Former Liberal cabinet minister Irwin Cotler has joined with the Israel lobby to pressure the Trudeau government to hold an urgent summit to deal with what he calls an anti-Semitism crisis. What has prompted this? Is there really a “crisis” of anti-Semitism in Canada? Or is the real crisis for Cotler, CIJA and Bnai Brith the feeling that more and more Canadians are becoming openly critical of Israel. Read more….
The Trudeau government announced on June 6th that it will convene an emergency summit on antisemitism to be held within the next couple of weeks. The summit is to be led by former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, currently Canada’s special envoy on antisemitism.
The Israel lobby, led by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has been calling for an emergency summit since the middle of May, citing a “troubling rise of anti-Jewish bigotry” in Canada following the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On behalf of the Government, Bardash Chagger, Minister responsible for Diversity, Inclusion and Youth made the announcement in a tweet, citing a “disturbing rise of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks”. No incidents were cited.
But is there really a crisis of anti-Semitism?
Most Canadians agree that Canada suffers from various forms of racism – including anti-Semitism. But few would put anti-Semitism at the top of the list, instead ranking Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, or racism against indigenous peoples as a much bigger problem.
And Cotler’s alarmist claim that we need to deal urgently with huge spike in anti-Semitism seems rather strange coming only days after a Muslim family in London, Ontario was murdered, while Canada is still uncovering the remains of hundreds of indigenous children, while most of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission remain unfulfilled, and following several shocking incidents regarding police interaction with Black Canadians in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
The reality is that other forms of racism are much more prevalent and much more dangerous than is anti-Semitism.
Jewish Canadians understand this reality, even if the Israel lobby does not. According to a recent Survey of Jews in Canada, carried out by Environics Research, Canadian Jews believe that discrimination against Jews comes far behind that against other identifiable groups.
So where is the evidence for the crisis of anti-Semitism?
The main source for the claim that there is a “crisis” of anti-Semitism, appears to come from an Annual audit of anti-semitic incidents in Canada undertaken by B’nai Brith Canada (BB), and which it claims to be the “authoritative document on antisemitism in Canada.”
Indeed, the BB Audit is very widely cited. It has been employed for decades by Canada’s generally pro-Israel governments as well as by media outlets including CBC, The Globe and Mail and the National Post.
At first blush, the statistics offered in the audit make for sobering reading indeed. Its most recent audit records 2600 incidents of anti-Semitism, an 18% increase over the previous year!!! If true, this is indeed evidence for a very serious problem.
But B’nai Brith’s statistics are open to question. One red flag is the fact that BB’s finding concludes that anti-Semitism is 17 times more frequent in Canada than that reported in the USA by the Anti-Defamation League. Shocking indeed.
However, in a recent study “Uses and Abuses of Antisemitism” U of T researcher Dr. Sheryl Nestel challenges that conclusion. “Are Canadian Jews 17 times more likely than their American counterparts to experience antisemitism? How could this possibly be the case?”, she asks.
After examining the two studies she concludes “The answer lies largely in the methodological differences between the two audits.”
It turns out that the ADL “is careful to not conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism.” B’nai Brith on the other hand INCLUDES criticism of Israel and of Zionism as anti-Semitism.
There are other important qualifiers to the reliability of the Bnai Brith (BB) audit.
In a recent paper produced by Robert Brym and Rhonda Lendon (now President of York University), entitled Antisemitism, Anti-Israelism and Canada in Context, the authors point to some serious flaws in the B’nai Brith conclusion of a dramatic increase in anti-Semitism.
(Here is a summary of their conclusions. Readers are invited to go to the full report to verify.)
- More than 8 out of 10 incidents recorded by BB involve “harassment”, 2 out of 10 involve damage to property and only 1 out of 10 involve physical violence. The large majority involve name-calling and the like.
- B’nai Brith’s creation of a 24/7 “anti-hate hotline” has made reporting very easy. Better reporting does not necessarilyreflect more antisemitism
- About 2/3 of incidents reported by B’nai Brith involve online harassment. The rise of social media provides new opportunities for anti-Semitic harassment, not necessarily reflecting growing anti-Jewish sentiment
- Police reports on hate crimes indicate levels only 1/6th of the Bnai Brith statistics. Police crime statistics call into question the validity of the alarming BB conclusions.
- B’nai Brith data lumps together actions that are clearly anti-Semitic with actions that are critical of Israel.
“Crisis of anti-Semitism” or crisis for the Israel lobby?
If there is not really a crisis of anti-Semitism, why are B’nai Brith, CIJA and Irwin Cotler so concerned?
Support for Israel, or tolerance of its behaviour towards the Palestinians, has been falling in Canada over several years. Recent reports including those of Human Rights Watch and B’tselem exposing Israeli human rights abuses and claiming that Israel is exerting a form of “Jewish Supremacy” over the Palestinians over the whole area under Israeli control, seem to be having an effect.
And in the month of May, in the wake of Israel’s aggressive behaviour in Jerusalem followed by a murderous attack on Gaza, support for Israel is noticeably falling in both Canada and the United States.
Approximately 200 anti-Israel rallies were held across the U.S. since May 16 according to the US based Antidefamation League. There were also demonstrations against Israel in many Canadian cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
One of the reason for the remarkable turn in Canadian opinion is is that Canadian media, including the Globe and Mail, the CBC and the Toronto Star have been much more willing to include Palestinian perspectives in their reporting. It is having an effect. “The violence in Gaza and Israel has left a changed political landscape in Canada”, reports CBC Evan Dyer.
“I’ve not seen this level of correspondence from people who don’t follow politics and aren’t seized with this really complex issue,” Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskin-Smith told Dyer. “Current Israeli policies are undermining Canadian support for our continued friendship.”
The CIJA press statement welcoming the summit was very explicit about its real concern. “Jews in Canada and around the globe are being targeted for their identity and for expressing solidarity with their fellow Jews in Israel who were under attack from Hamas, a listed terrorist organization,” the Centre’s president, Shimon Koffler Fogel, said in a statement Friday welcoming the summit.
The 2018 Environics Survey of Canadian Jews found that Canadian Jews overwhelmingly identify themselves with Israel and with Zionism. For many Canadian Jews, any attack on Israel is felt as an attack on their Jewishness.
Fogel, Cotler and the Israel lobby deliberately use the fear of anti-Semitism as a way to prevent or diminish a growing willingness among Canadians to rethink its support for Israel.
Anti-semitism does exist in Canada and it needs to be dealt with firmly as should all other forms of racism. But legitimate opposition to anti-Semitism should not be used as a smoke screen to protect Israel.
If there is to be a summit on racism in Canada, government action should address all forms of racism, especially focussing on the recent incidents of Islamophobia like the one reported TODAY of an attack on a 25 year old Muslim woman in Calgary who happens to be the daughter of an Alberta cabinet minister.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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