Happy Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis in 1939, still hoping to escape the Holocaust. But at a time when anti-Semitism was widespread, they were refused entry to Canada. Many ended up murdered in concentration camps. While no longer rampant in Canada, anti-Semitism still exists and should be opposed by everyone. But what is anti-Semitism, exactly? CTIP offers a definition. Read more.
On November 7, Prime Minister Trudeau will issue a formal apology in Canada’s House of Commons citing Canada’s “absolute moral failure” in refusing access to Canada for a boatload of desperate Jewish refugees. CTIP applauds this gesture which is long overdue.
On 7 June 1939, 907 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis trying to escape almost certain death in Germany were denied entry to Canada, after having already been refused in Cuba and the USA. The ship returned its passengers to four European countries. Sadly, 254 of them were sent to concentration camps and perished in the Holocaust. At the time, the defacto policy of Canada toward Jewish immigration was “none is too many”.
The voyage of the St. Louis is emblematic of the desperate attempts by European Jews to escape Nazi Germany before it was too late, and of the world’s willful blindness to their plight. It is fitting that Canada apologize for its past failures and commit to learn the appropriate lessons to guide future behaviour.
The fact that Trudeau is making a statement in the House reflects the progress that has been made in two generations, in defeating racism in Canada, including anti-Semitism.
What is anti-Semitism and how does it show up in Canada today?
Anti-Semitism: “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews”.
– Oxford English Dictionary
Anti-Semitism has regrettably been a recurrent feature in Western/Christian society for over a thousand years. Anti-Semitism is one kind of racism, reflecting a fear of the “other”, which takes Jews as its target. It can be brutally violent (as in the recent massacre in Pittsburgh), or subtly implied.
In Canada, expressions of anti-Semitism have taken a variety of forms over the years. Some forms are illegal, others are not illegal, but nonetheless distasteful, ill advised and unwanted. Whether blatant or subtle, CTIP opposes anti-Semitism in all its manifestations. Here are some examples of how anti-Semitism has appeared in Canada:
- Violence directed toward Jews or Jewish institutions, such as harassment of persons, graffiti or defacing Jewish cemeteries or synagogues. These acts are prohibited under the Criminal Code of Canada
- Expressions of hatred or incitement directed against Jews in Canada as a people or as individuals. These acts are called ‘hate crimes’ and are specifically prohibited by law.
- Discrimination against Jews in employment, housing, education, etc. In living memory, Canadian Jews have been limited in their participation in private golf or recreational clubs, or in attending certain universities These acts are now prohibited by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality for all irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, etc.
- Ridiculing Jews. Making fun of Jews in word or deed, while not illegal, constitutes odious behavior. CTIP rejects it and will not tolerate it in any comments on this blog.
- Making exaggerated claims about the power of Jews in Canadian institutions. Remarks like ‘Jews control the media’ or ‘Jews control the banks” , or “Trudeau is a Zionist puppet” are sometimes heard in casual conversation, without being challenged. It is undeniable that many Jews have become prosperous and influential in Canadian society. But recognizing this is a far cry from alleging (or implying) some kind of Jewish conspiracy to exercise undue or even malevolent control over the country.
- Disliking Jews as individuals or as a group, because of their Jewishness. Preference for people “like me”, and antipathy towards people who are not “like me”, exists in every society. However, CTIP espouses the liberal values that urge us to see the inherent value in ALL peoples whether like or not like us.
- Denial of the vicious intent and the huge impact of the Holocaust on European Jews. According to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, over 15 million people were deliberately murdered by the Nazis in WWII. Six million were Jews, as one of the Nazi objectives was to wipe out the Jewish people of Europe. In fact, approximately 2/3 of the whole Jewish population, was exterminated in what European Jews call the “Shoah”. Denying that the Holocaust took place, its explicit genocidal intent or diminishing the enormity of the impact on European Jewry is hurtful and constitutes a pernicious form of Anti-Semitism.
What about criticism of Israel?
Criticism of the State of Israel or of its repressive policies toward Palestinians does not figure in the CTIP list and should not be considered to be automatically anti-Semitic.
Israel claims to be a democratic state. Criticisms aimed at showing the discrepancy between its stated objectives and its actual practice are not manifestations of anti-Semitism.
Nor does CTIP believe that questioning Zionism, (the political idea that Jews need and deserve a state of their own), is, in itself, a form of anti-Semitism.
While emotions can be high on both sides of the issue. CTIP feels that debate over whether Zionism can be consistent with democracy is a legitimate and important one. We believe that allowing and encouraging various voices (including those in favour of, as well as those opposing Zionism) is healthy and should be encouraged.
Anti-semitism is not just a Jewish problem
Racism of all kinds exists in every society and needs to be fought.
But anti-Semitism has consequences for another people – the Palestinians. The fear that some terrible catastrophe might again befall Jews is the main driver for the idea that, for their own protection, Jews need a state of their own.
The creation of a Jewish State has caused 70 years of pain, exile and humiliation for Palestinians. As long as fear dominates the thinking of Canadian Jews, it will be very difficult for them to open their hearts to feel the hurt that Zionism has caused for the Palestinian people.
The above list is not intended to be exhaustive. CTIP welcomes comments from readers who would like to add other manifestations of anti-Semitism, or indeed, to challenge any of the ideas above.
CTIP is opposed to anti-Semitism, which it sees as a form of racism. We hope all CTIP readers will join us in challenging anti-Semitic ideas wherever they are heard.