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Canadians describe Jew-hatred threat ‘as bad if not worse’ than in US

Melissa Lantsman, a member of the Canadian parliament, told JNS that hate crimes and bigotry against Jews had increased in the country by 150%.

A man waves a Palestinian flag during a Dec. 9, 2023 march in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Greg Finnegan/Shutterstock.
A man waves a Palestinian flag during a Dec. 9, 2023 march in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Greg Finnegan/Shutterstock.

Sadie-Rae Werner, a newly minted lawyer in Toronto, was walking by a Starbucks on her way to work in December when she saw a group of anti-Israel protesters. One offered her a leaflet, which Werner declined.

“She saw my Magen David and started shouting at me that I was perpetrating genocide,” Werner told JNS. “The short answer is that yes, we are worried. All the time.”

That and other instances where Werner has experienced antisemitism, or heard from friends and relatives who have been victims of Jew-hatred, have become much more common in Canada since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack, per official statistics.

The Toronto Police Service announced on May 31 that hate crimes were up 47% from 2022 (248 incidents) to 2023 (365), “with global events contributing to the increase,” the police stated. The Toronto police said that antisemitic incidents were the most frequent kind of hate crimes in 2023, followed by hate crimes against gay people, black people and then Muslims. 

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs noted that Jew-hatred made up 36% of hate crimes in Toronto and 80% of the city’s religion-based hate crimes in 2023. It added that Jews make up 4% of the Toronto population.

“There aren’t any universal reporting standards or timeliness requirements, so most cities have only shared anecdotal numbers, but their official reports are not yet out,” Nicole Amiel, CIJA’s director of media relations, told JNS. Those reports are typically released in August, she said.

“We have seen that antisemitism and hate crimes overall have risen dramatically in Canada by 150%,” Melissa Lantsman, a Jewish Canadian parliamentarian and deputy leader of the Conservative Party, told JNS. 

“Canada’s conservatives unequivocally condemn any form of hate and antisemitism, and we believe in the need to protect Jewish communities,” Lantsman said. “We also firmly oppose the glorification of terror and the disturbing displays of antisemitism in demonstrations, including the targeting of Jewish businesses and Jewish students on campuses.”

The parliamentarian accused the Canadian government of making its “priorities clear,” putting “Canada offside with our allies” and said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has proven that he puts his political interests ahead of doing the right thing.”

‘Not the United States’

Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar in North American history at McGill University in Montreal who now lives in Jerusalem, told JNS that Jew-hatred is worse in Canada than in the United States.

“Many Canadian Jews don’t feel the government, all the way up to the prime minister, has their backs. Many Canadian Jews don’t feel safe in their homes or on the street,” he said. “Many Canadian Jews can see that because Israel is less popular among Canadians than Israel is among Americans, the small but loud and rabid minority of Jew-haters feel emboldened.”

JNS asked Troy in what ways Canadian and U.S. cultures diverge.

“Canada is not the United States,” he said. “The U.S. remains an idea-driven country, committed to ever-expanding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Canadian culture is “more European, both British and French-oriented, which, sadly, have longer, deeper traditions of Jew-hatred than America,” Troy said.

Rabbi Shlomo Mandel, chief operating officer and regional director of the NCSY Canada, a division of the Orthodox Union’s youth movement, told JNS that Canadian Jew-hatred is “as bad if not worse” than antisemitism in the United States.

“Canadian schools and universities are somewhat more regulated and so it may not show up as much,” Mandel said. “But the stories and incidents that have come out through student and parent interactions are indicative of a tidal wave of antisemitism.”

Mandel described the bigotry against Jews as “more personal and intense, to some degree, with multiple incidents of people shooting at synagogues and synagogues being defaced with swastikas.”

He pointed to an audit from B’nai B’rith Canada for 2023. “Simply put, 2023 was a tough year for Canadian Jewry. Multiple conflicts in Israel led to an unprecedented rise in antisemitism,” Richard Robertson, director of research and advocacy at B’nai B’rith Canada, wrote in the audit

“Two separate periods of sustained levels of heightened incitement, first in May and June, and then from October to December, contributed to an alarming 109.1% increase in antisemitic incidents from 2022,” Robertson added. “The 5,791 incidents of antisemitism in 2023 captured by B’nai Brith Canada represent the worst year ever recorded in the history of our audit.”

‘Unity of purpose’

Gerard Filitti, senior counsel at the Lawfare Project, told JNS that the situation in Canadian universities “very much parallels” the experiences of U.S. students.

“Unfortunately, the response by university administrators in Canada has been no better than in the United States,” he said. “Universities seemed more preoccupied with giving a voice to hate than to protecting the human rights—and basic dignity—of Jewish students.”

“Perhaps surprisingly, some of the tools being used in America to address antisemitism on campus are lacking in Canada,” Filitti added.

He cited one example—the requirement under U.S. law for universities that receive public funding to reveal when they surpass a certain threshold of funds “from foreign sources—like the government of Qatar, which has poured billions of dollars into American colleges over the years, corresponding to a significant increase in antisemitism.”

Filitti pointed to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s efforts to hold schools accountable for tolerating antisemitic educational environments. “While a lengthy and difficult process, it is far more advanced than ideas in Canada to affect the same outcome,” he said.

Filitti said that Canadians should deploy the same methods to fight Jew-hatred that is used south of the border.

“Some tools are very similar—the power of the courts to shape change and the importance of lawsuits to bring about much-needed systemic change, together with grassroots activism,” he said. 

He advocated for “the one-two punch of legal and civic-oriented action” and urged that “ultimately, addressing the same hate, peddled by the same groups, requires a unity of purpose by people committed to fighting for social justice for the Jewish people.”

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