Leading Voices Against Antisemitism Form Partnership

Sept. 8, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s two leading voices against antisemitism are forming a new partnership.

Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST) and the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) now have a single leader to drive their campaigns against humanity’s oldest hatred.

Catherine Chatterley
Catherine Chatterley

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.

Tony Comper
Tony Comper

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.”

Comper Revamps Group that Fights Antisemitism

Aug. 4, 2020

The rise in antisemitic incidents has revitalized FAST.

Fighting Antisemitism Together, or FAST, was founded in 2005 by former Bank of Montreal CEO Tony Comper and his late wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Tony Comper

It had the backing of some 30 blue-chip non-Jewish business executives, including leaders of Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corp., Bombardier Inc., Stelco, Bell Canada, and BCE Inc. Each executive put $10,000 toward the effort.

Over the past 15 years, FAST has fashioned free education programs geared to middle schools and high schools, and has reached 4.4 million students at more than 22,000 schools.

According to a recent report in the Globe and Mail, FAST is now joining the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA), a scholarly organization that publishes the academic journal Antisemitism Studies. CISA founding director Catherine Chatterley, who teaches modern European history at the University of Manitoba and edits the journal, is taking over as FAST’s chair and president.

Polls and surveys show that antisemitic incidents continue to rise in Canada, and that in Toronto and suburbs, Jews are the most targeted group for hate crimes.

According to B’nai Brith Canada’s most recent audit, there were 2,207 antisemitic incidents nationally in 2019 – more than six a day – an eight percent increase over the year before. It was the fourth consecutive record-setting year for antisemitism in Canada, and online harassment was up by 11 percent, the audit revealed.

“The obvious question is, if you’re doing such a wonderful job, why isn’t it having an impact on antisemitism?” Comper was quoted as telling the Globe. “The increase in the incidences justifies exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing and the need for it.”

The classroom is the ideal incubator for change, he said.

Tony Comper. Photo University of Haifa

“To fundamentally change, you need to focus on education of young people and equip them with an alternative narrative to what they’re hearing either at home, or in the street or in the school yard,” Comper said.

He has promised to fund FAST for the next two years, and plans to stay on as an adviser working with Chatterley to build fundraising and administration.

CISA is “very pleased to be affiliated with FAST,” Chatterley told the CJR via email.

“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 anti-Semitism,” she added. “We hope to work toward making these subjects a permanent part of the school curriculum in all regions of Canada.”

CISA one of seven institutes in the world dedicated to the scholarly study of antisemitism.