A Sorry Subject



     In an era of ever increasing problems, many of us are worried about the spreading of Anti-Semitism.  It’s no light matter because almost a full decade ago, a panel, The Canadian Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, considered having police forces across the country trained to combat the prejudice in some people here and there that should know better. I mean universities.  During that period the coalition chairman, Mario Silva, told the public that Jewish Canadian citizens were being treated with what he called, “Anti-Semitic incidents and hateful discourse.” He then reminded us all: “Canada is founded on a set of shared values and Anti-Semitism is an affront to all we stand for in this country.”  (This had been on the way for years.) For example, a major newspaper led its major story with a heading that said: “Anti-Semitism Skyrockets in Canada”. Then in its first sentence it claims, “Anti-Semitic incidents in Canada skyrocketed over the last year and have now hit the highest levels every recorded by human rights groups tracking the number of anti-Jewish episodes…”  One recent example that suggests inter-cooperation: in early March, 2017, threats were made jointly in both Toronto and London, but also, several Jewish centers and schools in the US. A Toronto man named Ryan Hartman, who holds the post of “Director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs”, described the threats in Toronto and London, as “alarming.” The police were called and sought evidence but much was hidden. (It was not the first threat.)

   The most provocative university culture is said to be in Quebec and a major paper said it: “Anti-Semitism is a growing threat on Canada’s campuses…” At roughly that same time Montreal’s McGill University was being urged to hold a broad inquiry into Anti-Semitism.     (There are those who know McGill and would take exception to it being Anti-Semitic.) Local media is quite heated with students’ public phrases such as this one: “McGill University’s Rampant, Historic, and Current Anti-Semitism.” The writer concludes with a sour sentence: “Anti-Semitism is clearly engrained in the culture at McGill University. And any proud Jew wouldn’t go near the university…” (If I were the editor I’d kill that last sentence,

     In any case Anti-Semitism is on the rise virtually pretty well everywhere on earth. Take just a few examples which reflect the problem, which we’ll ponder. This is going to be painful, given all my respect for the community and my personal friends and rabbis, but here are three perspectives.

(1)   Britain: Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Britain has been more complex and multifaceted… Records reveal not just recently but rapidly. There’s more increase, more rapidly.  Anti-Semitism has clearly accelerated. It is revealed in The Guardian, where its Religion writer reports that “1,309 incidents of Anti-Jewish hate last year, compared with 960 in 2015, a rise of 36 percent. The previous record number of incidents was in 2014, when 1,182 were recorded.” A chief executive responded with this statement: “While Jewish life in this country remains overwhelmingly positive, this heightened level of Anti-Semitism is deeply worrying and appears to be getting worse….”   Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader said the findings were “extremely distressing… We must root out Anti-Semitism whenever it takes place and wherever it exists…”

(2)   The United States: The US witnessed an unprecedented spike in Anti-Semitism in 2017, according to the Ant-Defamation League, with vandalism and school incidents leading the list…. There were a great many Anti-Semitic incidents reported across the US in 2017, including physical assaults, bomb threats, vandalism and attacks on Jewish institutions according to a report released by the Anti- Defamation League… “The number of Anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 increased by 57 percent compared to 2016, the single largest increase on record; it includes 163 bomb threats against Jewish community centers…“

 (3)   Europe: Anti-Semitism has increased significantly in Europe since 2,000 with significant increases in verbal attacks against Jews along with vandalism such as graffiti, fire bombings of Jewish schools, desecration of synagogues and cemeteries. These took place not only in France and Germany where such incidents are the highest in Europe but also in countries like Belgium, Austria and the United Kingdom… A number of studies conducted among the Muslim youth in various western European countries have shown that Muslim children have far more Anti-Semitic ideas than Christian children. In 2011 a Belgian sociologist, published a report on language in elementary schools in Brussels. He found that about 50 percent of Muslim students in second and third grade could be considered Anti-Semites.

   As for our own country it’s a hot bed of Anti- Semitism. It flourishes.  Professional studies reveal that almost 60 percent of hate crimes, blossom because of Christian-Secular-Jewish conflict.  In Toronto, Ryerson University and its student union, are inevitably vulnerable, despite the honorable intentions of organizations called Students for Justice in Palestine and Ryerson Muslim Students Association. Instead of what was hoped for – rational and diplomatic communication—it floundered, due, I suspect, to conflict rather that conversation. A calm and insightful Ryerson student — headed for a medical career — seemed discouraged at this and wrote a letter that, in part, reveals how difficult it is to attain calm communication.  “It’s difficult” she writes, “to reach any conclusion other than orchestrated Anti-Semitism when a University student union, which is obligated to treat all groups fairly resorts at best to awkward accommodation and worse to cowardly manipulation – to deny one group its free expression. I no longer feel safe on my campus because of my Judaism and my support for Israel. I condemn in the strongest terms the walkout…  I hope that Ryerson University sends a stronger message that this behavior will not be tolerated and that alumni, whether Jewish or not, consider withholding financial contributions to the university until it’s made clear……”                                                     

      So it goes in academia among young people. In fact, four of our nationally known universities, have actually been placed on a list of the “worst” of 40 North America universities for Jewish students, in the light of Anti-Semitic acts and the organization of Anti-Israel clubs.   This and other highly biased students or their publications, have provoked the opposition of credible academics. One such person, Constance Backhouse, a respected University of Ottawa law professor has said outright that these confrontations – as above – are problems and never solutions. “What we don’t need,” she told a National Post journalist, “is more confrontation. What we need are solutions.” 

     Obviously, a person with reasonable knowledge and no axe to grind, would agree. Indeed, members of the Muslim community would agree for the great majority of them, I’m told, look for calm social cultures, rather than conflict that seems ceaseless. I came upon the declaration of one myself. She is Amira Elghawaby, in an executive position of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “Looking forward to 2018,” she said, “university administrators should work with their student bodies to figure out what is happening, and how they can find solutions to ensure there is respect for divergent thought, freedom of expression, as well as zero forms of xenophobia, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, racism or hatred.” How right she. Hence we all should sincerely wish her good luck.