Anti-semitism in Ot­tawa and the Trump ef­fect

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Rabbi•2•rabbi - — YONI

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?

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