A former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada will head an inquiry into how the University of Toronto handled the hiring of a scholar with a history of anti-Israel activism to head a law school program.
Retired Justice Thomas Cromwell, who left the high court in 2016, will review how U of T’s law school handled the controversial hiring of Valentina Azarova to head its International Human Rights Program.
The probe was supposed to be led by former Trent University president Bonnie Patterson. She stepped down, however, over public concerns about the impartiality and credibility of an investigation commissioned by university administrators who might be among its subjects.
As the public face of the review changes, B’nai Brith Canada released a 17-page submission it intends to make, and questioned the focus of media coverage of the affair.
In a news release, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said too much media attention has been focused on allegations of donor interference in the appointment and not on the fact the job was offered to a scholar whose extensive record of anti-Israel work would ultimately harm the human rights program and the academic freedom of Jewish students in it.
“Azarova’s longstanding commitments amount not to impartial academic work but rather to an obsession with delegitimizing Israel, and to working with a variety of extreme anti-Zionist organizations,” he wrote.
“We believe it’s vital to draw attention to a side of this story that has somehow escaped the attention it deserves,” Mostyn added. “How someone like Azarova, with a background of extreme hostility to Israel, was not only seriously considered by U of T Law’s Search Committee to lead the IHRP, but was reportedly the unanimously chosen candidate to do so, cries out for a thorough airing.”
Azarova and her supporters say she was offered the position as head of the human rights program, but the offer was then withdrawn after objections from a university donor.
The law school dean has never denied being approached by a donor, but rejected suggestions that coloured his decision. He has said an employment offer to Azarova was never made because of unspecified immigration problems.
Tax Court Judge David Spiro has been identified as the donor who objected to Azarova’s hiring. His conduct is currently being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council, the disciplinary body for judges.
In its brief to the Cromwell review, B’nai Brith argues the hiring committee should have taken a harder look at Azarova’s “extreme one-sided history of seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel, and her active and visible association with a multitude of virulently anti-Zionist organizations.”
B’nai Brith also urged the review to find that the university should have stopped Azarova’s candidacy once it was determined the hiring committee hadn’t addressed those issues; and that the university adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism as a guide to the application of its policies on freedom of expression, freedom of speech and academic freedom.
The Cromwell report is scheduled to be submitted in mid-January directly to university president Meric Gertler, who has promised to make its conclusions public.
Since its induced birth a decade ago, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has offered full-throated support for the government of Israel. As official advocate of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, it suggests it speaks for Canadian Jewry.
That CIJA “represents hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with the federation,” is as empty as its claim that it is non-partisan. It isn’t really, at least not when it comes to Israel.
CIJA can scarcely utter a discouraging word about the harshest policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, from expanding settlements on the West Bank, to undermining the multi-party Iranian nuclear treaty.
Three years ago, for example, when the United States announced it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, CIJA quickly assembled an on-line forum of three panelists. All heralded the decision, a breathless exercise in propaganda from an organization which celebrates “educating Canadians about the important role Israel plays in Canadian life.”
Because Likud has been in power longer than CIJA has been in business, we don’t know how CIJA would react to a moderate government in Israel. But we do know how it reacts to a more moderate government in Canada on Israel: CIJA complains and complains.
In 2015, CIJA was quick to jump on Justin Trudeau, then in opposition, for “trivializing” the Holocaust. Yet it was unfazed when Steven Blaney, a Conservative minister, did much the same two days later.
More recently, when CIJA joined two other Jewish organizations in criticizing Canada’s vote at the United Nations in favour of Palestinian self-determination, it showed, once again, how CIJA is out of step with opinion at home and abroad.
CIJA issued a joint statement of protest with B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Each representative was quoted independently, as if none would take responsibility for the other – or, out of vanity, each insisted on his own megaphone.
Jon Allen, Canada’s former Ambassador to Israel, rejected their woolly-minded argument in the CJR. More than most Jews, he knows Canada is an unflinching friend of Israel. He explained persuasively why we voted with the rest of the world, including every one of Israel’s long-standing allies (other than the United States).
But that wasn’t enough for CIJA. Nothing is but the orthodoxy. This happens when your board of directors includes the perfervid John Baird, Stephen Harper’s foreign minister, beloved by CIJA; when he resigned unceremoniously in early 2015, CIJA saluted “his clear and conscientious foreign policy vision of which all Canadians can be proud.” Actually, many Jews were appalled, and helped defeat the Conservatives that October.
The Liberals can appoint Bob Rae as Canada’s Ambassador to the UN; they can avow moral and material support for Israel until the coming of the Messiah; they can appoint Irwin Cotler envoy on anti-Semitism (which CIJA uncharacteristically praised). CIJA is rarely satisfied.
Then again, why should anyone care what CIJA thinks? Its officers are unelected, unaccountable and untroubled by criticism, which it reliably ignores or dismisses. Sustained by the Federation, which is sustained by tax-deductible donations, CIJA says what it wants – and then says it speaks for us.
CIJA has lacked credibility since it was mysteriously established in 2011. Some say it was the product of a hostile takeover of the Canadian Jewish Congress, engineered by wealthy conservative Jews with the blessing of the governing Conservatives. That may explain its defensiveness.
For an organization which sees itself as a communicator, CIJA has clownish media relations. Despite its self-described legion of “analysts, public affairs specialists, web and social-media practitioners, relationship builders and media relations experts,” it is among the least responsive advocacy organizations I’ve seen in 43 years in journalism.
CIJA boasts of its work on Jewish issues in Canada (curiously, it does not have “Canada” in its name), which are detailed on its website. For fighting antisemitism, encouraging Jewish education, protecting kosher food, and other campaigns – wonderful. I applaud that, although it’s hard to judge its effectiveness or its value for money. Its budget is said to be $8 to $11 million, of which 40 percent, goes to advocacy on Israel. (CIJA refuses to say). To push this and other causes, it has 10 or so lobbyists.
For all its resources, though, how is CIJA the voice of “hundreds of thousands” of Jews in a country of 390,000 Jews? By what arithmetic, and with what authority?
The Canadian Jewish Congress, a venerable Jewish parliament, did not worry about its legitimacy. It had the confidence of Jews because it tried to represent all of them. It was a forum of conciliation between faiths, a voice of immigrants, and a champion of social justice. It had authenticity and loyalty. This we can say with confidence: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is not the Canadian Jewish Congress.
The Federation can address the problem with CIJA. It can tell CIJA to stop advocating for Israel in Canada, and focus exclusively on education and other domestic issues. It can allow donors skeptical of CIJA to designate their support to other worthy charities within the Federation. Or choose others outside it.
As the pandemic strains many charities heroically serving our community, CIJA is one progressive Jews no longer want to hear – and need no longer subsidize.
Andrew Cohen is an award-winning columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, a professor of journalism at Carleton University, and the author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History
Michael Mostyn’s commentary in the Dec. 3 edition of the CJR is both factually incorrect and disingenuous.
In response to 17 “anti-Israel” resolutions routinely presented at the United Nations this time of year, the B’nai Brith Canada CEO laments that Canada only voted against 16 of them.
Pretty solidly pro-Israel, were it not for that one “yes” vote affirming the Palestinian right to self-determination. That vote was “all the more galling,” writes Mostyn, given Canada’s traditional commitment to the “cause of peace.”
But Mostyn quickly dismisses the idea. Israel has long recognized the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, he said, and has pitched numerous “generous” offers.
Really? Nothing has been more central to Benjamin Netanyahu’s interminable political career than thwarting the creation of a Palestinian state. Among Netanyahu’s most recent pronouncements, at a Likud conclave last summer: “[In] no constellation will the government or the Knesset recognize the principle of establishing a Palestinian state.” Netanyahu has said this repeatedly over the years.
Mostyn twists it around: “Tragically,” he wrote, “the Palestinian leadership consistently rejected [Israel’s offers] because – bottom line – they refuse to accept the idea of a Jewish state.”
This is false. The PLO accepted Israeli sovereignty on 78 percent of Palestinian lands back in 1988, in Algiers. It even acknowledged the Jewish people’s ancient narrative – a huge concession, reconfirmed in the Oslo Accords, that Israel has never matched.
Instead, under the guise of occupation, Israel has effectively annexed 60 percent of the remaining 22 percent slice, and colonized it, in breach of the UN Charter and Fourth Geneva Convention.
Of course, Mostyn and his lobby group’s lawyers fiercely deny that Israel occupies “Judea” and “Samaria.” Their theories have been debunked, and Israel’s settlements have been declared unlawful in a dozen UN Security Council resolutions.
Mostyn claims, falsely, that UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) call for “negotiations between the parties to determine the status of the territories.”
In fact, UNSC 338 called for “negotiations” between the parties “aimed at establishing a just and durable peace.” UNSC 242 affirmed the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” [what Israel had just done in the 1967 Six-Day War], and the duty of UN member states to abide by Charter Articles 1 and 2, namely, the principles of “justice and international law” and “equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”
Neither resolution made reference to the “status of the territories,” now a matter of virtually universal consensus. Resolution 242 did call for Israel’s withdrawal from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” an inconvenient legal fact Mostyn ignores.
Canada’s policy on Palestine is clear: A) Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza; B) Israel’s settlements are illegal: and C) settlements impede the creation of a viable Palestinian state that Canada says is essential.
But forget about Canadian policy. The UN Charter and its binding covenants oblige Canada to “respect and ensure respect” for the law in “all circumstance.” The fact that it doesn’t – that it actually invests in Israel’s unlawful enterprise – is something Mostyn knows well but which doesn’t seem to bother him at all.
It is Israel’s annexationist ambitions, not “peace” policy, that Mostyn cherishes the most. According to Mostyn, Canada’s vote in support of Palestinian self-determination constituted a shameful denial of the same right to the Jewish people. Here he gets to the point. “Absurdly,” he writes, the lands within which Palestinians supposedly enjoy self-determination include “the holiest sites in Judaism: the Western Wall and Temple Mount, plus the Jewish Quarter of the Old City; and everything else, east to the Jordan River.”
In other words, Mostyn thinks all these lands belong to Israel, “the world’s only Jewish state.” He doesn’t say, though clearly believes, that Jews are indigenous to these lands, and that Palestinians are not. This is what Israel thinks, and B’nai Brith is Israel’s “staunch defender.”
Not a very righteous stance for someone claiming to represent Canada’s Jewish community, of which I am a part. He should declare himself more honestly.
David Kattenburg, who lives in Winnipeg, is Jewish but doesn’t consider himself indigenous to the Land of Israel. He belongs to a group called Scientists for Palestine. He is the plaintiff in a case, now under appeal by the Federal government, involving the labeling of wine products from West Bank Jewish settlements.
Nov. 29, known by some as Kaf-Tet b’November, is an important day to Jewish communities around the world. It was on that day in 1947 the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt the plan to partition British Mandate Palestine between Arabs and Jews. David Ben-Gurion, leading the nascent nation, subsequently declared the State of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948.
Perhaps less well known is that the following day, Nov. 30, serves as a solemn occasion of remembrance and tribute to Jewish refugees from Arab lands, including the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa. It is known as Yom Plitim (“the Day of Recognition for Jewish Refugees”).
The UN’s support for the establishment of a Jewish state is seen as a turning point in the history of minority Jewish populations across the Arab world, who had lived there for centuries. During the mid-20th century, these Jews, primarily belonging to Sephardi and Mizrahi communities, were persecuted, and subsequently expelled from the places that they had called home for generations. It is estimated that 850,000 Jewish refugees were displaced from Arab and Muslim lands from the mid-1940s to the early 1970s.
Many found haven in Israel, while others immigrated to countries around the world, including Canada. These communities have continued to preserve and pass down their heritage, while contributing to society as a whole. From flight to perseverance, the stories of Jewish refugees from Arab lands should be treasured. More than that, they should be retold.
Yet, I’m struck by the seeming lack of awareness regarding this important history. Despite growing up in an Ashkenazi household, attending Jewish day school and summer camp, and taking several Jewish studies courses in university, I find myself undereducated on the history of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. This is a startling gap.
I think that Jewish continuity and identity are rooted in education. I hope that curricula for day schools, post-secondary Jewish studies courses, and experiential/informal Jewish education will better integrate the stories of these Jewish refugees.
Part of the problem is that well-meaning Ashkenazi-majority communities have often sought to further their own history while placing the stories of minorities within the Jewish community on the back burner. This problem has been worsened by external factors, such as “traditional” depictions of Jews and what it means to “look Jewish,” which often typify an Ashkenazi stereotype that many have come to internalize.
From my understanding, this has caused Jews from outside the Ashkenazi norm to feel distanced from “the community.” By breaking off into segments, our tent becomes smaller and weaker. Our institutions fail in their stated ideal of being inviting, instead leading to further isolation.
While recognizing these shortcomings, I want to applaud various community organizations that have made significant strides in the right direction. This past summer, I was fortunate to participate in the UJA Genesis Community Leadership Accelerator. This program made a concerted effort to include speakers from a diverse array of Jewish backgrounds.
As a prime example, Erez Zobary, a young educator and musician, shared with us the stories of her Yemenite Jewish heritage. Her paternal grandparents’ determination and resilience to make a better life in Israel, while remaining connected to its roots, rang of a delicate, dynamic balance. It was particularly interesting to hear her experience, having been born in Canada, of fitting into a Jewish community school where most of her friends and teachers were of Ashkenazi heritage.
Additional efforts have been undertaken by Jewish organizations to raise awareness about Jewish refugees from Arab lands. This past Nov. 29, the Consulate General of Israel for Toronto and Western Canada, in conjunction with Sephardi Voices, the Iraqi Jewish Association of Ontario, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and a handful of congregations, marked Yom Plitim. They held a virtual event that featured Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae. The keynote speaker, Linda Menuhin Abdul Aziz, herself a Jewish refugee from Iraq, went on to work in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offering an invaluable perspective into Arab culture and geopolitics.
B’nai Brith Canada held a similar event the next day. The organization fittingly described its webinar, in part, as an opportunity “to virtually commemorate this tragic but little-known chapter in Jewish history.” To honour this history, B’nai Brith encouraged participants to contact their MP and urge the government to list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity, based on a motion passed by the previous Parliament. I am glad to see a range of Jewish organizations marking this important epoch.
So what else can we do?
At a time of increasing polarization, we should reach out, challenge our assumptions, and learn something new. We should question why certain stories are retold, while others are overlooked. We should amplify the voices of minorities within our own community. We should harness this moment for inclusion and understanding. Most importantly, we should undertake considerable outreach and strive for all Jews to be reflected in our community at large.
Zachary Zarnett-Klein is a university student from Toronto. His passions include community involvement, civic engagement, and human rights.
Foodbenders, the Toronto restaurant and catering business that has been at the centre of a controversy since July for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist social media posts, and for discriminating against Zionists, has closed.
Online photographs as of Monday afternoon show the front window of the Bloor St. West business has been boarded up, indicating more than a temporary shutdown. That followed an announcement on Instagram over the weekend from owner Kimberly Hawkins that she will be closing.
“The four legal cases against me hold very serious consequences for free speech in this country,” Hawkins wrote. “Given the gravity of what’s at stake, I have made the decision to close Foodbenders and focus on giving my very best defence in court.”
Foodbenders generated worldwide headlines over the summer when it told its Instagram followers: “#zionistsnotwelcome.” Other posts alleged that “Zionists are Nazis”; denounced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet,” and glorified Leila Khaled, who hijacked two airplanes in 1969-1970 as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terrorist entity in Canada.
Other posts accused Jewish groups of controlling the media and elected officials, justified terrorism against Israelis, and accused Israel of “systematic genocide.”
Amid the ensuing outcry, several food ordering and payment apps, including Ubereats, Doordash, and Square, dropped Foodbenders.
Foodbenders and Hawkins now face a raft of legal challenges, including a $750,000 lawsuit from Shai DeLuca, a Toronto interior designer with Canadian and Israeli citizenship, who alleged he was defamed in social media posts.
The Bloordale business also faces two complaints before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. One is from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the other on behalf of GTA resident Elena Aschkenasi, 86, whose parents fled Nazi Germany. She claims Hawkins discriminated against Jews when Hawkins publicly stated her refusal to serve Zionists.
On top of that, B’nai Brith Canada requested that the city revoke Foodbenders’ business license for breach of a by-law that prohibits discrimination based on race, colour, or creed.
Hawkins was charged by municipal licensing officials last month and may have to appear before the Toronto Licensing Tribunal.
“Our position remains that Foodbenders should have its business license revoked by the City of Toronto for fostering discrimination,” B’nai Brith stated. We will continue to follow that process and provide updates.”
Hawkins said she has raised some $47,000 for her legal defense fund.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly located Foodbenders on Bloor Street East. We regret the error.
A pair of nasty hate incidents have appeared in British Columbia.
In the first, a convicted hatemonger has been handed a conditional sentence and more probation for breaching an earlier probation order to stop posting antisemitic claims on the Internet.
The sentence came a month after Arthur Topham was found guilty of breach of probation. That restriction was imposed following a 2017 conviction for willfully promoting hatred against Jews.
Under the terms of the first probation order, Topham was banned from posting any online content related to Jews, the Jewish religion, Israel and Israelis, and/or Zionism.
Topham was first charged in 2012 after he had called for Jews to be forcibly sterilized, claimed that Canada is “controlled by the Zionist Jew lobby,” and described Jewish places of worship as “synagogues of Satan.” He was convicted by a jury in November 2015.
He then launched a failed constitutional challenge to Canada’s hate speech laws, which delayed his sentencing until March 2017.
Though facing a maximum penalty of two years in prison, he received a six-month curfew and ban on posting online. At the time, B’nai Brith condemned the sentence as a “mere slap on the wrist,” warning that it failed to establish a deterrent against future offences.
Originally ordered not to post comments about Jews or Judaism for two years, Topham was accused of violating those conditions.
“This decision is a positive development in the fight against antisemitism and hate speech in Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We need accountability for inciting hatred in this country, and Topham can now serve as an example to remind people that there are real consequences for these sorts of actions against your fellow citizens.”
Both Topham’s original conviction and his re-arrest for breach of probation were made possible through the work of Harry Abrams, a long-time B’nai Brith volunteer based in British Columbia.
In a new incident, B’nai Brith announced it is reaching out to police after learning of another act of incitement by a firebrand religious figure.
In a Facebook post flagged on Nov. 23 by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Younus Kathrada calls Jews “brothers of monkeys and khanzeer” (pigs in Arabic), and calls on Allah to “tear them apart.”
The post was made in 2014, but remains online. Kathrada, who preaches for the “Muslim Youth of Victoria,” made the same allegation in 2004, prompting a police complaint by B’nai Brith at that time.
In his 2014 post, Kathrada also prayed for the success of Chechen jihadists. Notably, one of his congregants travelled to Chechnya to fight Russia and was killed there in 2004.
In October 2019, Kathrada advised his followers not to vote in last year’s federal election, arguing that all Jewish and Christian candidates were “filthy” and “evil.” In January of that year, Kathrada suggested that wishing Christians a merry Christmas was a sin worse than murder.
In April, B’nai Brith warned the B.C. Hate Crimes Unit of YouTube sermons by Kathrada calling on Allah to “humiliate the unbelievers and polytheists” and “destroy the enemies of Islam, the heretics and the atheists.”
Kathrada also beseeches divine aid to “grant victory to those waging jihad on your path in every place” and “grant them victory over their enemies and your enemies.” In October, he called French terrorism victim Samuel Paty “a cursed, evil-spirited, filthy excuse for a human being.”
“There must be consequences for years of relentless hate and incitement against Jews and others,” Mostyn said. “The law enforcement and legal system in B.C. showed last week that it can act effectively against hate – but consistency is paramount.”
MONTREAL – Community leaders say it is unfair that the Quebec government is denying Jews the right to celebrate Hanukkah in the same manner as has been granted to those who observe Christmas under new pandemic rules.
Many in the community find it galling that a government that places such a high value on secularism appears to be privileging Christian tradition in its relaxation of the ban on private gatherings.
When asked by the media about the decision, Premier Francois Legault replied that the lifting of the prohibition on gatherings during four days around Christmas will not be similarly applied to the holidays of other faiths. The eight-day festival of Hankukah begins December 10th.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec, said Jews should be allowed to get together for the first four days of Hanukkah, observing the same rules that have been set for Christmas.
“It is bewildering that the government would prioritize the holiday of one faith community over the others,” Rabbi Poupko said. “I think equality and common sense would demand that every religious community in Quebec be treated fairly and a similar indulgence be extended to each of them.”
Rabbi Poupko, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron, noted the government did not show any flexibility during the High Holidays. The Jewish community did not ask for any, and it abided by the rules, he said.
Legault, along with Health Minister Christian Dubé and the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, announced on Nov. 19 that Quebecers will be allowed to gather at home in groups of up to 10 people from Dec. 24-27.
But the premier asked that they enter a “moral contract” under which they minimize their physical contact with anyone outside their household for one week before and one week after that period. Although 14 days is the standard quarantine length, public health officials said symptoms of COVID typically appear five to seven days after infection.
Schools are to close two days before they were scheduled to do so, and the government is asking employers to allow personnel to work at home where possible to enable them to comply with the two weeklong isolation periods.
Elementary schools will reopen on Jan. 4 as planned, but high school students will not return to class until Jan. 11 because coronavirus transmission in this age group is higher, authorities say.
This suspension of the ban on private gatherings is contingent on no spike in cases occurring beforehand. The province is seeing an average of close to 1,200 new COVID cases daily, higher than in the first wave.
B’nai Brith Canada said the government should have consulted the Jewish community and other minority religious groups when establishing pandemic rules that impact their practices.
“The Quebec government must take the needs of minority communities, including the Jewish community, into consideration and work pro-actively with these communities prior to the lifting or imposition of unilateral COVID restrictions. There must be no favouritism. The premier must be the premier of all Quebecers,” stated Toronto-based B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn.
Since the beginning of October when the Montreal region entered a partial lockdown, later expanded to much of the province, the rule has been that no one can enter a household who does not live there, with a few exceptions like elder care or tradespeople.
Gatherings outside, such as in a backyard, are also prohibited. That ban has been extended to Jan. 11, at least.
Rulebreakers may face a fine of $1,500 per person.
Previously, the limit had been six people after Montreal went orange under the province’s colour-coded alert system on Sept. 20.
Houses of worship are permitted to have 25 people inside at a time.
Legault said a “concentration” of time was necessary to make an easing feasible, and the days chosen represent what most Quebecers want. Public health officials added that the days from Dec. 24 to 27 also are in the middle of the school break and most workplace shutdowns.
“We are in a critical situation,” Legault said at the Nov. 19 press conference. “We can permit gatherings during four days only and we say that the majority of Quebecers would be happy that those four days be at Christmas.”
A Toronto suburb will strip the name of a Second World War Nazi from one of its streets.
Ajax town council voted narrowly Monday night to remove the name Langsdorff Drive from a residential street and, instead, honour an Allied serviceman.
It took a petition campaign by a local resident, the intervention of B’nai Brith Canada, and an emotional appeal from a Holocaust survivor, among others, to convince four of the seven council members that honouring a Nazi in Canada was wrong.
But the lengthy debate was marred by comments from one councillor who opposed the name change because Palestinians are “currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel.”
From the start, the debate was sharply divided. Supporters of German navy Captain Hans Langsdorff claimed he was an honourable man who was respected by his enemies. Those demanding the name change, however, argued Langsdorff’s personal qualities didn’t outweigh the fact he fought for the regime responsible for one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity.
Max Eisen, one of only three from an extended family of 70 to survive the Holocaust, told the councillors that experience leaves “no room for our enemies to be honoured in Canada. For me, it would represent a terrible thing if this motion fails.”
Rabbi Tzali Borenstein of the Chabad Centre of Durham Region argued the Holocaust is a wound that has never healed for the Jewish community and is torn open repeatedly in an age of growing antisemitism. That, he said, makes it wrong to honour anyone who played even a small role in the Nazi regime.
“Being a Nazi is never right,” he said. “To honour someone with a street name is to be on the wrong side of history.”
Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) noted repeated references to the need for reconciliation between former enemies and said the lack of reconciliation for “oppressed” Palestinians is why he supports keeping the Nazi street name.
“One word I have heard repeated consistently today is reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation,” he said. “I’ve been having calls from people in (his ward) who are Palestinian and have no hope of reconciliation as they are currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel and they are concerned about how we will address this today.
“I cannot support changing this street name and changing history,” he added. “I say the same thing I said about [the street] Graf Spee Lane: Mr. Mayor, when does this stop? When do we stop pandering to a handful of people?”
On Tuesday, Adam Wiseman, the Jewish Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, bristled at Khan’s remarks and fired off an email inviting the councilor to clarify his comments or apologize to Durham’s Jews.
“I understood your comment about the ‘Jewish state of Israel currently oppressing Palestinians’ as justification for not changing the street name as though you are implying that you and the Palestinian community believe Jews deserve this sort of affront,” Wiseman wrote. “(I)f that was your intention, then I am requesting an on-the-record apology to the Jewish community in Ajax.
“You also mentioned that the city should not ‘pander’ to a small number of people,” Wiseman wrote. “Do I really need to point out why there are so few Jews in Canada? Are you familiar with the quote ‘None is too many’ in reference to Canada sending ships full of Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany to be slaughtered?”
At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Langsdorff, a career officer of the German navy. In 1939, in command of the warship Admiral Graf Spee, he was ordered into the South Atlantic Ocean where he sank nine Allied merchant ships carrying desperately needed supplies to Britain.
In December, however, he was trapped off South America by three British ships, including HMS Ajax, for which the town is named. In a brawl known as the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee was damaged and limped into Uruguay’s Montevideo harbour for repairs.
Ordered out of the neutral country after three days, and knowing that a superior British force was waiting for him, Langsdorff ordered his 1,000-member crew off the vessel and blew it up. Three days later, in a Buenos Aires hotel, he wrapped himself in the ship’s battle flag and shot himself in the head.
The Town of Ajax, in Durham Region, east of Toronto, was founded in 1941 and has a policy of naming its streets after the ships and sailors of the River Plate battle. An attempt to name one street for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year. It currently has a list of 160 names that could be used. The decision to name a street for Langsdorff required making a specific exception to that rule.
Langsdorff’s supporters have noted that he saved the lives of his crew, of hundreds of Allied sailors, and the crews of merchant vessels he allowed to escape before sinking their ships. Those actions, say his supporters, show Langsdorff was never an ardent Nazi and, in a spirit of reconciliation, should be honoured by his former enemies.
Jim Devlin, a member of the Ajax branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, argued that point, saying Langsdorff’s membership in the Nazi Party shouldn’t be held against him.
“I am in no way standing up for Nazis,” said Devlin, a Canadian army veteran. “I believe Hans Langsdorff was a navy man first and foremost and if he was a Nazi, it was just a formality. His treatment of prisoners was that of an officer with honour.”
Supporters also argued that since Langsdorff died in 1939, he could not have known about Nazi plans to exterminate Jews.
Local amateur historian Kevin Nesbitt argued, for example, that since the real atrocities of the Holocaust didn’t start until 1941 or 1942, “it’s highly unlikely Langsdorff knew or ought to have known about them.”
Wiseman, the Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, rejected those arguments.
“I understand the desire to find something good here, but it isn’t there in Hans Langsdorff,” he said. “Right up to the end he fought for the Nazis and their cause.”
Where others point to Langsdorff’s personal conduct, Wiseman points to the sailor’s suicide note, in which he remarked: “I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Fuehrer.” Langsdorff also lauded Adolf Hitler as “a prophet, not a politician.”
B’nai Brith, which supported the renaming motion, praised the town’s decision.
“Today is a proud day for Ajax, for Ontario’s Jewish community, and for Canada as a whole,” CEO Michael Mostyn said in a news release. “Taking action against the glorification of Canada’s enemies and a man who fought for the most evil regime in history sends the right signal to those concerned about the rise of hate in our time.”
Monday’s motion by councillors Lisa Bowers and Sterling Lee directs town staff to hold an open house for residents of Langsdorff Drive and to report back to council with a recommended course of action to rename the street.
The Ajax controversy is the latest development in a series of debates over Nazi symbols in Canada. B’nai Brith has been working with the town of Lachute, Que. to prevent a local ceremony honouring a Nazi pilot; has been helping residents in Puslinch, Ont. opposed to a roadway named Swastika Trail; and is partnering with the Canadian Polish Congress to remove monuments honouring Nazi collaborators in Edmonton and Oakville, Ont.
Jewish advocacy agencies are calling for stiff fines, cuts in government spending for online advertising, and new regulations to force social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to get tough with online hatemongers.
B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) and other organizations told a panel of international lawmakers recently that getting tough is the only way to get the tech giants to help drain the cesspool of online antisemitism polluting their platforms.
The groups made their points during the first public hearing of the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism. That body, comprised of lawmakers from Canada, the United States, Israel, Great Britain and Australia, launched in September to deal with the growing problem of online hate.
“In the crisis we are facing now this issue has become all the more pervasive,” said Michael Levitt, CEO of FSWC. “We are seeing antisemitism being weaponized now under the thinly-veiled guise of anti-Zionism.”
One suggested tactic is to form an agency like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a voluntary, self-regulatory body created by the country’s private broadcasters to deal with viewer complaints about news and entertainment programs.
Another is to make directors and officers of social media companies personally responsible for allowing their platforms to be used for hate speech.
“The platforms offer an unprecedented opportunity to spread antisemitism,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC Canada’s campaign against antisemitism. “They have to be held responsible for the material they publish.”
In a news release following its presentation, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said after years of pressure, “there have been some clear signs that social media platforms are gradually coming around,” but the problem is far from solved.
What’s needed, said Mostyn, is greater transparency and a chance to provide input to their policies.
“If necessary, governments and civil society must exert a leadership role. The Jewish community is absolutely ready to contribute to these efforts,” he said.
In its testimony, B’nai Brith argued a key to combating online hate and antisemitism is to define the problem for a global audience. One such tool is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism. That definition has been adopted by several Canadian municipalities, the federal government, and recently in Ontario.
B’nai Brith also argued antisemitism should be seen as an issue of human rights, not simply one of religious freedom. Many of its current forms must be understood as “hatred and demonization of the State of Israel that exceeds the boundaries of legitimate policy criticism.”
“A clear legal and policy framework – domestically and internationally – is required to bring coherence to efforts to take down hate.”
Agencies around the world have noted shocking rises in antisemitism, often driven by driven by conspiracy theories about Jews being responsible for the COVID pandemic. In Canada B’nai Brith has noted an 11 per cent rise in online antisemitism and harassment that often advocates genocide.
Social media companies haven’t been ignoring the problem. Earlier this year, for example, Twitter began flagging some tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump for violating policies that ban threats of harm against an identifiable group.
And last month, Facebook announced a new policy banning Holocaust denial.
In an email exchange, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform found and removed nearly 90 percent of hate speech content before being reported, and in the first quarter of 2020, took action against 9.6 million postings.
Over the last year, “we’ve conducted 14 strategic network disruptions to remove 23 different banned organizations, over half of which supported white supremacy,” the spokesperson said.
In Canada, the company’s work has included a $500,000 program announced earlier this year for the Global Network Against Hate, in partnership with Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism.
Other Canadian participants in the task force include Members of Parliament Anthony Housefather (Liberal), Marty Morantz (Conservative) and Randall Garrison (NDP). Israel is represented by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White).
His family and friends knew what a gifted writer the young Edmonton man was. Now, for Remembrance Day, Uretzky’s niece, Karen Hering, has released her late uncle’s war diary with a collection of his poetry. Hering and her siblings decided to publicize Harry’s story as part of their journey to learn more about the uncle they never knew.
“It was a very sensitive, traumatic topic with my grandmother, and therefore my father (Abe, Harry’s older brother) so Harry was rarely spoken of,” Hering said in a recent email. “It was only after my grandmother passed away that we found the small box of artifacts about my uncle and we became more interested in his story. By then, my parents had long been dead and just about anyone else who might have known him.”
According to military records, Uretzky was 22 years old when he interrupted his studies in agriculture at the University of Alberta in Edmonton to enlist in late 1941.
“A fine appearing boy. Well mannered. His voice and speech are good. Keen for pilot duties. Recommended P or O. [Pilot or Observer/bomb aimer].”
After six months training at air schools in Canada, Uretzky earned his commission as a bomb aimer. By November 1942, he was en route to England to join Bomber Command.
Harry’s personality speaks across the years through his private diary entries. They portray a young man far from home for the first time, exploring the nightlife and sights of wartime England, but also fully aware that at this point in the war, Germany was winning.
The diary contains three of Uretzky’s poems, printed in neat handwriting. These poems were written shortly after Uretzky arrived in England. He was still waiting around at the #3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth.
He wrote the first poem on a train to London. Harry was with his friend Mickey Dlin, also of Edmonton. Dlin had recently survived the crash of his Sunderland patrol plane off the coast of West Africa. He was back in England on “survivor’s leave.”
Oh you balloons up in the sky, Protecting us from way up high, Floating gently in the air, To give our enemies the scare. A pretty sight to us below, Giving us a damn good show, Tendrils hanging one by one, Alert to catch the unwary Hun. Oh pray do not lose your gas, Or you will fall upon your ass. And they will bomb us from up high, These dirty Huns, there in the sky.
Ode to a Barrage Balloon, by Harry Uretzky, Nov. 23, 1942.
The remaining poems show Uretzky was still an idealistic, untested twenty-something, although eager to prove himself in battle. He was proud of his role as a bomb aimer.
The bomber stands, all set to go, Ready and waiting for the big show. The crew climbs in and takes its place, Soon to start on “The Death’s Race”. The engines start, the motors sing, And now the aircraft takes to wing, It moves away into the dark, As on they head towards their mark. Flying high above the clouds. Amongst imaginary gods The bomber roars upon its way The wary Hun to try and slay. The crew is sure, yet tense and grim, And now the time is growing slim, The target gradually draws near, And the bomber’s eyes begin to peer. But now the searchlights swing their beam, Probing for us, yet unseen. Long, ghost-like fingers in the night To trap us all within their light. And now the ack-ack starts to chat, Our aircraft rocks this way and that. The air is bright with brilliant flashes Hoping to turn us into ashes. “Steady” cries the man in the nose. The one who delivers the deadly blows. Who drops his bombs, so straight & sure. Upon those targets in the Ruhr. The pilot holds her steady and sure, The bomb doors open with a whir, All bombs are fused, the settings rights, Steady, steady, is the word this night. “Bombs gone” he cries, – he’s dropped them right, And they speed away into the night, Now for that day, their job is done, But tomorrow, again, they carry on.
Bomber Attack by Harry Uretzky, Nov.24/42
Not long after the poems were written, Uretzky arranged to spend another leave with Dlin, and a third pal from Edmonton, Alex Podolsky, who was in England with the crack RAF #83 Pathfinder Squadron. Although most air crews in Bomber Command in 1943 did not survive that long, Podolsky was well on the way to completing his required tour of 30 missions. Uretzky couldn’t know how prophetic his next diary entry would be.
Arrived in London and met Mick & Alex – Boy what a reunion. It was sure swell to see that little bugger Podolsky again. Mick managed to get another extension, but will probably be going back to Africa next week. Don’t know when I’ll see Alex again, either. I’m hoping we all last through this mess, God willing & can start all over again.”
Admitting he was homesick, Uretzky told his diary how much he appreciated his family: His parents Alex and Sara, and brother Abe, an engineer.
Just finished writing a letter home – my 11th home. I’m kind of homesick, you know. Funny but I didn’t think I would be… I know I’ll see them again, but not so soon. I’m kind of worried about them because they’re so sensitive. They’re parents like nobody ever had, & I pray to God, that they won’t worry too much & will keep them well. If I can finish my tour of ops [30 missions] ok I’m heading for home just as fast as I can get there. And boy what a homecoming that’ll be.
A week later, Uretzky officially “crewed up” at an RAF base in Pershore, with a pilot, four other Canadian airmen and one Brit. They would train together for the next four months, flying over the British countryside, practising bombing manoeuvres. These flights were often deadly in their own right. Uretzky sounded shocked by news of his friends’ crash due to engine failure.
Most of the crew of M for Mother got it. That was George’s kite. [ed note: Bomb Aimer George Weston of Vancouver. “Kite” is air force slang for plane.]…I hope to God he’s OK but won’t know for sure until tomorrow. About three weeks ago, I had a thought. That Davie & I would get through this mess & Georgie wouldn’t. If Georgie’s had it, I hope the rest of this thought is true, for Mother’s, Dad’s & Abe’s sake.
Davie could have been RCAF Sgt. David Slabotsky, of Montreal, also Jewish, and in training as an air gunner at Harry’s current base. Several diary references refer to Davie, including one when the two were drunk.
Uretzky attended his friend George’s funeral at the base cemetery in early February. But there was no time to deal with his sorrow. Harry experienced some close calls himself during stepped-up training before going “operational” against targets in German-occupied Europe.
In the night flight our starboard engine coughed, sputtered but finally came back. Later on when climbing, revs dropped down & we nearly had it, but Ken threw her in automatic, dived her & we were OK. On return, the nav. lights wouldn’t work & we circled for ½ an hr, before we could finally get in.
Fear wasn’t something the airmen talked about, at least not publicly. Few fliers wanted to face the shame of being sent to special psychiatric hospitals for displaying what the air force deemed “Lack of Moral Fibre.” In April 1943, Uretzky’s training ended. He was sent to RAF Leeming to the RCAF #408 “Goose” Squadron. However, during one quick leave to London, Harry received terrible news.
Went to London for leave for Pesach. There, I received a cable from Mr. Podolsky that Alex went missing. God help him. I love the kid.
Harry entered the rotation with #408 Squadron a few days later. He did not sound like someone who expected to be killed, at least not yet. His first flight – mine laying – was successful. The second mission, a month later, was a night operation to bomb Dortmund, Germany.
It’s just about a month since my first op. & here comes the second tonight. It’s a good one – right in Happy Valley, Dortmund. The way the Lanc. boys flooded the place you wouldn’t think there’d be much left, but I guess there is, some left. But anyway by this morning, the place should be as flat as a pancake. See you tomorrow, fellow—fingers crossed.
Uretzky’s plane was shot down during the raid. His family was told only that he was missing. Later, forensic investigators learned there were four crashes that night in the same area. The German army buried all the 25 Allied casualties in 10 collective graves near the crash site in Dortmund.
Two of Uretzky’s crewmates, the pilot and the rear gunner, were positively identified. But for the others, including Harry Uretzky and air gunner David Slabotsky, the Air Force could not be certain. They put down “no known grave.” The Edmonton student was just 25 years old. Slabotsky, the Montrealer, was 22.
“I realize that this is an extremely distressing letter and that there is no manner of conveying such information to you that would not add to your heartaches,” RCAF Wing Commander W.R. Gunn wrote to Harry’s brother Abe, explaining the results of the investigation.
Hering, Abe’s daughter, revealed how Harry’s death affected the family.
“My grandmother never got over Harry’s death,” she said. “Until she died at 96 years of age, I believe she hoped for many years that he would turn up somewhere after the war.”
Harry’s name is engraved on the Runnymede Memorial in England, which lists 20,000 Allied air personnel lost in the Second World War with no known grave. Alex Podolsky is buried in Prague, Czech Republic. The third member of the trio, Mickey Dlin, survived the war and returned home to Edmonton to marry Podolsky’s sister, Sybil.
This Remembrance Day will be even more poignant for Hering and the extended family. Her brother, Dr. Rick Uretsky of Edmonton, who had also wanted Harry’s diary and poetry to be made public, died Monday, before this story could be published.
To watch the 2020 Canadian National Jewish Remembrance Day ceremony online on Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020, please click here beginning at 10:50 a.m. Toronto time. The ceremony is produced by the Jewish War Veterans of Canada and B’nai Brith Canada, with the participation of the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, and others, including Bessner.
On Oct. 27, Ontario became the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. JSpaceCanada, the organization we represent, joined the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in applauding this decision.
As most in our community are aware, we do not always see eye to eye with these organizations. As a progressive Zionist Jewish voice, we are unapologetic in our opposition to the Israeli occupation and emphatic in our support for a two-state solution – positions that aren’t always shared by more dominant community institutions.
But on this occasion, we felt the need to rise above these differences. While our community has diverse voices and opinions, there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently.
The IHRA definition states: “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.”
The definition has been given broad acceptance by Jewish communities around the world. By adopting it, Ontario is following the anti-racist/anti-oppression norm that victimized groups can best define the terms that describe discrimination against them.
However, it must be noted that the IHRA definition does not come without its critics.
Shortly after we released our statement in support of the provincial government’s decision to bypass public committee hearings and proceed to endorsement, we received concerned, disappointed, and even angry messages from allies and colleagues in the Arab community, who noted that the IHRA definition has been used to suppress criticism of Israel in jurisdictions around the world.
Indeed, the IHRA definition comes with a list of illustrative examples of antisemitism, some of which have been interpreted as appearing to conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with antisemitism.
The definition, as drafted by Kenneth Stern and an international team of scholars, was meant to be used as a tool or resource to assist in identification and documentation, and not to be legally binding. However, there is great concern that the IHRA definition has been weaponized by right-wing groups to suppress even tepid criticism of Israel – a reality that has been acknowledged by Stern himself.
But we can understand why reference to the IHRA language is alarming for communities who experience Israel and Zionism differently than Jews do. And we acknowledge the distinctions and relationships between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.
Criticizing Israeli policy is not inherently antisemitic. Indeed, the IHRA definition itself specifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that against any other state cannot be considered to be antisemitic.”
As a progressive Zionist organization, JSpaceCanada has actively criticized discriminatory Israeli government policies, and we will continue to do so, challenging Israel to fulfill the promise of its Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between well-meaning critics of Israel and those who are influenced by antisemitism, or may cross the line into antisemitic rhetoric.
We will continue to call for the cautious application of the IHRA definition in keeping with the drafters’ intent, to ensure it does not supress freedom of speech or academic freedom. In the same vein, we would expect that definitions of racism or any form of discrimination should not be used to silence speech that does not meet one of the criteria of hate speech.
We are committed to monitoring and speaking out against any attempt to misuse the IHRA definition to attack Palestinian activism or to promote Islamophobia. And we will defend those whom we feel have been wrongfully accused of antisemitism.
Dr. Karen Mock is the President of JSpaceCanada Jordan Devon is the Vice-President of JSpaceCanada. JSpaceCanada is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, progressive Jewish organization.
MONTREAL—The long awaited court challenge to Quebec’s controversial secularism law got underway in Montreal’s Palais de Justice Nov. 2 with a young Muslim woman who wears a hijab testifying that her plans to teach in the public system have been dashed, making her feel excluded and inferior.
Bill 21, which became law in June 2019, prohibits public employees deemed to represent state authority from displaying religious symbols while on the job. These include police officers, judges, Crown prosecutors and other government lawyers, prison guards and – most widely questioned – teachers and principals in public elementary and high schools.
Ichrak Nourel Hak, the first witness at the trial, which is expected to last several weeks, had just graduated from the University of Montreal and was hoping to begin her career in a public school when the legislation came into effect. She is now teaching in the private sector, which is not subject to the law. That includes Jewish day schools.
The trial, held in Quebec Superior Court, combines four separate lawsuits against Bill 21, officially entitled “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State.”
It was high on the agenda of the Coalition Avenir Québec which was elected with a solid majority in October 2018. The new government quickly shepherded it through the legislative process, despite sustained outcry from minority and human rights groups, legal experts, and the opposition Liberal Party.
Premier Francois Legault described the bill as a “moderate” resolution of the acrimonious debate over “reasonable accommodation” of religious practices in the public sphere. Polls have shown that a majority of Quebecers agree with him.
All four lawsuits seek the law’s annulment on constitutional grounds but will offer differing legal arguments on why it violates fundamental rights. These have to be complex because the law includes the constitutional notwithstanding clause, which allows the government to override guarantees of religious liberty and equality, including between men and women, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
All of the complainants charge that the law is discriminatory against those whose religious belief requires them to wear such symbols. In practical terms, the greatest impact is on Muslim women.
The law does not specifically name what constitutes a religious symbol but the minister responsible has said it should be commonly understood to mean headwear or jewelry. The law applies to all religions, not only minorities.
Public employees who wore such symbols before the law was adopted are “grandfathered,” but only as long as they stay in the same job description.
Hak is the lead plaintiff for the first lawsuit, launched by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU). The others were filed by the English Montreal School Board; the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, a teachers’ union; and three teachers – two Muslim, one Roman Catholic who wear religious symbols – who are backed by an interfaith and intercultural coalition.
Gregory Bordan, lawyer for the three teachers and an observant Jew, will argue that the relevant rights were entrenched long before the 1982 Canadian constitution, back even to Confederation in 1867.
Whatever the decision, experts believe it will be appealed and, eventually, taken to the Supreme Court of Canada – a process that could take years.
Last year, a Superior Court judge rejected a request by the Muslim council and CCLU for an injunction against parts of the law with the most direct affect on individuals until their case goes to trial. That decision was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal in December.
In the current trial, the court did grant intervener status to a pro-secularist group that believes the law does not go far enough.
In the debate before the federal election last October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa might intervene in the court challenge, but that has not happened.
During public hearings in the spring of 2019, the Lord Reading Law Society vigorously opposed the bill saying it would create a “state religion” that imposes neutrality and deprive individuals of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
This association of Jewish lawyers believes the bill contravenes the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Canada is a party.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec termed the bill “a disproportionate attack” on basic rights, including equality of opportunity for employment, and urged that, at the minimum, teachers not be subject to it.
It also found the bill’s wording ambiguous, leaving too much discretion in the hands of administrators of public institutions in how it is applied.
B’nai Brith Canada urged the entire law be scrapped, saying it “contributes to the divisions that already exist in Quebec society” and “advocates a militant form of laicity to the detriment of religious individuals and communities that cannot be justified.”
The organization feared that hateful acts against minorities would increase.
We had in mind to call this new addition to the CJR “Bouquets and Brickbats,” but somehow, “Kosher or Treif?” seemed more appropriate.
From time to time, the editors here would like to recognize individuals and groups for their work, whether it’s advancing Jewish ideals, pushing forward a positive agenda, or simply getting at the truth in an era in which objective truth is proving elusive.
On the other hand, we also need to know about those who, to put it politely, do not have our best interests in mind.
Recognition will be complimentary (K= Kosher) or critical (T=Treif). Please feel free to let us know if you agree by sending us your thoughts at email@example.com
KOSHER: Andy Lulka is a Montessori advocate and educator. Her quiet but vital work on Holocaust education and confronting antisemitism from a point of intersectionality and anti-oppression is well known in the field. Despite health challenges, Andy has demonstrated that positivity and wisdom leads to strength of purpose.
KOSHER: York Regional Police, which has charged a white nationalist for “uttering threats” against two anti-racist activists in an online chat room. All to prove that hateful actions online can lead to serious consequences.
TREIF: Bobby Orr. The Canadian hockey legend’s fawning statement of support for Donald Trump only tells us that while he played stellar defence for the Boston Bruins, it turns out his embrace of a racist, sexist, misogynist candidate for president was nothing but offensive.
KOSHER: Mustafa Farook is the Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). His outreach to other faith communities has helped build many bridges. Most recently, following a swastika defacement of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Mustafa publicly tweeted, “…To the lowlife that did this, if you want to intimidate the Jewish community, or dishonour the fallen you have to come through us.”
TREIF: Maxime Bernier, leader of the so called People’s Party of Canada, tried to run for a seat in Toronto’s York Centre riding in the recent by-election. His anti-immigrant, climate change skeptic, anti-transgender policies were eagerly echoed by white supremacists and others of the same ilk. York Centre voters, speaking for most Canadians, soundly sent him packing with just 642 votes. But, alarmingly, at 3.6 percent of the total vote, Bernier did better than the Greens in York Centre.
KOSHER: Annamie Paul has become the first Jewish female person of colour to head a federal party, the Greens, in Canada. She faced down sexism, racism and antisemitism to do so. Mazal tov Annamie. A welcome addition to the political scene.
KOSHER: General John Vance and the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite a slow start, the military has taken decisive action to root out neo-Nazis and white supremacists from their ranks. Gen. Vance, the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, has issued new standing orders that will assist others in command to take decisive action against racists and haters in the military.
TREIF: Kimberly Hawkins, owner of the Toronto-based restaurant/caterer Foodbenders. Following a flurry of online rants last summer equating Zionists with Nazis, glorifying terrorism, and saying Jews control the media, Hawkins was hit with a lawsuit, two human rights complaints and now, a possible review of her business license by the City of Toronto. Even after she issued a wan apology, Hawkins kept posting her bilge. Her food is treif and she gives us heartburn.
KOSHER: The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has initiated a bold new plan that would see thousands more immigrants and refugees welcomed to Canada as part of our pandemic economic recovery.
KOSHER: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and JSpace Canada for the unprecedented move of coming together without rancour to support the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that was approved last week by the Ontario government. This marks the first time in their collective histories that these Canadian Jewish groups from the left to the right of the Jewish political spectrum have issued a joint statement in support of an advocacy issue.
(CRRF) was created in 1997 as a Crown corporation, born of a dark chapter in Canadian history: The imprisonment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.
These were Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry. There needn’t have been any suspicion of treason or support for Japan, even though it was part of the Axis powers. That their ancestors were from Japan, some, going back many generations, was enough to uproot entire families, confiscate homes, disrupt professions, and imprison all, from young infants to the elderly. It was a gross abuse of political power, racist, and in the eyes of history, despicable.
Jews, of all people, well understood what this form of discrimination was about. Among those Jewish leaders in Canada who fought vigorously for Japanese-Canadian redress was Milton Harris, president of Canadian Jewish Congress from 1983 to 1986.
But amends would take decades. Under the guidance of the newly-established National Association of Japanese Canadians and its leaders – Art Miki, Roger Obata, Audrey Kobayashi, Maryka Omatsu, along with others, including Harris – redress and compensation, as well as a full apology, were realized in Parliament on Sept. 22, 1988.
On that date, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney rose in the House of Commons to apologize for Canadian human rights abuses against Japanese-Canadians. Mulroney announced individual redress payments, as well as a living legacy: A multi-million dollar community fund that would educate and engage in social and cultural programming emphasizing the vital need for positive race relations in Canada.
And so was born the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
CRRF has been a force for good in Canada since its establishment. Its mandate to promote and facilitate race relations training, support development of effective policies to combat racism, and has been a shining example of Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism as a political ethos.
Each of its past executive directors put their own stamp on the organization. Moy Tam was followed by Dr. Karen Mock, a friend and colleague who used the same advocacy spirit at the CRRF that she brought heading B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. Then came Ayman Yassini, Anita Bromberg (also formerly from B’nai Brith Canada), and Dr. Lillian Ma. We should also note that Rubin Freidman, a fixture in Canadian Jewish communal organizations, worked effectively for CRRF in its communications division, as did Len Rudner, who had come from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
On Oct. 6, 2020, Mohammed Hashim was named the new executive director. Anyone who knows Hashim and his work will agree that he is unquestionably the right man for the right job at precisely the right time.
He arose from student activism during his days at the University of Toronto to become a labour organizer and human right rights advocate. Most recently, he spent considerable energy as a senior organizer with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.
His organizing skills were equalled by his ability to relate to people. Their faith, sexual orientation or skin colour never mattered. He has always been present in the fight for fairness and empowerment. A devout Muslim, he has Jewish friends from across the religious spectrum. He is young, dynamic, wise, and warm.
This is a tough time to be the executive director of the CRRF. With racism reaching unprecedented levels and white nationalism expressing itself in violent words and actions, those of us doing human rights advocacy welcome his appointment with strong and open arms.
Bernie Farber is publisher of the Canadian Jewish Record and Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The pandemic has certainly changed the way we observe the High Holy Days. While many synagogues were nearly empty, several congregations attempted to bring the service to the people by blowing shofars in parks and parking lots across the GTA.
I ended up hosting an impromptu Rosh Hashanah dinner, al fresco, because at the last minute, my sister and I decided our numbers were too high for the whole family to celebrate safely together.
She gave me her extra brisket and I brought her challahs from the iconic Harbord Bakery, which has been supplying challahs, rye bread and other traditional fare since 1928.
Harbord Bakery is the focus of this week’s Community Spotlight, an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID.
I’ll also serve my sister’s signature break-fast dish – blintz soufflé. The recipe I use is from the 1993 edition of Kinnereth Cookbook published by Toronto Hadassah-WIZO.
I found a recipe for Apple Charlotte, in Second Helpings, Please!, the storied community cookbook edited by the late Norene Gilletz and published by B’nai Brith Canada.
Apple Charlotte is comprised of a buttered baked bread shell filled with spiced sautéed apples. The recipe was probably devised in an era when every scrap of food, including stale bread, was utilized. The Second Helpings recipe calls for sliced white bread, but I made mine with leftover challah. I also increased the amount of sugar and added cinnamon and lemon juice.
Yom Kippur observance may be different from years past, but adaptability has always been the strength of the Jewish people. G’mar Tov and may you have an easy fast.
STUCK-POT RICE WITH LENTILS AND YOGURT
Salt 1 cup (250 ml) lentils washed and picked over 1½ cups (375 ml) basmati rice, rinsed well ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil, divided 1 large onion, thinly sliced ¼ cup (60 ml) yogurt or kefir 2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice, plus additional wedges for serving 1/3 (90 ml) cup water 2 tsp (10 ml) cumin 1 bay leaf Freshly ground black pepper or pepper flakes Chopped flat leaf parsley, cilantro or mint for garnish
Using one pot for the full process, boil the lentils in salted water for five minutes. Then add the rice and boil the mixture for another five minutes without stirring. Drain the mixture and place it in a large bowl.
Reheat the same pot with 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil. Once it is hot, add the onions and salt, stirring until they are caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the onions to the bowl with rice and lentils. Stir in the kefir or yogurt, lemon juice, water, cumin, pepper, bay leaf, plus additional salt to taste.
Heat the pot over medium heat. Once fully hot, add the remaining 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil and pour in the rice-lentil mixture. Wrap a clean kitchen towel over the inside of the pot lid, so it is closed firmly. (Gather the corners of the cloth, so it doesn’t reach the fire!) Place the lid on the pot, sealing it tightly.
Reduce the heat to very low. Cook the rice mixture undisturbed for 30 minutes. Check it maybe once, to ensure the rice is not burning.
Remove the pot from the heat, and let it rest for 5 minutes, before eating. Makes 4 – 6 servings
18 assorted frozen blintzes – cherry, blueberry, cheese 5 tbsp (75 ml) butter 6 eggs 2¼ cups (550 ml) sour cream 1½ tsp (7 ml) vanilla 1½ tbsp (25 ml) orange juice 1/3 cup (90 ml) granulated sugar ½ tsp (2 ml) salt ½ tsp (2 ml) cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180 °C)
Melt the butter in a 9 x 13-inch ( 3.5 L) baking dish. Lay the frozen blintzes in the pan.
In a large bowl combine the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, juice, sugar, and salt using a stand mixer, hand beater or immersion blender. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the blintzes. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven. Serve hot. Makes 9 – 10 servings
6 slices of white bread or challah ½ lb (225 g) butter, divided 6 tart apples, peeled, pared & quartered 1 tbsp (15 ml) vanilla ½ cup (125 ml) sugar ½ tsp (3 ml) cinnamon 1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon
Whipped Cream Garnish (Optional)
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla Fry the bread in ¼ lb (110 g) butter until it becomes toasted. Set aside
In a large saucepan on medium heat cook the apples in the remaining butter until tender. Add the vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and lemon. Cover the pot,
Line a 1½ quart (1½ litre) casserole dish with the toast on the bottom and sides. Fill the casserole with the apples and cover the apples with the remaining toast. Bake at 325°F (165°C) for ½ an hour.
Whipped Cream: In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in the vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, otherwise cream may become lumpy and butter-like.
To serve: Place a large serving plate on top of the baking dish and invert the charlotte onto the plate so that the bottom of the charlotte is now the top. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature. Optional: add a generous dollop of whipped cream. Makes 8 –12 servings.
An occasional “Kitchen Talk” series on how Jewish-owned restaurants and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic
The Kosower family has run Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord St.) for 75 years. On the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah I was in line for the yearly ritual of buying crown challahs. The line stretched around the corner as it does on every new year, when people, mainly in and around the downtown core, wait patiently to purchase the bakery’s famed crown or round sweet holiday challahs.
I have often run into people I know, but with everyone in line wearing masks this year, I didn’t recognize anybody. I did, however, schmooze with some people in line with me. I met Karen Goos, a transplanted New Yorker, and Mel Korn, a landsman from Montreal. Of course, we played Jewish geography.
It took about 45 minutes before I left the bakery with nine very heavy sweet challahs – six plain and three raisin – in tow.
Susan Wisniewski, co-owner of the bakery, invited me for tour of the place on a quiet midday afternoon following Rosh Hashanah. For the holidays, the bakery produces more than 2,000 crown challahs.
Albert Kosower, her father, had apprenticed at a bakery in Poland before immigrating to Canada around 1915, Wisniewski recounted. He worked for several Toronto bakeries before landing a job at Harbord.
Kosower purchased the bakery from his boss in 1945 and in the mid ‘50s, expanded and renovated the premises. He and his wife, Goldie, ran the business and lived upstairs with their three children.
Wisniewski said her father always hired unionized bakers. “He wanted his workers to have rights. He had also been a member of a union.” Today all 10 Harbord bakers are unionized, she added.
Wisniewski and her siblings, Roz Katz and the late Rafi Kosower, joined the family business, and now her son, Ben, is the third generation to run the bakery.
In addition to a wide selection breads and buns, the bakery produces gourmet cakes, pies, pastries and cookies, and it offers quiches, salads, soups and other savoury options.
Traditional Jewish dishes like gefilte fish, kugel and tzimmes are prepared every Friday. This kosher-style fare usually very much in demand at holiday time.
However, with the persistence of COVID, there were fewer orders this year, Wisniewski said. People had smaller gatherings.
“I have a big staff to support,” she noted, “but when I look at the restaurants and how they’re suffering [due to COVID], I can’t complain.”
The deal, signed in a special ceremony Sept. 16 in Toronto, commits both groups to share their knowledge and strategies for attacking their common problem.
“It is easy to get swept up in the divisiveness rhetoric that that often accompanies political discussions,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “We are coming together today to reject divisiveness and together forge an uplifting, positive and concrete path for the future of our communities.”
Andria Barrett, president of the two-year-old Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC), said B’nai Brith’s long history of advocating for the Jewish community will help her organization in its struggle.
“We see B’nai Brith as an ally in our quest for equality, equity and opportunity,” she said. “This is an important partnership that will amplify the efforts of both organizations.”
B’nai Brith, Barrett said, “has demonstrated time and again that [it is] skilled at advocacy.”
Canada’s Black and Jewish communities have a long history of working together. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed in 1909 in Niagara Falls, Ont., and in the infancy of the 1960s civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr., Jewish groups marched with their Black neighbours.
“For generations Jewish Canadians and Black Canadians have stood side-by-side in our efforts to oppose discrimination and build a brighter future,” Mostyn said.
That support famously included Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm-in-arm with King. Another involved Hamilton Rabbi Eugene Weiner, who organized a group of local clergy to fly to Selma, Alabama, where images of white police attacking peaceful protesters ignited a wave of protest.
Despite sharing goals and methods, the relationship between the communities has always been informal. Now, the leaders said, swelling anti-Black racism in the United States and antisemitism growing around the world made a formal alliance important.
“After the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we realized we were at a turning point in our history,” said Aubrey Zidenberg, chair of the Special Advisory Committee to the League for Human Rights.
“Both the Jewish and Black communities have suffered through years of racism, injury and exclusionary policies,” he said. “Together we can collectively achieve great things in this magnificent country of ours.”
Beyond protest marches and briefs to government, both groups hope to use their shared skills to foster positive growth in the country. A special focus will be on efforts to improve the economic situation of marginalized communities.
“It is far too easy, especially in these troubling times, to complain and yell and scream and sometimes to bring things down without having answers for some very serious societal problems,” Mostyn said. “We are both looking to make a real difference across this country.”
Hamilton police are reporting a rise in antisemitic hate graffiti as COVID lockdowns ease.
Det. Paul Corrigan, head of the Hamilton Police Service’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents have risen in the last three weeks after lagging sharply for several months.
Corrigan added that while the year-over-year number is still down sharply from 2019, likely because of COVID-related lockdowns, the recent increase is still of concern.
“The reason we’re seeing an uptick is because it had been reasonably quiet for a while with people locked down because of COVID,” he said. “It’s not an increase over normal times, it’s just an increase over abnormal times.
“I’m no statistical expert, but I’m guessing it’s because of COVID,” he added.
To date, 42 hate crimes have been reported in Hamilton, compared to over 80 for the same period last year. Jews were the targets of 15, or 36 percent, of those incidents. Of that total, 14 were graffiti incidents. Only one, a minor assault in January with antisemitic insults thrown in, involved a serious crime. That case is still before the courts.
The most recent incident occurred over the Labour Day weekend in the Dundas neighbourhood of Greensville, a collection of higher-end homes atop the Niagara escarpment. Three swastikas were drawn on roadways, shocking residents out enjoying the last long weekend of the summer.
Resident Kristin Glasbergen told CBC she saw one of the hate symbols while out for a morning stroll and another two days later.
“I called the city to let them know and I posted on Facebook to let the community there know,” she said. “This doesn’t happen in Greensville.”
David Arbuckle, another area resident, told CBC he was “shocked and disgusted that someone took the opportunity to purposely spread a message of hate in our community.”
Reactions like that are common, Corrigan said, and it’s a chief reason he classifies something a swastika chalked onto a roadway as a hate crime.
“Some police services don’t look at that as a hate crime. They see it as a criminal offense of graffiti, but I look at the swastika as a symbol of hate,” he said. “I know the argument that it’s a peace symbol to a Buddhist, but when I see a swastika, I see it as criminal and there is a hate-bias motivation to it.”
While that approach may give some the impression Hamilton is a hate-filled place, Corrigan said he will continue to rate incidents that way until the federal government comes up with a national definition.
In 2019, Hamilton was dubbed the “Hate Crime Capital” of Canada after Statistics Canada figures showed that hate crimes in the city the year before were up 6.6 per cent against a national decrease of 13 percent.
With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average.
Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.
Hate crime in Hamilton and area continued through 2019. In Burlington, for example, two men were charged after six antisemitic incidents were reported in May and June.
In those cases hateful messages were posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts, and private vehicles.
Just as charges were laid in the Burlington incidents, members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services last Oct. 5 to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the synagogue.
The drawings included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.
While local police services grapple with the problem of crudely-drawn hate symbols aimed at Jews, B’nai Brith Canada is urging the federal government to use its upcoming Speech from the Throne to bring in new legislation to deal with antisemitism.
In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said COVID has “accelerated the bitterness of attacks faced by the Jewish community,” and called for a national action plan to combat antisemitism.
The plan, Mostyn wrote, should include standardized and mandatory school programs on antisemitism and the Holocaust overseen by a new official reporting directly to the prime minister.
Mostyn argued Canada should now take “practical steps” to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Ottawa adopted last year as part of an anti-racism plan.
“We believe the government should emphasize that addressing racism, antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes is a public safety issue, not just a multicultural issue and that combating these is one end of the spectrum of countering radicalization to violence,” he wrote.
Mostyn also urged Ottawa to pour resources into digital literacy programs; to refuse diplomatic engagement with Iran unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist; declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; denying funding to UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing Palestinian refugees; deporting Nazi war criminals like Helmut Oberlander; and ratifying the 2002 Convention on Cybercrime that criminalizes online racism.
On Sept. 6, 1970, 50 years ago last week, Leila Khaled, a Palestinian refugee from Haifa, participated in the hijacking of El Al flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York. The crime was part of a coordinated attack involving 600 passengers on four commercial jets from four airlines, all bound for New York.
The Israeli pilot and crew overpowered the hijackers. Khaled’s accomplice wounded two members of the flight crew and was himself killed. Khaled was handed over to the British authorities when the Israeli pilot landed at Heathrow.
The hijacking was the second one for Khaled, who was also involved in an attack on TWA flight 840 on Aug. 29, 1969. In that earlier act of terrorism, a flight bound for Tel Aviv was diverted to Damascus by six attackers.
With three other aircraft captured on Sept 6, 1970 on the ground in Beirut and Amman, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was responsible for all of the hijackings, demanded Khaled’s release in return for the release of British hostages. On Sept. 10, the PFLP highjacked a British VC10 to Amman, and on Sept 12, they blew up the airliner. They were holding 300 hostages in Jordan and Lebanon, and by Oct. 1, the UK surrendered to their demands. Khaled, two-time air pirate, was set free. She never stood trial and never expressed any regrets.
More shocking than the fact that she was never tried is that Khaled has spent the 50 years since she escaped justice being treated as an honoured spokesperson for the Palestinian people and their cause. In recent years, she has been a globetrotting advocate of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
In 2013, B’nai Brith Canada protested when a student group invited Khaled to speak via remote video link at a conference at the University of British Colombia. The organizing group was “Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights,” registered with the Alma Mater Society affiliated with the UBC.
Six years ago, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada wondered, as did many others, “at a time when we’ve just seen a terrorist tragedy in Boston, and arrests here in Canada due to a bombing plot … which has all been speculated to be a product of homegrown radicalization, why would we [allow] a public institution in Canada to bring in a convicted terrorist to speak to students?”
Khaled, now 76, was back in the news this week because San Francisco State University (SFSU), also funded with public dollars, is implicated in a Zoom panel discussion hosted by the university’s “Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies” program, and scheduled for Sept. 23. University president Lynn Mahoney defended the panel, which is entirely composed of anti-Zionists, as promoting “diversity.”
As news spread of the planned anti-Israel event, held with SFSU’s endorsement, protests were heard from many quarters, but none as poignant as a letter from Rodney Khazzam, who was a child hostage on the flight Khaled hijacked on Sept 6, 1970.
In his letter to the SFSU president, Khazzam bluntly states that Khaled “attempted to kill me, an innocent, civilian child at the time. I am alive because of the heroic pilot who thwarted the hijacking. … When she realized she was being captured and her plan was being foiled, she detonated a grenade and indiscriminately attempted to set if off onboard. By sheer fortune, all her attempts failed.”
In March 2019, SFSU settled two lawsuits alleging that it failed to prevent an atmosphere of antisemitism on campus. This time, the welcome extended to a life-long member of a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s annihilation suggests that the university has not made the changes necessary to prevent antisemitism.
More broadly, the celebration of violence in the academic sphere reveals a profound moral rot, not just at SFSU, but at other universities that welcome unrepentant terrorists.
Addendum: Rodney Khazzam has begun a petition calling on SFSU president Lynn Maloney to cancel Khaled’s appearance.
The aircraft Khaled helped commandeer were “all passenger planes filled with civilians. These were not war planes. Would it be OK for a 9/11 hijacker to teach university students has one survived?” the petition asks.
Khaled, it goes on, is being given the “honour” of speaking at the university “for one reason only: She is an infamous female hijacker/terrorist. That is her claim to fame…It is deplorable to see a State university in America rolling out the red carpet for this woman, to speak and influence college kids on campus. We must sign and stop this from happening.”
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.”
MONTREAL – At 19, William Guy Rosenthal of Montreal was already a promising journalist, working for Canadian Press and contributing to the YMHA Beacon.
But with the fate of European Jewry ever more perilous, he set aside his career ambitions and enlisted in the army in February 1942. On July 25, 1943, Gunner Rosenthal of the anti-tank regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery was killed in action during the Sicily campaign of 1943.
Rosenthal, known as Velvel in his family, lies in the Canadian war cemetery in Agira, Italy, near where he fell.
His younger brother, Larry Rosenthal, has never forgotten how William’s death irreparably broke the hearts of the family. Many decades on, Rosenthal continues to ensure that William and the 577 other Jewish servicemen in the Canadian Armed Forces who made the supreme sacrifice are not forgotten.
About 10 years ago, Rosenthal was instrumental in having a monument erected in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery’s field of honour engraved with the names of all 578 Canadian Jewish servicemen killed in both world wars and the Korean conflict, and in organizing an annual commemoration before the High Holidays at the site.
This year’s memorial, on the 75th anniversary of the Second World War’s end, held extra meaning and saw the participation – virtually – of community leaders, rabbis, Canadian Armed Forces members, and politicians. Federation CJA partnered with Rosenthal to enable the event via videoconference.
Rosenthal said his brother believed going to war, and even giving his life, was necessary to defend the principles of freedom and justice and to not allow antisemitism and racism to prevail.
As the elder Rosenthal wrote in one of his last dispatches to the Beacon: “No price is too great to pay, no life too precious, to enforce our beliefs and ideals.”
For the first time, a veterans affairs minister took part in the Aug. 30 memorial and acknowledged that Jews served during the Second World War and other conflicts out of proportion to their numbers, for which Rosenthal gave his sincere appreciation.
Lawrence MacAulay, Veterans Affairs minister and Associate Minister of Defence, called the legacy of Jewish Canadians in the armed forces “a long and proud one. Over 17,000 volunteered between 1939 and 1945, coming from all walks of life and serving in all branches of the military.”
The Jewish population of Canada was only about 168,000 during the war.
Fighting was “intensely personal” for Jews in the Armed Forces, MacAuley said, and they played “a vital role in defeating an enemy that murdered over six million of their people. We honour their memory and all those who wore the uniform and those who continue to serve today.”
One of those serving today participated in the ceremony: Col. (res.) Alain Cohen, deputy chief of staff of the 2nd Canadian Armed Division.
Federation CEO Yair Szlak said those who fought enabled Jews to have the community they have today and “to live as citizens of the world.”
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, Quebec co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, regretted that too many today take this for granted.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, held a small book in his hands: Readings from the Holy Scriptures for Jewish Servicemen, given to him as a child by his grandfather, a veteran.
Published by B’nai Brith in 1939, the book provided comfort to Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen, and reminded them that they were fighting for values that are rooted in Judaism, Mostyn said.
Not only did Jews serve in disproportionate numbers, but with distinction, he noted. Almost 200 received decorations.
Dorothy Zalcman Howard, president of the Montreal Holocaust Museum, said the museum remains committed to remembering and honouring the rescuers even generations later.
Other participants included: Allan Levine, president of the Brig. Frederick Kisch Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion; Rabbi Moishe New of the Montreal Torah Centre; Rabbi Zushe Silberstein of Chabad Chabanel; Rabbi Saul Emanuel, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal; Israeli Consul General David Levy; Elyse Rosen, CEO of the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA; and Mayors Mitchell Brownstein of Cote Saint-Luc and William Steinberg of Hampstead.
The video of a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument, held in advance to conform to public health protocols, was shown, while the names of the dead scrolled in silence on the screen. The Last Post was played by Sgt. William Maher, and Ya’acov Bauer recited the memorial prayer.
Rosenthal later said the participation of the federal minister was significant.
“This is finally a statement from a high level of the Canadian government recognizing the sacrifice of Jews in the Canadian forces.”