The dalliance between Quebec sovereigntists and Palestinians can lead to embarrassing situations. Last week, Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani forwarded to all her parliamentary colleagues a so-called news bulletin about the war in Gaza. The e-mail message contained links to videos extolling Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, two groups considered terrorist organizations in Canada.
When Ms. Mourani's initiative raised an outcry in the Commons, she explained she had not seen the links in the e-mail, but didn't apologize. Her boss, Gilles Duceppe, who keeps his MPs on a tight leash, declared Ms. Mourani was careless, but refused to sanction her for an unintended mistake.
Mr. Duceppe should know about such "unintended mistakes." In 2006, during the Lebanon war, he marched in a demonstration in Montreal alongside groups brandishing Hezbollah flags and posters calling for the extermination of Israel. The leaders of the two sovereigntist parties, the heads of the major labour unions and even Denis Coderre, then an organizer for Michael Ignatieff's leadership campaign, also marched in the demonstration.
After they were widely condemned for their participation, the political leaders argued the demonstration was for "peace" - although the literature published by the coalition that organized the demonstration had only one side to blame: Israel.
This year, during the war in Gaza, the same scenario was repeated. A demonstration supposedly calling for peace turned into a loud show of hatred against Israel and Jews, with a sea of Hamas flags displayed in downtown Montreal. There was a difference, though. This time around the leaders of the Bloc and the Parti Québécois abstained from attending, and there was not a Liberal MP in sight. But the union leaders were there.
Predictably, this show of solidarity with terrorist groups angered many Quebeckers. But there is no doubt that in Quebec, probably more than in other provinces, there is widespread sympathy for the Palestinian cause - and very little sympathy for Israelis who have been the target of terrorist attacks for years. Why is that so? There are several explanations.
One is that solidarity with the Palestinians, seen as the victims of a powerful and rich ally of the United States, is a staple of current leftist thought - this is why the union leaders, who want to be on the side of the downtrodden, were yet again marching next to Hamas supporters. This is also a common reflex in leftist circles in Europe and elsewhere, especially in Britain, which is at the forefront of the despicable movement aimed at a boycotting Israeli academics.
There are also homegrown factors behind Quebec's bias toward the Palestinian side of the complex Middle East conflict. The Montreal area has the largest Arab community in Canada. Since most Quebec Arabs come from North Africa and Lebanon, they are francophones, thus closer to old-stock francophones than the old Jewish Ashkenazi community whose first language is English. The Sephardim Jews, who settled more recently in Montreal, are French-speaking, but don't seem to have mingled as easily with the French Canadians. Politics play a role here.
Most Jews, for obvious reasons, are suspicious of nationalist movements - and Quebec has absorbed deeply the sovereigntist ideology. For the sovereigntists, the Jewish community is an active "ally" of the federalist camp, while the Arab community is either sympathetic or indifferent to Quebec nationalism.
Last, but not least, there is the old factor of anti-Semitism, which still exists in Quebec as in so many other societies throughout the world. Nobody will dare voice plain, direct anti-Semitic remarks, but attacking Israel is an "acceptable" way for anti-Semites to express their Judeophobia.