Mohammed Hashim: The Right Man at CRRF

Oct. 16, 2020

By BERNIE FARBER

(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.

Mohammed Hashim
Mohammed Hashim

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.

Mohammed Hashim (centre) with Jeffrey Brown, president of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (left) and Bernie Farber, publisher of the CJR and chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

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
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher of the Canadian Jewish Record and Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

The Nine Pillars of ‘No Silence on Race’

July 14, 2020 – By ALEX ROSE

When conversations about race, oppression and privilege exploded across the world following the May 25 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, they made Sara Yacobi-Harris wonder to what extent the broader Canadian Jewish community was concretely addressing its own instances of racial discrimination.

In the midst of this “racial reckoning,” Yacobi-Harris, a Black Jewish woman from Toronto, founded the campaign, ​“No Silence on Race​,” which calls on Canadian Jews to “commit to the creation of a truly anti-racist, inclusive and equitable Jewish community.”

Sara Yacobi-Harris

Yacobi-Harris established the effort with two other activists, Daisy Moriyama and Akilah Allen Silverstein.

On June 30, the campaign published ​an open letter​ “from Black Jews, non-Black Jews of colour and our allies, to Jewish organizations in Canada.”

The letter lays out nine pillars to guide organizations in making structural changes to combat racism and actively make mainstream Jewish spaces truly inclusive and equitable for Jews of colour. It also asks them to publish statements of their own outlining how they plan to meet those goals by July 29.

Yacobi-Harris said the campaign was necessary for “many, many, many reasons,” including the lack of representation for Jews of colour in most Jewish institutions.

“It’s about seeing ourselves represented in Jewish spaces, and seeing ourselves represented in Jewish literature and programming and histories that we celebrate,” she said, before quoting the beginning of the letter: “We are Jewish community board members, educators and leaders. We write from a place of love for our Jewish identities and our community, while also grappling with the cultural erasure, exclusion and structural racism that we experience in Jewish spaces. Nevertheless, we are compelled to be in Jewish community because it is who we are.”

Although the campaign is new and specific to the current collective Jewish experience, Yacobi-Harris says Jews of colour have been dealing with these issues for a very long time.

They often avoid mainstream Jewish spaces because they are not always received equally, sometimes even experiencing overt racism. For that reason, there are a number of Jews of colour who have devoted their entire lives to ensuring that Jewish spaces are inclusive and hospitable for Jews of colour.

As important as their work has been, though, Yacobi-Harris says real, comprehensive change isn’t possible without everyone committed to a unified goal.

That’s why the first pillar of “No Silence on Race” ​is “allyship.”

“Allyship is earned through trust, through action and through impact.” Yacobi-Harris explained. “You can implement as many policies and strategies and initiatives as you want. But if the culture doesn’t shift within our community, the conversation doesn’t shift, we don’t talk about our individual responsibility, then eventually the policies and strategies will hold less weight and be less meaningful. That’s why we need people behind it who truly understand their individual role in creating change in our community.”

After allyship, the next pillar is education, which is about engaging with issues at all levels of an organization and systematically implementing policies, strategies and initiatives based on education and training from consultants who are Jews of colour and other people of colour.

The other seven pillars include investing in a leadership strategy for Jews of colour, working with an equity consultant, and committing to more programming and partnerships with a more diverse range of cultural institutions.

So far, Yacobi-Harris says the response has been very positive, with people and organizations reaching out to learn more about continuing the work of anti-racism and equality.

“No Silence on Race” has heard a lot of people thanking them for the work they’re doing, saying the community needs it and people want to do more.

The response to the campaign, combined with the climate of open conversation that precipitated it, has left Yacobi-Harris feeling hopeful about the work Jewish institutions will do to make themselves actively inclusive for Jews of colour. After all, she wouldn’t have put the effort into creating this initiative if she didn’t think it could make a difference.

“People do see this work as extremely important,” she said. “And they do see the gaps that exist in our community and how much work we all have to do. And how beautiful and inspiring and supportive and important this initiative is.

“And so, having received that feedback has made me hopeful that change is coming, that action is coming and that this commitment is important for everyone and for our community,” she said.

Yacobi-Harris also encouraged representatives from Jewish organizations to contact nosilenceonrace@gmail.com to set up a meeting or have a conversation about how to best implement the nine pillars.