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Quebec radio host blasted for comments about Jewish community

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Montreal Jewish community march to mark the 59th Independence Day of the State of Israel Tuesday, April 24, 2007 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/CP

Members of Quebec's Jewish community are calling for the firing or yanking off the air of a Cogeco radio talk-show host who appeared to condone a caller's anti-Semitic statements.

At the same time, they say they are hopeful the incident was an isolated one, particularly with the recent ascension to power of Montreal's first Jewish mayor.

A woman, who identified herself as Maria when she called into Jacques Fabi's late-night show on 98.5 FM last week, said she was of Arab descent and was upset at the deaths of the "brothers and sisters" in Gaza in the Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict.

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She compared Israelis to dogs and said the Holocaust was the most beautiful event in world history.

Rather than pulling the plug on the caller, Mr. Fabi said it was her democratic right to speak out but that she should be careful about saying anything "offensive" against the Israelis; making negative comments about the Jewish people always has "consequences," he said.

He went on to say he finds the behaviour of Montreal's Jewish community sometimes "annoying."

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Montreal said the station should fire Mr. Fabi, a respected broadcasting veteran, because he egged the caller on.

"To goad is a vile act and a vile misuse of the airwaves and he should be dismissed," said Mr. Poupko.

"He propagated the idea that you can't say anything negative about the Jews without inviting charges of anti-Semitic speech," he said.

He added that he does not believe Quebec is more anti-Semitic than other provinces.

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The presence of Michael Applebaum as Montreal's first Jewish mayor will probably only serve to reinforce what the small circle of bigots in the province already think, said Mr. Poupko.

La Presse said over the weekend that media and cable company Cogeco has suspended Mr. Fabi for a week, but that has not been confirmed.

A spokesman for the radio station said last week that sanctions against Mr. Fabi had been imposed and that his comments were unacceptable, but that the nature of the action taken is confidential.

Steven Slimovitch, a lawyer for B'nai Brith Canada, stopped short of calling for Mr. Fabi's firing but said he should apologize on the air and the station should use the incident as an opportunity to strongly condemn anti-Semitism and racism on the air.

"It's got to be a teaching moment," he said.

"This kind of garbage has no place in Canadian society."

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He also said an effort should be made to determine if race-sensitivity training "would not be appropriate at this station."

"Is this a systematic problem?"

In August, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council found that another 98.5 FM host – Benoît Dutrizac – breached its code of ethics when he called on listeners passing through the predominantly Jewish neighbourhood of Hampstead to honk and make as much noise as possible to protest a bylaw against noisy outdoor activity on Rosh Hashanah.

The noise, he said, was to send a message that it's not the Jewish community that will tell Quebeckers how to live in their own society.

David Ouelette, spokesman for the Quebec wing of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said on Sunday he's encouraged by the quick response of station manager Réal Germain after complaints were lodged last Thursday.

"He said he absolutely shares our point of view, that this is unacceptable, that severe disciplinary measures will be taken and that staff was reminded of the code of ethics," said Mr. Ouelette.

"We have a hard time seeing how management can continue to have confidence in this host."

He said formal complaints have been lodged with the station as well as with the federal broadcast regulator and the Broadcast Standards Council.

As far as he's concerned, the incident was an isolated one and in no way signals a rise in anti-Semitic sentiment in Quebec.

Daniel Cere, associate professor of religion, ethics and law at McGill University, said there are cases of anti-Semitism in Quebec but the province is "also very accommodating towards the Jewish community."

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