Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly appointed envoy on combating antisemitism is facing criticism for failing to speak out publicly about rising attacks and intimidation of Jews in Canada since the Hamas attacks on Israel.
Many Canadians, concerned about the upsurge in antisemitism, say they are baffled about why Deborah Lyons has so far not taken to social media to offer the Jewish community public support.
The appointment of Ms. Lyons, former ambassador to Israel and to Afghanistan, as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, was made just over a week after the Oct. 7 attacks.
Her appointment was widely welcomed and came as Jews reported an upsurge in abuse, including on social media, on the street and on their doorsteps.
The Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, a Canadian-based advocacy group, says the number of reports of hate crimes toward Jews since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war has more than doubled.
Toronto Police say between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25, there were 15 reported antisemitic hate crimes compared to seven in 2022 during this time period, and three in 2021.
Members of Canada’s Jewish community said Ms. Lyons has been actively talking behind the scenes to them about the rise in anti-Jewish hatred. However, her public silence has been questioned.
IT consultant Mark Goldberg said: “The house is burning. I’m not sure we need a consensus on whether to call the fire department.”
Ms. Lyons told The Globe and Mail on Sunday that she plans to make a statement early this week, and has just finished the first leg of a “trip across Canada meeting with the communities, hearing from them on their fears and concerns and working on solutions on how we move forward.”
“I am not quiet. And will not be. I plan for this office to be very active. All the more so after the reactions to Oct. 7th. There is a lot of pain, dread and uncertainty. We need to come together as Canadians,” she said.
Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, has been vocal on X (Twitter), condemning abuse of both Muslims and Jews in Canada during the war between Israel and Hamas.
Last week, she condemned as “deplorable and disturbing” hate-motivated incidents toward Jews in Toronto. Her remarks followed a police investigation into people allegedly banging on doors of Jewish homes and stealing mezuzahs, which contain a religious scroll and are affixed to doorposts as an expression of faith.
Linda Frum, a former Conservative Senator, said the “Jewish community in Toronto is in a high state of alarm and concern.”
Montreal MP Anthony Housefather said he has seen “a tremendous upsurge in antisemitism online and in the streets” since the Hamas attacks. They include protests outside a Jewish-owned restaurant.
He said in Montreal on Friday that he and Mr. Trudeau met students from McGill University, Concordia, the University of Montreal and Marianopolis College who “told us directly how bad the situation was on campus.”
“I have spoken to many people who have had to leave social media, particularly teens and young adults, because they were targeted by antisemitic posts,” Mr. Housefather said. “For the first time, students tell me they are afraid to wear a kippah or star of David to school or do anything that would mark them as visibly Jewish.”
On social media, Laith Marouf, a consultant with the Montreal-based Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), whose previous offensive posts led to his Twitter account being suspended and a $130,000 federal contract with CMAC being cancelled, has been commenting from another account about the Israel-Hamas war. His recent posts include derogatory remarks about Israelis.
On campuses across Canada, posters calling for the return of hostages seized by Hamas, including children, have been torn down. A vigil by Jewish students at McMaster University in Hamilton, scheduled for next week, is being held at a secret location owing to security fears, according to Tamara Gottlieb, whose daughter is helping organize it.
Ms. Gottlieb, who works to combat antisemitism and discrimination on college and university campuses, said many Jewish students – including one young man who was punched in the face – are not reporting many cases of intimidation, such as shoving, verbal abuse and physical attacks.
She said in Toronto, Jews are reinforcing their home security with cameras and laminated windows and removing “visible signs of Jewish identity,” such as star of David necklaces, in an attempt “to be a less obvious target.”
She said Ms. Lyons, as antisemitism envoy, and politicians should be doing more to condemn anti-Jewish hatred. Premiers should make clear to police they need to enforce hate crime laws, including at rallies in support of Hamas, she said.
“Those in a position of leadership – and especially the new antisemitism lead in Ottawa – must speak up. That’s clear – and the silence is concerning,” she said. “It’s time for our political leaders and government officials to verbalize that they stand in solidarity against hate.”
She said it was concerning that public events run by the Jewish community were being advised to relocate to less visible locations for security reasons.
A public dinner on Friday night – with empty places for the more than 220 hostages held by Hamas – was planned for a prominent central location in Toronto. But on short notice, the event was moved to a parking lot of a Jewish community centre after Toronto police warned it may pose security concerns, Ms. Gottlieb said.
Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said it was “surprising” that Ms. Lyons had so far been publicly silent on rising antisemitism.
On Monday in Ottawa, the embassy of Israel plans to show GoPro footage from Hamas insurgents who took part in the deadly attacks on Israel.