What many in the Jewish community have known for some time, but have been reluctant to say out loud, has become entirely self-evident in the past several weeks. We have long since recognized that antisemitism exists on a broad continuum, ranging from those who are simply uninformed, to those who are misinformed, to those who are willfully ignorant.
But, there’s another category; and it is one that has been taboo to speak of in many circles for too long.
The unpopular reality is that some of the world’s worst antisemites (who, it just so happens, are among Israel’s most virulent detractors) embrace this label with malice and intentionality. And it is this type of poisonous, malevolent antisemitism that has been on full display recently.
During the last few weeks, Israel and Hamas – labelled a terrorist group around the world, including in Canada – squared off in the largest military conflict the region has experienced in some years. For both Israelis and Palestinians, the fighting was painful, distressing and wholly unsustainable.
In the wake of these tensions, around the world, and certainly here in Canada, supporters of Israel have been subject to vile and sometimes violent vitriol. And, even more concerning, Diaspora Jews have been attacked – verbally and physically, online and in person – simply for being Jewish and regardless of their feelings about or connection to Israel.
While this may reflect increased intensity, it is not entirely new. Year over year, the Jewish community is the most targeted religious minority for hate crimes in Canada. And, unfortunately, this past month has been no exception.
Sadly, examples of what our students have been experiencing abound. At Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, a student posted a video on social media mocking the stabbing of Israelis. Near Western University, in London, a Nazi flag appeared at an anti-Israel rally. At McMaster University in Hamilton, a Jewish student was bullied online for showing support to Israel. And, on the personal social media pages of countless Jewish students across the province, blue squares and other expressions of concern about antisemitism were peppered with comments condemning Israel, leveling personal attacks at the students who posted, and in some threatening physical violence.
These, and other, recent examples of antisemitism are as disturbing as they are unacceptable. And, they underscore the important efforts that lay ahead – work that includes critical education on antisemitism, and a renewed commitment to relationship-building based on shared values and experiences.
As the largest affiliate of the global Jewish student movement, Hillel Ontario’s student leadership and campus professionals have been working around-the-clock to support students who have been shaken by a tsunami of antisemitism online and on campus.
We have communicated directly with university presidents, provosts, and student union leaders to ensure Jewish students were protected, and that their rights would be respected. We lodged official student code of conduct complaints and filed police reports when Jewish students were targeted; reported countless antisemitic posts on social media; provided personalized pastoral counselling; compiled educational resources and offered learning opportunities for those wanting to learn more; and provided space for students to process their own feelings, emotions and perspectives.
As advocates for the Jewish community, we know that it is acceptable to criticize Israeli policies, or voice legitimate concerns for the welfare of the Palestinians. One can squabble vociferously with a whole host of things the Israeli government gets wrong. Like any other liberal democracy, Israel is not immune from legitimate criticism.
But, we also know that fair-game critiques end when Jews are denied the universally held right to collective self-determination; when Jews are held collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government; or when comparisons are drawn between Israel and the horrors of the Holocaust. These are all things we’ve seen in recent days.
These past few weeks have underscored another fact we have long known to be true: tough times breed the next generation of leaders. Jewish students across the religious and political spectrum have turned to the community for support. And, perhaps unknowingly – by sharing information on social media, sharing their truth with peer groups, and having their voice heard to university leadership – have become advocates.
In the weeks and months ahead, our job will be to harness this energy, to engage this new generation in our work, and to empower them to lead our collective efforts.