Sara Saber-Freedman
Sara Saber-Freedman

National Emergency Summit on Antisemitism is an Opportunity for Action

It’s time to push back against the world’s oldest form of hate. Visit fightit.ca (CIJA)

Even in the safest places for Jews, antisemitism never dies; it lies dormant.

Jewish Canadians are at a pivotal moment. In recent weeks, across this vast country, a dangerous surge in antisemitism has washed ashore in connection with the recent tensions between Hamas and Israel.

Montreal saw a spike in Jew-hatred that included pro-Israel protestors pelted with rocks. In Toronto, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto noted a fivefold spike in antisemitic incidents in May compared to last year. From St. John’s to Vancouver, in every corner of our community, latent antisemitism has re-emerged.

In addition to physical manifestations of antisemitism, we’ve seen a disturbing increase in virulent online anti-Jewish messages, imagery, and memes.

These events have demonstrated that, as historically safe as Canada has been for Jewish Canadians, urgent action is needed to tackle this upsurge in manifestations of Jew-hatred.

While it is important to acknowledge the challenges faced by Indigenous, Muslim, and Asian communities, the amorphous nature of antisemitism requires a unique approach. Jew-hatred is distinct in at least three ways: it is global in reach, timeless in manifestation, and occurs across the political spectrum, from extreme Left and Right, and from religious extremists.

The term “antisemitism” was coined by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr in an attempt to mask Jew-hatred behind a scientific veneer. Historically, antisemitism has mutated accommodating the biases of the ages.

Today, antisemitism has changed yet again, and Jew-hatred has infiltrated political discussion – hiding behind yet another mask – and now extending to the vilification, de-legitimization, demonization, and attempted destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. Today, Israel often stands in for the global Jew, and the coded language of anti-Zionism has become the newest manifestation of this age-old hatred.

It is not antisemitic to criticize Israeli policies; it is antisemitic to erase Jewish history and deny the inalienable right of the Jewish people – accorded to all others – to nationhood and self-determination.

In response to today’s surge of Jew-hatred manifested in multiple instances of antisemitic actions, thousands of Canadians of good conscience stood up and joined the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in calling for an urgent government discussion on antisemitism. The federal government agreed, and the National Emergency Summit on Antisemitism convened on July 21, 2021. Co-chaired by the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and the Honourable Irwin Cotler, Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, the Summit was attended by representatives from our community and government officials.

In advance of the Summit, CIJA held a cross-Canada Town Hall to hear from Jewish Canadians about their priorities and preferred actions to combat Jew-hatred.

We heard that investments in security, education, and legal initiatives are crucial.

CIJA is proposing a national, social media literacy campaign that educates Canadians about the growing toxicity on the web. The sustained campaign would give Canadians the tools to create a more inclusive digital world, re-enforce codes of conduct for social media platforms, and flag hateful and dangerous behaviours.

Education needs to be coupled with strong legislative action. Leveraging CIJA’s recent Heritage Canada-sponsored Action Summit to Combat Online Hate, the literacy campaign should be complemented by robust legislation governing the responsibilities of the social media platforms.

We know digital antisemitism does not stay online. It often presages real-world hatred. That is why CIJA is calling for proactive protections and enhanced empowerment that will allow the community to protect itself. Complementing the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), we are calling for community capacity-building initiatives, designated law enforcement liaisons, and training for police, crown prosecutors, and attorneys general to appropriately prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes.

We also call for an amendment to the Criminal Code to include Holocaust Denial as an indictable offence, as it is in France, Germany, Austria and other jurisdictions. The connection between the Holocaust and Jew-hatred is clear. What is less clear is the pernicious trend to deny the Holocaust to trivialize or erase Jewish lived experience.

This Summit signals to us, and to all Canadians, that antisemitism represents a core struggle in our pursuit of social justice and eradication of hate. It validates our grave concern about increased Jew-hatred and, if we all work together, it will provide us with a path to a safer, more inclusive Canada for all.

The Summit is over, but our work has only begun. Just as antisemitism lies dormant, so too must we be vigilant and use the Summit as an opportunity to take concrete actions to combat Jew-hatred wherever it occurs in Canada.

We can and must do this. Together.

About the Author
Sara Saber-Freedman is the Executive Vice President of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations.
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