Thomas Hubert is not a skinhead. He doesn't go around frightening the soccer moms in Tsawwassen, the sunny suburb where he lives. He is not an arsonist, a gangster, or a crack dealer.
No matter what the National Post says, Thomas Hubert is not a Jew hater. He certainly isn't in his “early twenties”, and he has never run an “anti-Israel” Web site.
Thomas Hubert is a gifted, slightly chubby 17-year-old in jeans and a striped blue shirt with an eyebrow stud and dyed black hair. In early August, he posted some stupid comments on a couple of Web sites. The next thing you know, he's a national punching bag.
What Hubert said was sadly unexceptional. It was the usual rubbish that people with dyed hair and eyebrow studs sometimes utter when the subject of Israel comes up.
Hubert predicted that, one day, Hezbollah would be well-remembered for standing up to Israel, which Hubert described as the most “vile” nation on Earth. Also, in response to reports that Jews were leaving the federal Liberal party because of its flaccid support for Israel during the Lebanon crisis, Hubert wrote that the party would be better off without all those “violent Zionists”. They were being “absurdly selfish”, he wrote. “The only issue that matters to them is the defence of a ‘state' that survives on the blood of innocent people.”
While this is pretty run-of-the-mill stuff in certain quarters, Thomas Hubert is not a run-of-the-mill kid. He joined the New Democratic Party when he was 13. By the time he was 16, he was the NDP's Delta–Richmond East riding president and the campaign manager for local NDP candidate William Jonsson. A few months ago, disillusioned that the NDP had helped elect Stephen Harper's Conservatives, he left to join the Liberal party and shortly after became a vice president of the Young Liberals' B.C. wing.
This made it possible to characterize his comments as the utterances of an official with the Liberal party. The spin cycle of the week of August 21 was a living hell for the boy.
First, he was publicly vilified, quite understandably, by the Canada-Israel Committee. Then he found himself being denounced by more than one Liberal leadership contender, including his own favourite, Gerard Kennedy. The CTV national news cited his case as evidence that Lebanon's bloodshed had thrown the Liberals into turmoil, then the usually sensible Warren Kinsella wrote about Hubert's “wretched Jew hatred” in the National Post, and then there was a front-page story in a local newspaper, the Delta Optimist.
Hubert resigned from his minor post with the Young Liberals, issued apologies, then he sat around wishing he could just run away from everything, now that politics, his young life's passion, had come to such an abrupt and horrible stop.
When I met up with him and his dad, Ted, for breakfast at the Beaches restaurant in Tsawwassen, I learned that no one had even taken the time to find out what he had to say for himself. No one, apparently, was aware that the subject of the hullabaloo was, in fact, just a child.
Thomas said he wanted everybody to know how sorry he was, and that he hadn't meant the things he'd said. “I was just frustrated by the situation. Of course I don't believe those things,” he said. “I was just really frustrated by what was going on.”
It has been tough on the family, too: “I'm proud of him,” his dad said. “But he's a child. If he'd stolen a car or something, it wouldn't be this bad.”
But here's the greater tragedy. It's the utter ordinariness of the words Hubert wrote. All Hubert was doing was trafficking in the language of common rhetorical currency about Israel.
One is properly expected to turn out one's cupboards for any trace evidences of sexism, Islamophobia, racism, or homophobia. But the differences between “anti-Zionism” and anti-Semitism, which were never especially clear to start with, just get painted over nowadays in the expectation that nobody will notice.
The really sad thing is, it's working.
If you don't believe me, pick up a copy of Canadian Dimension magazine sometime. It's a venerable periodical, happily endorsed by NDP leader Jack Layton and by such luminaries as Maude Barlow and Linda McQuaig.
Soon enough, you'll probably find yourself reading something by James Petras, a frequent CD contributor and a member of the magazine's collective. His uniquely “progressive” analysis is that a shadowy group of Jewish bankers pretty much runs American foreign policy. They even tricked America into invading Iraq. They're behind just about every crappy thing that happens in the world, apparently.
Take the recent “Mohammed cartoon” eruptions that resulted in worldwide riots, the burning of embassies, and at least 139 deaths. According to Petras, it was all orchestrated by Mossad—the Israeli secret service. They had a Ukrainian Jew working under an assumed name at the Danish newspaper where the rumpus began, just waiting for his order to set the plot in motion.
That's how bad it's got: you say something nice about Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, cite Noam Chomsky a couple of times, make a joke or two about George Bush, toss in words like resistance and hegemony, and you can have everyone singing “Throw the Jew Down the Well” before anyone even notices what's happening.
None of this is Thomas Hubert's fault. He's a victim here.
And he's just a kid.