Actions speak as loudly — and as frighteningly — as words
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.”
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.
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.