In case you missed it, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week held a National Summit on Antisemitism. Given its timing, brevity and tightly controlled agenda, the Liberals seemed to do everything not to attract attention to the event among anyone not directly involved in it. The entire exercise, which had been organized in haste after the party was criticized by Jewish groups for accepting a (former) staunch Israel critic into caucus, had an air of artificiality to it.
The antisemitism summit was followed the next day by another devoted to tackling Islamophobia. Why, you might ask, in a country that prides itself on tolerance, couldn’t the Trudeau government just hold a single event to discuss strategies to combat racism and hate? Well, because that would have defeated the political purpose of holding separate summits.
The antisemitism and Islamophobia summits targeted separate political constituencies. Some of the same people and groups leading campaigns against Islamophobia are accused by supporters of Israel of disseminating antisemitism. For politicians, this can be a tricky minefield to navigate.
It shouldn’t be. Both antisemitism and Islamophobia are despicable problems in Canada today. Both ultimately grow out of the common roots of ignorance and closemindedness. Eradicating them, like all forms of hate and racism, involves education, vigilance and, perhaps most of all, a willingness to speak truth to power.
Sadly, that latter ingredient is often what is most missing. Hypocrisy abounds as politicians court progressive voters for whom there exists a hierarchy of hate that deems racism against BIPOC minorities to be a greater evil than antisemitism, to the point of harbouring antisemites within their own ranks.
Wokes claimed a major, if incomplete, victory after Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s this week said it would stop selling its iconic ice cream brand in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The move followed a long campaign by activists to force the company, owned by the multinational Unilever PLC, to pull out of Israel. That campaign accelerated after violence erupted in May between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, killing more than 200 Palestinian civilians.
“We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the company said in a statement without elaborating, adding only that it intended to “stay in Israel through a different arrangement” after its current licence agreement expires at the end of 2022.
That concession, reportedly imposed from above by Unilever, angered supporters of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement, which had called for a total withdrawal from Israel. But Unilever nevertheless acted hypocritically in singling out Israel, the only democracy in a hostile region surrounded by autocratic enemy countries where human rights abuses abound. Why Israel and not China?
Among wokes, attacking Israel is now a popular form of virtue-signalling. And Ben & Jerry’s, founded by two Jewish hippies in the 1970s, has become adept at that practice, associating its brand with a host of progressive causes. In 2018, it even created a flavour called Pecan Resist to support selected groups fighting then-U.S. president Donald Trump’s “regressive agenda.”
Such moves must be seen for the marketing stunts that they are. As political statements, they are (unlike Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough) mostly calorie-free. But sanctioning Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, without providing any context to a conflict that is inextricably tied to both past and present antisemitism, is a dangerous step to take. It smacks of both ahistoricism and moral relativism. And it hurts the cause of peace.
The Israeli government has plenty to answer for regarding the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the eviction of Arab residents from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Diplomatic pressure should continue to persuade Israel to stop these arguably unlawful actions, which go against its own long-term interests as much as those of the Palestinians. But pandering to progressive groups that demonize Israel as a serial oppressor of disenfranchised minorities feeds into the very stereotypes that Wednesday’s summit on antisemitism sought to debunk.
“The rise in hate-motivated crimes against the Jewish community in the past few months is not only alarming, it’s completely unacceptable,” Mr. Trudeau said. “As Jewish Canadians, too many of you have told me you’re feeling isolated and vulnerable. You’ve shared that this spike in violence, and this harassment, has left people in fear to publicly and proudly live Jewish lives.”
Unfortunately, too few progressives seem to care about that.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.