I do not take pleasure in writing this article and I am certainly not going to tell people “I told you so,” but readers can revisit CISA’s 2020 Shindleman Family Lecture and watch my concluding remarks on how important it is that Canadians not reproduce the violence of the Middle East on our own streets and not allow this long frustrating conflict to divide Canadians.
Unfortunately, the violence and antisemitic rhetoric we see worldwide and now in our own cities is not a surprise to those of us who study this phenomenon professionally — we have been warning the public about it for many years, particularly from our study of the European context. The mutual violence in the “mixed cities” of Israel is also not surprising for anyone watching developments in the United States over the last five years (the rise of Black Lives Matter and Antifa), or for those who are keeping up with the accumulating grievances of Palestinian Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories (“disputed territories” for those on the Jewish and Israeli Right, many of whom do not support the establishment of a Palestinian state).
In our global wired world, what happens in Chicago, New York, Portland, and Ferguson does not stay in those cities, but has an impact worldwide on young people and well-organized activists, some of whom are addicted to physical violence and destruction. Today, rioting and looting is increasingly connected to demonstrations in support of social and racial justice (American terminology, not mine — race is a problematic term) and if the Canadian government does not get ahead of this, we will see this in our streets too. Add lynching (current Israeli terminology) of one side by the other and vice versa and you have the whole ugly picture.
Antisemitism is a part of this picture, but it is not the whole picture, and it certainly explains very little about the picture. It is a side effect more than a root cause. That does not make it any less dangerous for Jews, but it is crucial that people understand what is going on today so they can cope effectively with the situation. It is very difficult today to separate what historians of antisemitism would actually recognize as antisemitism and the endless rage of Palestinians and their allies. For Jews, it all feels like antisemitism and this I understand. However, the vast majority of non-Jews (7.9 billion people on planet earth) do not see antisemitism motivating Palestinian rage against Israel or its supporters. Instead, they see righteous anger, despair, and enormous frustration over their predicament and the predicament of their families, and more and more people are truly sympathetic to this terrible predicament. People need to wake up to the reality that the balance is shifting culturally in favour of the Palestinian people, and this trend will likely continue to grow in Western societies.
Over the last month, I watched many Jews on Facebook expressing bewilderment at the deafening silence of their non-Jewish contacts and read op-eds by the heads of Canadian Jewish organizations echoing a similar concern and literally begging Canadians to “start caring about antisemitism.” The reason for this silence is that some people are not interested, first and foremost, they do not care about the foreign region of the Middle East and they are trying to survive economically and psychologically in the midst of an insane never-ending pandemic. Secondly, however, most non-Jews do not see antisemitism as the root cause of Palestinian rage, even if it flares up as a side effect of that rage. Instead, they see the imbalanced and unjust conditions in the Middle East; they see a strong Israel armed to the teeth with American weapons, both offensive and defensive, not a vulnerable people surrounded by enemies; they see the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank with its daily restrictions and humiliations, and under the rule of Hamas in Gaza with no democratic elections in sight and no new honest effective leaders on the horizon. They see hopelessness and frustration that explodes under the pressure of hot war, especially among young people with dim hopes for the future. This is not to justify any violence, as all violence is unjustifiable, it is simply to understand the dynamics of these endless cycles of conflict and how many people perceive them outside the Jewish community.
At this point, there is not enough Hasbara in the universe to convince the non-Jewish public that the status quo in the Middle East is working or should be supported. Most reasonable people want to see two states and three major religions co-existing together in historic Palestine. Both peoples have to give up their claims to the whole territory and accept significant compromises. The reluctance to doing this is the actual root of the conflict. The only people who support an exclusive Jewish claim to biblical Israel are ultra-religious Jews, those on the Right and far-right including Israeli settlers, and Christian Zionists who are largely American and who are declining precipitously with age. Even here, in the most Israel-obsessed political grouping in American politics — far more so than American Jewry — the Palestinian experience is making inroads and has changed the hearts and minds of young evangelical Christians to embrace a more balanced view between Israelis and Palestinians.
Today, there are growing numbers of people who support the Palestinian position of one state with majority rule that would inevitably become a Palestinian state where Jews would live as a minority. This is simply not a possibility for Israelis. So, we are left with an irreconcilable situation and an untenable status quo unless both groups agree to share the territory in two separate states.
For the foreseeable future, however, it is diaspora Jewry that will be held hostage by this seemingly irreconcilable conflict 10,000 km away. And given the political and cultural trajectory before us, I believe these hostages will be targeted with increasing rage and antisemitism in Canada and the United States, especially in relation to violent developments in the Middle East. Diaspora Jews, including their children, may also face growing exclusion in coming years if things continue to deteriorate politically, be it stated obviously or performed more covertly.
Security is of growing importance in all Jewish communities in Canada and the US. One new horrifying development during this round of fighting were organized calls across many countries for men to rape Jewish women and girls. As far as I am concerned, this amounts to incitement to rape and individuals recorded uttering these orders should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In fact, this should be the first order of business at the Canadian government’s proposed Emergency Summit on Antisemitism, which was announced on June 11, 2021. I do believe charges were laid in the UK where these calls to rape Jewish women and girls were videotaped and made loud and clear via loudspeakers on cars driving through Jewish neighbourhoods in North London. Jews need to ensure that their daughters and sons are aware of these serious threats and should be taught how to protect themselves and one another.
I think Canadians may want to rethink how and when they demonstrate publicly for Israel and Palestine during hot war. Personally, I found the duelling rallies for Israel and Palestine, held as missiles and bombs were raining down on Israeli and Palestinian civilians, to be tone-deaf, insensitive, and provocative by design. Not to mention the fact that they were held in violation of COVID-19 health orders and restrictions. All these flag-waving rallies do is whip up hostility on all sides and guarantee that the Middle East conflict will come to a Canadian neighbourhood near you. Both sides and their allies should think carefully about what kind of Canada they are creating for the rest of us and for all Canadian children.