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Andrew Brett

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Andrew Brett is a queer activist in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewbrett

Gay panic at the CJC and Toronto Star

| July 11, 2009
Bernie Farber at Toronto Pride
At its executive committee meeting this week, the Canadian Jewish Congress discussed how to respond to a comment on the Toronto Star website about its chief executive officer, Bernie Farber.  What might have seemed like a trivial matter resulted in a clarification and public apology from the Star’s public editor.

It all goes back to an article by Star writer Antonia Zerbisias on July 1st.  The outspoken columnist wrote about attempts by Zionist groups to stifle freedom of expression, from trying to cancel funding for an academic conference at York University to successfully banning George Galloway from Canada.

In response, the Star published a letter to the editor from Farber on behalf of the Congress, arguing that shutting down debate was constitutionally protected under the “freedom of expression” of Zionists.

The discussion didn’t stop there.  On Zerbisias’ blog, Broadsides, she expanded on examples of such censorship attempts, pointing to Farber’s opposition to a pro-Palestinian group marching in this year’s Toronto Pride.  Multiple media outlets quoted Farber saying that political groups do not belong in gay pride, and that he was encouraging people to lobby Pride Toronto against the inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the parade.

When a commenter on her blog pointed out that Farber had himself marched in the Pride parade with a political group, Zerbisias responded with tongue firmly in cheek, “Imagine my surprise when I saw Bernie Farber identifying himself as queer by joining a pro-Israel gay rights group in the parade.”

Although he isn’t gay, Farber marched in the parade wearing a t-shirt that read, “Nobody knows I’m gay.”  It was part of a concerted effort on the part of Zionists to bolster their numbers in Pride with straight supporters.  An e-mail circulated by a pro-Israel group in advance of the parade explicitly encouraged its straight members to join the contingent.

Despite being the one to falsely claim he was gay in the first place, Farber discussed the issue with the CJC executive committee this week and issued a letter to the Toronto Star, objecting to Zerbisias’ comments.  He insisted he wasn’t gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  He even questioned the right of columnists to identify any public figure who attended the parade, even though his presence had been publicized by the Canadian Jewish News and Farber himself before Zerbisias responded to it.

Kathy English, the Star’s public editor, agreed to publish an apologetic column on Saturday.  She wrote that Zerbisias’ comments “fell short of the Star’s standards of fairness, accuracy and civility,” and promised to rein in journalists who “put the Star in a negative light.”

It’s unclear what exactly was unfair, inaccurate or uncivil about holding Farber accountable for appropriating another identity for political objectives.  But it sends a chilling message to journalists when they are warned not to put their publication “in a negative light” with public figures.

How disappointing to see the Star scapegoat one of its own columnists in order to appease a political lobby organization.

To send a message to the Star’s public editor Kathy English, e-mail publiced@thestar.ca



Farber comes off as a hypocrite on freedom of expression. The CJC's apparent policy to fire both barrels at any hint of anti-semitism may be effective but also squelches free speech when fire at the least criticism of official Israeli policy. Thus the CJC comes off as hypocritical as well. Zerbesias didn't need to imply Farber was gay - even though Farber put on that t-shirt all by himself. 

As for blogs at official media websites... I am sickened by many of the comments that get posted by some people who think it okay to spout whatever racist, libellous, unfound rumour or outright lies they want in response to posts that deal with gays, minorities, Blacks, abortion, Indigenous peoples, etc.

The Globe and Mail had "semi-moderation" (whatever good that was supposed to accomplish) of some posts or discussions even though you just knew the subject would attract swarms of rednecks and yahoos. So I would think twice about arguing against a mainstream media site that wants to extend basic journalistic responsibility to its online publications (blogs, tweets, etc) as well. That, after all, is what editors are supposed to do but have not done so far with their organizations' online versions.

Not every letter sent to the editor gets printed, or is printed in its entirety. Some are thrown into the trash for all kinds of reasons, not least because they distort the truth, or insult and demean identifiable groups in society.

Reporters know, or should know, that they have some responsibility to their employer even when not "on-duty." It isn't just words but actions by a reporter, or editor, that can damage a news organization. So they should be aware that official blogs fall under the same journalistic guidelines as their print or broadcast versions.

"You'd think she and John Cruikshank might be bothered to actually find out something about blogland before printing such a piece of abominable ignorance.  I'd stop reading The Star altogether if it weren't for the fact that I still want to read Broadsides and Zerbisias' column!"


Good analysis there, hys - in the US the Washington Post lost Froomkin to an electronic site - and he took his followers with him. Perhaps Cruikshank's attitude is indictive of why the MSM is declining and papers are failing everywhere. I could not see where AZ did anything but respond to the 'facts on the street', even if she put her unique point of view upon it. The "apology" did not treat the veracity of the post/blog - it dealt with the ideocyncratic opposition of Mr. Farber.

What a relief it is to read some intelligent commentary on this fiasco.  I'm deeply concerned that someone with Bernie Farber's agenda has the ability to sway The Star to allow Kathy English to write this ridiculous attack on Antonia Zerbisias.  I'm a regular follower of her column and blog.  If anyone at The Star bothered to follow, they could have avoided this most embarassing mess.  When Zerbisias made her comment about Farber, readers who were following along - i.e. those who were still commenting at her blog SIX days after the original post - had no doubt at all what she meant.  I don't have much faith in the MSM to begin with.  Now I have less.

To say nothing of which, English's column purports to be about ethical blogging (we know that's NOT what it's really about).  You'd think she and John Cruikshank might be bothered to actually find out something about blogland before printing such a piece of abominable ignorance.  I'd stop reading The Star altogether if it weren't for the fact that I still want to read Broadsides and Zerbisias' column!


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