Jewish groups ‘take note’ of anti-Israel host’s regrets

Janice Arnold
::The Canadian Jewish News

Demonstrators picketed outside Huntingdon, Que., town hall to protest Mayor Stéphane Gendron’s views on Israel. [Ber Lazarus photo]

MONTREAL — Faced with growing outrage over anti-Israel statements that the Jewish community and others regard as antisemitic, TV host Stéphane Gendron made an on-air statement of regret Jan. 27.

Later the same day, his employer, V Télévision, issued a joint statement with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and HonestReporting Canada saying that “these types of comments will no longer be tolerated on [its] airwaves.”

“V reiterates today that the network dissociates itself from the unfortunate comments made by [Gendron, co-host of the talk show Face à Face] about Jews and the State of Israel.”

Gendron, reading a statement before Friday’s edition of the program, said he was sorry if he offended anyone when he called Israel an apartheid state that doesn’t deserve to exist and wished it would “collapse” like the former South African regime, as he did Dec. 27.

He affirmed that Jews have a right to their own state, adding that the fast-paced format of the show had not allowed him to fully explain his views.

However, Gendron defended his right to criticize Israel without being accused of being an antisemite.

“As an engaged citizen, I have the right to denounce the way Israel carries out its policies against the Palestinians. I don’t believe that denouncing Israeli government abuses is antisemitism.”

V, the over-the-air French-language network, said its management will meet soon with representatives of HonestReporting and CIJA, something the latter had requested in December before Gendron’s most recent comments on Israel, to discuss earlier tirades against the state.

CIJA and HonestReporting, a pro-Israel media watchdog group, which has brought Gendron’s broadcast opinions to wide attention via the Internet, jointly stated that they “acknowledge the commitment of V network to respect ethical broadcasting standards and take note of Stéphane Gendron’s statement today.”

They say they look forward to discussing with the network’s managers “the important distinction between criticism of Israeli policies and the delegitimization of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.”

In a strongly worded open letter Jan. 26 to V CEO Maxime Rémillard, CIJA and HonestReporting Canada faulted the network for not curbing Gendron’s repeated “incitement against Jews” and “inflammatory” remarks about Israel.

HonestReporting and CIJA believe Gendron’s comments violate the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council code and that V Television should be held accountable.

Also on Jan. 26, about 20 people from Montreal picketed outside the town hall of Huntingdon, Que., of which Gendron, 44, has been mayor since 2003.

The action was organized by Les Amis québécois d’Israel, which is composed mostly of non-Jewish francophones, and the Jewish Defence League (JDL), which sent representatives from Toronto.

The demonstrators demanded that Gendron step down or be fired. They held placards calling Gendron a racist and a hatemonger whose denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist is tantamount to incitement to genocide.

Gendron, who has co-hosted Face à Face since 2009, has a history of making provocative accusations against Israel going back to at least 2006, when he became a harsh critic of the Harper government’s Middle East policies.

Last fall on Face à Face, Gendron charged that Israelis are killing Palestinians out of revenge and that Jews have a deep-seated contempt for non-Jews.

Les Amis, the group that continues to hold counter-demonstrations against the Israel boycotters picketing outside the Naot shoe store on St. Denis Street in Montreal each Saturday, wanted to make clear that Gendron’s views are not representative of Quebecers, representative Daniel Laprès said.

“As francophone Quebecers, we must refuse to allow our reputation to be sullied by such comments,” he said. “We do not want to be identified with this form of hate.”

Laprès said he was not mollified by Gendron’s “weak” apology and thought it shows he has not changed his outlook.

Demonstrator Ber Lazarus, who is not affiliated with either Les Amis or the JDL, admitted he was a little surprised to find himself 50 miles from Montreal holding a placard, having not been an activist since his days as a student advocate for Soviet Jewry more than 30 years ago.

But he said he believes antisemitism is growing in the world and is turning dangerous, and Jews must confront every instance of it.

Fellow protester Evelyn Bloomfield Schachter agreed: “Gendron should not be permitted to spew his vile and virulent antisemitic rhetoric with impunity. The airwaves of Quebec should not be desecrated in this manner.”

Lazarus said a few residents stopped to comment that they were displeased with Gendron’s behaviour and worried that he is casting a negative light on Huntingdon, a town of about 2,500 in the southwest corner of Quebec near the New York state border.

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