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Jason Kenney, it turns out, missed his true calling: professional internet troll.
Yesterday, the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Multiculuralism tweeted that he had purchased a SodaStream soda-making machine from the Hudson's Bay Company. Normally, such a quotidian task would scarcely merit a mention even on social media -- unless you've been following the existential crisis Scarlett Johansson has been suffering in recent weeks.
To bring you up to speed, the star of Ghost World and Lost in Translation had been hired to make a Superbowl commercial for SodaStream, a home appliance for people who have never heard of seltzer bottles and teaspoons. SodaStream's main factory is located in the industrial park of Mishor Edomim in the West Bank, one of Israel's illegal settlements in Palestinian territory -- and as such, has been the target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement confronting Israel's occupation.
Oh. And Johansson also was an "ambassador" for Oxfam, the charitable organization who, among other things, opposes the settlements and any businesses who choose to operate in occupied Palestine. Oops.
Oxfam chastised their ambassador for this move. In response, Johansson first published a very bizarre apology in the Huffington Post, and then resigned. From Oxfam. (As an aside, one can understand an American celebrity -- a species not always known for robust critical analysis of geopolitics -- not quite getting the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the context of America's pie-eyed media, but surely in the eight years she represented Oxfam she noticed the other good work they do -- and yet, she takes the side of soda in a question of ethics. Maybe celebrities can't save us after all...)
Enter Jason Kenney. The dust-up had essentially died down when Kenney decided to do a bit of shopping yesterday. What's immediately striking about Kenney's tweet is not only his emphatic declaration of whose side he's on (as if there was any doubt), but the fact that it reads nothing like a show of support for Johansson (yes, despite the "GoScarJo" hashtag), but instead revels in its pointed, hostile attack on BDS supporters. He even calls out Oxfam by name.
It's a clinical example of internet trolling -- designed to enrage, provoke, mock with no attempt at positive or constructive engagement. Typical for Twitter of course, but perhaps not so becoming of a senior Canadian cabinet minister. One could imagine a gentler time when such a public display of bullying would earn censure from the Prime Minister, or even demands for his resignation. Ha ha. Those were the days, eh?
Kenney, of course, is an old hand at trolling. He's spent many years perfecting his trade. He has publicly mused about the "evidence" that birth tourism is a real industry (spoiler: not actually evidence, not actually real) and expressed his pleasure at overworking his non-unionized staff. He even recently changed his Twitter profile picture to show him donning a Sikh head scarf, in an apparent jab at Quebec's secular charter.
Kenney's Twitter feed is rife with these pokes and jabs, meant to antagonize his ideological foes and titillate his fellow right-wing trolls. But, like his most recent SodaStream adventure (as many have pointed out, shopping at the colonial Hudson's Bay for an Israeli apartheid-supporting appliance is a cruel one-two punch to anti-oppression activists), Kenney's worst social media forays are not only bullying, they can betray a much deeper contempt for the world's most vulnerable.
In 2010-11, when Kenney was the Minister of Immigration (the most shameful ministerial appointment in Canadian history, it should be said), he was embroiled in the MV Sun Sea controversy where he imprisoned 500 Tamil refugees fleeing a crisis in Sri Lanka for which Canada bore no small responsibility. On the same day it was revealed Kenney's office was demanding the detained refugees pay tens of thousands of dollars to their smugglers in order to be released, the Minister casually tweeted from Vancouver's (excellent) south Indian restaurant House of Dosas that he was enjoying a cricket match in the 2011 World Cup -- taking place in India, Bangladesh and...Sri Lanka.
It had all the hallmarks of Kenney's inimitable style: tailored to enrage a particular subset of people with just enough faux naivété to claim benevolent intent. But it also demonstrates the despicable cruelty of Conservative ideology: we will celebrate your food, your sport, your spectacles -- but we will imprison and impoverish your people.
So too with Kenney's new soda-making device. It's not simply funmaking at the expense of too-serious activists. It's politics that delegitimate the rights to self-determination for oppressed peoples and, indeed, actively erasing their existance. He blithely celebrates his latest credit card purchase while millions of Palestinians live in forced poverty, affirmed and supported by policies his government enacted. Ha ha ha.
Until activists and allies are able to turn the neoliberal tide (or at least throw these bums out of office), it's hard to find a better response than simply ignoring the petulant, childish Minister. However, since bloggers, naturally are not above trolling themselves, I'll end this post with my favourite ever photobomb: Jason Kenney happily posing with the brilliant activist and author Harsha Walia.
Enjoy your soda, asshole.
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