Home to 400,000 Jews, Canada has the third-largest Diaspora community after the United States and France.
The May, 2021, armed conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas, in Gaza, has catalyzed a wave of antisemitic vitriol unseen in decades in Canada and globally. Attacks against Jews, their synagogues and institutions, have included physical violence, incitement, intimidation and harassment.
B’nai Brith Canada, which annually produces a detailed report on antisemitic incidents, recorded 2,610 such incidents in 2020, up 18.3 percent over the previous year. In May of this year alone, the number of antisemitic incidents makes those of 2020 almost pale in comparison.
Some 200 Jewish organizations and synagogues, my organization among them, saw need to issue a clarion call for all Canadians to strand with the Jewish community: “What is most frightening is not the brazen assaults, vandalism and harassment our community has endured – as terrible as they have been – but the reluctance of many Canadians to stand in solidarity with their fellow citizens under attack”, said our appeal.
Why has the scourge of antisemitism so suddenly exploded, in Canada and elsewhere? Largely because there is a new form of antisemitism that now drives the threat to Jewish community values.
Fuelled by distorted social media posts and, often, by unbalanced or inaccurate media reporting, members of Canada’s Jewish community feel threatened in a manner beyond the experience of many.
“Anti-Israel extremism has emerged as the main source of antisemitism in Canada in 2021” says B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Michael Mostyn. What does this mean? Just as historical hated directed at Jews was based on religion and race, today we see antisemitism grounded in attacks on Jewish self-determination.
Anti-Zionism – denying Jews the right to live securely in a national homeland – has become the latest rationale for attacks on Jews.
Jewish students and student groups have been particularly burdened, reporting that Canadian universities are providing a particularly toxic environment.
“Antisemitism is increasing across university campuses and there is no end in sight” said one student at the University of Toronto. “Jewish students are scared and we don’t feel we have a place to turn to”.
Canadian government leaders have spoken out against antisemitic attacks that are so profoundly affecting the Jewish community. In mid-May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind. We strongly condemn the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend”.
Without discounting the outburst of antisemitism witnessed in May, Toronto-area Member of Parliament Ya’ara Saks, Jewish herself, said: “We’re lucky to live in a liberal democracy with an enshrined Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It’s a big reason why so many Jews live in Canada, having come from countries where civil rights don’t exist or weren’t extended to Jews. It’s a testament to Canada that the Jewish community has grown and thrived here as both Canadians and Jews”.
But the growth of antisemitism in Canada is palpable and needs to be continually addressed in a broad-based fashion. Jews alone cannot bear the burden of responding. That is one principal reason why B’nai Brith Canada has invoked the support of Government leaders, parliamentarians, and civil society.
The needs are clear, in Canada and globally:
- To fight antisemitism with vigour, we must first define it. There is no higher standard than the definition of antisemitism adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
- We must expose antisemitism, whatever its source. We must not allow it to be denied, trivialized or rationalized. Antisemitism can come from a variety of sources and groups; no community in Canada, or elsewhere, is “immune” to displays of antisemitism.
- For those of us who accept new arrivals to our countries, we must recognize that many immigrants often hail from countries where antisemitism is tolerated or even promoted by the state. Outreach to help offset is effective if messaging against antisemitism is focused on these communities, in their languages.
- We must insist that governments at all levels use the powers available to them – from law enforcement to education – to illustrate that antisemitism is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
- We must urge the media to act responsibly – to report accurately and without bias, so that global events are not seized upon to foment antisemitism at home.
- We must call on civil society in general, including other religious groups, to confront hate in common and understand that antisemitism affects us all.
In acknowledging that antisemitism challenges Canadian values, the Government has recent appointed Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice and renowned human rights champion, as Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust
Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. And there will be a special summit meeting on antisemitism in Canada, taking place over the next few months.
Canada is not alone in taking the fight to antisemites. Among other countries and institutions, the European Union has long had coordinator on combatting antisemitism and, as important, “fostering Jewish life” in the EU.
The United Nations Secretary General recently appointed Miguel Moratinos, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, to lead a UN effort to monitor antisemitism and respond to it.
In a highly praised June 8, 2021, announcement, Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), said he will create the position of OAS Commissioner for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, whose main responsibilities will be to promote adoption and implementation by all countries in the region of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, and to vigorously engage states and civil society organizations to raise awareness of the need to remain alert to all forms of antisemitism.
B’nai Brith Canada’s mission is firmly grounded in the Judaic concept of tikkun olam — repairing the world — meaning that Jews are not only responsible for creating a model society among themselves but also are responsible for the welfare of the society at large.
Jews understand what it means unjustifiably to be singled-out for their ‘differentness’ or their ‘otherness’; to be assaulted or abused personally because of their beliefs or the clothing they wear, to have their institutions and places of worship attacked. And, now, for their fervent attachment to the state of Israel.
B’nai Brith Canada fervently believes that our multicultural country is a democracy based on equality of – and respect for — all citizens regardless of ethnicity or religion. In leading the fight against antisemitism in Canada, we do so with the avowed aim of creating a more tolerant, and safe, society for members of the Jewish community and all Canadians.
Since 2107, Brian Herman has been Director of Government Relations for the Jewish humanitarian and human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada. B’nai Brith has been active in combating antisemitism, hate crimes and hate speech since 1875, ensuring that the needs of Canada’s grassroots Jewish community are a constant part of Canada’s policy development.
Before joining B’nai Brith, Brian spent 42 years as a career Canadian diplomat, with eight postings overseas – in diverse locations such as Bangladesh and Singapore in Asia and, in Europe, Austria, the United Kingdom, NATO in Brussels and Denmark. From 2004-2007 he was Canada’s representative in Vilnius, Lithuania. His final posting was in Chicago.
B’nai Brith International traces its origins to 1843. B’nai Brith International has a long history of social action throughout Latin America, working with heads of state, local communities, and fellow organizations to improve the lives of people in the region. B’nai B’rith Latin America works with groups such as Mercosur, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Iberoamerican Summit to ensure the voice of the Jewish community is represented.
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