Sept. 8, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
Canada’s two leading voices against antisemitism are forming a new partnership.
Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST) and the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) now have a single leader to drive their campaigns against humanity’s oldest hatred.
While FAST and CISA remain independent organizations, University of Manitoba historian Catherine Chatterley becomes president of FAST in addition to serving as editor-in-chief of the academic journal Antisemitism Studies (antisemitismstudies.com).
FAST (fightingantisemitism.ca) founder Tony Comper steps aside as president and chairman but will remain an advisor to the organization. He has also committed to fund it for at least two more years.
Comper, retired president and chief executive officer of BMO Financial Group, founded FAST 15 years ago after his late wife Elizabeth became alarmed at growing waves of antisemitism.
It’s now time for fresh leadership, he told the CJR in an interview.
“I’m not a kid anymore and sadly, I don’t see that this demand is going to diminish,” he said. “The bottom line is that when we established the FAST Foundation, I thought this would be a temporary response to an immediate problem, but antisemitism remains an enormous problem for Canada and it is continuing at an increasing rate.”
At their cores, the organizations share the belief that antisemitism can only be overcome through education.
FAST attacks the problem by developing curricula for elementary and high school students. Choose Your Voice, developed in 2005 with the aid of Canadian Jewish Congress and others, is aimed at students in grades six through eight. Voices into Action, developed a decade later, targets students in high school.
CISA’s website (canisa.org) says the organization “produces scholarship and education on the subject of antisemitism in its classic and contemporary forms.”
CISA publishes what it calls the “leading” academic journal dedicated to Jew-hatred, Antisemitism Studies. Its fall 2020 issue, to be released in October, includes articles on Sigmund Freud’s debunked theory of antisemitism, a review of psychological research on antisemitism, and a commentary on conspiracy theories and their antisemitic imagery.
“The basis for FAST is that the solution to this isn’t the quick fix that people would hope for,” Comper said. “It’s a long-haul effort that requires taking young kids and giving them an alternative narrative to what they might be getting at home.”
In an e-mail exchange, Chatterley, who, like Comper, is not Jewish, said the idea of partnering the two groups was raised a year ago by Comper.
“CISA and FAST remain separate organizations with separate fundraising needs, but they now have an affiliation that allows CISA to promote and support FAST’s nationwide human rights curriculum including its focus on antisemitism,” she wrote.
“CISA is very pleased to be affiliated with FAST. We plan to build on FAST’s demonstrated success and ensure that all Canadian students have an opportunity to study this award-winning human rights curriculum with an emphasis on antisemitism. We hope to work toward making these subjects a permanent part of the school curriculum in all regions of Canada.”
In 2004, when Elizabeth Comper cornered her husband while he was shaving and said something had to be done about antisemitism, B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights reported 857 incidents of harassment, violence and vandalism targeting Canadian Jews.
At the time, that was the largest number of incidents in more than 50 years. In 2019, however, the tally had risen to 2,207 incidents – a rise of eight per cent over 2018 and the fourth consecutive year of record numbers.
Comper said several factors are driving the increase, including the growth of social media, giving haters more avenues to spread their bile.
The hope, he said, is those effects can be countered by offering programs that include the history of the Rwandan genocide, the stories of Holocaust survivors, and the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.
“Antisemitism is the worst manifestation of intolerance in history, but intolerance is alive and well in many areas today,” he said. “If we educate young people then they will take that home and their parents will start hearing a different story from their kids.”