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Pittsburgh attack comes amid rising anti-Semitism in North America

WATCH: Husband and wife among the victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Fourteen synagogues across Canada receive mail warning that “Jewry Must Perish.” A Nazi flag and graffiti saying “Jews did 911” mars a high school. A U.S. Holocaust-denier comes to Toronto to speak at Al-Quds Day.

The attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead and six injured occurred at a time of rising anti-Semitism in both the United States and Canada, according to statistics from authorities in both countries.

More than half of the religiously-motivated hate crimes in the U.S. in 2016 targeted Jews, FBI figures indicate, and the Anti-Defamation League said 2017 was even worse – a trend mirrored in Canada.

WATCH:  Pittsburgh shooting is attack on the entire Jewish people, says UJA Toronto

Toronto Jewish community leader calls Pittsburgh shooting an attack on ‘entire Jewish people’
Toronto Jewish community leader calls Pittsburgh shooting an attack on ‘entire Jewish people’

Jews were the most targeted minority for hate crimes reported to police in 2016, Statistics Canada said. Anti-Semitic incidents increased 24 per cent that year. B’nai Brith Canada said 2017 saw another increase.

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Only a handful of the incidents were violent, with harassment and vandalism accounting for the bulk, but they speak to what some see as a growing legitimization of anti-Semitism, one that sometimes goes unrecognized.

When Jewish high school students attended an anti-racism seminar at York University, they were told to “shut the f*** up” and listen to “real persecuted minorities,” according to B’nai Brith’s annual anti-Semitism audit.

READ MORE: What we know about Robert Bowers, suspect in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

“We remain deeply concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism, including violent anti-Semitism, around the globe,” said Martin Sampson of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Sampson said anti-Semitism was unlike other forms of bigotry and hate, and was in many ways more pernicious, being longstanding and grounded in conspiracy theory.

“What underpins true anti-Semitism is a belief that the Jews are extra-evil, that they are some sort of cosmic evil, that they control the world, that they’re at the root of all that ails us,” he said.

WATCH: Concerns about rise of anti-Semitism in Canada

Pittsburgh Shooting: Concerns about rise of anti-Semitism in Canada
Pittsburgh Shooting: Concerns about rise of anti-Semitism in Canada

“Anti-Semites believe this, which puts their belief one step away from action. Who is to blame them if they demonize or kill a cosmic evil? Yesterday was this exact dynamic.”

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Sampson said when people needed scapegoats in complicated times, Jews have long been the targets they turned on. “Anti-Semitism is on the rise because hateful anti-Semites are intellectually deficient, angry and need someone to blame.”

He said it was important to call out, ridicule, prosecute, and marginalize anti-Semites.

“For those of us who are watching closely, yesterday was shocking, infuriating, and deeply saddening. But it was not surprising.”

READ MORE: Police presence in Jewish communities across Canada to be increased following Pittsburgh shooting

Increases in anti-Semitism are sometimes linked to events overseas. When a Montreal Jewish school was firebombed in 2004, the 19-year-old who did it said he was angry that Israel had killed the leader of the Hamas terrorist group.

More recently, the impact of last year’s white nationalist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. was felt in Canada, setting off what B’nai Brith called a “massive wave of vandalism featuring swastikas and other pro-Nazi imagery.” President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem similarly led to anti-Semitic hate speech.

WATCH: Anti-Semitic incidents up in 2017, according to B’nai Brith

2017 an all-time high for anti-Semitic acts in Canada
2017 an all-time high for anti-Semitic acts in Canada

“What is most frustrating about these incidents is the culture of impunity that surrounds them,” B’nai Brith said. “The government often talks a good game about ‘zero tolerance’ for anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, but the reality is quite different.”

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Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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