November 20, 2009
Encouraging civil discourse
Public forum will address contemporary anti-Semitism.
JEANIE KEOGH AND BASYA LAYE
The number of desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and anti-Semitic graffiti on Jewish institutions might be declining in Canada, but a new version of discrimination is on the rise, according to Canadian Jewish Congress.
CJC hopes that a public forum being held next month’s will sensitize people to what, president Mark Freiman said, is a recent upsurge of anti-Semitic incidents that centre largely on Israel’s role in the Middle East conflict. The forum, entitled Anti-Semitism: Are We Too Thin-Skinned?, will bring together a panel of community leaders and journalists to address issues of contemporary anti-Semitism.
“It’s a topic that finds its way into the press. It’s a topic about which there is a great deal of verbiage and perhaps a lot less clarity than there should be and it deserves an airing and a serious discussion,” he said.
Overtly anti-Semitic incidents are becoming less common; according to a Statistics Canada 2007 report on hate crimes toward religious minorities – two-thirds of which were directed towards Jews – the number of incidents dropped to 185 from 220 the previous year.
Freiman said discrimination in Canada has historically been “a genteel arrogance that looked down at [the Jewish community] and saw them as being different and undesirable.” Freiman speculated that the rebound of “old anti-Semitic clichés” – that Jews control Hollywood, banking and foreign policy – are influenced by recent geo-political events and the economic downturn. He said these are “disturbing themes” that are connected to a newer breed of discourse from the anti-Zionist movement.
This summer, CJC submitted a 13-page report to the newly formed Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA). An open call for written submissions was made when the inquiry was launched in early June; any person or organization from the Canadian public was invited to submit a paper to be reviewed by the committee. More than 20 MPs from all parties in the House of Commons have come together to review the written and oral testimony and to produce a report on the state of anti-Semitism in Canada, expected to be delivered to the government in the spring of 2010.
On Nov. 2, the first of eight hearings took place to examine the extent of problem and to come up with various practical recommendations to address national and international incidents.
According to the group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), “Some groups making submissions to the CPCCA questioned the very legitimacy of the coalition’s claims about a resurgence of anti-Semitism ... [and CJPME is focusing] its submission on the coalition’s claim that criticism of Israel was a (‘new’) form of anti-Semitism.” In a press release, CJPME argued that the coalition’s “attempt to link criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism was untenable, and would violate fundamental protections enumerated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” They posited three points to support their position: “that it would be impossible to define ‘politically correct’ criticism of Israel in a way to respect civil liberties; that Israel cannot be appropriately used as a proxy for Judaism/Jewry; and that critics of the state of Israel are not the enemies of the Jewish people.”
One report, titled Combating Anti-Semitism or Shielding Israel?, was submitted by Joanne Naiman, a Jewish sociologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University. She wrote: “In the face of growing global opposition to current Israeli government policies, well-meaning Jews – who simply cannot accept that their people would do anything immoral – have turned to both blaming the victim (‘the Palestinians started it’) and blaming those who support the victim (they’re anti-Semites or ‘self-hating Jews’).” She continued, “Thus, it is not surprising that as the criticism of Israeli government policies has increased worldwide, so have cries of the growth of a global resurgence of anti-Semitism.”
In response to such criticisms, Freiman said that it is important that anti-Semitism isn’t “magnified into something it is not.” One of the ways this can happen is when people mistake any political criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, perceiving a problem where there is none, he said. But, he warned, “There comes a point where a line is crossed and people have to be made aware of what the real subtext is and what purports to be political criticism.”
CJC chief executive officer and forum panelist Bernie Farber noted that anti-Semitism has shifted from neo-Nazi groups as a main concern to a combination of “the extreme right and the extreme left and ... Islamist circles.” This new form of hatred is being used primarily for political leverage, he explained. “There is a point where anti-Zionism bleeds into anti-Semitism,” he said; for example, those advocating for the dissolution of the Jewish state.
The forum takes place Dec. 1, 7 p.m., at Temple Sholom. It will feature a keynote by Freiman and a response by Rabbi Robert Daum, director, Iona Pacific: Inter-Religious Centre and associate professor of rabbinic literature and Jewish thought at the Vancouver School of Theology. There will be a panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Rabbi Philip Bregman. Farber will be joined on the panel by Robert Matas, national correspondent for the Globe and Mail, and Barbara Yaffe, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun. For more information, contact CJC-Pacific Region at 604-622-4240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeanie Keogh is a Vancouver freelance writer.