This Yom Ha’atzmaut comes at the heels of the Chabad Poway shooting, The New York Times cartoon debacle, and nearly 700 rockets shot into Southern Israel killing four and injuring over 200. Jews all over the world celebrated Israel’s 71st Independence Day. After rough weeks, and the double mourning days of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom Hazikaron, honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims the time was ripe for some joy. World Jewry took to the streets celebrating with rallies, music, and speeches. They took to social media to share their birthday wishes and love for Israel with popular hashtags such as #YomHaatzmaut and #Israel71. For the most part, the social media comments and responses were light and positive. Social media posts hailing from Israel gave Jews in Diaspora a glimpse of the fireworks and huge gatherings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. While Diaspora celebrations showed Israel and Zionism is still popular among North American Jewry celebrated with a large rally in filling New York’s Times’ Square, and rallies in smaller centers such as Montreal, Canada.
Montreal has been hosting a Yom Ha’atzmaut in the city’s downtown for nearly 20 years. Thousands celebrate Israel with a rally and a march. Montreal is situated in Quebec, the hotbed of Canadian provinces where separatism was a top issue for years. French is the official language and using English is frowned upon and is legally restricted. Now for the second time in a decade, the provincial government has tabled a secularism bill, now called Bill 21, outlawing religious symbols and dress for workers in public and government institutions including hospitals and schools. The law would prevent kippahs in these workplaces. Throughout the province, there have been protests against what is being perceived as the “institutionalization of discrimination.”
The local Montreal English radio station posted on their Twitter account photos and updates from the Montreal Israel Independence Day rally throughout the day. There were four posts, in the fifth, a poster comes and questions why the rally is newsworthy, that there is no coverage of other countries’ independence days and they do not see anything about independence celebrations from Arab countries. The reporter covering the event responded the station covers these types of stories but it is “smaller news.” Unable to attend the rally, I looked for news from the event what I found was the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist remark, which went unchecked by the station or the reporter. Going against my usual caution, I responded that comments like those lead to the high anti-Semitism in Canada, informing them that “#AntiZionism = #AntiSemitism.” The poster later answered back the classic anti-Zionism excuse I have friends and work with Jews but certain “nationalities” are being over-represented in the news coverage. Montreal is a multicultural city the local TV and radio stations routinely cover and celebrate all the cultural events from Greek independence to the annual gay pride parade singling out the community’s Jews reeks of anti-Semitism.
The reaction is not surprising just last week B’nai Brith Canada through their League for Human Rights released the data on anti-Semitism in Canada and Quebec. B’nai Brith has been tracking anti-Semitism in Canada since 1987. For the first time in over 30 years, there has been a “spike” with 2,041 incidents, 16.5 percent more in 2018 than from 2017, mostly due to harassment. In Quebec, the number of incidents has doubled, 50 percent more the previous year, up from 474 to 709 incidents. After the Pittsburgh, shooting a Montreal man uttered death threats towards a Montreal Jewish girls’ school, leaving the community in fear and showing the lengths of Canadian anti-Semitism. Study authors Amanda Hohman and Aidan Fishman of B’nai Brith Canada told CTV News anti-Semitism “is becoming mainstream.” The majority of the incidents, 88.6 percent involve harassment, “1,809 acts reported in 2018, up from 1,409 in 2017,” only 10.8 percent were vandalism and bodily harm only represented a half a percentage of incidents down from 2017 but these incidents are more brutal.
Homan and Fishman explained, “There is no doubt that the five-year trend of elevated levels of anti-Semitism is continuing.” B’nai Brith partially blames social media for the increase, pointing out, “The public discourse is increasingly found on social media, which magnifies and distributes every utterance and event in a matter of seconds.” The reports also brought up anti-Zionism, indicating, “While still marginal in Canada, BDS works to exploit Canadian student governments to foster prejudices against Israel — and by extension Israelis and Jewish students.” Hohman and Fishman say, “All levels of government need to do better in order to stem the tide of anti-Semitism, which remains one of the most pervasive forms of hatred and discrimination in Canada.”
Quebec is not alone, American Jewry has been rocked the past couple of weeks with headlines that confirm that anti-Semitism is alive, well and growing. Last October, a shooter barged into the Tree of Life, Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before Shabbat services killing 11 and injuring 8 mostly older members of the congregation. Six months later, in April another shooter walked on Shabbat services this time at Congregation Chabad of Poway near San Diego, California opening fire killing one and injuring three including the rabbi and a child. The one killed was founding member Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who died shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, a true martyr. Her friend Audrey Jacobs said on Facebook, “You were always running to do a mitzvah (good deed) and gave tzedaka (charity) to everyone. Your final good deed was taking the bullets for Rabbi (Yisroel) Goldstein to save his life.” Rabbi Goldstein later recounted, “In my own interpretation, Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us.” Each time, there was a cross-cultural outpouring of support from all over the world and social media denouncing anti-Semitism.
Although the Tree of Life shooting was the worst violent act of anti-Semitism on American soil, anti-Semitic incidents are increasing in general. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notes there have been “1,879 recorded attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions” in 2018, which is the third-highest number of incidents in a year since ADL started monitoring anti-Semitic instances in the 1970s. The number of incidents in 2018 went up 57 percent since 2017, making it according to ADL, “The largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.”
Barely days at the Poway shooting The New York Times published a cartoon caricaturing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind President Donald Trump. This was no political cartoon, there were clear Jewish symbols depicted with Netanyahu wearing a collar with the Star of David and Trump wearing a Kippah. The cartoon took a cue from the anti-Semitic ones published by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. New York Times columnist Brett Stephens called out the paper, writing in an opinion piece “The opinion pages of The New York Times international edition provided a textbook illustration of anti-Semitism. Except that The Times wasn’t explaining anti-Semitism. It was purveying it.”
The backlash forced The New York Times to publish two official apologies each going further than the last and an editorial, while the editor responsible for including the cartoon was disciplined. The New York Times has a long history of criticizing and showing bias towards Israel on its pages, it is not surprising to many the editor had no qualms publishing the cartoon. Harvard University Law professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz commented to Newsweek, the cartoon “legitimates what anti-Semites are feeling.” Jewish News Service (JNS) editor Jonathan S. Tobin indicated, “The Times Cartoon Reveals the Link between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.”
Anti-Semitism is on the rise in North America and part of the problem is the increase of anti-Zionism, anti-Israel rhetoric, which many often do not equate with anti-Semitism. Criticizing Israel seems legitimate to too many who see political and party leaders, the United Nations, Congressional representatives, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and student leaders on university campuses regularly partaking in the sport. They justify their rhetoric by separating their criticism and hate towards Israel from their feelings and so-called love towards Jews. The new International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) includes in their working definition of anti-Semitism, “the singling out of Israel alone for criticism, denying its legitimacy as a state, accusing Jews of dual loyalty, comparing Israelis to Nazis, and most importantly, holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.”
In our 21st century atmosphere with resurgent anti-Semitism, it is difficult to separate the dual growing trends of anti-Zionism and traditional anti-Semitism. The ADL defines anti-Semitism “as a form of prejudice or discrimination directed toward Jews as individuals or as a group. Anti-Semitism is based on age-old stereotypes and myths that target Jews as a people, their religious practices and beliefs, or the Jewish State of Israel.” The ADL defines anti-Zionism “as a prejudice against the Jewish movement for self-determination and the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the State of Israel. It may be motivated by or result in anti-Semitism, or it may create a climate in which anti-Semitism becomes more acceptable.”
Most of today’s noted Zionist thinkers and writers make the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) notes, “A particularly insidious form of anti-Semitism disguises itself as animus toward Israel.” Jack Muskat, the chair of Hasbara Fellowships Canada writing in the Canadian Jewish News points out, “You cannot separate the Zionist from the Jew without denying the validity of both.” Human rights lawyer David Matas, the author of “Aftershock: Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism” notes, “The root cause of the revival of antisemitism is, in a word, anti-Zionism.” Author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi claims “anti-Zionism” has “restored respectability to anti-Semitism.” While former Montrealer and McGill University Professor Gil Troy calls “anti-Zionism… often a thin veneer for anti-Semitism.”
Former Director of Speechwriting for Israel’s Mission to the United Nations Aviva Klompas points out in her forthcoming book “Speaking for Israel,” when “Israel alone is repeatedly singled out or the language of denunciation vile or tinged with libelous stereotype, then it’s hard to see how the action is not discriminatory and anti-Semitic.” Former Member of the Knesset Einat Wilf clarifies, “To summarise — is anti-Zionism necessarily anti-Semitic? In 1918, of-course not; in 2018, almost certainly.” In a recent editorial Jewish Journal president and editor, David Suissa went further claiming, “Anti-Zionism is more lethal than anti-Semitism” because “It carries the virus of mass destruction…. Anti-Semitism revolves around an emotion — hate. Anti-Zionism revolves around an action– eradication.”
My story about the Montreal Twitter troll’s anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic remarks comes at the heels of another slur a peer of mine recently overheard this past week at a popular coffee shop in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Montreal. She announced on Facebook she heard a customer in discussion claim, “Attacks on Jews have increased across North America in the last year, and that is what they deserve because they support [US President Donald] Trump.” The comment was rife with anti-Semitism, incitement but also full of anti-Zionism, alluding to Trump’s unwavering support for Israel similar to The New York Times cartoon. When asked if she responded she said she remained a “silent observer… At this stage, I have learned it’s better to not start a fight with ignorant idiots,” a statement that elicited a few likes and thumbs up. Another peer remarked, “Dangerous world. Unfortunately better to stay silent.” Most of the comments seemed to agree with her actions while calling the incident sad and calling those that uttered the statement morons and ignorant. We all fear danger but that proves just how threatening it all was but not to report the incident at all proliferates the city and Canada’s rising anti-Semitism.
My peers’ reactions that silence is the best answer is surprising considering we went through the Jewish day school system and their children are now attending as well. Although not that long ago, we witnessed firsthand anti-Semitism while we attended when the local Catholic high school vandalized our school breaking windows and just a few years later the beloved elementary school library was firebombed. Staying silent in the face of anti-Semitism is not the message of the Jewish day school system, which spent so much time emphasizing the atrocities of the Holocaust, the bravery of the few to stand up in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, reverence for the many survivors who then fought for Israel’s independence, and Israel’s proud military victories. Now the Jewish day schools use their curriculum also to educate their students for the cold world’s new anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and teaching them the tools about how to confront, defend and advocate for Israel in face of it.
How can Jewish youth stand up to anti-Semitism if their parents cower and find it the right course? Whether we find it uncomfortable it is our responsibility to say and do something not to stand by in silence. According to international human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky, “The best way to defeat anti-Semitism and the forces of evil is to show that we, as a society, stand united in the global fight against hatred, intolerance, and anti-Semitism.” After the Poway shooting Rabbi Goldstein promised, “I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by this terror. Terror will not win. As Americans, we can’t cower in the face of this senseless hate that is anti-Semitism.” We must heed the rabbi’s words and look for inspiration at Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s memory, a modern martyr, an “eshet chayil” — woman of valor. As Jacobs concluded, “Anti-Semitism is real and is deadly. Hate crimes are real and are deadly. Lori would have wanted all of us to stand up to hate. She was a warrior of love and she will be missed. May Lori’s memory be a blessing.” If we stand up, maybe, our small gestures might prevent further anti-Semitic tragedies so no one would ever to be faced with the ultimate sacrifice again.