The editorial claimed there were 300 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada in the past 12 months, including attacks on four synagogues, the murder of an Orthodox Jew, anti-Jewish violence at public events, and an exoneration of Hitler by a prominent native Indian leader. Winnipeg-based David Matas said that certainly constitutes a mounting level of anti-Semitism.
Similarly, Bernie Farber, the executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress in Ontario, said that "anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic, and anti-Zionist rhetoric and incidents have significantly increased in Canada," largely as a result of the Middle East conflict.
Farber added that "the extreme Right and extreme Left" appear to be capitalizing on the general population's increasing tolerance for anti-Jewish sentiments - something that wouldn't have been accepted a few years ago. For example, he said the labeling of Israel as a "Nazi" or "apartheid" state is "the kind of thing we're hearing more of." He also said it's not uncommon to hear cries of "death to Jews" at public protests in Canada.
Norman Spector, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel and the one-time publisher of the Jerusalem Post, characterized the Christmas Day editorial as an "exaggeration" and questioned "how much knowledge the editorial writer would have had of the Canadian scene." In a Dec. 26 reaction to the editorial in Canada's National Post newspaper, Spector also admitted that it contained "a kernel of truth."
According to Matas, however, "Mr. Spector is fooling himself. I read his reaction, and I consider him uninformed." Spector said, for example, that the murder in July on a Toronto street of a visibly Orthodox Jewish community leader, David Rosenzweig, has not yet been proven an act of anti-Semitism.
However, Matas, a lawyer for B'nai Brith, reported that a signed affidavit shows that the youth charged with the murder of Rosenzweig shouted, "You [expletive] Jew," before he stabbed him. Matas and Farber say there's no question it was a hate crime.
Matas also noted that a man convicted of setting fire to an Edmonton, Alberta, synagogue last year with the excuse that he "didn't like the way Israel was behaving" was given such a light sentence that a successful appeal was launched by the Crown.
Suggesting that the case reflected the lack of seriousness with which the country takes anti-Semitism, Matas went on to characterize Spector's reaction to the Jerusalem Post editorial - and a similar tendency of other Canadian Jews to downplay anti-Jewish activities in this country - as a form of denial and self-defense.
A big concern is the degree to which pro-Palestinian activists are commandeering Canadian universities for anti-Zionist campaigning. "An increasing number of students in universities and colleges say that they fear reprisals if they challenge prevailing pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel views," the Jerusalem Post said. "If they argue that Israel has the right to exist, they are often greeted with threats, even physical assault."
Last September at Concordia University in Montreal (home to a sizeable portion of Canada's 360,000 Jews), opposition to an appearance by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lead to a riot in which windows were smashed and Jews insulted.
Subsequently, the student union revoked the right of the Jewish student organization Hillel to operate on campus. (Hillel has filed a civil suit.) In early December, administrators at the University of Quebec in Montreal, reportedly in the face of threats, initially barred an Israeli professor from speaking on campus.
Reaction to these events has not been muted. In mid-December, more than 100 prominent Canadians, some of them Jewish, placed a large ad in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper entitled "Silence is Not the Answer." The ad appealed for tolerance and protection of Jews on Canadian campuses.
Perhaps the most-reported story of last year were statements made by a former chief of Canada's national Assembly of First Nations condoning the Holocaust. Saskatchewan-based David Ahenakew referred to Jews as "a disease"' and sought to justify the Holocaust. Ahenakew said publicly: "The Jews (expletive) near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make (expletive) sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know."
Reaction throughout Canada was swift and strong, and Ahenakew quickly made a tearful apology and retired from public life. However, the province of Saskatchewan has not yet brought charges under federal anti-hate legislation, something that B'nai Brith is demanding.
Farber, Matas and other commentators agree that Ahenakew made the remarks in a climate where he believed-in this case wrongly-they'd be tolerated. "He felt comfortable at the time to say what he's been thinking for a long time," Farber said. "As a result he was socially pilloried. That may be the one glimmer of light."
It's also widely agreed that the federal government has done little to fight the trend. Among criticisms is the excessive time it took to formally declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and the fact that last October, Prime Minister Jean Chretien appeared at a conference in Lebanon alongside Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.