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Incidents of anti-semitism increasing online in Canada, says B’Nai Brith

Racism and intolerance have captured a lot of headlines so far in 2020.

A lot of the focus has been on the police and how they treat Black people, but human rights activists say another form of bigotry — anti-semitism — should not be forgotten.

Ran Ukashi, national director for the League of Human Rights for B’Nai Brith, said Canada has seen a consistent increase in anti-semitic incidents in the past year.

“Unfortunately the numbers are going up,” said Ukashi. “This is the second time we’ve exceeded the 2,000 range of incidents since 1982, the first time being in 2018. That is cause for concern.”

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The most recent numbers come from the annual audit of anti-semitic incidents, which was published last April. It said there were 2,207 incidents in 2019, which marked the fourth consecutive year where the numbers went up.

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So why the increase?

“When it comes to the reasoning behind anti-semitic incidents, be they harassment, vandalism, or violence, you’ll have to ask the perpetrators first and foremost,” Ukashi explained, “but there are a few trends that we can see.”

One of the trends is online, where anonymous harassment increased by 11 per cent. Ukashi said they’re seeing an ever-growing amount of anti-semitism on the internet. In fact, 82 per cent of all the harassment they observed in the audit took place online.

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Of the harassment reported, 25 per cent included threats of genocide against the Jewish people and Holocaust denial.  Ukashi said it’s disturbing that much of it came from younger internet users — people 34 and under. He suggested that a lack of education for our youth could be a reason for the bigotry.

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“What’s especially concerning,” said Ukashi, “is that roughly 20 per cent of millennials can’t name a single concentration camp or the number of Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust. It shows a bit of a gap in education that leaves people open and susceptible to venomous ideas that they might come across online.”

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Every province does have some version of Holocaust education in its schools, but Ukashi said because it’s provincially mandated, there is no standardized education across the country, which means you can’t guarantee the quality of it.

But even if the Holocaust is taught in schools, Ukashi said the onslaught of misinformation a person comes across online can offset that education. And much of the information is coming from questionable sources. Ukashi insisted that stopping anti-semitism, and bigotry in general, requires squashing out those bad sources, and that involves working with social media companies.

“We’ve seen as of late, there are these campaigns to get to social media companies to be more accountable,” said Ukashi. “The issue, of course, becomes legal, in terms of what can and can’t be expressed on those forums, what the accountability is for the platforms themselves.”

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In essence, Ukashi believes that ending anti-semitism isn’t just about accusing the bigots, it’s about helping them.

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“Hate tends to grow,” he said, “it doesn’t tend to diminish on its own, and that’s the phenomenon we’re seeing by an increasingly emboldened minority in Canada.

“Broadly speaking, it’s the ideas themselves that are the problem.”

“If people are able to be educated, and understand that what they’re saying is wrong, that’s really the ultimate battle because then they wouldn’t express these kinds of views anyway.”

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