Anti-Semitic violence rises in Canada


TORONTO, Feb. 21 (JTA) – Anti-Semitic incidents in Canada increased by 5 percent in 2000, according to a report released this week by B’nai Brith Canada.

The frequency of incidents – there were 280 overall – increased substantially during the last three months of the year, apparently in reaction to the renewed violence in the Middle East.

The incidents include physical assault, vandalism, threats, synagogue firebombings, arson attacks and a cemetery desecration.

The most violent incident described in the report took place in October in a Montreal subway station, where two men identified as Arab youths viciously beat a Jewish student wearing a yarmulke. The victim was knocked unconscious and would have been thrown onto the rails had two passengers not intervened.

A “disturbing” recent development in Canada is that many expressions of hate have been sparked by the political conflict in the Middle East, said Karen Mock, director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

“It is not seen as Canadian behavior to act out political issues in a violent way,” she said. “To see Canadian turn against Canadian because of events in the Middle East is very disheartening.”

In one such incident, demonstrators at a pro-Palestinian street rally in Toronto harassed local Jewish bystanders, chanted “Death to the Jews” in Arabic, and carried placards equating the Jewish star with the swastika.

It was in Montreal, though, where the troubles in the Mideast appeared to spill over the most into Canadian streets. The audit revealed 71 reported incidents in Montreal – a figure 92 percent higher than last year’s tally.

In the Montreal suburb of Saint-Laurent, which has large Arab and Jewish populations, a Jewish elementary school’s windows were smashed, students were verbally abused and swastikas were painted on walls.

“It’s a fine line between freedom of expression and hatemongering,” said B’nai Brith’s Quebec director, Robert Libman. “A pro-Palestinian demonstration is one thing, but when you find materials denying the Holocaust and anti-Semitic tracts, that’s another.”

At Concordia University in Montreal, a large Arab student body has been particularly vocal in its condemnation of Israel, with actions bordering on violence toward the school’s Jewish students.

Other recent incidents evoke unpleasant memories of the sort of country-club anti-Semitism that was prevalent in Canadian society until the 1950s and 1960s.

In one incident, a condominium association insisted that a tenant remove the mezuzah from her doorpost, claiming it was a decoration rather than a symbol of religious observance.

While the matter went to the condominium board for discussion, vandals destroyed every mezuzah in the building. Eventually, through the intervention of the League for Human Rights, the board altered the wording of its bylaw to accept mezuzot.

The league also documented the proliferation of an anti-Semitic “kosher tax” myth, which saw unsuspecting consumers being advised to go through their cupboards and estimate the worth of all groceries bearing “hidden” kosher symbols in order to attain an alleged government tax refund.

B’nai Brith’s report noted that while people who applied for refunds are “not anti-Semites per se,” many seemed “all too ready to believe that Jews are sneakily trying to extort money from an unsuspecting public.”

B’nai Brith officials estimate that about 10 anti-Semitic incidents occur for every one that gets documented.

B’nai Brith Canada has been utilizing a consistent methodology to compile national statistics on hate crimes since 1982. Criminologists and police officials have come to rely upon the organization’s Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents as a barometer of racist behavior and attitudes across the country.

(JTA correspondent Bram Eisenthal in Montreal contributed to this report.)

Recommended from JTA