Remember Who You Are by Thomas Hawk https://flic.kr/p/DanhUs CC BY-NC 2.0

Remember Who You Are by Thomas Hawk https://flic.kr/p/DanhUs CC BY-NC 2.0

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This is Who We Are Now

There was another shooting at a Jewish school in Montreal yesterday, which led to what has become the Canadian version of “thoughts and prayers”, namely a politician lamenting that “this isn’t who we are.” But months of escalating antisemitism make it clear that this is exactly who we are. Just this week, there were shootings at two Jewish schools in Canada, testimony at an Ottawa school board hearing on appalling antisemitism, a mother pulled her child out of a Burlington school due to antisemitism, a lawsuit was filed against OCAD, an Ontario university, for failing to provide Jewish students with a safe environment, and four university presidents told a Commons committee that antisemitism is a problem on campus and that the messaging coming out of the encampments are antisemitic. And it’s only Thursday.

I wrote earlier this week about the normalization of antisemitism on campus, but fear that I understated the problem. This list of antisemitic threats and violence is remarkable not for its shock value, because if you have been paying attention, it does not shock. After eight months of this in Canada, the shock comes not from antisemitism, but from the silence of neighbours and colleagues and of cowardice from our political and university leaders. There are some who have truly distinguished themselves as being willing to speak out for the Jewish community, motivated by a deep seated belief that this should not be Canada and that history teaches again and against that antisemitism must be confronted or it risks disastrous consequences. But too many have remained on the sidelines, creating an unmistakable sense of betrayal for many who have stood shoulder to shoulder for years in speaking out on behalf of vulnerable groups.

Yet silence is seemingly better than the alternative, which for many has been to accuse the Jewish community of weaponizing antisemitism or to seemingly approve discrimination against those who believe in the right of Jews to self-determination in their own historical homeland. Jewish colleagues have repeatedly pointed to the harms that have now morphed into violence, yet for some the response is too often to ignore, dismiss, or point to a relatively small group from within the Jewish community with a contrary view, as if that somehow negates the fears of the vast majority.

The shock of cowardice from political and university leaders is no less troubling. University presidents from UBC, Toronto, Concordia, and McGill did not hesitate in acknowledging the antisemitism on their campuses and in the encampments, yet they seem unable to take action consistent with their own policies. To be clear, safeguarding freedom of expression is essential and those who wish to criticize the Government of Israel should be absolutely free do so. It therefore falls to universities to ensure that protesters can engage in lawful protest in a manner that is consistent with university policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment. If university leadership believes the protests do not comply with those policies, a court order is not required to act.

The pinnacle of failure is reserved for our political leaders. From the initial hesitation to call out antisemitism on its own to the inadequate reliance on tweets to respond to a true crisis, too many leaders have been missing in action or occasionally have added their own fuel to the fire. I know many are grateful for the consistent voices of MPs such as Housefather, Mendicino, Lantsman, and Vuong, Senators such as Housakos, and Provincial MPPs and MLAs such as MacLeod and Robinson. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the ultimate leadership must come from Trudeau, Ford, Eby, Legault and others that command the largest audience and most authority. Their voices and their presence is needed again and again with leadership that leave no doubt about right, wrong, and the zero tolerance for antisemitic behaviour and violence. Beyond words, they must implement policies that demand law enforcement enforce the law and universities uphold their policies. In other words, they must lead by example, not by tweeting that this isn’t who we are, but by actively working to make it so.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks Michael. I find I can no longer participate in many spaces and events out of fear that I am going to have to justify the fact of my existence to someone (again). My daughter had to cross a police line complete with cops in flak jackets carrying semi-automatics to write an exam at Sciences Po in Reims, France. All while being shouted at “Pick a side” as if it the students are responsible for bombs dropping or more pointedly have some sort of power to stop it. They were students from all cultures and heritages, Jewish and non-Jewish freaked out, some crying. This is not safety.

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