Canada needs to wake up and fight antisemitism

Canada must not learn the hard way that a society which allows antisemitism to flourish will inevitably inflict mortal harm on the fabric of its own society.


November 13, 2023

The Oct. 7 Hamas attacks were a deep inflection point not just for Israel, but Jews around the world. The Jews have woken up, and we will not go like sheep to the slaughter.

Many Jews in Canada today, like myself, are descendants of Holocaust survivors who were often the only ones in their large extended families to defy the Nazis’ plans to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews. Infinitely grateful and loyal to Canada, we did not imagine that the promise of “Never Again” would ring hollow in this country in our lifetimes. We refuse to stand for moral equivalence at this time. We refuse to allow Jew-haters and their apologists to make Canada unsafe for its Jewish population. We refuse to allow Hamas to fulfil its avowed goal of obliterating the one minuscule Jewish state in the world. Even those whose Jewishness was not a salient part of their self-identity are feeling differently in the post-Oct. 7 world.

Now it is time for every elected official in Canada to wake up, too.

Jonathan Sacks, the late chief rabbi of the Commonwealth and a renowned intellectual, wrote, “the appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown. … No society that has fostered antisemitism has ever sustained liberty or human rights or religious freedom.”

Antisemitism is the organizing principle that underpins ideologically motivated violent extremism across the spectrum from neo-Nazi and white nationalist extremism, to far-left extremism, to Islamic extremism. The Jewish population may not always be the target, but antisemitism is the common tool used to leverage people’s vulnerabilities and grievances, and to bind a wide array of conspiratorial thinking. That conspiratorial thinking around what malicious activity the Jewish people are up to (such as controlling the economy, media, weather, COVID-19, and the influx of non-whites to historically white countries) is considered by experts to be a major pathway to extremism and violence. All levels of Canadian government must fight antisemitism unequivocally—not just because it is morally correct, not just because it will help to protect the Jewish population, but because it will mean a healthier society for all Canadians.

Here’s what Canadian Parliamentarians must do:

1) Show moral clarity in standing firmly with Israel. If Canada had been attacked by a terrorist organization on a scale proportionately larger than 9/11, our government would have no choice but to act decisively. This is not a time to pander for votes, nor is it a time to be deterred by threats. There are rumours that some MPs are getting death threats for supporting Israel. This cannot be tolerated in Canadian society.

2) Understand that Israel cannot allow a ceasefire until Hamas permits the safe release of the over 240 hostages. Hamas has shown that it will only use a ceasefire to prepare for the next violent onslaught. (It is worth noting that there was a ceasefire in place on Oct. 6 up until the moment Hamas launched its unprecedented assault). Israel will do everything in its power to rescue each hostage (Israeli or not) and protect its citizens (Jewish or not) from the future attacks that Hamas has explicitly threatened. Hamas started this war, and can bring a ceasefire now if the hostages are returned to their families. Canadian politicians who are eager for a ceasefire should be pressuring Hamas and its Iranian backers, not Israel.

3) Anti-Zionism is pervasively used as a cover for antisemitism. Criticism of the Israeli government is not antisemitic. Arguing that Israel does not have a right to exist is antisemitic. Denying the Jewish presence in Israel for millennia is antisemitic. Singling out Israel for condemnation and applying a standard to the world’s only Jewish state that is not expected of any other country is antisemitic.

4) Enforce current laws. Canada’s Criminal Code prohibits incitement to hate and to genocide, yet very few arrests are being made. In the absence of prosecutions, hate speech in Canada will only grow. And universities must enforce their own codes of conduct. Government funding to universities must be contingent on universities taking concrete action to keep students safe.

5) Create a law to prohibit the glorification of terrorism. Freedom of expression is precious, but has constitutional limits. Some attendees of Canadian rallies have been publicly celebrating the murder of Jewish babies, rape of Jewish women, and kidnapping of Jewish children. This is unacceptable. So is advocating for the elimination of a nation state. Criminalizing the promotion, glorification, and celebration of terrorism is a reasonable limit on freedom of expression that is justified in a free and democratic society.

6) Canada’s funding of UNRWA schools deserves immediate re-evaluation. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which runs 183 schools across the Gaza Strip, uses the curriculum established by the Palestinian National Authority. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) notes: “As has been extensively documented…these textbooks have remained openly antisemitic and continue to encourage violence, jihad and martyrdom while peace is not taught as preferable or even possible.”

Moreover, a November 2023 report by IMPACT-se documents support for the Oct. 7 attacks among UNWRA teachers, and reveals that at least 100 perpetrators of the Hamas attacks are graduates of UNWRA schools.

The war may be taking place in Israel and Gaza, but its implications and reverberations are far-reaching. Canada needs to support Israel, a key ally of all democratic nations, which is on the frontlines in a larger
battle against terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terror that want to see the defeat of the Western world. And perhaps even more importantly, Canada must not wait for a catastrophe on its soil before it deals decisively with rising antisemitism. Germany today has the strongest antisemitism laws in the world. Canada must not learn the hard way that a society which allows antisemitism to flourish will inevitably inflict mortal harm on the fabric of its own society.

The Jews have woken up. It’s time for the rest of Canada to wake up too.

Sheryl Saperia is the CEO of Secure Canada, an organization dedicated to combating terrorism and
extremism with laws, policies, and alliances. She is also the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors.

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