Everyone has an explanation for the frightening rise of violence directed at Jews in Canada. What we seem to lack are hard facts and a way to respond. We need a public inquiry into antisemitism in this country.
Obviously, the shots fired at schools, the assaults, the defacing of stores, the scrawled swastikas and other vile acts are linked to the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 and Israel’s invasion of Gaza in response.
But hate crimes against Jews had been on the rise long before. Statistics Canada says incidents of police-reported hate crimes in Canada nearly doubled to 3,576 in 2022 from 1,817 in 2018. About half of all hate crimes that target religion target Jews.
So what is at the root of this rising hatred? In a conversation, Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and I discussed several possibilities.
One factor could be the arrival in recent years of tens of thousands of people who were victims of the Syrian civil war, the Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan and other calamities. These refugees come from a region where there is intense antipathy toward Israel.
“I don’t think it is universal, but certainly within the ideologically driven, Islamist ranks of the community, evidence of hate, from the pulpit to the grassroots level, is clearly present,” Mr. Fogel believes.
There may be a generational aspect as well. Boomers like me grew up in the wake of the Second World War and are keenly aware of the Holocaust. We watched Israel’s struggle for survival during the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars.
While many of us are critical of actions taken by Israeli governments, such as expanding settlements on the West Bank, fundamentally we see Israel as a thriving democracy and a refuge for Jews who have been persecuted for millennia. Younger generations may be more likely to see Israel as powerful, aggressive and oppressive toward Palestinians.
My own hunch is that the serial traumas of recent years – pandemic lockdowns, economic insecurity, inflation, housing shortages – coupled with the toxicity of social media, have pushed the extreme left and the extreme right together on a variety of issues. Yesterday it was vaccine mandates; today it’s Israel.
Mr. Fogel offers a more nuanced analysis. The far right has always been and will always be antisemitic, he observes, seeing Jews as a threat to the white master race. On the far left, the teachings on campus of critical race theory have produced a generation of identity-obsessed idealists who view the world entirely in terms of oppressor and oppressed.
In that equation, Jews have been transformed from a community persecuted for centuries, through pogroms, prohibitions and the ultimate horror of genocide, into white, colonizing oppressors, with Palestinians as their victims.
Mr. Fogel speaks of “this binary notion that the root of all ill and evil in our society is white privilege, and the Jews are the poster child for white privilege.”
So demonstrations in support of Palestinians may contain those on the far right who believe Jews threaten white, Christian society, and those on the far left who believe Jews personify white, colonizing oppression.
The anger and emotion swirling online and in the streets over Jews and Israel threaten to undermine Canada’s multicultural consensus. Losing that consensus would be among the greatest tragedies that could befall this country. All political parties in the Commons should agree on the need for a swift but thorough inquiry into rising antisemitism in Canada, with specific recommendations for how to combat it.
Such an inquiry would not in any way refute the reality that other communities face. The Senate recently released its own report on rising Islamophobia in Canada. Muslims were killed in Quebec City, Toronto and London, Ont. Generations-old discrimination against Black and Indigenous Canadians continues. You don’t have to bow down to critical race theory to acknowledge systemic racism.
But Jews in Canada right now live in rising fear. Parents are afraid to send their children to school. College students face harassment and worse. Protesters are targeting Jewish businesses and community centres.
Jews know where this leads. It’s time for federal politicians to stop deploring and start acting. Get an inquiry up and running, now.