The President of the United States thought at least some of the anti-Semites demonstrating in Charlottesville last year were “very fine people.” In Hungary, a parliamentary deputy called for all Jews to be registered. In Paris, last month, Mireille Knoll, who survived the Holocaust, was stabbed to death and burnt in what police say was an anti-Semitic homicide. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn is under attack for tolerating anti-Semitic elements within the Labour Party.
Anti-Semitism in the West is more brazen today than at any time since the 1950s. Is it on the rise in Canada as well? Signals are mixed. But the same tinder fuelling these dangerous fires in the United States and Europe exists here. Hatred toward Jewish people is the oldest libel. Yet people reinvent it every day.
Last year, B’nai Brith reported a 26 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents − from harassment to vandalism to violence − in Canada in 2016. This year’s annual audit is due later this month. Aidan Fishman, its author, is unhappy to report there was no improvement in 2017.
“The numbers stayed very high and are even up,” he said in an interview. “They’re not up as dramatically as they were last year, but they are higher than they were last year.”
An even bigger worry: While the lesser offence of harassment was the cause of the increase in 2016, in 2017 “the numbers of both violence and vandalism are up. The vandalism number is up quite significantly. It’s a serious proportional increase.”
But Ira Robinson, director of the Concordia University Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies, isn’t so sure. His book A History of Antisemitism in Canada, which was published in 2015, concluded that anti-Semitic activity in this country had greatly declined in recent decades. He continues to monitor the situation, and believes there has been no significant increase, despite what B’nai Brith says.
“In terms of the type of stuff that I see, it’s very much the same,” he reports. “There is very little new under the sun.”
Twenty-first-century anti-Semitism is in part a by-product of both right-wing and left-wing populism. Both groups detest globalization, which they blame for lost jobs at home. From there, it is only a small, noxious step to conjure a globalist Jewish conspiracy.
“The negative impacts of globalization are often laid at the feet of Jews and this global Zionist conspiracy,” said Barbara Perry, a sociologist at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who specializes in hate crimes. “… It’s scarily similar from the left and the right, in that respect.”
Unfortunately, some Muslims harbour anti-Jewish thoughts, an import from their home countries. More often, though, Muslims and Jewish people are equally victims of racial hatred.
There is even an anti-Semitic variant that claims “Jewish privilege” contributes to systemic racism − though there is evidence that anonymous propaganda to that effect comes from the right, disguised as being from the left.
Anti-Semitism sometimes wears the mantle of anti-Zionism. But while criticism of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians is entirely legitimate, the hate-filled rants that often accompany the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) movement, which depicts Israel as an apartheid state, are anti-Semitism cloaked in righteousness.
Too often, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East produce anti-Zionist screeds in Canada that can result in attacks on Jewish people. “Local, national and global effects come into play,” Prof. Perry observed.
If the rise of populism coincides with, and might contribute to, rising anti-Semitism, then the absence of a populist wave in Canada is encouraging. But this country is not immune from such waves. Mayor Rob Ford in Toronto begat Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, his brother, who could well become a populist premier − although I am not suggesting in any way that Mr. Ford harbours racist sentiments of any kind.
But anti-Semitism can just as easily be found on university campuses as at right-wing rallies. It is present on the fringes of social democracy as well as conservatism. Elizabeth May has struggled to expunge it from the Green Party.
These are not harmonious times. Hatred of Jewish people is on the rise. It may be on the rise in Canada as well.