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Platitudes won’t roll back antisemitism

The Globe and Mail


JUNE 8, 2024

Globe editorial: Platitudes won’t roll back antisemitism – The Globe and Mail


The Schara Tzedeck synagogue in Vancouver, B.C., which was targeted by an arsonist on May 30.ETHAN CAIRNS/THE CANADIAN PRESS


Shots are fired at a Jewish-Canadian school, and Canadians are told: this is not who we are. Synagogues are vandalized, another school is fired upon. The refrain: this is not who we are. A Vancouver synagogue is set on fire. Again – this is not who we are.

B’nai Brith Canada has compiled a list of 18 attacks on Jewish schools and synagogues since early November, shortly after Israel began its ground offensive in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The shootings, firebombings, bomb threats and vandalism are clearly driven by the antisemitic impulse of holding Jewish-Canadians somehow culpable for Israel’s actions.

Those incidents have become a pattern of hate. And that pattern of hateful attacks on property threatens to become a precursor to something much worse. That is where we are.

The question, then, is where do we go from here? Platitudes on social media are worse than useless. They give undeserved cover to politicians unwilling to take concrete steps to protect Jewish-Canadian communities across the country. Jewish-Canadians need the comfort of action, not banalities.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather spoke eloquently to the inadequacy of the political response at all levels – including his own government – in a speech last week in the House of Commons. He pointed to the spate of incidents in recent weeks, including the fire set at Schara Tzedeck synagogue in Vancouver (thankfully extinguished by congregants).

“All levels of government need to do more, immediately,” Mr. Housefather said. “Enough is enough, Canadian Jews have a right to be safe in our country.”

His call to action should be heeded, starting with the federal government. The unanimous motion that the House adopted in March condemning antisemitism was a good start.

Ottawa is not responsible for local policing or prosecutorial decisions, of course, but the Trudeau government could play a valuable convening role, in calling a summit of federal and provincial public safety ministers and attorneys-general. That meeting should focus on a joint statement condemning antisemitic attacks – and a common approach to creating safe zones around Jewish institutions.

Protests against Israel and its campaign against Hamas are not just legal, but the exercise of a core constitutional right. But Jewish-Canadians and their institutions cannot be allowed to become the target of such protests. Free speech cannot trump the security rights of vulnerable communities.

Mr. Housefather also proposes designating Samidoun and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terrorist entities. There is some merit to that proposal, particularly in the case of the IRGC. But that debate could easily become a distraction to the more pressing matter of increasing the security of Jewish-Canadians.

Provincial leaders, too, can do more. It should be made clear to Crown prosecutors, police and the public that hate crimes will be pursued as such. That alone would send a powerful message of deterrence, as will convictions for the attacks that have already taken place.

Universities and other postsecondary institutions can do their part by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. Beyond the message of solidarity, such a step will give those institutions a valuable tool to focus on, and to root out, antisemitism.

And municipal politicians and their police forces have a critical role to play. Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and the Vancouver Police Department have shown what leadership at the local level looks like.

In the wake of the May 30 attack on Schara Tzedeck synagogue, Mr. Sim issued a statement of solidarity with the city’s Jewish-Canadian community. More than that, however, the mayor promised action: “To whoever has committed this crime, the VPD is using every resource they need to find and arrest you. We will not rest until you face justice.”

For its part, the VPD was equally forceful, saying police officers had been stationed throughout the city, including at synagogues, Jewish community centres and religious schools. Police were clear that they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

That is the model for turning back the tide of antisemitism in Canada. Bland words of comfort will not stop hate. Decisive action – immediately, as Mr. Housefather has rightly demanded – will.