Anti-semitism in Ottawa and the Trump effect
The annual conference of the American Jewish Press Association took place last week in Washington, D.C., during a particularly auspicious time. Over the course of three days, Jewish journalists from the U.S., Canada and Israel reviewed how the Jewish press covered the 2016 U.S. election campaign and looked ahead to what a Trump administration might mean for American Jews.
Those discussions took on more urgency when Steve Bannon’s appointment as chief strategist and senior counsellor in the Trump White House became public. Immediately, Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News and CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, came under fire for what many considered anti-semitic articles and opinions published by Breitbart under his tenure.
The Anti-defamation League (ADL) said it “strongly opposed” Bannon’s installation, while its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, added “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the alt-right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-semites and racists, is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’” (Later, the ADL appeared to amend its position, admitting, “We are not aware of any anti-semitic statements from Bannon.”) Meanwhile, the Zionist Organization of America’s special projects director, Liz Berney, told CNN that “it’s very painful to see somebody smear[ed] who doesn’t deserve it and who is a fine human being,” arguing that Bannon has actively battled anti-semitism and is “somebody who’s been really fighting… for the pro-israel [movement].”
Watching the debate surrounding Trump and Bannon at the AJPA conference (and at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America taking place across the street), you couldn’t help but feel a degree of anxiety about the incoming White House, the prospect of an associated uptick in anti-semitism and the very real schism that continues to divide America post-election. And yet, as the lone Canadian on hand, I felt a bit removed, alarmed by events south of the border but also somewhat shielded from them.
That all changed last Tuesday morning when news first surfaced that the home of a Jewish woman in Ottawa (the space also houses the city’s Glebe Minyan) had been vandalized with a swastika and the word “kike.” It was just the beginning of a very long week. Two days later, the city’s Congregation Machzikei Hadas was defaced with swastikas and the words “kill kikes”; in Montreal, a swastika was painted on a restaurant; in Toronto, “it’s the Jews” was found scribbled on the walls of an elementary school; and in Burlington, Ont., graffiti including swastikas and “KKK” was found in a public bathroom. (Earlier in November, an elementary school in Kanata, Ont., was defaced with a swastika and “KKK,” and Ottawa’s Kehillat Beth Israel congregation was also spray-painted with swastikas.)
On Saturday, police arrested a young offender believed to be responsible for the anti-semitic attacks in the Ottawa area. But big questions remain: what spurred this person to act? Is this garden-variety anti-semitism, the kind that bubbles up from time to time? Or is it the first tangible evidence of a new wave of Jew-hatred spurred by an emboldened alt-right movement? And if it’s the latter, is the election of Trump responsible?