Weaponizing antisemitism: the smearing of Yves Michaud

Bruce Katz

On 04/04/2024

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Recently, a Quebecer of distinction, a man of integrity by the name of Yves Michaud passed away at the venerable age of 94. A one-time Liberal Member of the Quebec National Assembly, Michaud joined the ranks of the Parti Québécois at the behest of René Lévesque, the leader of the PQ and friend to Yves Michaud.(He left the Liberal Party subsequent to the passing of Bill 63 on the French language which he considered inadequate). He was also the Quebec government’s General Delegate to Paris (délégué général du Québec à Paris) for a period of five years.

In 1995, Yves Michaud founded the Mouvement d’éducation et de défense des actionnaires (Movement for the education and defense of shareholders) which defended the rights and interests of the banks’ and corporations’ shareholders and investors, demanding more accountability for those corporations and banks.  Michaud’s defense of those shareholders earned him the nickname of “le Robin des Banques” (the Robin Hood of Banks).

One would think that an individual such as Yves Michaud whose public record was one of honour and integrity would be above recriminations on the part of colleagues of Quebec’s National Assembly. Such was not the case. What has been called the « Michaud Affair » started on December 5, 2000, in an interview on the Montreal radio station CKAC.

Talk show host Paul Arcand asked Michaud if he thought there was a lack of interest on the part of Quebecers for Quebec sovereignty. Michaud answered with an anecdote in which he made reference to an unexpected conversation he’d had with a federal Liberal senator whom he ran into when going for a haircut. According to Michaud, when addressing the question of the sovereignty of Quebecers as being in the same light as the struggle of the Jewish people for their own sovereignty, the Liberal senator said, “That’s not the same.” Michaud went on to explain that he answered the Liberal senator in the following manner, “It’s not the same? The Armenians did not suffer, the Palestinians did not suffer, the Rwandans did not suffer. You are the only people who have suffered in history?” Yves Michaud also objected to the proposal from the B’Nai Brith regional office for Quebec, then headed by Robert Libman, that the Lionel-Groulx Metro station in Montreal be renamed.

During the same interview, Michaud stated in reference to the 1995 referendum vote in a particular riding: « In 12 polling stations out of 2275, I had yes zero, 374 no… yes zero… and it’s defined like that. So there is zero intolerance on the part of immigrants in relation to us. There are three reasons for this: the first is that it is a phenomenon of rejection. They reject us completely. The second is that there is a feeling of hatred. The third is that they haven’t understood anything of what we have told them.” The comments are not without recalling Jacques Parizeau’s unfortunate statement that the 1995 referendum defeat had been caused by « money and ethnic votes » (l’argent puis des votes ethniques). But does that qualify either Michaud or Parizeau (the latter’s late first wife Alice (néé Poznańska) was a Jewess) as ‘antisemites’?

On December 13, 2000, the leader of the Liberal Party, Jean Charest presented to the National Assembly of Quebec a motion condemning references to « an ethnic vote against the sovereignty of the people of Quebec » and speaking of B’nai Brith (itself accused of discriminatory statements) as « an extremist group against Quebecers and against sovereignty », as allegedly expressed by Yves Michaud at the Estates-General (on the status of the French language). In December of 2000, 109 Members of the Quebec National Assembly endorsed a motion of ‘blame’ against Yves Michaud, accusing him of propos inacceptables (unacceptable comments) regarding the Jewish community. Among them, Premier Lucien Bouchard and PQ MNA François Legault, now Premier of Quebec.

On February 1st, 2001, Yves Michaud addressed a letter to the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) (translated in 2007 from the original French by Mathieu Gauthier-Pilote) in which he qualified the remarks he had made before the Commission of the Estates General of the French language. In the letter Michaud informed the CJC that he was a “founding member of the Ligue des droits de l’homme (Human Rights League), in 1962, in the company of Pierre-Elliott Trudeau and Jacques Hébert, the former Liberal senator,” that he was the “godfather of a Jewish boy” and that his wife was “ godmother of a Jewish girl,” that he had  lived for 37 years in a Jewish district of Montreal in perfect harmony, friendship and conviviality with my neighbours for whom I feel the highest regard. . . “

The final two parapraphs of Michaud’s letter to the Canadian Jewish Congress are worthy of noting:

 For more than two centuries, the generosity of the Quebec people (an « ethnic group« , – if the word is not sacrilege – that not only founded Quebec but also Canada) has had no limit toward all the citizens who live on their territory, without concern for their confession, colour and origins. That being said, it has indeed happened in the past, on their territory and in that of Canada, that certain forms of ostracism be applied against the nationals of Jewish confession, in particular the refusal to admit them in universities and select clubs, but that was the fact of the English-Canadian « ethnic group ». I imagine that in this respect your files are an inexhaustible source of consultation and information.

To conclude, there never was and there never will be in Quebec a « Jewish Question », except coming from politicians who have bad intentions, who use the extremely comprehensible sensitivity of your people, to suspicious and unfair ends. You would oblige me by taking note of what preceded and in ensuring the communication of it to your co-religionists, with the expression of my distinguished feelings.

The reference to politicians who ‘have bad intentions’ is pregnant with meaning, as it is for certain organizations with ‘bad intentions’ who smear others with the epithet of antisemitism as a means of suppressing criticism and debate.

Michaud was not given the opportunity to respond to the accusations levied against him. However, on December 14, 2011, Michaud was given the opportunity in his own scathing opinion piece in the pages of Le Devoir translated here by the present author of this article:

On December 14, 2000, 109 Members of the National Assembly of Quebec degraded themselves by unanimously voting for a motion of reprimand against a citizen, in flagrant violation of fundamental human rights: without having the citizen appear, without reading to him his indictment, without providing him with a full defense.

The conspirators of this crime — unheard of in the history of several centuries of Parliamentarism — are Lucien Bouchard, former prime minister and current shale gas lobbyist, Jean Charest, current prime minister, and the cunning Sylvain Simard, MP for Sorel .

Among the other strays from the independence movement, we find the ineffable François Legault, stutterer of the French language, progenitor of the “cacaquiste” party, entertaining rattle of two bored millionaires. Followed in order by Diane Lemieux, Jacques Léonard, Serge Ménard, Guy Chevrette, Jacques Brassard, Maxime Arseneau, whose sleep does not seem disturbed by their irresponsible vote at the time.

Forty-four less than worthy Liberals took part in the imbecilic nonsense of December 14, 2000. No one, in what was once this respectable political party, has expressed the slightest regret at having been part of the shameful circus which transpired 11 years ago. Especially not the current Minister of Injustice, Jean-Marc Fournier, hostile to any form of repentance and correction of parliamentary morals, particularly his own, which are not a model of elegance and refinement.

Michaud subsequently fought all his life against the motion and for the assembly to repair what he considered to be an error. Twenty-four years after censuring and debasing this man of honour, the National Assembly of Quebec paid tribute to the memory of Yves Michaud – but without apologizing for having smeared his reputation. The Parti Québécois unanimously adopted a motion to pay tribute to him, but the CAQ government opposed the National Assembly presenting its apologies. Premier François Legault, who had voted at the time in favour of the motion that censured Michaud, said he stood by his original vote. While some of those who censured Michaud in December 2000 have formally apologized, Legault has never apologized. Perhaps he remembers the scathing response he received from Yves Michaud in the latter’s opinion piece in Le Devoir in 2011.

Gaza 2024

The reference to the censure of Yves Michaud, the use of antisemitism as a weapon, the refusal of François Legault to excuse the defamatory nature of the charges made against Yves Michaud in the National Assembly bring us to the continued use of antisemitism as a weapon and the continued vigorous support for Israelism shown by Premier Legault and his National Assembly colleagues at the outset of the conflict in Gaza, being a casebook example of a planned genocide via indiscriminate bombing of hospitals, clinics, cultural centers, mosques, churches, schools, residential buildings and a deliberate campaign of starvation in Gaza to the point of causing widespread malnutrition and even death.

Upon receiving the media reports of the attack by Hamas fighters against Israel on October 7, 2024 François Legault and other MNAs denounced the attack which is understandable and to be expected. Let it be noted that subsequent to the Hamas attack, there has been no comment whatsoever from Legault for his CAQ cronies or from the Liberal Party of Quebec on the Israeli-led genocide taking place in Gaza where Israel has murdered more than 33,000 Palestinians, including some 14,000 children, and at least 9.000 women. More than a thousand Palestinian children in Gaza have lost limbs. Some 70% of Gaza homes have been destroyed. Not a peep from pro-Israel Legault and his colleagues regarding the aid-workers killed by Israel –including a francophone Quebecer–  in what is a ‘man-made famine.’

The CAQ pro-Israel government presented a motion solely denouncing the Hamas attack against Israel while completely evacuating the indiscriminate attack on Gaza by Israel. On October 20 Québec Solidaire along with trade unions called for the Quebec and Canadian governments to firmly denounce the situation in Gaza. In November, Haroun Bouazzi of Québec Solidaire denounced the genocide happening in Gaza. Québec Solidaire has also called for the closing of the Legault government’s opening of a Quebec office in Tel Aviv, the evidence of the Quebec government’s support and approval of the genocide in Gaza. The Parti Québécois has been ‘discreet’ in its comments on Gaza to the point of being largely invisible.

This complicit silence on the part of Legault and other ‘worthies’ who sit in the Quebec National Assembly is no coincidence. François Legault has proven without a doubt that he stands with Israel even before the clear evidence of Israel’s clear genocide in Gaza. The earlier smearing of Yves Michaud, the refusal to acknowledge the fact,his reference to Hamas ‘terrorists’ while maintaining his complicit silence in the face of the genocide in Gaza is proof positive of what François Legault represents behind his friendly banter and his posturing as the Father of the Nation. In short, Legault has an ideological bent in favor of Israelism which he shares with certain elements of the pro-Israel lobby in Quebec. The next time he shows up at a mosque looking for votes, the question should be asked of him, ‘What is your opinion of the genocide in Gaza enacted by Israel?

Bruce Katz is a founding member and current co-president of PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity)


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