Tolerance message crucial as anti-Semitic incidents rise 27 per cent

TORONTO (CP) – International terrorism and the importation of anti-Jewish sentiment from abroad are the greatest threats to Jewish institutions following a 27 per cent increase in hate incidents against Canadian Jews in 2003, B’nai Brith reported Thursday.

“The greatest threat to Jewish community institutions is no longer the neo-Nazi groups as in the past, but rather from elements linked to international terror organizations,” said national president Rochelle Wilner as the group released its annual audit of anti-Semitic acts. B’nai Brith reported 584 anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, up from 459 the previous year.

“This 27 per cent increase follows the 60 per cent increase that we reported last year,” said national director Ruth Klein. “This means the number of reported incidents in Canada has doubled in just two years.”

The majority of incidents in 2003 were described as harassment, but seven led to criminal charges and one resulted in a prison sentence. Almost half took place around the lead-up to the Iraq War, and the report said there were numerous attempts during anti-war rallies to blame Israel and the Jews for the conflict.

Aboriginal leader David Ahenakew’s remarks to a newspaper reporter in late 2002 that Hitler was trying to “clean up the world” when he “fried” six million Jews in the Holocaust were also cited. The Order of Canada recipient faces hate charges.

While the organization blamed no one ethnic group for the incidents, they said it’s time to bring the message of tolerance to new Canadians.

“We have many immigrants who come here from countries where the norm is intolerance,” said vice-president Frank Dimant. “We have to teach the values of Canadian society to the new immigrants. That’s absolutely crucial for society as a whole and, in particular, for a safe and secure Jewish community.”

Immigrants from Arab countries where the press is virulently anti-Semitic need to leave “those old prejudices at home.”

“We do not have proof that they were mainly Arab,” Dimant said of the cultural origin of those behind last year’s 584 incidents. “But we do have enough evidence to suggest that a percentage, for the first time, was attributable to those who are identified as being of Arab origin.”

The Jewish advocacy group, which bases its numbers on incidents reported to its 24-hour hotline and volunteers, said hate crimes are hard to trace as they’re carried out through anonymous means like graffiti.

However, the group identified “36 cases that involved Arab perpetrators out of a total of 584.”

Overall, the vast majority of incidents reported – 67 per cent – were described as harassment, 30 per cent as vandalism and three per cent as violent. There were 23 incidents targeting synagogues, and B’nai Brith reports there were 34 threats made against children. The groups also expressed concern that Jews were being targeted at universities and colleges, with 46 incidents taking place on campus.

Most of the incidents were reported in Ontario (400) and Quebec (108), provinces where most Canadian Jews live.

More than just numbers, Thursday’s report shines a light on what Jews endure day in, day out as they go about their lives, the group said.

“We have to have protection when we go to synagogue,” said Dimant. “There is no reason why any group in this country should feel so threatened that it has to have security at its institutions of worship.”

That by itself “should raise alarm and concern among the political leadership in this country,” he said. The group will seek a formal pronouncement on the issue from Prime Minister Paul Martin in May following its annual general meeting.

“We would like a clear statement that anti-Semitism in any guise and any form is just not acceptable Canadian behaviour,” said Dimant. That pronouncement would then be used in B’nai Brith’s educational materials.

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Canadian Press, Canada
Mar. 11, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 12, 2004.
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