Is it time to blow the whistle on the Israel lobby’s scare-mongering about anti-semitism in Canada?

A pamphlet (excerpted above) was used to warn Ontario voters about the rising danger of anti-Semitism in Ontario. Along with the text there is a photo showing angry demonstrators holding a sign saying “Holocaust = Great lie”. But the photo is of a demonstration that took place in Iran… 16 years ago. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is using the scare of a rebirth of anti-Semitism in Canada for another reason, to dampen the rising criticism of Israel. Read more…

Anti-semitism does exist in Canada of course, along with other sorts of racism. It should be opposed wherever it appears. And if it crosses the line into hate, then of course it should be prosecuted.

But the insistent claim by the Israel lobby that anti-semitism is reaching crisis proportions in Canada, is based on shaky evidence and has a political purpose. Mistreatment and discrimination against marginalized groups like Black, Indigenous and Muslim Canadians by public officials (police, hospitals, schools, etc.) is much more widespread. In comparison a 2018 survey of Canadian Jews by Environics showed that far from being an oppressed minority like those other groups, Canadian Jews are well integrated and have more education and higher incomes than average Canadians.

According to that same survey, most Canadian Jews agree that others are more often targeted.

“While Jews in Canada are mindful of the burden of anti-Semitism, they do not see themselves as the most significant target of persecution in this country. They are more likely to believe that Indigenous Peoples, Muslims and Black people in Canada are frequent targets of discrimination.”

-Environics Institute, 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada

Why do the official statistics seem to point to a crisis of “anti-semitism”?

Some of the officially reported statistics are indeed shocking. “Jewish Canadians comprise one per cent of the Canadian population yet are the target of 62 per cent of all religiously motivated hate crimes,” points out Richard Marceau, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, quoting Statistics Canada annual Hate Crime report. “Anti-semitism is on the rise,” concludes Marceau.

If it’s true that discrimination against Black/Brown/Indigenous/Muslim/Asian Canadians is much more common than that against Jews, why do the CIJA statistics seem to tell a different story?

Simple: by selective reporting and eliminating context.

Marceau fails to mention that the Statistics Canada report reveals that:

  • Three times as many hate crimes are motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity than by hatred of a religion – and their number nearly doubled from the previous year.
  • Almost half of all police-reported hate crimes target the Black and Asian communities.
  • Hate crimes targeting the Asian populations are more often violent, while the vast majority (85%) of hate crimes targeting the Jewish population are non-violent.
  • Police data on hate-motivated crimes include only those incidents that come to the attention of police services. Research shows that victims from marginalized communities are less likely to report incidents because of language barriers, issues of trust or confidence in the police, or fear additional victimization or stigma by the very act of reporting.

“Police data only include those incidents that are reported to police.”

Statistics Canada report

This poster on a Toronto bus stop which reads “Israel is killing children again” was cited by Bnai Brith as one of its “anti semitic incidents”. But is it anti-semitic, or a justified criticism of Israel?

Canadian Jews are actively encouraged to report any incident, however minor, from which Bnai Brith Canada prepares an “audit” of anti-Semitism. It includes almost any expression of criticism of Israel as an “anti-semitic” incident.

For example Bnai Brith reported a shocking 733% increase in reported VIOLENT hate crimes against Jews – from 9 reported incidents in 2020 to 75 in 2021!!

But 61 of these reported “incidents’ actually reflect violence at anti-Israel protests in Toronto last May following the expulsion of several families from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Non violent protesters were attacked members of the Jewish Defence League, a US designated Jewish terrorist group. The clashes caused some minor injuries on both sides. Bnai Brith transforms peaceful anti-Israel protests into “violent hate crimes against Jews”.

While Jews are encouraged to report hate crimes, there has not been any comparable mechanism for Black, Brown, Indigenous and Muslim Canadians to register their own complaints. Fortunately some of that reporting imbalance is starting to be corrected. The National Council of Canadian Muslims has just launched a new website encouraging its members to report incidents of discrimination and or hate against Muslims.

Why would the Israel lobby want to exaggerate the danger of anti-semitism?

Organizations like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs have two very good reasons for playing up the dangers of anti-semitism in Canada.

Notwithstanding its professed concern about the dangers of rising antisemitism in Canada, CIJA spends most of its energy on “international relations”, i.e. defending Israel. (Source: Commissioner of lobbying)

The first is practical – CIJA and the Jewish Federations that support it across the country want members. Scaring Jewish Canadians about an imminent threat encourages membership and financial support for CIJA, which presents itself as the defender of Canadian Jews.

The second is political. In the face of Israel’s increasingly visible brutality toward to the Palestinians, support for Israel (in both Canada and the USA) is declining. CIJA’s mandate is to protect Israel, and accusing Israel’s critics of “anti semitism” is one way to frighten them into mutism

Canada’s Anti-Semitism Envoy also muddies the waters

Unfortunately, Irwin Cotler, Canada’s official anti-semitism envoy, is adding to the confusion. In a recent interview with CBC’s Andrew Chang, Cotler warned about a dramatic rise in racism in Canada including a claimed 75% increase in hate crimes against Jews in one year!!! Worrying indeed… if true. Watch the 5 minute Chang/Cotler interview here. The interview was complemented by disturbing scenes of anti-semitic graffiti in a number of places, presumed to be in Canada.

The Cotler interview included graphic examples of genuine antisemitism – like photos of swastikas defacing cars and public buildings. But he also used questionable B’nai Brith statistics which conflate anti-Israel comments and actions with anti-Semitism.

But Cotler’s presentation mostly referred to a rise in anti-Semitism around the world, a lot of which is in fact criticism of Israel. And for Canada, he relied on those questionable figures from Bnai Brith Canada.

It appears that – intentionally or not – Cotler is also confusing legitimate opposition to Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians with “hate crimes against Jews”.

Canada’s troubling problems with racism of all kinds – anti Black, anti indigenous, anti Muslim, anti-Asian need to be treated seriously. But to use the spectre of anti-semitism as a “weapon” to protect Israel from criticism is unacceptable and misleading.

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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  1. I think it’s time to call out racism and stop pretending that there’s a difference between racism and anti-semitism.

  2. Excellent piece Peter ……makes all the relevant points . I would emphasis more the relationship between power and racism which in my view is key …these marginalized groups are targeted by powerful state institutions(you mention that ), the Jewish community ,not at all . Jews are part of the privileged white community ,many members of that community actually are part of the state apparatus and I think their socio economic status is up there or surpasses white anglos …..the antisemitism in Canada comes from right wingers who have no power over the Jewish community.


    1. What a bunch of bullshit. Millions of Jews are in fact non white. Educate yourself. Sounds like you are as anti Semitic as Peter Larson

      1. Hey Sheldon,
        Thanks again for sharing your views. I will let Paul Tetrault respond to your words about his comment, although I think you misunderstood again as he was talking about anti-semitism IN CANADA, where almost all Jews are Ashkenazi from eastern Europe (like you, I believe) and as white as I am.

        I would like to comment about your repeated allegations of my own anti-semitism. Please give us some examples of anything I have said or done which you think is anti-semitic. Repeating the same thing over and over doesn’t make it true. Unfortunately, repeated unsubstantiated accusations risk making you appear like someone who really doesn’t know what they are talking about.

        I think anti-semitism is important and it SHOULD be opposed. But I think the accusation should be used carefully.

  3. It’s actually spelled *antisemitism* *antisemitic* *antisemite*

    One word, no hyphen.

    1. Hey Mark, thanks for your comment.
      The Oxford dictionary spells it with no hyphen, but Merriam Webster uses a hyphen. I know that the Israel lobby and IHRA folks insist on one word, no hyphen, as you do. I am indifferent. Either way is fine by me.

      What is more important to me is to oppose real antisemitism (or anti-semitism) while calling out those who would misuse that label as a way of protecting Israel.

  4. Excellent article. Clear, readable and understandable. Good focus. Important for the general public.

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