Journalist Tristin Hopper speaks with an audience member after his talk at Congregation Schara Tzedeck Jan. 14. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Canada has plenty of dark chapters in its history. But, in terms of sheer malice, nothing compares to the celebration of mass murder seen in this country after Oct. 7, according to National Post commentator Tristin Hopper – and he says the media bears part of the blame.
Hopper, who lives in Victoria, spoke at Congregation Schara Tzedeck Jan. 14. He said he massively misjudged Canadian reactions to the violence perpetrated by Hamas and its collaborators, sketching out how he says he thought things would play out.
“I thought there would be ‘Pray with Israel’ placards displayed conspicuously outside mosques and Muslim community centres,” said Hopper. “I thought there would be Israeli flags seamlessly hung next to Ukraine flags in windows of public buildings and public libraries. I thought that Arab and Palestinian Canadians would gather in impromptu ‘Not in our name’ rallies to condemn Hamas. And then, after about a week or two, I thought this whole thing would basically disappear from the headlines.
“You’ll forgive my startling naïveté because obviously very little of that happened and in many cases the exact opposite happened,” said Hopper. “Canada was instead greeted with the largest and most sustained outpouring of hate in our entire history.”
Hopper, who clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the National Post, said he writes frequently about the darker moments in Canada’s past, such as Japanese-Canadian internment, race-specific land covenants, Indian residential schools and the pro-fascist and antisemitic sentiments that Canada’s longest-serving prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King shared in his diary.
“In all that, you never once, in all our 160 years, had what we saw in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7,” he said. “We’ve had KKK rallies, anti-Catholic rallies by the Orange Order, race riots, pro-terror demonstrations by extremist Khalistanis, but not like this. Coordinated rallies in every single time zone, whose sole motivating purpose was to celebrate the deaths of civilians.”
This surprised him, Hopper said, but it did not surprise his Jewish friends.
“They had been telling it to me for years,” he said. “Did I think that Canada had antisemites? Yes, lots of them. But if you had asked me three months ago, I would have told you that however large a constituency of antisemites, they were Canadians and a Canadian knows that this is a place where primal hatreds are repressed and prejudice is not welcome.”
Hopper chastised the media for failing to dig into the nature of the groups organizing rallies in Canada.
“You may have heard of these peace rallies that keep blockading roads, desecrating war memorials and [that] intimidated Christmas shoppers [and assumed] they are just concerned citizens who want an end to violence,” he said. Instead, the social media feeds of some of these groups are packed with celebrations of violence, antisemitism and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Among the problems, he contends, is that there are some Palestinian advocacy organizations that exaggerate or lie and media repeat their statements without challenge.
“You refer to terror detainees as political prisoners, you call Israel an apartheid state, you obfuscate or deny every Palestinian terror attack, you circulate faked photos, you launder terrorist propaganda,” he said of some Canadian activists. “You don’t merely misrepresent Israeli actions, you invent Israeli actions that never existed. You use the word ‘genocide’ so often that it’s basically punctuation. Any time someone is killed who had a minor communications role with Hamas, you refer to them as a journalist. This is a level of brazen mendacity that you just do not encounter from any other political movement. You’ll get exaggerations, you’ll get omissions, you’ll get disingenuousness, faulty premises, but you’re probably not going to encounter someone who just lies about everything.”
He is not without sympathy for the journalists.
“How are you going to cover that in a typical 500-word piece of he said/she said news story?” he asked.
He read from one news report: “City Hall today saw 100 people gathered for a ‘stop the genocide’ rally. Demonstrators at a counter-rally said they support Israel.”
“OK, you got both sides there,” he said. “But if you are looking to tell the truth here, you would need an extended essay on how the genocide accusation is utterly unhinged from reality and overlooks how the people who organize this rally handed out candy on Oct. 7.”
There is no context of the larger geopolitical situation or how this particular conflict started, he said.
“You’re not getting into the history of rejected peace offers, why Hamas is subject to repeated blockades, repeated rocket attacks, none of these are in these stories,” Hopper said, adding that voices supporting terrorism are given equal time with voices defending Israel. “The extremist line on this issue is either favoured or at least equated as being morally equivalent to Israel.”
In a country where the vast majority of Jews support Israel, he said, media will enthusiastically give platforms to those who don’t.
Hopper believes that Canadian journalism is experiencing a replica of what he sees as having happened in academia.
“An activist element took over and are now, in the words of one critic, wearing the institution like a skin suit and demanding respect,” he said.
He was speaking just after the PuSh Festival announced they were canceling The Runner, basically because it featured a Jewish Israeli protagonist. In the arts community, Hopper said, activists with an agenda have infiltrated different organizations and bodies in a way that he compares with interest groups who get themselves elected to school boards because few people pay attention to such things and then parents suddenly discover their children are being taught creationism instead of evolution.
Hopper’s appearance was sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Schara Tzedeck, whose Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt introduced the program. Shelley Rivkin and Raquel Hirsch had the idea to invite Hopper to speak after being encouraged by his columns in the aftermath of Oct. 7.