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The Hamilton Spectator's Sinister Stenography
On Anti-Semitism, Sarah Jama, And Journalistic Malpractice
“This machine will, will not communicate These thoughts and the strain I am under”
One of the things that I understand at an intuitive level because of my homosexuality is that nobody else can truly get it. You can explain to people the consequences of homophobia and explain the ways that being gay fundamentally shapes so much about you even in ways that seem nominally unaffected, but the only people who can really get it is a fellow traveler. 4 years ago now Pete Buttigieg gave a speech at some gay rights charity gala about his struggle, and he said (amongst other things) that when he was younger, if he was given the chance to cut out the thing that made him gay with a knife he’d have done it in a heartbeat. Shockingly, the only people who were surprised by that were straight people.
The reason this is relevant is because it’s not just the gay community that has that sense of only we can get it, it’s a common trait amongst minorities. And I’m thinking about this with our Jewish community in Canada, under threat (and yes, under attack) because of the actions of a terrorist group thousands of miles away. I can try and get it, and I can try and help by condemning the firebombing of synagogues and the shooting of Jewish schools’ front doors, but I can’t get it, because I’m not a Jew.
And I’m thinking of all of this as the Hamilton Spectator runs an interview with ex-NDP MPP Sarah Jama today that fails every basic journalistic standard less than 24 hours after Jama was quoted doubting reporting that Hamas raped women on October 7th and said the the Canadian government was “influenced by the Zionist lobby” and that the Zionist lobby can “pressure an entire government operation”. Right now is a moment that we will remember forever, and it’s a moment that is showing just how many people are catastrophically unqualified for the moment.
Let’s first dispense with the actual claims Jama is making – no, the IDF did not admit that the idea women were raped was misinformation. There is reporting from Haaretz – not exactly a fan of the IDF, Bibi Netanyahu, or the current Israeli policies in either Gaza or the West Bank – that literally contains eye witness accounts. To deny this is to deny reality. (Also, it’s worth pointing out that the progressive left were the ones chanting Believe All Women a few years back, which has apparently become believe all women unless the perpetrators are a fucking terrorist group, but I digress.)
Jama is clearly a nutter – the claim left unchallenged that she was “shocked” to be booted from the NDP caucus proves she’s either brain dead or a liar – but this is about more than just a crank politician being a crank nutter, this is about a media ecosystem that is pathologically unprepared for this moment. Everyone keeps claiming that this story is complex, but it’s not. It’s actually very easy to understand, if you have a functioning brain and an open mind to facts.
Hamas committed an act of terror on October 7th. They massacred and raped civilians. It was not an attack on the Israeli government, the IDF, or anything else, it was indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. What’s happened since is that the Israelis have used their legitimate grievance to achieve a legitimate end – the end of Hamas – in an illegitimate way. The evidence they’re specifically targeting civilians is lacking, but it’s clear they view Palestinian collateral damage with indifference, and are using that indifference to kill many more innocents than they lost on October 7th.
What any of that has to do with synagogues and Jewish schools on the West Island of Montreal is where this completely falls apart. Our Jewish community is under attack for something none of them had anything to do with. And we have politicians who are stoking anti-semitic conspiracies getting friendly writeups as the world crashes down on the heads of our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Sarah Jama was booted from the Ontario NDP caucus for lying to her leader. This has been reported at length – the NDP did not “ask” Jama to give a different speech than she gave, Jama told them she’d give a different speech than she ended up delivering. Plainly, she lied. Jama can claim to be shocked, but if she was shocked that lying to her leader would end in consequences then she is a fucking moron. (Or, more precisely, more of one than she is for her rape denialism and anti-semitism.)
Jama’s claim that she was booted for her views on Palestine go unchallenged, despite the fact the Ontario NDP caucus has many people calling for the liberation of Gaza. They don’t mention that her legal challenge to the legislature’s censure will be laughed out of the room the second it goes to court for the simple fact that a Legislature’s decisions to censure or not censure a member is for the Legislature to decide. They refer to the groups who want Jama back in the NDP and who want Marit Stiles to fight a leadership race, but don’t reference or quote those who are glad to see the back of her.
I could even include the fact that Jama has previously condemned a candidate for school board trustee for liking tweets from Pierre Poilievre, but thinks she doesn’t deserve to be scrutinized for going to a rally organized by a group that cheered on Hamas as the October 7th attack happened, but that would involve *checks notes* 12 seconds of Twitter searching to find, which is far too much actual journalism for the Spectator to be expected to do.
I think claims that this moment requires courage are overdone – standing for what’s right and for those who need it shouldn’t be an act of courage but an obvious act. Despite the original conflict having no obvious answer at this point, there are clear moral lines to take. It isn’t courageous to say that even in response to Hamas terrorism Israel cannot be callous about civilian death. It isn’t courageous to say that October 7th represents a horrific terror attack by Hamas. And it’s certainly not courageous to say that schools and houses of worship must be sacred. But it does take intellect, which so many are lacking.
The Spectator decided that their job wasn’t journalism, but stenography. That they chose to do stenography of an anti-semite is even worse, but even without judging who they decided to paint in a soft light it’s just not journalism. And it can’t be good enough anymore.
The reason I led this column with that line of Radiohead and the idea that none of us outside the group can properly communicate the strain the group is under is because it’s true. We all can try to emphasize and to uplift, but we can’t get it. But there’s a difference between trying your damndest to help while conceding that there’s no way to truly get it, and there’s just throwing your hands up and not even trying.
Journalism is about storytelling and speaking truth to power. As much as Sarah Jama may pretend she’s some outsider, she is the powerful, and the Spectator gave her the rhetorical equivalent of a massage today, because apparently that’s what this too often devolves to.
We need a press in this country to care about journalism, and to care about the truth. Letting opinions masquerade as fact and claims go unchallenged makes that impossible. At a time when the press needs to be credible above all, when it’s so hard to square fact from fiction, we need a press that’s interested in doing the job well. What the Spectator did is stenography for an anti-semite at a time when our Jewish brothers and sisters are under threat.
If it doesn’t get better we’re all fucked.