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Op-Ed: Canada, Too, is Home to Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Manfred Gerstenfeld talks to Professor Ira Robinson of Concordia University, Montreal.
Published: Thursday, March 20, 2014 12:59 PM



Steven Harper...has absorbed the message that opposition to the policies of the State of Israel, while legitimate in a context of freedom of speech, can and does lead to anti-Semitic consequences.
“Anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in Canada come from many sources. Remnants of right-wing racist anti-Semitism from previous decades remain. Left-wing anti-globalist elements are represented on several Canadian university campuses and in some trade unions, especially in Quebec. There are also anti-Israel activists found among Muslim Canadians, many of whom have recently arrived from countries where anti-Israelism is commonplace.

“The province of Quebec has historically been one of the primary places in Canada for overt manifestations – mainly in the French language – of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, including in the media. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ombudsman's Annual Report has recently called upon Radio-Canada, its French-language network, to address a ‘systemic bias’ in its coverage of Israel.”

Ira Robinson is Professor of Judaic Studies in the Department of Religion at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. He has written extensively on Jewish issues including Canada’s Jewish community.

He remarks: “Numerous pro-Palestinian organizations function on various campuses. There are also a number of anti-Zionist professors and students. My own university, now fairly peaceful, has

“Anti-Israel activities such as ‘Israel Apartheid Week,’ which originated at the University of Toronto in 2005, continue to take place without generating publicity or the overt tensions of the past. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions have been debated on several Canadian campuses.

“Mohamed Elmasry, Professor at the University of Waterloo formerly headed the Canadian Islamic Congress. He argued on a Toronto talk show in 2004 that any Jew in Israel of military age (18 and over) is a legitimate target for terrorism, because they are ‘not innocent.’ Elmasry later apologized. He has also accused Jews of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, instigating the invasion of Iraq and forming a Jewish ‘cabal’ that runs the Canadian government.

“Various Muslim community newspapers have been accused of publishing Holocaust denial articles. Muslim schools like the East End Madrassah of Toronto were found to teach anti-Jewish hate. Anti-Semitic comments were heard at a 2011 ‘Al-Quds Day’ rally at the Ontario Legislature, which thereupon refused to grant its organizers access to its grounds.

“The main anti-Israel trade union is the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). In 2006 for instance, it voted unanimously to support the ‘international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.’ The CUPE National leadership distanced itself from the Ontario resolution.

“The United Church of Canada has a five decade-old history of anti-Israel rhetoric. In 2012, it backed a campaign titled ‘Unsettling Goods’ to boycott a list of items made by Israeli firms in the West Bank. In 2009, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney from the Conservative party ended governmental funding – which had lasted 35 years – to the NGO KAIROS. Kenney did so because of its leadership role in the BDS campaign against Israel. KAIROS has been supported by the United Church, as well as Canadian Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran and Mennonite churches.

“All mainstream Canadian political parties oppose anti-Semitism in Canadian life and support the existence of the State of Israel. The three major parties, Conservatives, NDP and Liberals have denounced BDS efforts. In his 2014 speech at the Knesset, Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper showed that he has absorbed the message that opposition to the policies of the State of Israel, while legitimate in a context of freedom of speech, can and does lead to anti-Semitic consequences.

“Organizationally, the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in Canada is addressed by several agencies, including especially The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs that represents major Jewish federations of Canada, as well as B’nai Brith Canada, but also includes organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, the Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Honest Reporting Canada.

“The League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada has published an increasingly sophisticated annual ‘Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents in Canada’ under various titles since 1982. It shows an increasing trend.

“The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) was established in 2009 and issued its report in 2011. It was initially made up of all parties represented in the House of Commons. The Bloc Quebecois, however, dropped out over contentions that the Coalition had a much too pro-Israel approach and was attempting to delegitimize criticism of Israel’s policies under the guise of anti-Semitism.

“CPCCA’s report was widely reported in the media. They generally understood it to say that Canada is turning into a hotbed of anti-Semitic activity, especially on university campuses. However, the report does not seem to have had a dramatically large impact on Canadian discourse regarding anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.”