to bite them too; and the slippery mayor of Ottawa conspiring behind his own chief’s back to hire a completely unqualified negotiator who reached a deal to move even more trucks to Parliament Hill. Some deal! Political vanity made a bad situation even worse. 

The inquiry has been a blessing already. It has revealed incompetence, infighting, and childish jurisdictional games in texts, emails and testimony. Let us hope some of those tarnished by its revelations now sit down and apply its lessons — before the next armed attack on Ottawa.

Source: Convoy inquiry reveals another Canadian intelligence fiasco

South Asian truckers say protest convoys didn’t resonate with them, caused financial losses

Yet another story on South Asian truckers (even if the convoy really wasn’t about truckers…):

Bearing a load of produce bound for Sobeys, Nihal Singh pulled up to a border checkpoint in northern Montana late last month, only to find the path blocked by big-riggers on the other side.

Semi-trucks and protesters barred the way in Coutts, Alta., as they demonstrated against vaccine mandates, holding up Singh for nearly two days — one of hundreds of drivers stopped by the blockade. After more than 24 hours, he and a group of other South Asian Canadian truckers approached authorities to find out when they could pass.

“That’s when another guy, he came out of his truck and he was, like, being racist. He was saying, ‘Go back to your truck, go back to India,”‘ recalled Singh, a 28-year-old driver from Edmonton.

Source: South Asian truckers say protest convoys didn’t resonate with them, caused financial losses

US funds for Canada protests may sway American politics too

Should it be a surprise that Canadians are being used as props for the US right?

The Canadians who have disrupted travel and trade with the U.S. and occupied downtown Ottawa for nearly three weeks have been cheered and funded by American right-wing activists and conservative politicians who also oppose vaccine mandates and the country’s liberal leader.

Yet whatever impact the protests have on Canadian society, and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, experts say the outside support is really aimed at energizing conservative politics in the U.S. Midterm elections are looming, and some Republicans think standing with the protesters up north will galvanize fund-raising and voter turnout at home, these experts say.

“The kind of narratives that the truckers and the trucker convoy are focusing on are going to be really important issues for the (U.S.) elections coming ahead,” said Samantha Bradshaw, a postdoctoral fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University. “And so using this protest as an opportunity to galvanize their own supporters and other groups, I think it’s very much an opportunity for them.”

By Wednesday afternoon, all previously blocked border crossings had been re-opened, and police began focusing on pressuring the truckers and other protesters in Ottawa to clear out of the capital city or face arrest, fines and confiscation of their vehicles. 

About 44 percent of the nearly $10 million in contributions to support the protesters originated from U.S. donors, according to an Associated Press analysis of leaked donor files. U.S. Republican elected officials, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have praised the protesters calling them “heroes” and “patriots.”

“What this country is facing is a largely foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack on critical infrastructure and our democratic institutions,” Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said earlier this week. 

Demonstrators in Ottawa have had been regularly supplied with fuel and food, and the area around Parliament Hill has at times resembled a spectacular carnival with bouncy castles, gyms, a playground and a concert stage with DJs. 

GiveSendGo, a website used to collect donations for the Canadian protests, has collected at least $9.58 million dollars, including $4.2 million, or 44%, that originated in the United States, according to a database of donor information posted online by DDoSecrets, a non-profit group.

The Canadian government has been working to block protesters’ access to these funds, however, and it is not clear how much of the money has ultimately gotten through.

Millions of dollars raised through another crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, were blocked after Canadian officials raised objections with the company, which determined that the effort violated its terms of service around unlawful activity.

The GiveSendGo database analyzed by AP showed a tally of more than 109,000 donations through Friday night to campaigns in support of the protests, with a little under 62,000 coming from the U.S. 

The GiveSendGo data listed several Americans as giving thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to the protest, with the largest single donation of $90,000 coming from a person who identified himself as Thomas M. Siebel.

Siebel, the billionaire founder of software company Siebel Systems, did not respond to messages sent to an email associated with a foundation he runs and to his LinkedIn account.

A representative from the Siebel Scholars Foundation, who signed her name only as Jennifer, did not respond to questions about whether he had donated the money. But she said Siebel has a record of supporting several causes, including efforts to “protect individual liberty.”

“These are personal initiatives and have nothing to do with the companies with which he is associated,” she wrote.

Siebel has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and organizations over the last 20 years, according to Federal Election Commission records, including a $400,000 contribution in 2019 to a GOP fundraising committee called “Take Back the House 2020.”

The GiveSendGo Freedom Convoy campaign was created on Jan. 27 by Tamara Lich. She previously belonged to the far-right Maverick Party, which calls for western Canada to become independent.

The Canadian government moved earlier this week to cut off funding for the protesters by broadening the scope of the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules to cover crowdfunding platforms like GiveSendGo. 

“We are making these changes because we know that these platforms are being used to support illegal blockades and illegal activity, which is damaging the Canadian economy,” said Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Perhaps more important than the financial support is the cheerleading the Canadian protesters have received from prominent American conservative politicians and pundits, who see kindred spirits in their northern neighbors opposing vaccine mandates.

On the same day Lich created the GiveSendGo campaign, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn shared a video of the convoy in a post on the messaging app Telegram.

“These truckers are fighting back against the nonsense and tyranny, especially coming from the Canadian government,” wrote Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who served briefly as former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

A few days later, Flynn urged people to donate to the Canadian protesters. Earlier this week, he twice posted the message “#TrudeauTheCoward” on Telegram, referring to the prime minister who leads Canada’s Liberal Party.

Fox News hosts regularly laud the protests, and Trump weighed in with a broadside at Trudeau, calling him a “far left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.” Cruz called the truckers “heroes” and “patriots,” and Greene said she cannot wait to see a convoy protest in Washington.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he hopes truckers come to America and “clog up cities” in an interview last week with the Daily Signal, a news website of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Far-right and anti-vaccine activists, inspired by the Canadian actions, are now planning American versions of the protests against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions modeled on the Canadian demonstrations.

Source: US funds for Canada protests may sway American politics too

Krugman: When ‘Freedom’ Means the Right to Destroy

Good commentary:

On Sunday the Canadian police finally cleared away anti-vaccine demonstrators who had been blocking the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, a key commercial route that normally carries more than $300 million a day in international trade. Other bridges are still closed, and part of Ottawa, the Canadian capital, is still occupied.

The diffidence of Canadian authorities in the face of these disruptions has been startling to American eyes. Also startling, although not actually surprising, has been the embrace of economic vandalism and intimidation by much of the U.S. right — especially by people who ranted against demonstrations in favor of racial justice. What we’re getting here is an object lesson in what some people really mean when they talk about “law and order.”

Let’s talk about what has been happening in Canada and why I call it vandalism.

The “Freedom Convoy” has been marketed as a backlash by truckers angry about Covid-19 vaccination mandates. In reality, there don’t seem to have been many truckers among the protesters at the bridge (about 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated). Last week a Bloomberg reporter saw only three semis among the vehicles blocking the Ambassador Bridge, which were mainly pickup trucks and private cars; photos taken Saturday also show very few commercial trucks.

The Teamsters union, which represents many truckers on both sides of the border, has denounced the blockade.

So this isn’t a grass-roots trucker uprising. It’s more like a slow-motion Jan. 6, a disruption caused by a relatively small number of activists, many of them right-wing extremists. At their peak, the demonstrations in Ottawa reportedly involved only around 8,000 people, while numbers at other locations have been much smaller.

Despite their lack of numbers, however, the protesters have been inflicting a remarkable amount of economic damage. The U.S. and Canadian economies are very closely integrated. In particular, North American manufacturing, especially but not only in the auto industry, relies on a constant flow of parts between factories on both sides of the border. As a result, the disruption of that flow has hobbled industry, forcing production cuts and even factory shutdowns.

The closure of the Ambassador Bridge also imposed large indirect costs, as trucks were diverted to roundabout routes and forced to wait in long lines at alternative bridges.

Any attempt to put a number on the economic costs of the blockade is tricky and speculative. However, it’s not hard to come up with numbers like $300 million or more per day; combine that with the disruption of Ottawa, and the “trucker” protests may already have inflicted a couple of billion dollars in economic damage.

That’s an interesting number, because it’s roughly comparable to insurance industry estimates of total losses associated with the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of George Floyd — protests that seem to have involved more than 15 million people.

This comparison will no doubt surprise those who get their news from right-wing media, which portrayed B.L.M. as an orgy of arson and looting. I still receive mail from people who believe that much of New York City was reduced to smoking rubble. In fact, the demonstrations were remarkably nonviolent; vandalism happened in a few cases, but it was relatively rare, and the damage was small considering the huge size of the protests.

By contrast, causing economic damage was and is what the Canadian protests are all about — because blocking essential flows of goods, threatening people’s livelihoods, is every bit as destructive as smashing a store window. And unlike, say, a strike aimed at a particular company, this damage fell indiscriminately on anyone who had the misfortune to rely on unobstructed trade.

And to what end? The B.L.M. demonstrations were a reaction to police killings of innocent people; what’s going on in Canada is, on its face, about rejecting public health measures intended to save lives. Of course, even that is mainly an excuse: What it’s really about is an attempt to exploit pandemic weariness to boost the usual culture-war agenda.

As you might expect, the U.S. right is loving it. People who portrayed peaceful protests against police killings as an existential threat are delighted by the spectacle of right-wing activists breaking the law and destroying wealth. Fox News has devoted many hours to fawning coverage of the blockades and occupations. Senator Rand Paul, who called B.L.M. activists a “crazed mob,” called for Canada-style protests to “clog up cities” in the United States, specifically saying that he hoped to see truckers disrupt the Super Bowl (they didn’t).

I assume that the reopening of the Ambassador Bridge is the beginning of a broader crackdown on destructive protests. But I hope we won’t forget this moment — and in particular that we remember it the next time a politician or media figure talks about “law and order.”

Recent events have confirmed what many suspected: The right is perfectly fine, indeed enthusiastic, about illegal actions and disorder as long as they serve right-wing ends.

Source: When ‘Freedom’ Means the Right to Destroy

Ethnic media provides added perspectives on “Freedom Convoy”

Useful coverage by New Canadian Media and MIREMS:

Over the last week, from Feb 3. to 10, various ethnic media outlets offered a wider range of perspectives on three hot-button issues that have dominated mainstream headlines.

From the so-called Freedom Convoy, to Erin O’Toole’s ousting as leader of the Conservative Party, to the Black History Month, ethnic media provided coverage that went beyond the usual suspects interviewed by the mainstream.

By elevating different cultural perspectives, opinions and narratives, ethnic media was able to provide coverage that offers a fuller understanding of the issues at play. NCM has worked with MIREMS to bring readers these added perspectives.

Polarizing ‘Freedom Convoy’

The top story in both the mainstream and the ethnic media was the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesting against vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions in Ottawa and provincial capitals as well as land border crossings to the U.S. The Romanian paper Faptu Divers, for example, supported the convoy in multiple articles and likened Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu for curtailing people’s freedoms, while the Polish paper Goniec reported that that community provided food for the protesters. The Polish Gazeta, on the other hand, focused on the harassment, racism and misbehaviour of the protesters. 

Both the Russian Vancouverovka and Russian Week highlighted comments by CBC host Nil Köksal suggesting that Russian actors are behind the protests because of Canada’s support for Ukraine.

Multiple features on OMNI TV News Filipino focused on the impact the protests had on members of the Filipino community, who reported being afraid to leave their homes because of the harassment from protesters.  

A feature on OMNI TV Italian focused on the racist messaging at the protests. G98.7 FM online radio featured responses from the Black parliamentary caucus to the public display of hate symbols, including the Confederate flag as a symbol for slavery.

Punjabi media focused on Punjabi truckers, who make up about a quarter of all Canadian truckers, and the hardships of the industry. OMNI News Punjabi featured some Punjabis among the protesters, who emphasized that they are against the mandates, not the vaccine, and object to protesters being silenced and insulted as extremists. 

Several other features on OMNI Punjabi focused on Punjabi truckers who are stuck on the U.S. side of the Canadian border by Coutts, Alberta and by Windsor, Ontario. These truckers had to reportedly live in their trucks for days without access to food or medical supplies and were unable to do their jobs, deliver their goods and attend to personal commitments back home. Several other features highlighted that the Punjabi truckers have other priorities. 

According to ethnic media reports, most Punjabi truckers are vaccinated, as vaccine coverage in the Punjabi community is high. Their priorities are around road safety, snow clearance, road maintenance, as well as working conditions and wage theft. 

In fact, the West Coast Trucking Association organized a separate protest in January to demand better road maintenance on B.C. highways, which has not been mentioned by anyone taking part at the ‘Freedom Convoy.’ One trucker started an online fundraiser to “Support Canada’s real struggling truckers,” which had raised $7,866 as of Feb. 9, according to OMNI Punjabi.

Chinese media on O’Toole’s ousting

Another top story was the Conservative leadership race. 

Coverage reflected the vote to oust Erin O’Toole, the selection of Candice Bergen as interim leader, the candidacy of Pierre Poilievre, and speculations around other potential candidates such as Premier Doug Ford, Mayor Patrick Brown, Peter MacKay and Jean Charest. 

However, the race took a particular spin in the Chinese media, where it was coloured by perceptions of the Conservative party’s hostility towards China. Erin O’Toole was perceived to be extremely anti-China, which may have lost the Conservatives several constituencies with a significant Chinese population in the last election, as Ming Pao Toronto reported on Feb. 3. 

Reports reflect that Chinese media were relieved and delighted at O’Toole’s ousting, because having him as prime minister would, in their view, further increase discrimination and hate against the Chinese diaspora, according to reports from Van People. 

And according to a report on Sing Tao Vancouver, Lin Wen, co-founder of the Canadian Chinese Political Affairs Council, figured that no matter who the new Conservative leader is, the Conservative Party’s China policy will not be changed.

Black History Month beyond the usual

Another topic that has more prominence in the ethnic media than in the mainstream has been Black History Month. 

In the mainstream, Black History Month was covered either from a bird’s-eye view of its significance, sometimes with reference to event listings, or with a focus on statements by political leaders, from the Prime Minister to local mayors. It also looked at ceremonies like flag-raisings and museum exhibits. Some contributions feature a Black author or a celebrity like Lincoln Alexander. 

The ethnic media, on the other hand, were more focused on issues of concern to and activities arising within the Black community. 

The radio station G 98.7 FM and OMNI TV reported in depth on the BE-STEMM 2022 virtual conference organized by the Canadian Black Scientists Network. The network has found that there are few Blacks in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) because Black students are not encouraged to pursue these areas in school. The network aims to open doors for Black people in Canada and around the world, as G 98.7 FM and OMNI TV Focus Punjabi reported on Feb. 4.

Another talk show on G 98.7 FM was devoted to a discussion on COVID with members of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity. According to the task force, the Black community is over-exposed to COVID because many cannot work from home, have to commute on public transit, work in customer service or care-giving jobs, and have underlying health conditions putting them at greater risk, such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. 

School disruption was also discussed as something that wreaks more havoc for Black and low-income children’s learning than for other groups. At the same time, Blacks are under-vaccinated because they distrust the authorities, information is not communicated to them appropriately, and they are targets of racialized disinformation using specific triggers from their historical experience.

Ethnic media’s coattails

Often, ethnic media highlights issues of concern to a community that are either not reflected in the mainstream media or which are only picked up by it after they circulate in the ethnic media for a while. 

One such example was a story about the Hindu community in B.C. protesting against a new small business owner who is using an image of Lord Ganesh along with profane language in her logo. 

Community members, including about 40 organizations, are gathering signatures to have her stop using either the image or the wording, have approached local MLAs and MPs, held a protest at the Hindu temple, and are looking into legal action and mounting a PR campaign on social media. 

They feel this is cultural appropriation, Hinduphobia and racism, and they want a new law to protect Hindu culture. MP Sukh Dhaliwal attended the protest and said Canada is a diverse country and that we should celebrate each other’s culture and faith. He was going to approach the Heritage Minister and Prime Minister about this. 

The story broke on the blog on Jan. 31 and then on the Desibuzz Canada news website on Feb. 4. It was only then that it was picked up by CBC Vancouver on Feb. 6 as a report about the protest at the temple and by the Punjabi station Zee TV on Feb. 8. 

Source: Ethnic media provides added perspectives on “Freedom Convoy”

Le spectre du populisme

Good commentary by Manon Cornellier on the genuine motivations behind the convoy and the yellow vests, their exploitation by the far right, and the inability of Conservative politicians to denounce, or at a minimum, dissociate themselves from the anti-immigration rhetoric and other hateful speech:

Jusqu’où peut-on aller pour porter un message politique ? La question se pose de plus en plus devant la montée d’un certain populisme qui fouette les émotions et alimente même parfois la haine, involontairement ou non. Le Canada n’y échappe pas, avec le risque de voir le débat public dériver dans des eaux troubles d’ici les prochaines élections.

En décembre dernier, le symbole des gilets jaunes est apparu dans le paysage politique canadien, inspiré par le mouvement de ras-le-bol français face à la pression fiscale, les privilèges des élites et les difficultés financières des ménages modestes. Récupéré là-bas par diverses forces politiques, comme l’expliquait notre collègue Christian Riouxla semaine dernière, il subit le même sort au Canada.

Cela ne veut pas dire que nombre de Canadiens qui revêtent le fameux gilet ne partagent pas sincèrement les préoccupations initiales de leurs homologues français : coût de la vie élevée, revenus insuffisants, emplois en péril et ainsi de suite. Malheureusement, plusieurs de ceux qui, au Canada, utilisent ce symbole pour mobiliser sur la Toile ne s’arrêtent pas là. Tyler Malenfant, l’instigateur de la populaire page Facebook Yellow Vests Canada (YVC), qui compte plus de 100 000 membres, s’en prend à la taxe sur le carbone, mais aussi aux prétendues politiques tyranniques des Nations unies, en particulier en matière de migration.

Cet amalgame était en vue à Ottawa la semaine dernière lorsqu’un convoi de camions et de camionnettes, parti de l’Alberta, a bloqué une petite partie du centre-ville pour faire entendre l’inquiétude des gens affectés par les difficultés de l’industrie pétrolière. Les pancartes et banderoles pour les pipelines, contre la taxe sur le carbone ou le projet de loi fédéral sur l’évaluation environnementale dominaient. Mais il y avait aussi des placards sur lesquels des manifestants accusaient le premier ministre Justin Trudeau de trahison, dénonçaient une motion contre l’islamophobie ou encore le pacte onusien sur les migrations. Nombre d’entre eux, émules du président américain Donald Trump, portaient des casquettes marquées du slogan « Make Canada Great Again ».

Cela a malheureusement peu surpris, car depuis leurs débuts, plusieurs pages Facebook des gilets jaunes canadiens, en particulier celle de YVC, ont attiré des messages virulents, parfois haineux, contre entre autres les musulmans ou les migrants arrivés de façon irrégulière. On y a même retrouvé des menaces contre le premier ministre Trudeau, effacées après que le réseau de télévision Global en eut fait état.

Les partisans des gilets jaunes ont le droit de manifester et de s’exprimer, mais ce qui est troublant est de voir des politiciens participer à ces ralliements sans exprimer de réserves à l’égard des vues extrêmes. La semaine dernière, le chef conservateur, Andrew Scheer, quelques-uns de ses députés et le chef du nouveau Parti populaire, Maxime Bernier, ont publiquement offert leur soutien au convoi et à son message pour les hydrocarbures. Il n’y aurait aucun problème s’ils n’avaient pas agi comme si le reste n’existait pas, alors que, par leur présence, ils donnaient non seulement de la crédibilité et de la légitimité aux actions allant dans le sens de leurs critiques habituelles, mais aussi à l’ensemble de l’oeuvre. Ils se devaient de prendre leurs distances des propos ou des comportements d’intolérance, et d’affirmer leur désapprobation.

En lieu et place, un des leurs, le sénateur David Tkachuk, a invité les membres du convoi « à écraser jusqu’au dernier libéral qui reste dans ce pays » (« roll over every Liberal left in the country »). Une figure de style renvoyant aux élections, a-t-il dit par la suite sans s’excuser, mais, métaphore ou pas, cette déclaration était irresponsable de la part d’un parlementaire.

Rien n’indique que M. Scheer soit d’accord avec les idées d’extrême droite ou anti-immigration que certains véhiculent à ces occasions, mais il ne peut, par son silence, implicitement exploiter la colère de cette frange pour s’assurer des votes. On a trop vu ailleurs les effets de ce genre de stratégie politique, prisée par M. Trump, le Britannique Nigel Farage ou la Française Marine Le Pen.

La frustration et les préoccupations des citoyens ne doivent pas être ignorées, mais alimenter leur désarroi, au lieu d’y répondre avec des arguments et des solutions fondés, ne fait qu’entretenir la division, le cynisme et le mépris des institutions.

Source: Le spectre du populisme

Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?

Some replication of the tendency of the far-right to co-opt or otherwise benefit from a movement initially focussed on economic issues as well as here in Canada.

One of my retweets provoked considerable discussion from different perspectives regarding the Canadian anti-carbon tax convoy, ranging from the two solitudes of all racists to all just plain folks protesting, to the more nuanced perspectives noting the challenges that extremists pose to the initial message of protesters:

The French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, has said she won’t join other political parties in a march against anti-Semitism on Tuesday, accusing France’s leaders of doing nothing to tackle Islamist networks in France and saying she will mark the occasion separately.

It comes days after a prominent French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was verbally attacked for being Jewish as he walked past the weekly “gilets jaunes” (yellow-vest) protests in Paris.

A small group of protesters shouted a barrage of abuse at him as he passed by the demonstration on his way home from lunch on Saturday, calling him a “dirty Zionist” and telling him to “go back to Tel Aviv”.

“I felt an absolute hatred,” Mr Finkielkraut told one French newspaper later that night. “If the police hadn’t been there, I would have been frightened.”

A few days before that, official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.

Now, many here are questioning whether the gilets jaunes movement is providing a new kind of forum for these extremist views, and how central those attitudes are to the movement.

“It’s very serious,” says Vincent Duclert, a specialist in anti-Semitism in France at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences – one of France’s most prestigious colleges.

“The gilets jaunes are not an anti-Semitic movement, but alongside the demonstration each Saturday there’s a lot of anti-Semitic expression by groups of the extreme right or extreme left.”

“You can be on the streets demonstrating every Saturday, shouting your slogans against the Jews,” says Jean-Yves Camus, an expert in French political extremism.

“And as there’s no leadership in the movement and no stewarding of the demonstrations, you can be free to do it. I’m afraid there will be more attacks, because the self-proclaimed leaders simply do not seem to care that much.”

Jason Herbert, a spokesman for the movement, says the incident on Saturday is a scandal, but not representative of the gilets jaunes as a whole.

“It’s the inherent weakness of a movement that lets the people speak,” he explained. “Everyone can come and give his opinion – and some opinions are despicable and illegal. To think someone is inferior because of his or her origins is just not acceptable, and it’s completely unrelated to our demands. Amongst our demands, I’ve never heard ‘we want fewer Jews’.”

The gilets jaunes began life as a protest against fuel tax rises, but have broadened into a loose confederation of different interest groups with no official hierarchy or leadership. Over the past three months, as the movement has appeared more radical, its wider support has dipped.

Vincent Duclert believes that the movement does bear some responsibility for the extremist abuse in its midst, because the violence of the protests – towards the police, state institutions and public property – encourages anti-Semitism by encouraging “transgression”.

And, he says, it’s possible that the gilets jaunes are also offering “a new space for different kinds of anti-Semitism to come together: from the extreme right and extreme left, but also from radical Islamist or anti-Zionist groups, and some types of social conservatives”.

There are signs over the past year, he says, that levels of anti-Semitism have risen within these different groups, because of changes at home, across Europe and in the Middle East, and that French public opinion has been too tolerant.

Politicians here have been quick to condemn Saturday’s attack on Alain Finkielkraut. President Macron tweeted that it was “the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation”.

Others tried to blame it on their political rivals.

A member of France’s centre-right opposition, Geoffrey Didier, told reporters that anti-Semitism was growing “because radical Islamism is growing in France”, while Marine Le Pen said it illustrated “how the anti-Semite far-left is trying to infiltrate the gilets jaunes movement”.

Both Ms Le Pen’s party and that of her far-left rival, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, have been trying to win the support of the gilets jaunes ahead of European elections in May.

Jean-Yves Camus believes last week’s attack will help turn public opinion against the movement, saying it has become “a hotbed of radical activity from both sides of the political spectrum and the French do not want that”.

Source: Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?