EDITORIAL: Annexation Will Destroy Hopes for Peace

Over the course of the last 50 plus years, the dire need for a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis has always occupied the minds of world leaders. When there were breakthroughs, be it former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s recognition of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreement or former prime minister Ehud Barak’s attempt at a negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, nothing seemed to work.

For those who longed for a settlement, it seemed a stalemate, as inadequate as that was, still left open the possibility of peace.

But, as of this week, Israel’s plans to annex a portion of the occupied territories, though temporarily on hold for reasons unknown, still seem to be careening toward some form of completion. Annexation in any form will destroy the hopes for a Middle East peace. Indeed, if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a fuller annexation come to fruition, the chances of Israel’s very survival as a Jewish state may well come into question.

The plans set forth cannot help but render impossible any contemplation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Many Jews in the Diaspora have railed against Netanyahu’s plans. Even the stalwart American Jewish Committee, which has always found ways to defend some of Israel’s harshest policies, warned in a recent article that in annexation, “The price will be borne in the erosion of Israel’s longstanding claims against Palestinian unilateralism, in breach of Oslo Accords promises, and in increasing cynicism in multiple constituencies – including within our own community – about Israel’s commitment to peace.”

Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest and most successful pro-Israel lobbying group on Capitol Hill, has, according to the Times of Israel,  let it be known that while it will not publicly criticize Israel, it will also not cry foul if others do so, as long as the criticism stops at the issue of annexation.

Here in Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has been quiet about annexation, but given its usual full-throated support of anything Netanyahu offers, its silence speaks volumes.

Progressive Zionist organizations have rejected any idea of annexation. A recent letter written by New Israel Fund, Jspace Canada and Canadian Friends of Peace Now and signed by many well-known Canadian Jewish writers, thinkers and advocates (including Bernie Farber publisher of the CJR), was adamant in its opposition to annexation. In part, the letter read, “An annexation agenda assails not only Palestinian rights and national aspirations but also Israel’s founding values as outlined in its Declaration of Independence. Illegal under international law, unilateral annexation could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security and further destabilize the region.”

We continue to dream of a negotiated two-state solution. We fear that without it, Israel as a safe haven for Jews, as a democratic state that embraces the concepts of freedom and human rights will disappear. Jews of good conscience can no longer be silent. 

EDITORIAL: Wear the Mask!

Three short months ago, anyone who entered a bank wearing a mask would have triggered a very serious response. Today, wearing a mask or bandana in a bank or any institution, hardly garners a glance. And that is how it should be.

Coronavirus has changed our way of life. In the last three months of lockdown, we have gone from no masks, to accepting the fact that wearing masks is highly effective in halting the spread of this potentially deadly virus. And yet, for many, this seems not to have sunk in. In stores around Toronto, too many shoppers are still unmasked and many still disregard the rules of physical distancing. Even more astoundingly, store staff have been seen without masks. During the past week, many Torontonians taking advantage of the beautiful weather congregated at Cherry Beach in the hundreds, disregarding all health rules,from masking to physical distancing. What’s the matter with us? Do we want a second wave of COVID, which health professionals warn may be far worse than what we have already suffered? If people refuse to do the right thing to safeguard lives and health,then governments must step in to regulate behaviour and impose heavy fines. This is not the preferred option, but given the ignorance or callousness of too many, it may very well become the only option.

For more on wearing masks, see the first Canadian Jewish Record video, a new feature.

EDITORIAL: Police, Authorities Must Up Their Game in Reporting Hate Crimes

The annual hate crime report has been released in Canada’s largest city by the Toronto Police Service (see the CJR’s news coverage today). And it will come as no real surprise that again, Toronto’s Jewish community which makes up 190,000 of Toronto’s 6 million people, or less than four percent of the total, continues to face the brunt of reported/investigated hate crimes.

Fully 42 percent of the reported crimes of hate targeted Jews in the City of Toronto. In York Region, Jews also led in reported hate crimes, collecting 32 percent of all incidents. Muslim Canadians, LGBTQ and Black Canadians closely followed.

However, we cannot regard these numbers as definitive. Police statistics have always been difficult to totally accept. Most minority groups face serious barriers to reporting alleged hate crime to police. Fear of police and fear of retaliation from hatemongers are very much part of those barriers.

For the most part, according to research from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (whose board CJR co-founder and publisher Bernie Farber chairs), police do not share the number of reports they receive – only those in which some progress has been made in investigation.

According to the “General Social Survey on Victimization,” a population survey conducted every five years, the real incidence of hate crimes might be up to 20 times higher than reported.

As for collecting information by organizations representing minority communities, the data and the processes for gathering, investigating and reaching conclusions are not always fully realized. Community groups simply do not have the resources to make full assessments, so at best, these reports should be seen more as a snapshot of ongoing trends.

It is absolutely necessary for police and authorities to up their game in monitoring, collecting and analyzing hate crime statistics. This is most especially true when it comes to online hate. There are online tools available to track sentiment and issues around various vital matters including anti-Black racism, antisemitic hate speech, Islamophobic and homophobic sites. We are not currently aware if any groups, including police, are making use of these important tools.

At a time when hateful conspiracies are being freely bandied about on social media, when individuals, especially young people, are being radicalized into hatred, society must begin to devote resources to fight this scourge. Failure to do so will encourage extremist hateful elements to continue down their road of poison.

EDITORIAL: On Spellings, Antisemitism and Free Speech


On June 10, I participated in a panel organized by Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression on the subject of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of the term “antisemitism.”

To be clear, even the spelling used by the IHRA for Jew-hatred was controversial. Customarily, it’s been spelled “anti-Semitism.”

The term itself was coined in the 1860’s by German writer and anti-Jewish agitator Wilhelm Marr as his way of advancing the longstanding hatred of Jews.

As we entered the 20th century, Jew-hatred became endemic and antisemitism inexorably grew to its culmination in Nazi Germany’s attempt to destroy the Jewish people. It almost succeeded; the murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children represented two-thirds of European Jewry. The near-destruction of European Jewish life became known as the Holocaust or in Hebrew, the “Shoah.”

Following this cataclysmic event, one would have thought that Jew-hatred would have disappeared, or at least diminished, but sadly, this diabolical form of discrimination continued, and even the term coined by Marr became a controversy.

Antisemitism, we were told, meant not the hatred of Jews but the hatred of all Semites – peoples of the Middle East – which was unquestioningly a bastardization of the term, since “peoples of the Middle East” never entered Marr’s mind.

Nonetheless, by the mid-1980s, Jewish organizations including the former Canadian Jewish Congress, advocated for modifying the spelling of the word, excising the hyphen and capitalizing the first letter, to read “Antisemitism.” Many media style guides continue to insist on the old hyphenated spelling (for the record, the CJR spells it without the hyphen).

If that were the only problem, we might find a solution. However, the definition itself has now become a point of controversy. In an attempt to come to grips with a common understanding of Jew-hatred in the 21st century, the IHRA took a definition already constructed by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, and developed a new working definition:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of Antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Clearly, the definition is uncontroversial, some might say pareve. It has been widely accepted. Along with the working definition come a number of helpful examples to give context. And it is here where serious complications arise, mostly from the far left of the political spectrum.

A number of the examples try to explain how Israel as a Jewish state can become the stand-in for the ugliest stereotypes of Jews. To be clear, there is a specific proviso outlined by the IHRA in its definition stating that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Nonetheless, this has not diminished the outcry from groups like Independent Jewish Voices of Canada and others who stand firm in their belief that this definition, coupled with the examples, will both stifle any legitimate criticism of Israel and lead to legal sanctions should anyone even attempt criticism.

And yet, the vast majority of Jewish interest and advocacy groups, from left to the right, including, JSpace Canada (where I sit as a board member), New Israel Fund, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and B’nai Brith Canada, as well as many others around the world, fully support the IHRA definition. In fact, more than 30 countries have voted in support of the IHRA definition, including Canada, the UK and many Western European nations.

As we move forward with the IHRA definition, we must all show increased care not to allow the criticisms of those who reject the wording to bear fruit. Many progressive Jews have legitimate, serious concerns about some policies of the State of Israel, and we all must be free to voice those differences. But at the same time, it is important for the naysayers to understand that the vast majority of Jews worldwide have embraced the IHRA’s definition and they too have a voice – perhaps the most important voice of all.

Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is the publisher of the CJR and presently the chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.  He is recognized internationally as an advocate on human and civil rights. Mr. Farber has led various social justice organizations, including Canadian Jewish Congress and the Mosaic Institute. 

EDITORIAL: Jews Cannot Fail to Protest


The death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers has become the rallying cry that has once again ignited protest in the United States, across this continent, and in Europe.

We have been down this path before. The United States has a sorry and bloodstained history of race relations, from the Jim Crow laws, which set the tone for racist laws and behaviour in America, to the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till who was beaten and lynched in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. America’s violent path continued through the 1960’s, with the murder of four young black girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church bombing and culminated with the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King.

 There have been points of light in the dark journey. There was the example set by Rosa Parks, who initiated the Montgomery bus boycott when she refused to sit at the back of the bus and the courage of the Little Rock Nine, black high school students who faced down violence and protest to desegregate that city’s schools. But these points of light have not been enough to dispel the darkness. 

And where are we today? Nowhere really.  The ongoing targeting of  black men by both racists and police while driving, jogging, birding, and even “existing while black” has become dangerous to a point where black parents fear for their children’s lives when they simply leave the house.

Jews, of all people, have walked in the shoes of victimization. Many have survived the kingdom of death where they were targeted for annihilation simply because they were Jews. We know better and we cannot be silent. 

Those of us who are not people of colour may claim to understand their pain but that is not enough. We must also recognize the unique struggle of Jews of colour, who face oppression and discrimination on multiple fronts, and often from within our own community. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Rev. King in Selma, Ala., protesting hatred and racism. Following the march, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed, “When I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” 

It is time that we Jews take to our legs again and pray alongside our racialized brothers and sisters. In the words of Jewish philosopher Elie Wiesel “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” 

At The CJR, we are committed to amplifying the voices of black Jews and Jews of colour, and diversifying our editorial board. Please contact us at canadianjewishrecord@gmail.com if you are interested in being a part of this initiative.

Zack Babins, co-author
Bernie Farber, co-author

EDITORIAL: We must do better than this

COVID-19 is sucking all the air out of the room. Tragically it also seems to have poisoned our intelligence and turned otherwise smart and decent people into unthinking, unfeeling brutes.

Last week despite multiple warnings, cautions and even demands to engage in social distancing and certainly not to gather in groups of more than five, Trinity-Bellwoods Park in downtown Toronto was filled with summer sun-worshippers as though it were just another day in late May. Gone were the fears of spreading or acquiring this dreaded disease. One would have hoped if people didn’t care about themselves surely they have elderly parents, cousins, aunts and uncles; have we become so callous that causing the potential deaths of those we love has become meaningless?

However, sadly it gets worse. Covid-19 has torn open the ugliness of care in many of our long-term care facilities most especially in Ontario and Quebec. In these provinces by provincial request, 1,650 Canadian military troops were sent to LTC facilities that were worst hit. The report from the military as to what it found boggles the mind:

• “a culture of fear to use supplies because they cost money, expired medication, in some cases military personnel noted aggressive behaviour believed by observers to be abusive”

• “Poor nutritional status due to underfeeding”

• “Cockroaches and flies” were observed as well as residents “left in beds soiled in diapers”

• Inadequate oxygen and inaccessible wound care supplies.

These were just a few observations. There were more including poor staff training, which according to the report led to a “code blue due to choking during feeding while supine — staff unable to dislodge food or revive resident,” read the report.

How does this happen in the 21st century? Our elderly parents and relatives who gave to us so selflessly surely deserve better. How is it possible that Ontario has 175 LTC inspectors for 626 residences yet it took the intervention of the military to discover this unconscionable treatment?

This pandemic has brought out the best and worst of ourselves. Sadly, the worst can lead to fear, disease and even death. Yes, I understand that we have all been locked down for weeks and some  people are more fortunate than others. However, there simply cannot be any excuse for endangering the lives of others and certainly the treatment of our elderly needs to be addressed immediately. We have to do better than this.

A Note from the Founders

Like so many others, we were hit hard by the loss of The Canadian Jewish News. The coronavirus collided with greatly diminished advertising revenue and ever fewer subscribers to kill off Canada’s only national Jewish voice.

How was it possible, we wondered, that Canada, with the world’s fourth-largest Jewish population (going on third largest if trends continue in France) no longer had a Jewish voice?

After all, Jews are generally voracious readers with opinions often loudly and persistently proclaimed. Jewish journalism in Canada has had a long and honourable history but its future no longer seemed tenable (see journalist Andrew Cohen’s article on Canadian Jewish journalism in this, our inaugural issue).

And, it seems, many others were feeling the same way. Through social media, we heard from hundreds of people bemoaning the loss of an official Jewish voice of record.

Thus was born the Canadian Jewish Record.

Journalists, academics, pundits, communal personalities and others have come together and donated their time to develop this online presence. It is a modest effort (for now) but one needed in a time when so many hunger for Jewish information.

We hope to keep the Jewish news engine humming smoothly as we all struggle through strange and unprecedented times.

The Canadian Jewish Record is truly a labour of love. It is akin to an old-style collective, but dressed in twenty-first century digital clothing. We will work toward providing news, views, arts and culture, features, rabbinic perspectives, and all the things you would expect from a quality Jewish publication – and it will all be original content.

Please enjoy … and if any budding writers out there want to contribute, please send pitches or completed work (700 words max) to canadianjewishrecord@gmail.com

Keep well and safe.

Bernie M. Farber and Ron Csillag

Editorial: Hatred is Also a Virus


COVID-19 has transported us to a different world. Social niceties, from handshakes to hugs, are now things of the past. New words and concepts like “physical distancing” are fast becoming learned behaviours. Days spent at home can sandpaper your nerves raw and lead to moments, minutes and hours of anxiety and depression.

Yet, we are all going through this strange new world together. We can take strength in numbers. We know that if we follow the rules, we can be safe and keep our family from harm. Nothing is certain but we understand enough that staying home, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands can help not only flatten the curve (another new phrase of the virus language) but keep you away from the virus itself.

It is during crises that we see the best and worst of humanity. Individuals and groups have sprung out of nowhere to shop for their elderly neighbours. Others have started online funding to help secure personal protective equipment. Some have simply made it a point to be in touch with those who are isolated, lonely and afraid. These are our “upstanders.”

On the dark side, we can always count on the ignorant and stupid, including conspiracy theorists who believe that COVID has been drummed up to deprive the U.S. president of another term.

Racists have also sadly emerged. Some have physically attacked neighbours of South Asian descent, as though they were to blame for this crisis.

And of course, let’s not forget the antisemites who very early on postulated the nonsense, according to Alex Friedfeld of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism that Jews created the virus to trigger the collapse of the stock markets and then take advantage by lining their own pockets.

For Jews, any change in world dynamics produces Jew-hatred. It comes with the territory. And throughout history, antisemitism always found a way to endure. While we battle this pandemic, let’s not lose sight of the haters out there. For them, little has changed, other than they can carry out their evil in the shadow of COVID.