When it comes to holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel, controversies often take on a life of their own.Take his current claim for refugee status here in Canada after American authorities deported him.
Jewish groups have been horrified by the media attention his case has attracted. It's the last thing they wanted.
"With Zundel it's always interesting," says one Jewish community leader, only half-jokingly.
The mainstream media can't seem to shake its fascination with Zundel. The Globe went as far as to send a correspondent to his hometown in Calmbach, Germany, for a feature that ran last Friday. The paper followed up Saturday with a story on all the women who've loved the "chameleon" Zundel.
This kind of exposure was feared early on by Jewish leaders and has recently given rise to intense debate among Canada's three major Jewish organizations about the platform a long, dragged-out legal battle would offer Zundel, a skilled propagandist, to promote his anti-Semitic views.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center suggested recently to German authorities that they drop outstanding charges against Zundel as a way of expediting his deportation from Canada. Those charges relate to a videotape Zundel distributed titled The Auschwitz Lie.
Leo Adler, the centre's director of national affairs, argues in a letter to German ambassador to Canada Christian Pauls that "there would be no foundation for (Zundel's) claim for asylum" here in Canada if Germany suspended the charges. Zundel, a German national, "would be obliged to return to Germany.
"The last thing anybody (except Zundel) wants is a protracted media-hyped series of court appearances that serve to publicize Mr. Zundel," Adler's letter says. "The sweetest justice would be to show Mr. Zundel a form of mercy that leaves his future in his hands, rather than allowing him to become a self-styled martyr for his cause."
Others among the Jewish leadership, however, are not so eager to have German authorities forgive Zundel his misdeeds. Some seem more than willing to let Zundel cool his heels in the Niagara Detention Centre for as long as the process takes.
B'nai Brith has sent its own correspondence to German authorities saying that "Zundel should be deported to Germany and prosecuted to the fullest extent of German anti-hate laws." The group reiterated this point last Friday when CBC Radio news erroneously reported that B'nai Brith, too, supports the Wiesenthal Center's initiative.
"If he's committed a crime in another country, allegedly," says B'nai Brith director of communications Joseph Ben-Ami, "then he should be tried for that crime.
"There's a flaw in (the Simon Wiesenthal Center's) logic," says Ben-Ami, "and the flaw is, we're assuming the basis for the refugee claim is the outstanding charge against him (in Germany). That's not the basis for his refugee claim. The basis of his refugee claim is his fear of persecution."
One gets the sense listening to Ben-Ami that the optics of this sticky situation -- a Jewish organization calling for the dropping of charges against a known anti-Semite -- is what's driving the group's position.
"We of all people should be the last to say charges should be dropped. I mean, we're just not going to do that. We feel a responsibility to prosecute. We're not prepared to have our name attached to an initiative to have (the Germans) turn a blind eye to this kind of crime.
"If the goal here is to prevent Ernst Zundel from getting publicity, don't you think we'd be a little more circumspect about calling press conferences to talk about how we could prevent him from garnering more media attention?"
The Canadian Jewish Congress, which had early on expressed its own concern about the media attention around Zundel's case, is not supporting the Wiesenthal Center's initiative either.
Len Rudner, the CJC's director of community relations, says that from the CJC's point of view Zundel's refugee claim is a "red herring" that doesn't stand a legal chance.
Rudner says the Wiesenthal Center's initiative is "an attempt to clear the table, (while) from our point of view that item really isn't even on the table. It is an interesting perspective. We don't think the German government's in-absentia conviction of Zundel for his actions there is going to be an impediment to removing him from this country one way or the other.
"I'm sure Zundel's enjoying it. But what are you going to do about it? The media is going to cover it regardless, because Zundel is news."
Adler was not available for comment this week. But he suggested -- in separate correspondence to Justice Minister Martin Cauchon urging him to sign on to the centre's initiative -- that getting rid of Zundel will present more legal twists and turns than legal observers think.
He writes that "even the attempt to have him declared a security risk carries with it the possibility of lengthy court battles."
A four-page summary report presented at the only hearing held to date in the Zundel matter by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spy agency, says there are reasonable grounds to consider Zundel a security risk "as a consequence of his participation, involvement and support of the neo-Nazi/white supremacist movement in Canada."
The CSIS document goes on to say that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that Zundel has been and would be in a position to influence his followers to commit acts of serious violence in Canada or abroad."
But back in 92, when the Supreme Court of Canada overturned spreading-false-news charges against Zundel -- for publishing Did Six Million Really Die? -- it found censorship of all expressions "likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest" unjustifiable and in contravention of freedom of expression guarantees in the Charter.
The questin is, then, do Zundel's views make him a security risk even though, as CSIS's own appraisal states, "Zundel is unlikely to resort to violence himself"?
Whether or not Zundel still retains his landed status here in Canada is another legal wrinkle that's complicating matters.
Immigration officials in Ottawa are not commenting on the case. But René Mercier, a spokesperson for the department, says landed immigrants retain their status for three years after they've left the country. Zundel, a resident in Canada since 58, left in August 2000.
At least one higher-up with the CJC expresses "surprise" that Zundel is not using his former residency status to fight his deportation.
While the Wiesenthal Center's proposal has been met with skepticism within certain segments of the Jewish community, German authorities seem to be treating it seriously.
In Ottawa, German embassy spokesperson Harry Adelt confirms that Adler has met with high-ranking officials there, and the proposal has been sent to Berlin for consideration.
Zundel's Web site, meanwhile, is milking this controversy for all it's worth. The myth-making continues.