TORONTO, Nov. 20 (JTA) Canada’s Jewish community has experienced a spate of anti-Semitic violence that some observers say is “the worst concentrated outbreak of anti-Semitism, particularly against religious institutions, since the Second World War.”
That was the assessment of Manuel Prutschi, national director of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress.
The CJC has counted at least 50 incidents of arson, assault, graffiti and vandalism against Jewish targets since Israeli-Palestinian tensions increased in the Middle East in late September.
There have been four reported assaults, all in Montreal: Two students wearing yarmulkes were beaten up in a subway station, another was bullied in a schoolyard and a man was beaten as he walked home from synagogue.
Bricks have shattered windows of two Toronto synagogues, and anti-Semitic or pro-Palestinian graffiti spray-painted on at least five Toronto synagogues. Jewish shops and institutions have likewise been targeted in London, Hamilton and Ottawa, all in the province of Ontario.
The five reported incidents of arson include the firebombing of synagogues and the headquarters of a Jewish burial society in Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton. Yousef Sandouga, 20, was charged with arson after a Molotov cocktail thrown at a window of Beth Shalom synagogue in Edmonton caused about $1,000 in damage to an external wall.
In one incident, police responding to a bomb threat searched a Jewish community center in downtown Toronto on Yom Kippur without disrupting prayer services. The Israeli Embassy in Ottawa also received a bomb threat.
Jewish officials also say they have received numerous telephone death threats aimed at them or the entire Jewish community.
Congregations and Jewish institutions across Canada have increased their security precautions, and many have hired full-time security staff.
By special arrangement with the Jewish community, the Montreal Urban Community Police has taken to patrolling outside synagogues once every hour, said Robert Libman, mayor of Cote Saint Luc, a Montreal municipality with a high proportion of Jewish residents. “The Montreal police have been very helpful and very cooperative and very sensitive to our concerns,” said Libman, who is also B’nai Brith Canada’s regional director for Quebec.
“No community in Canada should have to endure what the Jewish community has had to endure over the last month,” Prutschi said. “The political, religious and ethnic leaders all have a responsibility, repeatedly and publicly, to condemn and repudiate such acts, not only because they threaten the Jewish community, but because they are an assault on the multicultural fabric of Canada.”
The Canadian Jewish Congress was quick to condemn graffiti scrawled in October on Palestine House, the headquarters of the Canadian Palestinian community in Mississauga, outside of Toronto.
“We were appalled by this attack, and we issued a statement condemning it as totally reprehensible,” said Prutschi, who said the local Arab community does not repudiate specific acts of violence against Jewish targets in Canada.
In November, several rabbis and a single Muslim imam in Ottawa issued a joint statement urging that relations between the Jewish and Arab communities in Canada should not be affected by the conflict in the Middle East.
“The fact that you have six rabbis to one Muslim religious leader signing that tends to imply that the Jews are primarily on the giving end rather than on the receiving end” of such initiatives, Prutschi said.
The National Post, a politically conservative national newspaper, asserted in a recent editorial that Canada’s vote in favor of an October U.N. resolution critical of Israel has created a climate of anti-Semitism in the country.
Although the government’s U.N. vote has been seen to draw away many Jewish votes from the ruling Liberal Party in advance of the scheduled Nov. 27 federal election, Prutschi disagreed, saying it had not sparked anti-Semitic activity in Canada.
“The U.N. vote was not helpful in terms of the overall atmosphere in Canada, but it is simply one of many elements” behind the wave of anti-Jewish violence, he said.
Participants of anti-Israel demonstrations in Toronto have called for “Death to the Jews,” he noted, and sported signs equating the Star of David with the swastika, and Israeli Prime Minister Barak with Adolf Hitler.
Some parts of the Arab world has repeatedly called for a jihad or holy war against Israel and the Jews and issued edicts to kill Israelis and Jews anywhere they may be, Prutschi observed, adding that such statements have helped to incite attacks on Canadian Jews.
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada for the month of October has doubled over the same period last year, according to B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.
“Fire-bombings, assaults, synagogue defacings and threats go far beyond the political discourse we are used to in Canada, and straight into hate-motivated criminal activity,” said Stephen Scheinberg, national chair of the league.