Liberals announce an “emergency summit” on anti-Semitism. Why? Is there really an anti-Semitism crisis in Canada?

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.

Environics survey of the opinions of Canadian Jews

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.

Bnai Brith’s “audit” claims that anti-Semitism is 17 times worse in Canada than in the USA. Is this credible?

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.
Angry protest in Montreal against Israel’s bombing of Gaza May 16th. But anti semitic?? (Photo credit: CIJA)

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.

Conclusion

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.

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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.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org

13 comments

  1. Excellent post explaining clearly why, how and now the Israel lobby is exagerrating the issue of antisemitism in Canada as a direct strategy of forcing support for Israel and silencing advocacy for Palestine and the rights of Palestinians in all sectors..

    The Bnai brith study shamelessly conflate incidents of pro Palestinianism with antisemitism by insisting that virually any criticism of Israel is antisemitism. This goes along neatly with the effort to force the IHRA definition on intitutions which is fine in its basic definitions of anti Jewish anti semitism but then politicized in its intent to reduce criticism of Israell by the many Israel referenced examples.

    Israel lobby is now trying to argue that the few examples of conflict that occurred between supporters of Israel and Palestine during the recent Israel Hamas war constitutes anti semetic attacks on Jews that is expanding latent antisemitism and causing Canada to be like Nazi. Germany. It is furthermore accusing pro Palestine demonstrators of supporting terror because of the Hamas designation. All of this without one word acknowledging Israel occupation, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, accusations of apartheid, Arab Jewish violence in Israel, Gaza blockade total rejection of independent Palestine by any israel government whether Bennet or Bibi.

    The Canadian government and its point person Bardissh Chaggar, who herself has been criticized by BBrith as an antisemititr for supporting Palestine, must ensure that any conference sticks to bona-fide antisrmitism and the measures to correct, it without becoming a pro Isra÷l anti Palestine propaganda exercise run by the Israel lobby. . Iindependent Jewish Voices and Jewish peace groups should ne asked to participate to conffirm distinctions between anti semitism & peace advocacy..

    After all the Liberals are committed to a balanced policy of a 2 state solution of Israel and s Palestine and would not want to engage this potential unbalanced forum as a way to get there. New pro Palestine Liberal MP from Fredericton transferred from the Green party because the slurs of anti semitism against her were not repudiated by her leader should be well aware of the perils of giving any support to the conflation of antisemitism with Israel critical pro Palestine advocacy.

  2. The Toronto Star published an opinion column by a Mitchell Consky on June 17, 2021 where he implied that that the streets of Toronto were were filled with the blood of Jews. He cited a police report which said that there had been a 50% rise in anti-Semitic violence. I pointed out to the Star that the 50% rise was not in violence but in things such a graffiti. Jews were at the bottom of the list in regard to violence.

  3. Our parliament has unanimously called for an emergency summit on Islamophobia. Those who work so hard to confuse anti-Israel sentiment with antisemitism appear to fear that focussing on Islamophobia will reduce the attention that Canadians pay to their cause.

    We need an emergency summit on racism – all forms of racism. They have far more in common than some people want us to think.

  4. Peter Larson, you asked me recently if I thought the Liberal Party of Canada was using political control to ensure CBC toes a tight line on discussing Israeli/Palestinian affairs.

    Given that such efforts would not get much sunshine if it were happening, it’s difficult to provide a hard answer, but there is little doubt longtime Liberal Irwin Cotler and now point man in Canada for Israeli demands along with his handlers in the various pro-Israeli groups in Canada have applied substantial leverage on Trudeau and company to beat back a growing movement across Canada wanting this country to take a balanced stand on matters in that mid-east trouble-spot.

    The term anti-semitism has been so debased from years of its viscious use against anyone who may find fault with an Israeli deed or effort, the term is now seen as a signal that a comment is so on the mark someone feels a need to lash out, an affirmation the comment was on the money.
    Sadly, however,Trudeau has signalled too often, as he did with SNC-Lavalin, that he’ll back a friendly no matter the issue if it benefits his political wants.

  5. Thanks for this Peter. As you point, out it seems odd timing for Mr. Cotler to make such an alarmist call given recent tragic events in London, the finding of hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children and incidents involving the Black community and the police in some of our larger cities. At best, this strikes me as somewhat insensitive and at worst, downright disrespectful.

  6. This analysis is lacking context since its entire premise is based on racism in general without considerating that Antisemitism is a particular form of racism. Antisemitism is also found in a sectarian opposition to Jewish identity.

    For example this report does not care to consider that all the forms of racist violence and hatred are caused by the agents of the State, the one racism that arises from the populism in the general public is Antisemitism.

    That is the first error; the second is that the violent acts in the name of the Palestinians to Jewish people per se, is Antisemitic, even if not done consciously but out of ignorance. There is a fraction of the incidents reported by B’nai B’rith which could be actual Antisemitism. That is why an investigation is in order. The objection to such an inquest may be focused on its leader’s history but it may be an opposition to the recognition of Antisemitism itself!

    1. Hey Dr Weizfeld,
      Thank you for your comments.
      If a Palestinian living in Sheikh Jarrah responds violently to being violently displaced by a Jewish settler or by Israeli police, I do not accept that that is anti-Semitic.
      However, I do agree, (and said so in my article) that Anti-semitism does exist in Canada and should be combatted.

    2. There should be full.participation in the Durban process on racis, in part to explain how antisemitism is similar both to racism and relugious,discrimination ie Islamophobia. But easy to understand why the Israel lobby would be reliuctant about this and prefer to decry the comparisons that were made to racism and zionism, particularly at a time when credible charges of apartheid have rexentlybeen made by human rights groups… Of course Israel lobby is intent on comparing antisemitism to Israel critical.pro Palestinism which would not be widely supported in a Durban context. Still, more conversations and reasoned debate on these issues are desirable.

    3. Kicking a can around in a semantics court over an issue involving the dignity and safety of helpless populations is akin to inviting experts to a conference prior to digging into the heap of rubble in Florida. Some facts are indisputable.

      1. Some centuries ago Europeans came to America and took territory by force subjecting the aboriginal inhabitants to a spectrum ranging from indignity to genocide. My ancestors followed them mid 19th century.

      2. Beginning about a century ago mostly Europeans again began the same process in The Levant and the same horrors continue today unless Haaretz is fake news.

      3. Antisemitism is a label so much abused that it is impossible to define without subjectivity or maligned intention.

      4. The ongoing exposure of the horrors of the Canada project render any preoccupation with the foregoing label to be termed as grossly despicable insouciance.

      5.Canada’s large Jewish unconditional Israel supporting outfits are a major threat to Canadian democracy. Their influence renders that of an ordinary Canadian as insignificant and they only represent one faction of Canadian Jews. The other faction stands to be victimized by ignorant association. A current example of the toxic effect of these organizations is the U of T law faculty mess.

      6. Due to political funding in Canada, our politicians tend to be guided more by dollars than principle. Voting in the UN and the SNC Lavelin affair betray the truth of that statement.

      1. Hey Bob,
        Thanks for your comment.

        I don’t understand the basis for your assertion that “Canada’s large Jewish unconditional Israel supportng outfits are a major threat to Canadian democracy”. I don’t agree with much of what CIJA or Bnai Brith says, of course. But I think its nonsense to call them “ignorant”. And the evidence is that they do represent many Canadian Jews, even if you (and I) wished their influence was less.

        Is there any difference between the efforts of CIJA or Bnai Brith and those of the Canadian Labour Congress, the Chamber of Commerce, or any other lobby group? Each one tries to influence public opinion and the government.
        That is the basis of our democracy, in my view.

        To my ear, your comments appear to reinforce an anti-Semitic narrative. I would be interested in any clarification you would like to offer.

  7. There’s no doubt that racism needs to be addressed with valid strategies and constant vigilance. Singling out one group, ie anti-Jewish bigotry for a summit against the expanding news backdrop of Israel’s abuse of Arabs sounds like a recipe for a backfire – if you conflate state decisions with civilian worthiness.

    Consider if Irwin Cotler criticizes Canadian government policy on handling indigenous land claims. Would he be considered bigoted against the people and diaspora of Canada?
    I think the silly IRHA definition of antisemitism has helped create comical irony at this time. Too bad, since dealing with true bigotry against designated groups, nationals or cultures is a very serious matter that needs rational, evidence-based attention.

  8. Very good article . Obviously the summit  will be Zionists on parade on their way to throw the Palestinians under the bus. If Mira Sucharov and  self-styled “progressive” Zionist Bernie Farber are serious about their concern about Palestinian rights they should insist on participating in the summit along with such groups as Independent Jewish Voices and The New Israel Fund so that a broad cross section of the community is represented and not just the Zionist clique. If the broader community is not  invited, then it might be a good idea to set up a counter summit.  There is an argument to be made that Palestinian groups should also participate in Cotler’s summit. The IHRA definition will be promoted and one could argue that since it is not a genuine definition but something crafted to target one group with the express purpose to stop criticism of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, then perhaps, since they are singled out, they should have a say in the matter. Or as Allan Lamport once said: “If I’m going to be stabbed in the back, I want to be there”.  Wolfe Erlichman

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