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I live in a place where ugly bigotry passes for politics as usual.
Louise Mailloux, the Parti Quebecois’ star candidate for the riding of Gouin, has some harsh things to say about religion. She has compared the practice of baptism and circumcision to rape, a remark not only insulting to Catholics and Jews but also deeply insensitive to rape victims. And while Mailloux’ remarks are offensive to any religious believer, her remarks on kosher food cross over into pure bigotry.
Jews are religiously required to eat kosher food; the rules are laid out in the Bible, where certain animals, birds, fish and bugs, as well as the combination of milk and meat, are forbidden as unkosher. While not all Jews keep the kosher laws, those who do can be pretty particular about their food. Industrial food production techniques make the observance of the kosher laws far more difficult; the consumer has to puzzle over mass produced foods that are made of synthetic mixtures, and wonder what the original raw ingredients were. (Even ordinary consumers are occasionally in for a shock when they learn what really is in their food; for example, in 2012 Starbucks had to drop a bug-based dye used in Frappuccinos due to consumer outcry). In North America, multiple organizations developed to supervise mass produced food products and insure all ingredients are kosher. They charge companies a fee for the supervision, a fee many companies are happy to pay in order to expand their consumer market. This model of supervision is not exclusive to kosher food; similar organizations certify Gluten Free, Organic and Fair Trade products.
But to Louise Mailloux, something far more sinister has occurred. She has actively promoted a myth called the “Kosher Tax”. She has said that kosher supervision is “a religious tax, and it’s a tax we pay directly to mosques, to synagogues and to religious groups. It’s a theft.” To her, the observance of Kosher laws is a joke, a money making scheme, and has remarked that “Just as the prayers of a priest turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, those of the rabbi turn slaughtered chickens, Nestlé Quik and ketchup into thousands of dollars.”. To Mailloux, kosher food supervision is a way of conning non-Jews to pay for Jewish causes, a tax on unsuspecting Quebecois that Jews can use for their own purposes.
Mailloux is not the first in promoting the kosher tax canard; it is a libel that has been spread for the last 40 years by the Klu Klux Klan and anti-Semitic propagandists. It was first offered by the Richard Butler’s Christian Defense League in 1977, in a pamphlet entitled “Kosher Food Racket Costs Consumers $Millions”. The “kosher tax” accusation is attractive to anti-Semites because it implies that Jews are manipulative, money grubbing con men, taking advantage of innocent non-Jews with their phony kosher rules. No doubt Ms. Mailloux, with an advanced degree in philosophy, can understand the implications of her accusations. Yet remarkably enough, Mailloux continues to campaign without having retracted her remarks. Yes, she has offered what could only be termed as non-apology apology; that “she never wanted to offend or hurt anyone,….If that has happened, I very sincerely apologize.” But this so-called apology sounds more like condescension than contrition, a swipe at the “oversensitivity” of her critics; and she has made it clear that she stands 100% by her original remarks. And Pauline Marois has stood by Mailloux, her star candidate, despite these overtly bigoted remarks.
The PQ is now the only major political party in North America to tolerate such bigotry. It has made a deal with the devil, where it hopes identity politics will bring it reelection and even more. So it has proposed a secular charter, claiming that it needs to regulate the use of religious symbols in public institutions because they would undermine the neutrality of the state. Of course, this is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, a piece of obvious demagoguery that the PQ hopes will lead them into the promised land of sovereignty. Pauline Marois cannot pretend that she doesn’t know that this secular charter will appeal most to xenophobes and racists. And in affirming their support for Louise Mailloux and her kosher tax canard, the PQ has taken a stance that David Duke would be proud of.
When medieval Rabbis sought to understand what distinguished kosher and non-kosher livestock, they noted that animals and birds that were kosher were not carnivores, and were gentler. These interpreters theorized that the purpose of the kosher laws was to symbolically separate man from beings that are exploitative and cruel. The kosher distinctions are there to teach a lesson about humanity and dignity.
The PQ is making distinctions as well, but for very different purposes. They are exploiting divisions in Quebec society, marginalizing Jews, Muslims and even Anglophone university students for political gain. Shockingly, the PQ is willing to look away while a star candidate affirms an ugly anti-Semitic canard. It is hard to believe this is happening in 2014.
Perhaps the best way to put it is: there’s something not quite kosher about the PQ’s tactics. And that is unfortunate for all Quebecois, Jew and non-Jew alike.