Skip to content

The Line Between Anti-Racism and Racism Keeps Getting Fainter

How an antisemitic bigot named Laith Marouf built a lucrative career as a Canadian government-funded ‘anti-racist’

· 13 min read
The Line Between Anti-Racism and Racism Keeps Getting Fainter
A selfie of Laith Marouf, which he posted to Twitter on July 6th, 2022 under the caption, “At the Lincoln Memorial, telling him what I think of his shitty colony.”

There are few politicians who’ve embraced the anti-racism movement more fervently than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. With great fanfare, his government has launched multiple programs intended to eradicate the “racism, discrimination, and xenophobia” that Trudeau describes as being a major contaminant within Canadian society. Alas, it has now been revealed that a major beneficiary of this Liberal anti-racism largesse is one of Canada’s most outspoken bigots, whose company was promised C$130,000 (about US$107,000) in public funds to mount a six-city national tour aimed at “building an anti-racism strategy” within the Canadian broadcasting industry. And the resulting scandal has become international news.

The bigot in question is Laith Marouf, a fanatical Palestinian-rights activist and one-time campus firebrand whose activities I’ve been following, on and off, for two decades—beginning with his 2001 expulsion from Concordia University in Montreal. Marouf had attacked a campus security guard who’d been trying to help apprehend him for spray-painting anti-Israeli graffiti on a local building. Yet he was able to get the expulsion overturned, and even held on to his gig as VP Internal with the Concordia Student Union (CSU) executive, whose membership was then largely intertwined with a militant student group known as Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (of which Marouf would become Chapter Coordinator).

This was the same CSU executive that became infamous for distributing a 2001–2002 student handbook that included a cartoon depicting Israel’s military as a drooling bird of prey threatening a tiny child; an article promoting an anti-capitalist holiday called “Steal Something Day” (advising Concordia students to shoplift and “take a yuppie’s BMW for a joyride and [then] crash it into a parked Mercedes just for the hell of it”); and, most notoriously, a graphic showing airplanes smashing into a conference room full of businessmen. (The handbook was published just weeks before 9/11.)

Several months later, in early 2002, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights activists helped instigate a protest-turned-riot that shut down a scheduled speech at Concordia by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The incident was reported internationally, badly tarnishing the university’s reputation, and sparking a backlash against the student union, whose leaders were accused of letting their anti-Israeli vitriol cross the line into outright antisemitism. I was in Montreal at the time, covering the event for Canada’s National Post newspaper. As I described in my reporting, the riot really did seem like a hatefest directed at the school’s “Zionist” community:

[A] crowd [was] chanting Arabic slogans outside the entrance to Concordia’s Hall Building. As soon as they learned we were with the Post—‘Zionist-owned’ as several described it—they grew hostile. At one point, I tried to penetrate to the middle of the rabble to interview the organizers … I was rebuffed, and found myself scrambling back through a knot of students kicking at me while screaming ‘Palestinian checkpoint.’ Like others, I was sprayed with ketchup from a plastic bottle—a symbol, apparently, of Palestinian blood.

One might imagine that these developments would have career-limiting implications for Marouf, a Syrian citizen whose father had been sent to Montreal on diplomatic assignment by Hafez al-Assad’s regime. Yet Marouf somehow managed to scratch out a Canadian career as a community activist, equity officer, radio host, and, most recently, government-bankrolled anti-racism consultant—all without making any effort to hide his antisemitic views. As well as posting hateful comments on social media, he’s also become a regular on Russian and Iranian propaganda outlets, spouting conspiracy theories about Israel, the war in Ukraine, and the Zionist machinations of the international media.

In an era when people can get fired for clicking the like button on a problematic social-media post or using the wrong pronoun, this out-and-proud hatemonger has—until just days ago—maintained his entree with Canadian broadcast regulators, even while tweeting that “there are none on this earth more cunty than Zionists”; describing his desire to beat up “ugly inbred fucking Zionist Colonist tourists”; rhapsodizing about the coming liberation of Palestine, when “all those loud mouthed bags of human feces, aka the Jewish White Supremacists … will return to being low-voiced bitches of their Christian/Secular white supremacist masters”; and describing his personal “motto” as being that “Life is too short for shoes with laces, or for entertaining Jewish white supremacists with anything but a bullet to the head.”

In regard to the 2002 Concordia riot, Marouf recently tweeted, “At least we broke a window when they claimed Kirstallnacht.” He also called Colin Powell “the Jamaican house-slave of the Empire,” dismissed Canada’s Francophone population as “frogs,” and celebrated the outcome of a Beirut bombing that, he crowed, turned French soldiers into “bags of minced meat.” During a recent trip to Washington, DC, Marouf took a selfie at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he tweeted along with the wish that the memorial were “much bigger, with the names of a few million dead corpses of [American] dirtbags.”

That last tweet is especially notable because he posted it just last month, by which time he’d already launched his aforementioned government-financed anti-racism tour, which he billed as “Building an Anti-Racism Strategy for Canadian Broadcasting: Conversation & Convergence.” The full slate of events was to include regional gatherings in Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary, and Winnipeg, “culminating in a national conference to be held at Carleton University in Ottawa.” The April 14th, 2022 press release announcing the tour was published under the name of the formal grant recipient—the Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), a company composed of Marouf and his wife. It contained lengthy quotes from two men: Marouf himself, and Ahmed Hussen, Trudeau’s Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, who pronounced Marouf’s travelling anti-racism road show to be a “timely intervention with the potential to shape how Racialized Canadians experience the media space.”

Marouf’s Twitter account is now protected. But its contents had been closely tracked for more than a year by a prominent Canadian telecommunications consultant named Mark Goldberg (who’d previously managed to get Marouf’s original Twitter account shut down, a move that Marouf now blames on “the Zionist lobby”). Goldberg has been publicly ringing alarm bells over the issue since April, and raised the issue directly with Liberal MP Anthony Housefather last month. Housefather responded on July 19, telling Goldberg that the issue had been flagged to Hussen and his team, and that Hussen “will get back to me.”

Yet it was only a month later, on August 21, once I’d been signal-boosting Goldberg’s research for a week, that anyone in government deigned to acknowledged that they’d effectively put a lifelong Jew-hater on the government’s anti-racism payroll. And even then, Hussen declined to include Marouf’s name in his initial statement.

Since then, the story has circulated widely. And on Monday, Trudeau’s government was finally shamed into ending its contract with Marouf, in large part, apparently, thanks to pressure applied by prominent Jewish groups such as CIJA and B’nai Brith. The Liberals are now in damage-control mode, with Housefather admitting publicly that Hussen had been briefed about Marouf’s background before the scandal broke in the mainstream media. It is unclear, as yet, whether the scandal will lead to the resignation of Hussen; or that of Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, whose ministry controls the Anti-Racism Initiatives Program that doled out Marouf’s grant. But either way, it’s already done much to discredit the cash-bloated anti-racism bureaucracy that Trudeau’s been touting since 2019.

What I am reporting here is, in many ways, a parochial political story. Canada’s governments, at all levels, have a long history of using popular-sounding causes as a pretext to dole out cash to activists and community-group leaders, who in turn promote the government’s largesse by slapping “Funded by the Government of Canada” logos on their content. But Marouf’s surreal career arc as a racist anti-racist also presents larger lessons about the manner by which benign-seeming progressive jargon can now be used as a smokescreen for truly toxic ideas and personalities.

Marouf’s first gig after leaving Concordia was at Under the Olive Tree, a weekly (allegedly antisemitic) Palestinian-themed news show that he’d set up through McGill University’s CKUT radio station. He then wound up back at Concordia, as director of a community-focused television operation, before (not unpredictably) alienating his colleagues and getting thrown out. By this point, Marouf was styling himself as an expert in grass-roots media. And in the late 2010s, he began lobbying Canadian regulators to impose diversity quotas on broadcasters, whom he accused of creating “Apartheid on the airwaves.” He continued doing so even after moving his family to Beirut in 2019, where, by his own account, he has lived ever since. In 2021, for instance, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) paid him more than $16,000 to consult on “accessibility reporting requirements for broadcasting undertakings.” All in all, Marouf’s outfit earned at least half a million dollars from the CRTC between 2016 and 2022.

As Jamie Sarkonak of Canada’s National Post reports, Marouf’s hyperbolic claims about racism in Canadian broadcasting circles got a warm reception from the country’s broadcast regulators. This might seem surprising given his bizarre description of Canada’s national broadcaster, the decidedly left-of-centre CBC, as a propaganda outlet for “the Apartheid Colony of Canada, and thus the most prominent pimp of racist, Genocidal, colonialist, Imperialist and Supremacist propaganda in the land.” But during Trudeau’s tenure, this kind of apocalyptic description of Canadian society has become increasingly fashionable among devout anti-racists; with Trudeau himself spending much of his latter tenure instructing Canadians to ruminate on their country’s genocidal sins.

It’s a trend that very much played to Marouf’s advantage. Since all of the vicious campus slogans he’d perfected in regard to Zionists victimizing Palestinians were now part of the vocabulary that doctrinaire progressives use to describe white Canadian settlers preying upon Indigenous and black communities, it was just a question of replacing one country’s name with another when he switched over from his Twitter diatribes (Israel) to his funding applications (Canada).

When Marouf has mentioned the Middle East while speaking in his professional capacity, he’s tended to present it through the prism of Indigenous rights—a clever gambit that purports to link the fate of Palestinians to Canada’s treatment of its own Indigenous population. (In such contexts, he would also excise the word “Zionist” in favour of “Imperialist” or some such.) At a January 22nd, 2021, appearance before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), for instance, he began by declaring, “We acknowledge that Canada is a settler colonial apartheid State, built on the unceded territories of Indigenous nations and Inuit peoples,” before complaining to the assembled officials that the CBC was “erasing the existence of the Indigenous people of Palestine” by referring to Gaza and the West Bank as mere Palestinian territories.

Even as far back as the mid-2010s, Marouf was already a master sous-chef when it came to creating the kind of anti-racist word salad that’s now recognizable as a staple of corporate diversity seminars, social-justice hashtags, and academic anti-racism manifestos. In a document titled Ethical Considerations In Challenging Colonial And Oppressive Media And Policy-Making, Marouf’s CMAC outfit described Canadian media as “centers for white power” marked by “colonial and oppressive spaces that often exclude people who are racialized, Indigenous, or living with disabilities.” The goal of CMAC’s operations was “to disrupt colonialism and oppression in the media,” and to “challenge status-quo broadcasters by using decolonizing and anti-oppression frameworks … with the goal of dismantling colonialism, racism, sexism, and ableism.” Marouf also hopped on board the trend of referring to “whiteness” as a psychiatric malignancy. This kind of verbiage is now seen as a saintly idiom in progressive milieus—an indicator of worthy, Trudeau-approved motives. And so, when Marouf came to the government looking for funding to spread his anti-racist cant to Canadian broadcasters, is it really so surprising that some bureaucrat lazily stamped “approved” on his file without first bothering to Google his name?

Since this story broke last week, I’ve heard a lot of Trudeau’s critics suggest that the Marouf saga proves that Canada’s Liberal government harbours an antisemitic agenda. But I reject that accusation. The more likely (if also more banal) explanation is that the Liberals—like the progressive, wealthy, white-collar class from which the party recruits its senior cadres—has devoted so much time and bandwidth to anti-racism, intersectionality, decolonization, and other academic group-based theories, that they’ve simply lost sight of the basic need to evaluate ideas and human beings on their own merits.

After all, Trudeau now explicitly instructs his ministers to implement policies that are “informed and developed through an intersectional lens.” And of course, an “intersectional” approach toward someone such as Marouf would require that one consider the various “positionalities” and “privileges” at play. For a white person, this would include granting a silent and uncritical audience for his complaints about Jews, without demonstrating “fragility” or “centering” the interlocutor’s objections. It’s a theme that Marouf himself hit explicitly on Twitter, with his insistence that Jews may take part in the Palestinian struggle only if they agree to a “complete abandonment of personal opinion & only parroting Palestinian voices”—an eerily exact formulation of the faddish concept known as white “allyship.”

Substitute “Indigenous” for “Palestinian,” and “Settler” for “Jew,” and you’ll find that Canadian media has been absolutely littered with hectoring allyship-themed advice of exactly this type in recent years. Likewise, while Marouf’s claims about Canada being an Apartheid state built on a foundation of genocide and racism may seem extreme, they directly echo many of the talking points that one can now find embedded in everyday anti-racist training sessions taught by corporate diversity consultants.

For all I know, in fact, a truly expert Liberal intersectionalist applying a maximalist formulation of anti-racism might even be able to entirely rationalize Marouf’s hatred of Jews—at least the white ones—on the basis that his animus is rooted in an emotionally legitimate reaction to the historic oppression of his Arab ancestors. One of Marouf’s more inspired masterstrokes in this regard was to ensure that the words “white” and “Jewish” tend to appear side-by-side in his harangues, which, by the most generous interpretation, can be taken to suggest that all he is guilty of is calling out white supremacy.

Remember that there’s a strong faction within ultra-progressive subculture that insists Jews are just another group of privileged white settlers, fair game for the same sort of scathing rhetorical attacks meted out to white people more generally within anti-racist discourse. Indeed, this helps explain why so many otherwise hyper-progressive political subcultures often betray alarming streaks of antisemitism. As John-Paul Pagano noted in Tablet six years ago, “antisemitism doesn’t work like most forms of racism, which denigrate their victims as inferior. Antisemitism is special in that it often perceives its target—Jews—as having too much privilege and assails them for it.”

The facts of Marouf’s case are so bizarre that some Canadian politicians and pundits may be tempted to dismiss it as a one-off farce. But that would be a mistake, because the scandal surrounding this one man provides an opportunity for the country’s policymakers to seriously scrutinize the value proposition offered by the whole cottage industry of anti-racist experts, consultants, and profiteers who’ve put their palms out to government in recent years. For all the denunciations now properly being heaped on Laith Marouf, he could, in this way, deliver to Canadians a profound (if completely unintentional) act of public service.

Latest Podcast

Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.


On Instagram @quillette