The recent anti-Semitic remarks of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad were on many people’s minds as Canada’s Parliament unanimously passed a motion last week establishing a national Holocaust day.
“The timing of this announcement could not be more appropriate,” Frank Dimant, the executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada, said on Oct. 21. “Once again, the Jews of the world find themselves at the epicenter of history, the targets of hate, vilification, and ultimately, violence. The words may be different, as may be the tactics, but the goals are the same.”
Leo Adler, director of national affairs for the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said,”The fact that all five parties unanimously supported this bill speaks volumes about Canada’s response to racists like Mahathir Mohamad.”
But Prime Minister Jean Chretien was criticized for his failure to condemn Mahathir, who told a meeting of Islamic leaders that “Jews rule this world by proxy.” Mahathir later said world reaction to his comments proved his point.
Adler said of Chretien, “It would have been nice for our prime minister to have been with us as well. Perhaps it’s symbolic in many ways that he’s not here today. Instead he chose to shake the hand of the Malaysian prime minister without condemning his inflammatory remarks.”
Instead, Chretien’s foreign affairs minister, Bill Graham, spoke out against Mahathir’s remarks.
Criticism of Chretien was overshadowed by the unanimity of support for the Holocaust bill. Legislator Richard Marceau is credited by his cosponsors for being the initiative’s champion.
“One of the most important things about this bill is that each and every parliamentarian, the elected officials of Canada, regardless of their party affiliation, passed this bill unanimously,” Marceau said. “That is how strongly this country feels the Holocaust should be remembered.”
The bill is the first piece of Canadian legislation not dealing with parliamentary business to pass by unanimous consent since at least 1990.
When asked about his reasons for proposing the bill, Marceau mentioned the father of a friend who survived Auschwitz and then raised a family in Canada, putting his five children through college.
“When he passed away a year and a half ago, I realized that while they’re tough, Holocaust survivors aren’t immortal.” Marceau said. “Many of them are passing away and it’s up to us to pick up the torch and let people know what happened.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.