Canada has seen a drastic rise in antisemitism. So Jews are taking a stand

Jews remain the most targeted religious group for hate crimes in Canada, and over the last few years it’s become worse. 

Statistics Canada has published their police-reported hate crime data for 2022 revealing hate crimes targeting Black and Jewish communities remained the most commonly reported to police, representing 23 per cent and 14 per cent of all hate crimes, respectively. It’s important to note that Jews represent just one per cent of Canada’s population. 

Alarmingly, while religiously motivated hate crimes in Canada declined overall, Jews were the only religious group to experience an increase in incidents. 

The statistics paint a concerning picture of a cultural shift in Canada, which is often touted as a place that welcomes newcomers and celebrates diversity. But hate crimes against minorities are on the rise as political divisions in Canada, and around the world, continue to widen. 

In Canada, on average, more than one hate incident targeted the Jewish community every day in 2022. Anti-Jewish hate crime has increased by a staggering 52 per cent since 2020.

But some Jewish groups are choosing to fight not just antisemitism but all targeted hate to improve life here in Canada. 

I spoke with Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), over the phone to discuss how they’re addressing and combatting antisemitism in Canada and how the country’s sociopolitical climate has changed. 

I have heard and read that anti-Jewish hate crime has been on the rise. It was especially noticeable in the U.S. once former president Trump was elected. But to find similar statistics in Canada is worrying. Why do you think we’ve seen anti-Jewish hate crime increase by 52 per cent since 2020? 

I first want to say that Canada still represents the best country for any minority or targeted group to live in. There are clear efforts made by all three levels of government to ensure everyone feels fully empowered and they are recognized as legitimized stakeholders in this project we call Canada. That being said, there is work to be done collectively to make things better and ensure that everyone has equal access to “the promised life.” 

[In the last few years] We are more sensitized to the issue of equity and committed to diversity that have fed into woke sensibility (which has unfortunately been hijacked to be something negative) but it tells us that not everything is right and we have to look at inequities. This has led to a battle cry from the extreme right in terms of them boasting about replacement theory—their perception that others are asserting their place in traditional white society, putting it at risk; that doesn’t excuse it but helps explain the dynamic we’re seeing. There’s also an issue on the left of reducing everything into a binary relationship, unable to see nuance in situations. 

And social media platforms have given people a degree of anonymity to say and act out things that should never be articulated properly without consequence. It’s given people  permission to share their worst instincts. It has fuelled this fire of polarization that has become toxic. People are not applying critical thinking, they’re not really thoughtfully reflecting on what is in this sentence they just wrote. They’re effectively bullying and terrorizing someone online. Social media has a dark underbelly and if it’s abused, and it clearly and willfully is being abused, by those who have an agenda of hate, we need to do a better job of addressing that. 

What does it tell us about the sociopolitical climate in Canada? 

The Canadian experience has been infected by everything we’re seeing around the globe. What I just said in terms of hyperpolarizations, normalizing of hate—not that hate hasn’t always existed, it’s been around since the time of Abraham—but more so for the permission to allow hate to creep out of the dark corners into normative conversation as if it can be defended and promoted is something we’re seeing manifest all over the world, Canada included.  

Because antisemitism has existed for so long, are Jews or the broader public, desensitized to these statistics? How do you convey the severity of the issue to any skeptics? 

This is the most fundamental challenge. Canadians simply don’t find the claim of antisemitism credible. Not because they hold a particular animosity but for them it doesn’t meet with their perceptions of Jews. Many look at Jews and see success, money, position, achievement, across the whole spectrum from the economic to academic, fine arts, politics, sciences, so in the face of that how do you reconcile that success with the claim that this is a persecuted or targeted community?

Within the Jewish community, how do we go out and make the case that hatred against Jews is a real problem? While not falling into the trap of “I’m the victim of hate.” There’s the temptation to allow victimhood to define our identity. We must become empowered and be like an activist in addressing hate not just for Jews but for all. We’ve [CIJA] made a point in every conversation that there’s a recognition of not just Jews but also Muslims, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ+ communities, Black communities, Asian communities . . . Whatever is happening to Jews is happening to other segments of Canadian society and it’s important we shed a light on that as well.  

Does combatting and confronting antisemitism and other forms of hate become more difficult when we’re seeing trusted new sources be blocked from Meta and potentially Google later this year, which is a response from Big Tech to Canada’s Online News Act? Won’t hate continue to be on the rise if misinformation is able to flourish? 

An antidote to that is to become active participants in accessing trusted information. We’ve been so passive, relying on third parties to give us all the information. We can’t have a bunch of silos of different communities living in their own world and notionally being aware of others. If we don’t reach out and become comfortable with each other and develop common ground and purpose, those who have an interest in dividing communities will have a much easier time doing it.

Start getting involved in stuff. Information and evidence is accessible. We’re the victims of fake news only so long as we allow those who promote it to define what our reality looks like. As a society, it’s not hard to pull the wool over our eyes on so many things. 

I know CIJA has undertaken two major initiatives in the fight against hate this year. First by becoming a founding member and Canada’s representative on the newly formed J7, The Large Communities’ Task Force Against Antisemitism among major Jewish organizations from seven of the world’s largest diaspora communities and co-creating the two-day Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It conference taking place in Ottawa this fall. Those are two big undertakings! It feels like there’s an urgency to your work in combatting antisemitism now more than ever. 

We’re hoping the conference can achieve three things: First, we want all participants to understand what hate looks like in 2023. We will focus on antisemitism, but a lot of presenters are from different communities so everyone can learn what hate looks like from different perspectives. Hate on the right, is not the same as the left. Antisemitism looks different in different communities and needs different solutions. Second, we want people to transform from being passive victims to empowered activists. Not just make a difference but be the difference— that can only happen when you’re engaged with your community. Third, is to give some consideration to the role of the government in supporting and engaging in that fight. They can be onlookers and standby, or they can stand up and step up. 

Our hope is that the conference serves as a launch pad for a sustained approach to combat hatred against Jews and others. This conference isn’t a one off. It’s the beginning of something that will carry us forward over the coming years. There is no immediate remedy. You have to work at combatting hate, but we’re determined to do so.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Header image design by Clarrie Feinstein.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Can’t get enough? Subscribe!