Last week, a series of incidents involving antisemitic graffiti made headlines in Canada, with many pundits attempting to tie them to the U.S. election of Donald Trump and the apparent rise of right-wing extremist elements in the United States. Arm-chair activists have been weighing in, blaming Trump as well as his appointment of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, claiming that the President-elect is fostering an attitude of intolerance and antisemitism and suggesting that he is triggering a dramatic surge in hate incidents against the Canadian Jewish community.
It’s a very neat causal chain. The problem is, it’s just not true.
While I can’t speak to whether Trump is or isn’t a friend of Israel, or whether his new advisor has antisemitic tendencies, I can definitively say there isn’t a sudden, dramatic appearance of antisemitic activity in Canada. In fact, a look at historical data shows that incidents of graffiti are still down from the level they were at five, or even three, years ago.
In my role with B’nai Brith Canada, I get five or six calls weekly from across the country about antisemitic vandalism. I have colleagues in some regions of the country who receive even more frequent reports. If you consider that our hotline also takes calls about harassment, violent incidents and online hate, the number of antisemitic incidents I investigate in an average week can be a few dozen.
It’s important to understand that antisemitism has not suddenly appeared after a long period of dormancy, or has somehow been manifested by the sudden election of one individual. Those responsible for the recent acts of vandalism or harassment against the Jewish community have long held these beliefs. Many of them have probably already contributed incidents to my files, long before Trump appeared on the scene. People do not go to bed as rational actors, and wake up the next morning with a sudden hatred for Jews or other minority groups.
The reality is that this is not about Donald Trump and his aides. Any time there is a major world event, we see a surge in visible antisemitism, especially when it’s so steeped into the conversations we have about society.
The same swastikas would have been painted on synagogue walls had Hillary Clinton won the U.S. election, except that instead of being inspired by feelings of vindication and a belief that the majority supports their white-supremacist inclinations, they would have been inspired by outrage at what they’d likely construe as an “attack” on white America. The momentum of the extreme right and white-nationalist community in Canada (as in Europe) has been increasing over the past few years and was simply waiting for a spark to ignite the fuse. That spark may have been the discussion of racism and nationalist sentiment in the United States, but it’s a discussion that has been many years in the making.
So, for this at least, don’t go blaming Donald Trump.