In Ot­tawa, a new wave of anti-semitism

After a dif­fi­cult week for Jews in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal and be­yond, many are won­der­ing: is all of this con­nected to the U.S. elec­tion?

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Cover Story - SHERI SHEFA

The re­cent spate of anti-semitic in­ci­dents across the coun­try has Jewish lead­ers and hate crime ex­perts con­tem­plat­ing whether the di­vi­sive rhetoric stem­ming from the re­cent U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is partly re­spon­si­ble, and they’re cau­tion­ing mem­bers of the com­mu­nity to be ex­tra vig­i­lant.

This month, Ot­tawa-area po­lice have been called to in­ves­ti­gate at least seven in­ci­dents in which in­sti­tu­tions were de­faced with anti-semitic graf­fiti.

• On Nov. 7, Bri­dle­wood Com­mu­nity El­e­men­tary School in Kanata was de­faced with a swastika and the Ku Klux Klan acro­nym “KKK” was spray-painted on the school’s brick walls.

• The fol­low­ing week­end, Ke­hillat Beth Is­rael con­gre­ga­tion was also spray-painted with swastikas, but its lead­ers only pub­li­cized the in­ci­dent after fur­ther at­tacks came to light.

• Rabbi Anna Maranta, leader of the Glebe Minyan in Ot­tawa, told The CJN that when she woke up in the mid­dle of the night, at around 2:45 a.m., on Nov. 15, she no­ticed that some­thing was scrawled on the glass win­dow of the door to her home on Powell Av­enue, where she holds ser­vices. A swastika and the word “kike” were spray-painted in red on her door.

• Con­gre­ga­tion Machzikei Hadas’ spir­i­tual leader Rabbi Idan Scher re­leased a state­ment Nov. 17 after the shul was van­dal­ized with anti-semitic graf­fiti, which in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous swastikas and the words “kill kikes” and “save the white race.”

“We will not be in­ti­mated by this cow­ardly act. This act will not im­pact the ser­vices and pro­grams of­fered at the shul. This morn­ing ser­vices con­tin­ued with­out in­ter­rup­tion and we will con­tinue stronger and more uni­fied than ever,” Rabbi Scher wrote.

The at­tacks have not been lim­ited to Ot­tawa.

• In Mon­treal last week, a swastika was re­moved from the out­side of a restau­rant on St. Laurent Boule­vard that of­fers “Jewish and French pas­tries.”

• On Nov. 16, Toronto po­lice re­sponded to a call at David Hor­nell Ju­nior School in Eto­bi­coke. The phrase, “It’s the Jews” had been scrawled sev­eral times on the school’s brick walls in blue and red paint.

• In Burling­ton, a com­mu­nity mem­ber re­ported that swastikas and “KKK” were scrawled in­side a men’s public wash­room, re­ported Amanda Hohmann, na­tional di­rec­tor of B’nai Brith Canada’s League For Hu­man Rights.

Mean­while, back in Ot­tawa, on Nov. 18, the front doors of a church led by a black pas­tor were dis­cov­ered to have been spray-painted with two swastikas, along with the word “nig­gers,” and the num­bers 14 and 88 – slo­gans as­so­ci­ated with the white su­prem­a­cist move­ment.

The same day, the front doors of the Ot­tawa Mus­lim As­so­ci­a­tion build­ing were found spray-painted with the words “F--k Al­lah,” “Go home,” “666,” and a swastika.

Fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar at­tack on Ot­tawa’s Sol­way Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, Ot­tawa po­lice Chief Charles Borde­leau con­firmed Nov. 19 that an ar­rest had been made. The an­nounce­ment came at a sol­i­dar­ity event and prayer ser­vice Shab­bat morn­ing at Machzikei Hadas, at­tended by more than 600 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Ot­tawa Mayor Jim Wat­son, On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne, and On­tario At­tor­ney Gen­eral Yasir Naqvi.

The teen, who can’t be iden­ti­fied under the Youth Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Act, ap­peared in court Nov. 19 and was in­dicted on sev­eral charges, in­clud­ing ut­ter­ing threats and mis­chief to re­li­gious build­ings, .

An­drea Freed­man, pres­i­dent and CEO Jewish Fed­er­a­tion of Ot­tawa, thanked Ot­tawa po­lice, say­ing they “made this in­ves­ti­ga­tion a top pri­or­ity and it was their ded­i­ca­tion to in­creas­ing pa­trols at re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions that led di­rectly to this ar­rest.”

Rabbi Maranta was quick to con­nect the in­ci­dent at her home to the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump in the United States.

“The fact that the pres­i­dent-elect has been able to cam­paign on a mes­sage of hate and not be cen­sored… has em­bold­ened peo­ple who hold these be­liefs to act more in a public way,” she said.

Bernie Far­ber, a hate crimes expert from his time as head of the for­mer Cana­dian Jewish Congress, agrees that while Canada has never been free of racism and big­otry, Trump’s elec­tion gave way to a per­mis­sive­ness “that al­lows racists and big­ots to pop their head out of the garbage can, take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, let’s go at it.’ That’s new. And that’s some­thing to be con­cerned about. We have to be ac­tu­ally very con­cerned about it.”

Far­ber said racist in­ci­dents tend to rise and fall based in part on the state of the lead­er­ship of the ex­treme right.

“There was a time in the ‘90s when it reached its zenith and it col­lapsed. And it re­ally re­mained col­lapsed for the most part for the last 20 years. We saw lit­tle blips now and again. There would be the odd syn­a­gogue or mosque that would be de­faced, but in terms of any­thing se­vere or or­ga­nized, it’s been mori­bund,” he said.

“The rea­son for alarm is that once you have a per­son like Don­ald Trump who is now go­ing to be the pres­i­dent of the most im­por­tant na­tion on Earth, speak­ing as he does, giv­ing mes­sages that Mus­lims and Mex­i­cans and even to some ex­tent Jews, are now fod­der for racist ex­pres­sion, it is kind of open sea­son.”

He said the ap­point­ment of Steve Ban­non as Trump’s chief strate­gist has con­trib­uted to the di­vi­sive cli­mate in North Amer­ica.

“Steve Ban­non is a white na­tion­al­ist. He ran the alt-right Bre­it­bart News. It’s an out-and-out racist news ser­vice. What should that tell us? We know what it tells us and what it tells the Klan in the States. They’re plan­ning a vic­tory cel­e­bra­tion in North Carolina for Trump. We know that the Amer­i­can Nazi Party re­leased a state­ment con­grat­u­lat­ing Don­ald Trump for ap­point­ing Ban­non. All of this does not au­gur well.”

Terry Wil­son, a hate crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tor based in London, Ont., and a for­mer mem­ber of the Bri­tish Columbia Hate Crime Team, said he be­lieves a move to the po­lit­i­cal right is con­tribut­ing to a rise in anti-semitic and racist at­ti­tudes.

“I think the trend po­lit­i­cally around the world, if you take ex­am­ples like Brexit, like Mr. Trump be­ing elected, that’s a move to the right wing, and it’s a move to le­git­imize cer­tain as­pects of the right wing, now call­ing it­self the al­ter­na­tive right. There is no ques­tion that the al­ter­na­tive right is white separatist, white na­tion­al­ists, white su­prem­a­cists. That is what they are,” Wil­son said.

“I’m not say­ing Mr. Trump is a white su­prem­a­cist, but the move­ment to the right cre­ates a wake in the wa­ter, and it le­git­imizes and jus­ti­fies ac­tions by racists to act proac­tively against mi­nor­ity groups.”

Shimon Kof­fler Fo­gel, CEO of the Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs, said there is no ev­i­dence that con­nects the re­cent in­ci­dents in Canada to the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump.

“But it is a trou­bling re­al­ity that anti-semitism, the world’s old­est ha­tred, per­sists. Thank­fully, broader Cana­dian so­ci­ety over­whelm­ingly re­jects anti-semitism and con­sid­ers it to be at odds with Cana­dian val­ues, and our gov­ern­ment and law en­force­ment re­spond to anti-semitism quickly and with de­ter­mi­na­tion,” he said.

Hohmann, who has been work­ing with B’nai Brith for two years, was also re­luc­tant to con­nect the re­cent spate of anti-semitic van­dal­ism to Trump’s elec­tion.

“It does not be­hoove us to try to draw some re­mark­able con­nec­tion here. I don’t think it’s good for the com­mu­nity to start fan­ning the flames, say­ing that this is the new re­al­ity we’re go­ing to live in,” Hohmann said.

“I’ve been vo­cal in the past few days try­ing to dis­pel this idea that it is be­cause of Trump,” she said last week as re­ports of the at­tacks in Ot­tawa be­gan to sur­face.

“I would make the ar­gu­ment that the same thing would have hap­pened if Hil­lary [Clin­ton] had been elected, just be­cause it is a world event.”

Hohmann ex­plained that there tends to be an uptick in racist and anti-semitic in­ci­dents any time there is a ma­jor world event.

“There was an uptick when there was Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge in Is­rael. There was an uptick ev­ery time there was a ter­ror­ism at­tack any­where in the world. There is an uptick any time there is dis­cus­sion of race and anti-semitism and na­tion­al­ism – any time that’s in the me­dia, there tends to be an uptick in events here in Canada,” she said.

She said it’s too early to make state­ments about whether there has been a rise in anti-semitic in­ci­dents since Trump’s vic­tory, be­cause B’nai Brith is still await­ing sta­tis­tics from out­side sources such as po­lice, syn­a­gogues, and cam­pus groups.

“What I can say is that even with the data that we have on file right now, I’d sug­gest that we’re on track for an in­crease over last year – prob­a­bly not a dra­matic one over­all – but I def­i­nitely ex­pect to see a dra­matic in­crease in van­dal­ism num­bers. I should point out though that last year was a record low for van­dal­ism, so ex­ceed­ing last year’s van­dal­ism num­bers doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily in­di­cate that it’s skyrocketing. I’d sug­gest that it’s falling back in line with the five-year trend.”

Ac­cord­ing to B’nai Brith’s 2015 au­dit of anti-semitic in­ci­dents, while on­line ha­rass­ment has been steadily in­creas­ing over the past five years, last year, van­dal­ism de­clined to its low­est point in 15 years, at 136 in­ci­dents, com­pared to 388 in 2013 and 238 in 2014. Over­all, 2014 was the worst for anti-semitic acts over the past five years, which B’nai Brith at­trib­uted to the Is­rael-gaza con­flict that year.

While Hohmann be­lieves that white na­tion­al­ism in Canada is on the rise, Far­ber said the good news is that Cana­dian neonazis don’t seem to be or­ga­nized.

“But just be­cause there isn’t an or­ga­nized move­ment, doesn’t mean we don’t have rea­son for alarm,” Far­ber added. “I’m not san­guine about the prospects that things are go­ing to die down. I fear that they are ac­tu­ally go­ing to pick up.”

Wil­son said whether or not this re­cent spike in anti-semitic events lev­els off, it would be un­wise for the com­mu­nity to pas­sively wait for that to hap­pen.

“By wait­ing for it to level off nat­u­rally and to sub­side, we’ve ac­tu­ally le­git­imized the haters’ ac­tions. It makes it eas­ier for them to do it in the fu­ture and maybe es­ca­late that ac­tion. We need to get a hold on these small acts be­cause they grow,” Wil­son said.

Hohmann agreed, adding that it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple don’t dis­miss these as “one-off” in­ci­dents.

“Be­cause [Jews] are one of the eas­i­est, most ob­vi­ous tar­gets, I think our com­mu­nity would do well to push back and not let it off our radar when this par­tic­u­lar spate of in­ci­dents calm down.”

She sug­gested push­ing law­mak­ers to fol­low through and lay hate crimes charges and not to be­come com­pla­cent.

“We don’t need to be alarmist, and we don’t need to be scared, but we need to be re­al­is­tic about it and be vig­i­lant in solv­ing it be­fore it gets out of hand.”

Far­ber said there is a need to fo­cus on build­ing coali­tions.

“[Jewish and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers need] to stand shoul­der to shoul­der – for­get­ting our po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences to a cer­tain ex­tent – and con­cen­trate on find­ing ways to en­gage each other civilly and to of­fer de­fence and pro­tec­tion to those who be­come vic­tims of racism and xeno­pho­bia,” Far­ber said.

“I think it’s time to get back on the anti-racist band­wagon. I think we have to work with our nat­u­ral part­ners – those in the Afro-cana­dian com­mu­nity, those in the South Asian com­mu­nity, those in the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. In the United States… there was an an­nounce­ment that the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee will join forces with the Is­lamic So­ci­ety of North Amer­ica. They are form­ing a coali­tion [the Mus­lim-jewish Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee], ba­si­cally to watch each oth­ers’ backs.”

The Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Jews and Mus­lims re­leased a state­ment that said, “Racism has found a new cham­pion and the ef­fects are be­ing seen in Canada... Trump’s vic­tory has given rise to the forces of hate and big­otry in Cana­dian pol­i­tics sugar coated as ‘tests’ for Cana­dian val­ues. Many Mus­lims and Jews share a con­cern about sup­port for Trump-like views es­poused by Kelly Leitch, a lead­er­ship con­tender for the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party.

“This is not the time to ig­nore the blight of racism. No­body knows bet­ter than the Jewish com­mu­nity how nor­mal­iz­ing ha­tred and tar­get­ing par­tic­u­lar racial or re­li­gious groups can de­te­ri­o­rate into un­think­able con­se­quences, in­clud­ing the ero­sion of civil lib­er­ties.”

Friends of Si­mon Weisen­thal Cen­tre for Holo­caust Stud­ies pres­i­dent and CEO Avi Ben­lolo said ed­u­ca­tion is key.

“I be­lieve ed­u­ca­tion plays a critical role in ad­dress­ing anti-jewish hate and, in­deed, all forms of racism,” Ben­lolo said

“This up­surge in anti-semitism is an on­go­ing phe­nom­e­non that I have been work­ing to ad­dress my en­tire pro­fes­sional life, and I have found the best method for in­oc­u­lat­ing young peo­ple against in­tol­er­ance and anti-semitism is by teach­ing them about the tragic con­se­quences of hate, and of the need for un­der­stand­ing, com­pas­sion, re­spect for di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion, and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Cana­dian free­doms and democ­racy.”

Wil­son ad­vised tar­geted com­mu­ni­ties to uti­lize the trained pro­fes­sion­als at their dis­posal. “These types of ac­tiv­i­ties need to get re­ported. At the end of the day, re­port it to the po­lice, be­cause the of­fend­ers need to be held ac­count­able, and the vic­tims of these hate crimes need to have the ap­pro­pri­ate ser­vices avail­able to them,” he said.

Kof­fler Fo­gel said the Jewish com­mu­nity’s se­cu­rity is CIJA’S top pri­or­ity.

“CIJA has a na­tional se­cu­rity team which of­fers free ex­per­tise and re­sources to com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions that have se­cu­rity ques­tions or con­cerns, in­clud­ing, where war­ranted, on-site au­dits and sup­port,” he said.

“All Jewish com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions should en­sure they have ef­fec­tive sys­tems and pro­ce­dures in place to pro­tect their premises, and that staff and vol­un­teers are trained and reg­u­larly re­minded of the im­por­tance of fol­low­ing se­cu­rity pro­to­cols. Ev­ery mem­ber of our com­mu­nity should be vig­i­lant, and if they see some­thing, they should say some­thing.”


The door of Rabbi Anna Maranta’s home in Ot­tawa on Nov. 15.


Rabbi Anna Maranta


A wall at Ot­tawa’s Con­gre­ga­tion Machzikei Hadas on Nov. 17.

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