Toronto Star

OPINION: No place for the swastika in Canadian political discourse,

- Michael Levitt Michael Levitt, a Toronto-based freelance contributi­ng columnist for the Star, is the president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC). Follow him on Twitter: @LevittMich­ael

Talk about a troubling sign of the times, literally and figurative­ly. No sooner did candidates in the federal election start erecting their campaign signs than people defaced many of them with vile graffiti.

Most disturbing­ly, their vandalism has often featured the swastika, a despicable symbol fraught with hate and racism. Since mid-August, the frequent marring of signs has targeted Jewish and non-Jewish candidates alike.

This attack on democracy is happening in ridings across the country. In Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia vandals have sullied dozens of candidate signs. It’s part of a troubling undercurre­nt of hate and hostility that has darkened the election campaign.

Whatever the motivation, this is an odious attack on our democratic process. Even with the intensity of political invective, there’s no excuse for using the swastika. Since Nazi Germany made it part of its genocidal racist ideology, it’s been synonymous with antisemiti­sm and the Holocaust. Using such an emblem to defile election signs reflects, at best, shameful ignorance and a misguided sense of protest.

More often, it’s a deliberate act of hate-filled intimidati­on and harassment.

The swastika is especially heinous when directed against Jews, as vandals have done in Montreal against the current campaigns of two Jewish candidates, Rachel Bendayan and Anthony Housefathe­r. Given its history, the swastika is especially toxic for Jews, as it evokes the antisemiti­c persecutio­n and genocide committed by the Nazis.

Throughout Hitler’s reign of terror from 1933 until 1945, he misappropr­iated and exploited this ancient symbol. He made it the emblem of his totalitari­an regime, which also persecuted LGBTQ, Roma and the physically and mentally disabled, among others.

As a proud Canadian Jew and former parliament­arian, who believes in the strength of our democracy and our political process, seeing the emergence of the swastika as part of this election campaign sickens me to the core. Just as abhorrent is the adopting of other Holocaust symbols by opponents of vaccinatio­n.

To use the pretext of protest to justify using the swastika betrays a lack of basic knowledge and understand­ing of history. To be sure, there are good reasons and legitimate ways to speak up and challenge authority, to question those running for office, and to push back on laws or government policies, all of which are within the bounds of political discourse. Resorting to Nazi symbols isn’t one of them.

Using a swastika immediatel­y tarnishes any message, wrapping it in a white power symbol of hate. Not for nothing it’s prohibited in Germany and several other countries.

It would already be bad enough if we saw the odd swastika only during election time scrawled on candidate signs. Sadly, it appears all too often year round on the walls of synagogues, Jewish schools, Jewish homes and in other public places in Canada. Their proliferat­ion speaks to a rise in antisemiti­sm as part of an overall increase in racism, xenophobia, white supremacy and other extremist views.

Data from Statistics Canada paints a grim picture. The number of hate crimes reported to police increased by 37 per cent in 2020, with nearly 3,000 incidents in total — the largest number ever recorded in Canada. The national picture is mirrored by statistics from a new Toronto police report. It showed a 51 per cent increase in police-reported hate crimes last year, with the Jewish community remaining the leading victim, followed by the Black, LGBTQ, and Asian communitie­s. Clearly, the persistent presence of Nazi-inspired graffiti reinforces the importance of Holocaust education and learning lessons from that dark chapter of history. That the hateful resurfacin­g of this symbol has also become a common sight among protestors at recent anti-vax rallies in Canada is more reason for concern. Equally disconcert­ing is the misuse by anti-vax activists of another symbol of the Nazis, namely the infamous yellow star they forced Jews to wear publicly before sending them to death camps.

It’s one thing to question the overwhelmi­ng evidence and essential nature of COVID-19 vaccines. It’s something altogether repulsive to try to make such a case by drawing a false comparison to the Holocaust.

Whatever the target of protest, the use of Nazi symbols in such a context is an affront to the memory of each and every Holocaust victim and survivor and the millions of others who perished at the hands of the Nazi regime during the Second World War.

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 ??  ?? Rachel Bendayan's campaign sign in Montreal is defaced with a swastika.
Rachel Bendayan's campaign sign in Montreal is defaced with a swastika.

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