Opinion: Antisemitism in the wake of the attacks of Oct. 7 has rattled Canadian Jews. Here’s what’s needed to restore trust

There are very few Jews in the world. Not even one per cent of the world’s population is Jewish. Not even 0.1 per cent. In fact, only about 15 million of the world’s population of 8 billion people — less than .02 per cent — are Jewish. Canada has the fourth largest population of world Jewry at 335,000, less than one per cent of our 39 million population, dramatically smaller than the Muslim population, now approaching two million.

Canada’s Jewish community has always taken pride in this country, contributing mightily in science, medicine, business and all forms of media and culture. It is part of Jewish upbringing to add value to the society in which one lives, which is perhaps why, despite the minuscule numbers, nearly 40 per cent of world chess champions have been Jewish and 22 per cent of Nobel prize winners.
Perhaps millennia of oppression have driven Jews to succeed in the hope of protecting themselves, through their accomplishments, from persecution. That success has been abetted by learning and study, integral to Jewish culture.Some societies, such as Canada and the U.S., welcomed their Jewish citizens, at least after the Second World War. Before that, the view of the government of then-prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in response to Jewish efforts to come to Canada to escape the Holocaust was that “none is too many.” Only 5,000 Jews were admitted between 1933 and 1945. Notably, the MS St. Louis, with more than 900 Jews fleeing Europe aboard, was not permitted to disembark in Halifax in 1939, many of its occupants knowingly, by then, consigned to the gas chambers. A shameful episode recently apologized for by our apologizer-in-chief, Justin Trudeau.

Given their small numbers and the omnipresence of antisemitism, the Jewish community is reliant on protection from society: the courts, the legal system, the police and public sentiment itself. That is the social compact under which the community is able to thrive — and give back. For example, my own father, who was honoured along with my mother with the Negev Dinner award for their contributions to the Jewish community of Hamilton, gave even more to non-Jewish charities in that city.

But the social compact is now broken. Supporters of the terrorist group Hamas and their fellow travellers have been permitted to harass the Canadian Jewish community, importing their hatreds from the Middle East. This kind of personal hostility has not been reciprocated — Jews have been prominent in the civil rights movement, including fighting Islamophobia when it arises.

First, after Oct. 7, even before Israel invaded Gaza to root out Hamas, there were hate rallies, notably denounced by Premier Ford and even, initially, by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

These featured the chant “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” — a blatant call for the elimination of Jews from Israel — and sometimes insignia and slogans targeting Jews wherever they may be.

Despite hate speech laws, the police did nothing.

It quickly became obvious that their targets were not Israelis, but Jews everywhere: in workplaces, unions, universities and on the street. The impact: many Jews who used to wear skullcaps, Stars of David or other indicia of Jewish identity have removed them. Even in the privacy of their residences, Jews removed the mezuzahs from their front doors in fear of being attacked. Jewish businesses were spraypainted with antisemitic messaging, some were burned or otherwise vandalized and ever-present rallies targeted Jewish hospitals, synagogues and, worse, residential neighbourhoods. Again, the police did little — besides prominently bringing the hooligans coffee at their main daily rally in one of the most Jewish residential neighbourhoods of Toronto.

What is their goal? To intimidate the Jewish community, hoping it will capitulate and that its members will forfeit their identities as Jewish Canadians and perhaps even feel forced to leave. Jews throughout this country are saying they never expected to see this kind of antisemitism within their lifetime — not in Canada. Notably much of this intimidation is illegal, criminal conduct, as is masking to avoid detection.

Context is always important. In survey after survey, Canadians and Americans have shown that they support Israel over Hamas, support their Jewish neighbours and understand why Israel had to counterattack after the horrors of Oct. 7.

It is not just Jews who are under attack. Our entire civilization is threatened. The chants a short time ago to “shut down Christmas” and the demonstration preventing Trudeau from meeting the prime minister of Italy at the Art Gallery of Ontario, as well as rallies outside city halls, are deliberately targeting the functioning of society.

In the meantime, our federal government — perhaps cognizant of the larger Muslim population and its strength at the polls — has forfeited its historic position of supporting the Middle East’s only democracy and, with the notable exception of MPs such as Anthony Housefather and Marco Mendicino, supported an NDP resolution equating Hamas and its Oct. 7 atrocities with democratic Israel’s campaign to permanently eliminate the Hamas threat. After all, if there was a ceasefire now, Hamas would regroup and strengthen, as it has after every previous ceasefire, and would still run Gaza. The hostages would be stuck there indefinitely and Hamas would, as it keeps promising, repeat the Oct. 7 attacks a second, third and fourth time until Israel is eradicated. A ceasefire would also ensure that there would never be a Palestinian state, since no Israeli government could risk one resembling Gaza. It would also leave 200,000 Israelis as refugees within their own country, unable to return to border communities. It is not as if Hamas will somehow reform its ways: its 1988 charter has two main objectives, killing all Jews and the eradication of Israel.

Our federal government has also reinstated funding for UNWRA despite a indications that some of its employees are members of Hamas. And perhaps most dangerously, the feds now plan to bring in tens of thousands of Gazans, despite the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research poll finding that over 70 per cent of Gazans, even as of last week, support the massacre Hamas committed. What will the impact of that be? More troops for the hate rallies and possibly much worse.

Things are indeed getting worse. It is like employment law. If bad behaviour is permitted, it gets worse.

A telling example occurred last week. The longstanding Hamilton Jewish film festival, an apolitical cultural festival like others in Canada’s ethnic communities, was shut down, citing security concerns, by threats of violence. The cinema was bombarded with “safety related emails, phone calls and intimidating social media messages.” Once upon a time, in the Hamilton I knew and grew up in, that would have caused legions of tough Hamiltonians from the steel factories and elsewhere to attend that film festival, lining up in front to protect it from attacks, not timorous acquiescence. Similar pressure led the premier of British Columbia to force the resignation of Jewish cabinet minister Selina Robinson who subsequently left the party over its capitulation to antisemitic pressure.

Canadian champion cyclist Leah Goldstein was disinvited from her keynote speech at an International Women’s Day event when event organizers gave in to what they called “an extremely vocal group” of anti-Israel agitators. Their strategy is working and the radical Hamas supporters and woke compatriots will keep coming after Jews in this country.

What should be done?

First, the Canadian Jewish community must be more like Israelis —tougher and prouder in wearing their religion on their sleeves. That means keeping their mezuzahs on their doors, and if it requires neighbourhood watches, customary in Hasidic areas of Montreal for decades, then they should form them.

Second, the political authorities must require the police to end the hate rallies by arresting the miscreants spouting hate speech. They must ensure police are there in force whenever there are going to be attempts to breach the peace.

Third, the antisemites attending these rallies and spewing public hate speech must be identified and employers should fire them for cause if they are in public-facing, client-facing or management positions, as such employees damage their employer’s brand. For my part, I will represent any employer sued by such a miscreant, pro bono.

Fourth, police should charge masked protesters who are screaming out hate speech and their identities should be publicly disclosed.

Fifth, Canadians should make clear to their government that they should support Israel’s attempt to eradicate Hamas terrorism and to their Jewish fellow citizens, that they stand with them during this trauma and that they will not permit the 1930s to be revisited.

Sixth, there should be no easy entry to Canada by residents of Gaza given their almost unanimous support for Hamas.

Finally, the Canadian Muslim community cannot stand by. It must begin actively denouncing the radical Islamists in their midst and isolate them so that all are not tarred with the same brush. A few have, but not many yet.