On Friday, David J. Cape, Chair of the Board of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), published an article in the Canadian Jewish News advocating the need to find a balance between awareness and “outrage” when responding to anti-Semitism. Cape argues that the community should break down incidents into categories, differentiating between “serious cases” and those that are “offensive annoyances.” He goes on to urge Jewish communal organizations specifically to distinguish between episodes of anti-Semitism that “pose real threats”, and those that “spring from ignorance”.
These are the 7 reasons why Cape is wrong.
1) It is silence, not speaking out, that got us here
If you know that the police are actively monitoring a stretch of road, you are less likely to speed. The same goes for anti-Semitic incidents. Perpetrators know that little, if anything will happen if they call someone a dirty Jew and spit on them in the street. With the belief that “messaging about minor incidents makes maintaining vigilance harder” it is not surprising that most victims never bother to inform community organizations or the police as they believe that nothing will be done. The result is that we do not raise sufficient awareness of anti-Semitic abuse suffered by our community. Over 1,700 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2016, how many Jews suffered in silence because of advice like Mr. Cape’s?
2) We MUST treat all anti-Semitic incidents with equal outrage
Cape argues that when we treat all incidents with equal outrage, we act against our community’s interests. This is patently wrong. There may be different responses to different incidents, but don’t tell the person who had a swastika drawn on their garage that their feeling of vulnerability is any less real than that of someone who suffered an incident which Mr. Cape feels would be worthy of outrage. Both acts are ultimately expressions of anti-Semitism and all anti-Semitism is bad for the Jewish community.
3) It is not for the victim to determine when anti-Semitism ‘poses a real threat’ or simply ‘springs from ignorance’
Not only is it difficult to know if a perpetrator was motivated by ignorance or malice, but it is equally as difficult to plot the impact of an incident in an effort to enhance community safety. Cape has no way of knowing whether or not anyone “will be immediately safer because there was an outcry about a slide in a park that was defaced” — and he shouldn’t claim to. Unless he knows who the perpetrator is, his misplaced confidence that their actions will never escalate to violence is ignorant and dangerous.
4) Individuals who act alone don’t make the job of Official Jews “far more difficult.”
After analyzing a number of recent incidents, we are told the appropriate level of action that should be taken by our community organizations — not individuals — lest we make the job of our Official Jews “far more difficult.” The understanding that our voice is stronger when we speak as a collective does not give license to attempt to shame individuals into silence, castigating them in the newspaper because you say they will make your job harder. The only reason there are ANY jobs with communal organizations is because donors expect them to support the needs of the greater Jewish community and advocate on their behalf. If anyone feels that this job is beyond their measure because our community is constantly “outraged” at “offensive annoyances”, they should seek employment in another field. Further, if ordinary Jews in our community are taking matters into their own hands, Official Jews should question why this is necessary if they are effectively doing their jobs.
5) There is no point system or chart to rank anti-Semitism by seriousness
The notion that there is now some official measure to discern the seriousness of an anti-Semitic incident is as dangerous as it is foolish. There is no point system or chart where we can rank anti-Semitic incidents into categories by seriousness. Where on the scale does a Jew whose building demands their mezuzah be taken down compare to one whose boss threatens to fire them for taking off Yom Kippur?
6) Referring to anti-Semitic incidents as “offensive annoyances” only hurts and silences victims
Criticizing those who have suffered from an anti-Semitic incident as being overly sensitive is not only hurtful to the victim, but will dissuade them from coming forward to report. Having personally been the victim of a number of anti-Semitic incidents, I would expect that the members of my own tribe would show solidarity, not view me as a reactionary alarmist.
7) To paraphrase Justin Trudeau, it’s 2017
What Mr. Cape fails to understand is that anti-Semitism is not about the swastika on the garage or the slur that was muttered. That is not the end point, and it reveals a shocking lack of knowledge on the subject. I should be outraged because these actions show that in 2017 in Canada, anti-Semitism is alive and well. I am being targeted because I’m a Jew and I should be outraged, and so should every other Canadian. Any organization that fails to understand this point should return its donors money so that they can give it to someone who does and will actually fight for the community, not just complain that we’re making their job harder.