"Punched me, kicked me, knocked me down."
This is not a memory from Berlin in 1933. It is an alarming story of Toronto in 2016 - told to me last night by a mature Jewish businessman who called me to describe his evening at a posh Yorkville restaurant. After confronting a vile antisemitic verbal attack while at the restaurant last week, he was assaulted in a dark alley by several assailants who reportedly "beat me up." He described his horrific ordeal to me: "They punched me in the face, knocked me down and kicked me." He fell unconscious to the ground, remembering very little after waking up in his apartment in a complete daze. Unquestionably, this was a violent attack by a group of thugs in the heart of Toronto. It could easily have happened to you or me.
Antisemitism is real and it is lethal. After years of Jew-hatred brewing and permitted on university campuses; spearheaded by unions and churches through the antisemitic disguise of "BDS" and the labelling of Israel an apartheid state - what can we expect? Should we expect a different response when a Canadian Imam declares that all of Israel should burn? When an antisemitic mural continues to hang at York University? When hate graffiti starts to proliferate in Canadian communities? And most significantly, when our own legal system and hate speech laws cannot and will not contest rabid "news" pamphlets that call for "book burnings" and Nazi-like marches?
Even within the Jewish community there are those who play down these matters. Who want to go along to get along. But this is not business as usual. The vile hatred that has become institutionalized on many campuses, that has become commonplace at some unions and churches - and even in the media - will undoubtedly give rise to violence. We charge these institutions of civil society with incitement and irresponsible conduct for sowing the seeds of hate against the Jewish people and their friends.
In this week's Huffington Post, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Abraham Cooper charges the "United Church of Christ Indoctrinates Children to Hate." He writes, "Its global Ministries recently released a Study Guide for Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and designed to be used in Sunday Schools. The lessons focus on the separation barrier and curfews that make life difficult for the Palestinians...the text makes no mention of Hamas, an organization dedicated to Israel's destruction...it does not inform the children that the checkpoints...were built after the deaths of many hundreds of Israelis - Jewish, Christian and Muslim...without such context, they turn Israelis into heartless monsters."
If the "Zeitgeist" - the defining spirit or mood of a particular period in history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time - is the promotion of Jewish hatred, we should all be deeply concerned. It is no secret that antisemitism proliferates on the internet today. A focused study by cyber experts found this week that hate groups have manipulated the internet to such an extent that most searches on the internet about "Jews" result in negative hits which come up first. This needs to be challenged immediately.
We cannot allow one instance of antisemitism to go unchallenged. This week, a top team from the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center met with Ryerson University president Dr. Mohamed Lachemi. The team included myself, Chancellor of Ryerson and Director at FSWC Lawrence Bloomberg; award winning film producer Robert Lantos, Chair of the FSWC 2017 Spirit of Hope Benefit and an ardent opponent of anti-Israel boycotts; and FSWC Director Paul Bronfman, a leader in the Canadian entertainment industry and an outspoken critic of antisemitism. We expressed the concerns of the Jewish community in the strongest terms over an antisemitic incident which occurred on campus at the end of November, when a motion to offer programs and education for Holocaust Education Week during a student union meeting elicited an orchestrated walk-out to quash the initiative.
President Lachemi listened intently and agreed that he and the university have "zero tolerance for antisemitism."
However, we cannot be satiated or feel vindicated by well-intentioned motions and statements - this is just not good enough. I am calling for a dramatic policy shift by the community at large, including from the Jewish community. We cannot allow Jewish people to be attacked on the street, to feel intimidated or hesitant to express their views. If standing up and speaking out gets you beaten up, we have a problem. What is preventing these thugs from assaulting the next Jewish person they may see on the subway, or walking to shul? This is not Iran or Beirut, or even Marseille. This is Toronto - a civil and law abiding community that aspires to achieve humanity's best practices in the form of tolerance and human rights.
If you care (and I hope you do), we need you to stand with us boldly at the forefront. Consider your year end support to continue empowering this remarkable organization to speak for you and stand with you. Please donate here: https://www.friendsofsimonwiesenthalcenter.com/donate
Thank You and Shabbat Shalom,