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Tweets Are Not Enough: Why Combatting Relentless Antisemitism in Canada Requires Real Leadership and Action

The Jewish holiday of Purim over the weekend sparked the usually array of political tweets featuring some odd interpretations of the meaning of the holiday and expressing varying degrees of support for the Jewish community.  But coming off one of the worst weeks in memory  – cancelled Jewish events due to security concerns, antisemitism in the mainstream media, deeply troubling comments on the floor of the House of Commons, and the marginalization of some Jewish MPs in government – the time for generic statements of support does not cut it. The Globe and Mail has noted the “dangerous slide into antisemitism” and called for a House motion unequivocally condemning antisemitism. This post provides further context to that piece, arguing that such a motion is necessary but insufficient since it is leadership and real action from our politicians, university presidents, and community groups that is desperately needed. 

The relentless antisemitism in Canada has left many in the community numb, creating a new normal that has obvious echoes of prior generations who faced pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and the Holocaust. Some point to events in Israel and Gaza to explain the antisemitic surge, yet Canadian Jews are no more responsible for the actions of the Israeli government than Canadian Muslims are to blame for last week’s ISIS terrorist attack in Russia. Since October 7th, there have been terrorism charges in Ottawa involving plans to target the Jewish community, firebombs, shots, and vandalism targeted at Jewish schools and community centres in Montreal, Toronto, and Fredericton, vandalism and threats at Jewish owned businesses, as well as protests outside synagogues, Jewish institutions, and Jewish neighbourhoods. In addition, there is the antisemitism in the cultural world including the cancellation of a Jewish film festival in Hamilton (since relocated) and plays with Jewish or Israeli themes cancelled in British Columbia. Meanwhile, Jewish politicians have been targeted with threats or pressured out of office altogether.

The situation on university campuses merits special mention. The congressional testimony in the U.S. from three presidents seemingly unable to articulate a clear position on the implications of calling for genocide of Jews captured headlines last year, but here in Canada being openly Jewish on campus carries real risk, including efforts to evict Jewish organizations from campus. Universities have policies in place designed to promote safety and inclusivity, but Jews know that outward expressions of their religion runs the risk of verbal or physical abuse and that death threats or antisemitic graffiti can be found on campus walls. Indeed, buildings carrying Jewish names, reflecting a commitment from the community to give back to these institutions, are now specifically targeted by protesters. Universities react quickly to incidents targeting other groups, but rarely for Jewish students or faculty. In contrast to other external signals of inclusivity, there are no signs on faculty doors that say “kippas welcome here” and EDI officers often don’t think of the wellbeing of Jewish students as part of their mandate. Further, the situation is little better in secondary schools, where school boards are often missing in action as Jewish teachers hide their religion and live in fear of being targeted.

This is simply the reality of being Jewish in Canada in 2024, where antisemitic incidents represent the majority of reported hate crimes in our largest cities. Going to synagogue or Jewish schools often involves a police presence and speaking about your concerns in public requires hushed tones. In work environment after work environment – doctors, public servants, labour unions, and more – one hears about a steady stream of antisemitism that has led to resignations and lawsuits. Some now choose to hide their religion in the hope of being ignored or remain silent for fear of the terrifying antisemitic backlash that speaking out invariably sparks. For a country that prides itself on rights of equality, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, these rights and freedoms do not apply in equal measure right now for the Canadian Jewish community.

The government has made inclusivity its brand and one would have hoped that it would be vocally supportive of the Jewish community in words and deeds. Yet the silence from the majority of MPs and misleading comments from government ministers in 2022 when it was revealed that Canadian Heritage had funded an antisemite as part of its anti-hate program was a warning sign of the cowardice that exists when it comes to antisemitism. That cowardice was repeated last week when Pascale St-Onge, the new Canadian Heritage minister, was unwilling to forcefully call out an antisemitic cartoon published in a major French newspaper or when MPs avoid referencing antisemitism by relying on more generic anti-hate messages. Domestic political calculations appear to trump principle and after the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust and a Canadian immigration policy that was once premised on “none is too many”, the Jewish community is seemingly too small today to matter to governments.

This is not an easy post to write. But after the Globe and Mail last week called for a House motion unequivocally condemning antisemitism, I felt it necessary to endorse the proposal and supplement it by arguing that supportive words alone are insufficient. The motion must be accompanied by action. That could start with ensuring that public dollars for education and cultural institutions do not go to institutions that maintain a hostile environment by failing to address antisemitism, narrowing Bill C-63 to online harms rules that hold platforms accountable for failing to abide by their own policies, providing financial support for security of Jewish schools and community institutions, promoting antisemitism education within the public service, and implementing Holocaust education in our schools. There needs to be similar motions and commitments to act from provincial and local governments, since many of the issues fall within their jurisdiction.

The story of Purim isn’t about the “triumph of inclusion, love and resilience” as one MP suggested. It is about the personal and political courage summoned by leaders such as Queen Esther to speak out and act against evil. That is the lesson for modern times as we need more of that courage today if we are to confront antisemitism in Canada.

20 Comments

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  2. Canadian Jews are not responsible (obviously, to those who stop to think about it) for the actions of the Israeli government, but they are affected by it. I think it’s important to remember that there are quite a few Israeli Jews who are opposed to their government and its latest actions as well. Beyond the unimaginable suffering of the people being directly attacked, kidnapped, starved, and dispossessed of their homes, this war is making life worse for Muslims and Jews all over the world.

    • That such hateful racism is so quickly aroused among people even in Canada is a sign of something bad. I was given a brief guided tour of Elon Musk’s recent posts on Twitter recently, and it made very real for me the theory that American “culture war” garbage leaking across the border via social media and infecting people’s minds probably does play a part in it.

      • I mean, it needs to be made clear, so this is my impression of Elon Musk after looking through his latest tweets: “I’m a fascist. Ha! Just kidding, I’m really not. But anyway, Heil Hitler! lol.”

        I am not exaggerating by much. As of when I looked the other day there was a literal Hitler reference along those lines. He has a hundred million direct followers, and many more fans who think he’s just a swell guy who builds rockets. This is the real harm taking place on social media, and it’s not something that can be stopped by simple technological fixes along the lines of more zealous or more efficient content moderation. It’s not a technology problem, it’s a social problem.

        • I was shown the state of the tweets by one of those followers. I tried to explain why the messages they are designed to convey are vile and repulsive propaganda. That our problems are caused by “the illegals”, that the woke people are ruining everything, liberals are subjecting children to pornography to turn them gay, you can’t speak plainly without being accused of being a fascist, trans people are a horror that we must put an end to, crime is out of control, government does nothing but get in the way of letting brilliant people like Elon Musk solve all our problems, except when they’re plotting to enslave us all in whatever the current version of the “new world order” is called. I tried to explain that these are not honest representations of the way things are.

          The result was to make him suspect that I’ve probably caught the “woke mind virus” even though I don’t act as crazy as the rest of them. There are more of these people around than I seem to remember. It’s not just Jewish people they secretly resent for being different, it’s anyone who’s differs too much from the ideal; and anyone who would stand in the way of the new society they’re half-aware of being in the process of building.

      • Honestly, I feel bad about these people.

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  3. We should ensure public funding for education and cultural institutions does not go to those that tolerate antisemitism. We, including Arlington Drywall Contractors should narrow Bill C-63 to hold online platforms accountable for not following their policies, provide financial support for Jewish school security, promote antisemitism education in the public service, and implement Holocaust education in schools.

  4. The relentless antisemitism in Canada has left many in the community

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  8. The Jewish community is seemingly too small today to matter to governments.

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  10. Ginny Miller says:

    It’s distressing to hear about the challenges faced by the Jewish community, especially in light of recent events. While statements condemning antisemitism are a step in the right direction, they must be accompanied by tangible actions from leaders across various sectors. The call for a House motion unequivocally condemning antisemitism is necessary, but it’s just the beginning. Real change requires proactive leadership and concrete measures to address the root causes of antisemitism and ensure the safety and inclusion of the Jewish community in Canada. https://infinityoutdoorsnc.com/

  11. What’s needed is a concerted effort from political leaders, university administrators, and community organizations to confront antisemitism head-on and implement measures that foster inclusivity and tolerance.

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