A Change of Plans
By Deborah Corber, CEO, Federation CJA
I had a plan. I was going to focus my first blog of the fall calendar on the extraordinary Centennial year that has so far unfolded, and the Centennial events still to come. I was going to promote Exponential, our signature Centennial young adult conference on redesigning community. I was going to psych you up about Combined Jewish Appeal’s 100th campaign, and urge you to give generously. I was going to encourage you to reserve your spot at our Centennial AGM, featuring the incomparable Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella, and honouring 2017 Samuel Bronfman Medal winner, Jonathan Wener.
I had a plan. But that was before the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in the murder of Heather Heyer, a courageous young woman protesting hate. That was before the rally in Vancouver by the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam. That was before the all-too familiar forces of racism, bigotry and antisemitism erupted, yet again, across North America.
Now, my plan has changed, and I need to speak about what Arnold Schwarzenegger has rightly called a cancer.
According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail (“Extremism does not stop at the border”, August 19, 2017), Quebec, Ontario and Alberta are home to the majority of hate groups in Canada. Researchers have identified approximately 100 far-right groups, a number that has grown by 20-30% in the past 10 months alone. While some of these groups may boast no more than a dozen members, the number of groups continues to proliferate, all continuing to pollute our society with their venom.
I am neither a historian nor a sociologist, so I will offer no “expert” views on why this kind of hatred persists. But I am a Jew and my people, the Jewish people, are experts in antisemitism. No other people in human history has been persecuted for as long or as viciously as the Jewish people.
Antisemitism is the gift that keeps on giving. Just like bacteria keep evolving into new strains that are resistant to antibiotics, so too antisemitism keeps morphing into new forms that are resistant to the tools western societies have developed to fight it.
Oh sure, the ancient kind of far-right Jew hatred persists, as we heard in the chilling refrain, “Jews will not replace us” chanted by the white-supremacist thugs who marched, tiki torches in hand, through the streets of Charlottesville. But there is a newer kind of Jew hatred that is manifested by the far-left through shiny new constructs like “intersectionality”, which uses their perceived “white privilege” and/or their Zionism to disqualify Jews from a seat at the table in the fight against all forms of oppression.
Jews are experts in seeing, hearing, sensing, understanding, and most tragically of all, experiencing hatred. Antisemitism has made us reluctant experts. But that expertise has led us to fight for human rights everywhere. Jews were at the forefront of the American civil rights movement, and Jewish advocates have been disproportionately involved in the fight for justice for Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Jewish voices have historically been among the first and the loudest in condemning hatred of all kinds.
Antisemitism, racism and bigotry are equal opportunity scourges and no society is immune from them. They may take different forms, but these kinds of hatred, at their core, are the same, and where there is one, there is almost certainly another, as in antisemitism = racism = anti-immigrant sentiment = anti-Muslim hatred = homophobia of all kinds – the list goes on. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
As Jews we have a singular responsibility to stand up against intolerance and hatred of all kinds. We have a responsibility to be the proverbial canary in the mine. When we fight against BDS we are not only fighting anti-Zionism which we recognize as the new form of antisemitism, we are also calling out the hypocrisy of the far-left for discriminating against Jews even as it ostensibly fights the oppression of others.
As my colleague, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has written, “Charlottesville should be a personal call to action for each of us to take an active role in the fight against antisemitism and hate. The best way an individual can fight hatred is to confront it immediately when they see it, whether on the bus, on the internet, or during social interactions. It takes courage, but it is necessary to preserve everything we value.”
I had a plan for this blog. But as the old Yiddish proverb goes, Man plans, and G-d laughs.