May 18, 2017
TORONTO - This week I did something extremely brave so that you didn’t have to – I read internet comments.
Usually I avoid reading comments on online news stories at all costs, plagued as they are by internet trolls and just general ignorance. But after B’nai Brith released its 2016 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents last week, I was curious what Canadians thought about the rise in antisemitism, so I hunted down some news articles about the Audit and read through what people were saying about the data.
Ultimately, I learned three things.
First was that Canadians like to be able to place the blame on individual people or groups for the rise in antisemitism. I’d say at least 90 per cent of the comments attempted to point the finger at someone, whether Donald Trump and the rhetoric surrounding his election, Justin Trudeau and his pro-refugee policy, or the rising number of immigrants coming into Canada.
I found this need to point fingers particularly interesting since the Audit explicitly states (and most news stories quote this part) that the data does not suggest Trump and his election were to blame for the increase in antisemitism, nor was any other single individual or group. In her introduction to the Audit, Amanda Hohmann, National Director of B'nai Brith Canada's League for Human Rights, explains this need to assign blame quite articulately: “It’s a lot more reassuring to suggest that the influence of one individual can be responsible for swaying the hearts and minds of otherwise moral and decent people. To point a finger at one person, and to have a clear and simple explanation as to why antisemitism is rampant, is comforting.”
The next thing I learned (well, I guess re-learned) was that people have become disturbingly open about their antisemitism. Most of the comment threads I read through had at least one or two antisemitic replies, ranging from the mild “I have a very difficult time believing this…” to comments about so-called Israeli apartheid and even one calling Jews “greedy, stuck up know-it-alls” who "got what they deserve."
Keep in mind that some of these comments were made on Facebook while others are on websites that require you to use your Facebook account to post a comment. So in most instances, people are using their real names and all their friends, relatives, and coworkers can see their bigotry. I know it’s common, I’ve seen it multiple times all over the internet, but somehow it still surprises me that people are willing to be so open about their hatred.
The third thing that was reinforced in my sojourn into online comment sections is that the antisemitic incidents outlined in the Audit do not reflect the values of most Canadians. This seems obvious, but with everything that goes on in the world today, sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder.
Some commenters called on the government and police to catch the perpetrators of these acts and punish them, condemning crimes against fellow humans, while others expressed their surprise that this kind of behaviour is still prevalent in 2017, and that we haven’t learned from the past. Commenters also expressed disappointment that such discrimination and prejudice could happen in Canada, which should stand for equality and tolerance.
In the end, what my my dive into the world of internet comments showed me was that social media users need to channel their indignation and anger about the prevalence of antisemitic incidents and direct it to policy makers and law enforcement, helping them to recognize that Canadians want a stronger response to antisemitism. They need to know that eradicating antisemitism is important to all Canadians, and a required step toward getting to the Canada we want, and the Canada we can be.
Read the Audit here.
Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master's degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.