Montreal daily assailed for Jewish mob-member focus
By J. Correspondent | June 6, 1997
MONTREAL — Canadian Jewish groups are demanding an apology from a French Montreal daily for a story they claim is anti-Semitic.
The article focused on Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrests of Jewish members of a criminal organization. The story in the newspaper La Presse ran Wednesday of last week under the headline, "RCMP Strike a Deadly Blow to a Jewish Criminal Organization." It described a criminal group led by Montrealers with Jewish-sounding last names. These men, Morris Mayers and Shimon Ben-David, were charged along with Mahmood Hassan and Thomas McKinnon, but La Presse focused on the Jewish identity of the organization.
Seven of the group's 31 members, also suspected of smuggling drugs, are said to be Jewish. Both Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai B'rith Canada expressed their outrage at the La Presse coverage, which also alleged links between Jews and the Mafia. The newspaper also ran a separate article about infamous American Jewish organized crime leaders Meyer Lansky and "Bugsy" Siegel.
"The religious background of a number of the individuals apprehended has no relevance nor relationship to the criminal acts and the identification of the group as such casts a very negative shadow over Quebec's Jewish community," said Steve Slimovitch, legal committee chairman of the BBC League for Human Rights. "It unjustly nourishes intolerant stereotypes." The league sent a letter to Claude Masson, La Presse's assistant publisher, demanding a published apology. Mike Cohen, CJC's national communications director, said that his organization's leadership would meet with Masson to explain its position on the issue.
CJC also issued a written statement expressing its outrage. But Masson defended his paper's coverage. "I think we're playing with words a bit," he was quoted as saying. "I think we should be careful about being so politically correct that we can no longer say what is happening in our society."
Masson did say he would reserve judgment until meeting with representatives of Jewish groups. But he pointed out that the leaders of the criminal group have been identified as Jewish by the RCMP, which stated that the main leaders have Jewish or Israeli connections. Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research Action on Race Relations, said the story "shows a tremendous lack of sensitivity. It essentially turns a crime issue into an issue of ethnicity."
According to some of the newspaper's critics, the story about Lansky and Siegel appeared to add insult to injury. Jeffrey Boro, a lawyer for one of those arrested (who was later released), said the newspaper "had to go back 40 years to find a notorious Jewish criminal, which gives you an idea of how criminalized our population is." Regarding the second story on infamous Jewish mobsters, Masson admitted, "Perhaps we went too far there."
CJC Quebec region chair Reisa Teitelbaum said La Presse's coverage was simply unacceptable. "Criminals are criminals. It is despicable that ethnicity and religion became an issue here. We think it is important that the media does not fall into this kind of trap." The CJC's community relations chairman, Arielle Meloul, pointed out that other newspapers covering this story locally refused to focus on the religion of those arrested.
"This is particularly disturbing to the Jewish community, given the very good relations we have fostered with La Presse over the last number of years. That is why we are seeking this meeting with La Presse before deciding whether or not to take further action." One option open to Jewish groups would be to file a grievance with the Quebec Press Council.'