Hate crimes against Jewish Canadians keep rising — anti-Semitism isn’t just history

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Preserving testimonies and memories of the Holocaust
WATCH ABOVE: As survivors of one of the darkest chapters of history advance in age, educators are looking at new and innovative ways of preserving their memories. Caryn Lieberman explains – May 1, 2019

Edith Gelbard survived the Holocaust by hiding in Southern France, eventually living at a children’s home in the town of Moissac.

After the war, she was reunited with her mom, sister and brother.

Her father and extended family never returned.

“We didn’t have a chance to be family,” the 86-year-old woman told Global News.

In 1955, she came to Canada with her husband and their infant son. They found a home. They started a new life.

Edith Gelbard shares her story about surviving the Holocaust and coming to Canada.
Edith Gelbard shares her story about surviving the Holocaust and coming to Canada. Global News

But Gelbard says recent events in the news — such as anti-Semitic graffiti left on a home in Vaughan, Ont. — are difficult for her to see.

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“It’s very hard… It’s horrible.”

While Gelbard and members of her family survived the Holocaust, about six million Jews were killed. On Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, they are commemorated.

READ MORE: Canadian Jewish advocacy group reports ‘uptick’ in anti-Semitism

This year, the remembrance day begins at sundown on May 1. Bernie Farber, the chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, says the events marking Yom HaShoah will be particularly solemn this time given recent events.

“I don’t even have the words,” Farber told Global News. “We remember the Holocaust, but at the same time, it conjures up for us what’s going on today, 75 years later.”

Farber noted that in Jewish history, anti-Semitism is “like a virus” that re-surges from time to time.

The numbers on anti-Semitism in Canada show a similar pattern — hate crimes against Jewish Canadians have been on the rise for years.

WATCH: Canada will ‘never be silent’ in face of rising anti-Semitism, Trudeau says

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Canada will ‘never be silent’ in face of rising anti-semitism: Trudeau

The Jewish organization B’nai Brith Canada’s advocacy arm, League for Human Rights, released its 2018 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents this week, which showed a jump of 16.5 per cent in hate crimes from the year prior.

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That means there were 2,041 incidents of hate crimes against Jewish Canadians in 2018.

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Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, called the rise a “disturbing new normal.”

“We are experiencing a disturbing new normal when it comes to anti-Semitism in this country, with expressions of anti-Jewish hatred surfacing in regions that are typically less prone to such prejudices,” Mostyn said.

Eleven of the incidents in the report included violent assaults, including two Jewish children in Saskatchewan who were assaulted by their schoolmates and four Jewish teenagers attacked in Toronto by a group of youths.

B’nai Brith only includes incidents in the report where a victim’s being Jewish was the explicit reason for the attack.

READ MORE: Canada apologizes for turning away Jewish refugees in 1939 — why that matters

The rise in hate crimes against Jewish Canadians is one noted by Statistics Canada, as well. According to the government agency’s latest police-reported hate crime data, such crimes grew by 63 per cent between 2016 and 2017 — from 221 to 360.

Incidents against Jewish Canadians accounted for 18 per cent of all police-reported hate crimes in 2017.

Statistics Canada noted that all religious groups saw an increase in police-reported hate crimes in 2017, which was largely driven by Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents.

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Between 2010 and 2017, hate crimes against Jewish Canadians were “non-violent,” the report explained. The most common form of hate spewed at the community was mischief, followed by uttering threats.

WATCH: Rise in number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Canada

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Rise in number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Canada

Numbers from both B’nai Brith Canada and Statistics Canada show that anti-Semitism in Canada is not an issue of the past.

Rather, the issue of anti-Jewish sentiments is ever-present in Canada and beyond.

It was seen last weekend when a gunman opened fire inside a California synagogue — just six months after a similar deadly incident in Pittsburgh.

The statistics confirm what these incidents show us — attacks against the Jewish population are rising south of the border, too.

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Violent attacks against the Jewish community in the United States doubled last year, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Overall, attacks that also included things like vandalism and harassment remained near record-high levels.

READ MORE: New York Times admits its cartoon an example of rising anti-Semitism

The New York-based Jewish civil rights group counted 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents — either harassment, vandalism or physical assault — in 2018.

That is a five per cent decrease from the 1,986 incidents reported in 2017, but the third-highest total since ADL began tracking the data in the 1970s. The 2017 number marked a 57 per cent increase over 2016.

It was the highest tally the organization has counted in more than two decades.

Many advocates have noted that truly addressing anti-Semitism in the current era means finding a way to curb online hatred.

That’s something B’nai Brith is also calling on the Canadian government to do — address gaps in hate laws that allow for the proliferation of online hatred.

“And too often nowadays, this incitement is taking place on the internet and it is influencing others that unfortunately take violent and drastic actions and that’s what really needs to stop.”

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WATCH: Hate crimes against Jewish community increase year over year

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Hate crimes against Jewish community increase year over year

The B’nai Brith report noted that 80 per cent of the incidents noted in its report took place online, such as via email or social media.

Suspects in several attacks — including both the California and Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, and the New Zealand mosque shootings — had posted hateful content on social media prior to the attack.

Steven Slimovitch, the national legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, said online hate has a much larger reach and can have a bigger impact than direct one-on-one incidents.

“Now what’s happening is you can easily reach thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people via the internet,” Slimovitch said. “You can do it quietly, you can do it in your basement and that’s a very very serious problem.”

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WATCH: New Zealand and France to host summit to tackle online extremism

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New Zealand and France to host summit to tackle online extremism

Statistics Canada also explored cyber hate crime in its latest police-reported hate crimes data, noting that of reported cyber hate crimes between 2010 and 2017, 14 per cent were against the Jewish community.

Farber agreed that online hatred is surging, and that we need solutions as soon as possible.

“Online hate is now the latest vehicle to drive anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and whatever hatred you have out there,” he said.

Farber noted social media has a big role to play in curbing online hate, and industry giants such as Facebook have shown initiative.

But he added that others, such as Twitter, are notably absent from the table.

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READ MORE: Social media bans, fines and penalties — how countries attempt to combat hate after tragedy

“Twitter is kind of wild and free. Even though they have, allegedly, their own regulations against promoting hatred, they never follow,” Farber said.

When social media executives fail to act on limiting hatred, Farber said governments need to act through legislation, noting the example of countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

“Dangerous, racist, hateful words turn into dangerous, racist violence. We saw that in New Zealand, we’ve seen it in the United States and here in Canada.”

— With files from Global News reporter Caryn Lieberman, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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