By Rabbi Meyer May and Jaime Kirzner-Roberts
Jewish organizations across North America, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, were quick to express their outrage at the death of George Floyd. We watched in horror as Floyd, pinned to the pavement, begged to breathe and called out for his mother before losing consciousness under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
But our horror was not only at images of the officer kneeling mercilessly on Floyd’s neck for those agonizing minutes. Horror, too, because of the impassive eyes of his fellow officers who stood blankly and did nothing, said nothing, while Floyd grew lifeless on the pavement under that knee.
We in the Jewish community know all too well that the truest evil lies not only in the heart of an individual psychopath. Truest evil also lies in the hearts and the eyes of all those witnesses to evil who do nothing and say nothing in the face of the atrocity.
In WWII, this took the form of people who looked away as their Jewish neighbours were taken from their homes to be murdered. This took the form of teachers who stood by silently as Jewish children disappeared one by one from their classrooms. This evil was compounded by the police, guards and soldiers who dutifully and complacently obeyed their orders. As Jews, we know, firsthand, of the horrors that lie behind impassive eyes.
Because we know the dangers of silence, Jewish leaders and members of the Jewish community have felt a special responsibility to speak out against injustice. Our Jewish community marched with Dr. King, we fought long and hard against persecutions of the Soviet regime, we took a hard and committed stand as genocides unfolded in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. It is why, in this moment of outrage and protest following the death of George Floyd, we continue in our commitment to raising our voices to the illuminate that all racism and hatred are intolerable.
If silence is complicity, though, what are we to make of the public and media response to the documented pattern of growing antisemitism in our own city of Toronto?
Last week, the Toronto Police released their yearly report on hate crimes in the city, which shows that one third of all hate crimes reported in Toronto last year were directed at Jews. This is all the more remarkable considering that Jews make up less than 4% of the city’s entire population.
The data glaringly reveals that year after year Toronto, as well as in Canada overall, Jews remain the group most targeted by hate criminals by a long mile. That’s a lot of hate directed at our tiny community.
And yet, where are the front-page news stories drawing attention to this critical problem? Where are the impassioned op-eds from the usual pundits demanding answers and action from police, public officials and the society at large? Where are the politicians holding press conferences about new measures to address antisemitic hate? Where is the outrage?
Listen hard. What you will hear is the deafening sound of silence.