Ac­tions speak as loudly — and as fright­en­ingly — as words

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BILL BROWN­STEIN

Few can deny that the ever-toxic rhetoric be­ing spewed by some Amer­i­can politi­cians has not only led to an at­mos­phere of nearly un­prece­dented di­vi­sion in the U.S. but, more chill­ingly, has also em­bold­ened and em­pow­ered hate-mon­gers to ex­e­cute the sort of mass mur­der that re­sulted in the deaths of 11 Jews at Pitts­burgh’s Tree of Life syn­a­gogue.

Nor should it come as much of a sur­prise that hate-crimes to­ward Jews in­creased 57 per cent in 2017 over the pre­vi­ous year in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to that coun­try’s Anti-Defama­tion League. Co­in­ci­dence?

Yet we can’t af­ford to be smug in these parts. It can hap­pen and has hap­pened here: the Que­bec City mosque ter­ror­ist at­tack of 2017, re­sult­ing in the mur­ders of six wor­ship­pers.

Ac­tions can and do speak as loudly and as fright­en­ingly as words. Pro­posed leg­is­la­tion by the newly elected Coali­tion Avenir Québec to pro­hibit po­lice of­fi­cers, judges, prison guards and ele­men­tary and high-school teach­ers from wear­ing re­li­gious sym­bols such as the Mus­lim hi­jab or the Jewish kippa while on the job could cer­tainly send the wrong sig­nal and em­bolden haters to take hor­rific ac­tion here. And the lu­nacy of it all is that there are pre­cious few wear­ers of these re­li­gious sym­bols in those po­si­tions in this prov­ince.

Com­mu­nity lead­ers here are right­fully alarmed.

Steven Slimovitch, na­tional le­gal coun­sel for B’nai Brith Canada, points out that there has been a steady in­crease of an­tiSemitic in­ci­dents in Que­bec and through­out Canada in re­cent years.

There were a record 1,752 in­ci­dents re­ported in Canada and 474 in Que­bec in 2017.

“One of the big dif­fer­ences is that un­like the sit­u­a­tion in the U.S., we don’t have the same ac­cess to firearms — although that is lit­tle con­so­la­tion to the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Que­bec City,” Slimovitch said.

“Sadly, though, it’s quite sim­ple. When you di­vide peo­ple and re­fer to peo­ple as “us” and “them” — whether it’s the pres­i­dent of the United States or the premier of Que­bec — that essen­tially gives some a cer­tain level of power, who then take things into their own hands. It can’t help when you have a govern­ment pol­icy that says if you wear a kippa or hi­jab, you’re not part of us and you can’t per­form cer­tain du­ties here.”

Slimovitch hopes that the killings in Pitts­burgh will sen­si­tize Premier François Le­gault to re­con­sider a ban on re­li­gious sym­bols.

“Le­gault doesn’t ap­proach this as an anti-Jewish or Mus­lim is­sue, but more of an anti-re­li­gious is­sue. Still, it does noth­ing other than to say that: ‘You there with that kippa and hi­jab are not one of us.’ ”

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ini­tially sug­gested that had there been an armed guard on duty at the Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue, the en­su­ing car­nage might have been avoided.

“So per­haps we should give ev­ery rabbi a semi-au­to­matic weapon to put on their pul­pits,” Slimovitch said. “It’s ridicu­lous to sug­gest that. But the point is you can’t walk into a syn­a­gogue now with­out see­ing se­cu­rity.

“But will it come down to hav­ing metal de­tec­tors and armed guards like else­where in the world? I hope not, but some­thing has to be done. The sad re­al­ity is you can’t run a com­mu­nity event these days and say: ‘Come one, come all.’ And what about pro­tect­ing all the pri­vate re­li­gious schools and the hun­dreds of kids who could be prime tar­gets for ha­tred?”

Har­vey Levine, re­gional di­rec­tor of B’nai Brith Canada, is par­tic­u­larly dis­mayed by the di­vi­sive­ness of the pro­posed ban on re­li­gious sym­bols here as well as by the ever-in­creas­ing level of hate­ful rhetoric around the world and its avail­abil­ity on­line.

“Un­for­tu­nately, with that preach­ing of hate against all mi­nori­ties, for some rea­son the Jews are al­ways tar­geted as No. 1,” Levine said.

“When Jews are at­tacked any­where in the world, all the Jews in the world are at­tacked. Re­gard­less, it is very re­as­sur­ing to hear that the po­lice here in­formed us that there is a ram­pup of se­cu­rity for syn­a­gogues, schools and Jewish in­sti­tu­tions.”

Shaar Hashomayim Rabbi Adam Scheier has close ties to the Pitts­burgh Jewish com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing a rabbi at a syn­a­gogue close to the Tree of Life, and in seek­ing to show sol­i­dar­ity, will be head­ing to Pitts­burgh on Tues­day.

“Anti- Semitism wasn’t born this past week­end in Pitts­burgh,” said Scheier, a na­tive of Rochester, N.Y. “We have strug­gled for quite a while with the need to se­cure our in­sti­tu­tions and keep our mem­bers safe. There is a lot of ha­tred out there, but at the same time we keep our doors open to make sure we’re ful­fill­ing our mis­sion and try to stamp out that ha­tred.

“But while we’re look­ing up­ward for in­spi­ra­tion, we’re also look­ing over our shoul­ders.”

PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mem­bers of the Jewish com­mu­nity and sup­port­ers at­tend a vigil Mon­day for the vic­tims of Satur­day’s Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue at­tack at Beth Is­rael Beth Aaron Con­gre­ga­tion in Côte-St-Luc. The crowd was too large for the syn­a­gogue, forc­ing some to wait out­side.

PHIL CAR­PEN­TER FILES

A woman walks past a makeshift memo­rial in front of the Cen­tre cul­turel is­lamique de Québec in Que­bec City, two days af­ter the Jan­uary 2017 mas­sacre that killed six and in­jured 19.

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