THE TONY HALL CASE REVISITED

I made a stab at this in my blog in an earlier post entitled “Holocaust Denial and Anti-Semitism”. Since that post, an internal investigation of an internal complaint against Tony Hall has exonerated him, and the Administration’s complaint against him to the Alberta Human Rights Commission has been rejected, both pretty much on the same grounds I laid out in that post. But now I want to go a tad deeper into the issue. Not the issue of denying the Holocaust or of being an anti-Semite. On those scores I’ll stand by what I said in that earlier post. Rather what I want to know is this: Assuming I wanted to deny the Holocaust or reveal myself as an anti-Semite, how would I go about it?

Being that I’m Jewish it’s unlikely I’d want to – though there are Jews who would and have. Rather I’m asking because – see that earlier post – my colleague is being accused of both, and I want to know if there’s any way – any way at all – that accusation could stick.

To this end I want to grant to his accusers everything that can be granted, beginning with the concept of conversational implicature.

Suppose you ask whether I think it’s going to rain tomorrow and I answer, “Is the pope Catholic?” Have I asserted that it’s going to rain? Yes I have. That’s because “Is the pope Catholic?” is an expression we use to say yes to whatever question was just asked.

Suppose you ask whether so-and-so is attractive, and I answer that she has a wonderful personality. Have I changed the subject? No I have not. I’ve answered your question in the negative. To claim afterwards that I never said she was ugly would be disingenuous. I did say it, even though I didn’t ‘say’ it. One can say without ‘saying’. In fact one can say without ‘saying’ anything at all.

But to know that “Is the pope Catholic?” means yes to whatever question was just asked requires that one be party to that convention. By this I don’t mean one must think it’s a good convention. Some overly devout Catholic might think it’s disrespectful to the pope. All I mean is that one is aware that the convention is in place. So if I answer a question with “Is the pope Catholic?”, I know perfectly well that I’ve just answered in the affirmative to the question that was just asked.

But it’s not always easy – is it? – to know what conventions are in place, or at least what conventions are taken to be in place by one’s interlocutors. For example, a couple of U.S. elections back, I was surprised to learn that Democrats take “New York values”, when spoken by a Republican, to be code for Jewish values. And I suspect it came as a surprise to a lot of Republicans as well. And so the question naturally arises: Are we accountable for what was said, or for what was heard?

Certainly in the case of “Is the pope Catholic?” and “She has a wonderful personality!”, what was said and what was heard are one in the same. But what about “The Holocaust, like every event in history, should be open to new research, and our understanding of it open to revision.”? In the same way that Democrats take “New York values” to be code for Jewish values, some Jews – and apparently, with a little urging, some of their gentile supporters too – take that statement as code for “The Holocaust is a Zionist myth!” And one of the to-be-made-explicit premises underpinning Tony’s accusers’ argument is going to be that Tony knew this. Or if not, then – like the reasonable man on the Clapham omnibus – he should have known it, and therefore what he said – said without scare quotes – was that “The Holocaust is a Zionist myth!”

Let’s suppose, however implausibly, that they’re right. Not about Tony saying that the Holocaust is a Zionist myth, but that the convention is in place and that Tony should have known it. How, then, could Tony say that “The Holocaust, like every event in history, should be open to new research, and our understanding of it open to revision.” and mean that the Holocaust, like every event in history, should be open to new research, and our understanding of it open to revision!? If his accusers don’t want our understanding of the Holocaust to be open to revision, then they’ll decide that any way of saying it will be code for “The Holocaust is a Zionist myth!” And that’s precisely what they’ve decided. It’s a great trick, if anyone’s stupid enough to let them get away with it. And apparently some people are that stupid. Let’s just hope no judge is among them.

But now let’s suppose, albeit counterfactually, that Tony had said – and by said I mean said – that the Holocaust is a Zionist myth. How exactly does this count as hate speech? What would have to be shown – and this is an empirical matter – is not that Holocaust denial is associated with hatred towards Jews – that, I think, can be granted – but that it causes hatred towards Jews. And this would require an experiment involving some kind of control group. Take a non-biased sampling of a hundred people, disabuse half of them of the historicity of the Holocaust – including, if you like, that it was a Zionist invention to guilt the world into backing what would become the State of Israel – and see whether they, but not the control group, begin to exhibit signs of hating Jews. My guess is that most of the disabused group will be gobsmacked by the brilliance of the subterfuge, just as I would be if I were convinced that 9/11 was the work of Mossad.

In a world of realpolitik, the exposure of subterfuge has never of itself been grounds for hatred. At most it adds insult to what’s already regarded as an injury. So no, Holocaust denial may be a consequence of anti-Semitism, but it can’t be the cause of it. So even if Tony were denying the Holocaust – whatever that might mean – that would not constitute hate speech.

All right, so Tony’s off the hook vis a vis his alleged Holocaust denial. But what about dumping 9/11 – and the lion’s share of the little 9/11’s that followed in its wake – on Mossad?

As often as not Tony’s trutherisms are expressed as conjectures rather than assertions. But as we did earlier, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that conjecture can be taken as code for assertion. So by conversational implicature, Tony has accused agents of the State of Israel of murdering thousands upon thousands of noncombatants in the furtherance of the interests of that state.

But hang on a minute. I make the same assertion every day. Well, okay, maybe not every day. But certainly whenever the subject comes up. I’ve made the same assertion, mutatis mutandis – and I’m hardly alone in these accusations – about the United States, about England, about France, about El Salvador, about Myanmar, about Syria … In fact pretty much about every state in the world. So clearly there must be more to hate speech than the banal observation that rulers of countries sometimes feel a need to kill people, people both outside the country they rule and within it.

Some of these accusations will turn out to be false. But the spreading of false information, other than in the service of fraud, is for very good reason not an actionable offence, at least not in Canada. And even if it were, the onus would be on the state – or in Canada the Crown – to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mossad wasn’t involved in 9/11. And how could it do that? It couldn’t. Even if some Israeli agent was acquitted in a court of law, that would show not that he was innocent, but only that there was insufficient evidence to convict.

So if Tony is guilty of hate speech, the truth or falseness of his various trutherisms is irrelevant. What’s needed is the connection between claiming malfeasance on the part of the Israeli government and promoting hatred of Jews, in a way that claiming malfeasance on the part of, say, the American government, does not constitute the promotion of the hatred of Americans, the latter being, of course, ridiculous. That is, heaven forefend we should think that criticism of a government is criticism of its citizens. On the contrary, don’t we regularly criticize a government for beings at odds with the druthers of its citizens?

About a fifth of the Israeli citizenry are (mostly Moslem) Arabs. Of the four fifths remaining most are Jews. But about a third of these are staunchly opposed to Netanyahu’s ultra-Zionist policies. So even if we hold those who support Netanyahu responsible for those policies, that’s about the same percentage of the Israeli population as was the percentage of the American population that supported Obama. Did we hold the American people – Democrats and Republicans alike – responsible for the policies of the Obama administration? And even if we did, did we, as a consequence, hate all Americans?

So even supposing Tony were able to convince us of his trutherisms, how would this constitute hate speech against Jews? Against the Jewish perpetrators of these attacks, perhaps. But then surely, if your loved one was in one of those towers that morning, or in that nightclub in Paris that evening, that hatred would be warranted. But against Jews-qua-Jews? And if Jews-qua-Jews, then surely the official 9/11 story likewise promotes hatred of Arabs-qua-Arabs, or perhaps even Moslems-qua-Moslems. And yet that’s precisely what defenders of the official story take pains to deny that their story should promote.

So having given them everything they could ask for, what’s left to Tony’s accusers? Well, apparently, Tony’s conjectured – remember: that’s code for he’s accused – B’nai Brith of having false-flagged that virulently anti-Semitic attachment to one of his Facebook posts, the attachment that Tony claims got this smear campaign against him off the ground. But once again, how does this accusation constitute hate speech? And that question stands as a rhetorical one whether B’nai Brith was involved or not.

That is, let’s suppose that I did it. After all, I’m Jewish, and many if not most Jews are staunch Zionists. So it’s perfectly plausible that I did it to smear that anti-Zionist bastard Tony Hall. Now that I’ve confessed I should hardly be surprised that Tony now hates me. But why would Tony hate my brother, who happens to be a staunch anti-Zionist Jew?

All right, now let’s suppose I didn’t do it. It was done by some pimply-faced never-out-of-his-parent’s-basement adolescent shit-disturber for the sole satisfaction of disturbing shit. Probably the same pimply-faced never-out-of-his-parent’s-basement adolescent shit-disturber who’s photo-shopped Pope Francis giving head to Bashir al Assad. So Tony’s mistaken about me. Does his falsely accusing a Jew of malfeasance promote hatred of Jews?

Well, it would, I suppose, if Tony were saying – or for that matter even just saying – that wherever there’s malfeasance, chances are there’s a Jew behind it. And to be fair to his accusers, Tony does sometimes come across as thinking this. But according to his narrative it’s not Jews – or least not Jews-qua-Jews – who are trying to take over the world. It’s the point-zero-zero-one-percent. These neocons and Zionists just happen to have found common cause, at least for now.

But this idea that there’s a worldwide conspiracy of point-zero-zero-one-percenters – see my entry on the subject – is by no means unique to Tony. Most of my colleagues in the Philosophy department – being almost as idiotic as Tony – share this idiotic view. So if Tony’s going down, oh please please please, take my colleagues with him!

Your Honour, I move to dismiss. It’s not that my client is innocence of the charges against him. It’s that those charges – I think the legal term is – fail to disclose an offense.

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