From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: Canada Puts Antisemites in a Corner

November 9, 2018


Tonight is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. The night when Germany's prevailing antisemitism exploded in unprecedented violence across the land. Synagogues were destroyed and burned down, Jewish people were attacked on the street and in their homes and Germany was firmly ensconced in a movement – an ideology – the Nazi ideology that would eventually murder six million Jewish people and millions more. Months after those days of violence, many Jewish people realized the coming tsunami and began to flee for their lives.

Among the trickle of Jewish people who escaped Hitler's wrath, 907 Jewish refugees took voyage on the MS St. Louis – a German ship that carried these refugees to hope. But there was no hope on the other side of the pond. Instead, they were denied entry to Cuba, America and Canada. They sailed back to Europe, and in the end about 254 women, men and children were murdered by the Nazis.  

Canada refused them entry because of the prevailing antisemitism at the time. "None is too many," refugee policy makers would say about the Jews. And so, with echoes of the Pittsburgh massacre still fresh in their mind, parliamentarians apologized on behalf of Canada. "We apologize," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, "to the mothers and fathers whose children we did not save, and to the daughters and sons whose parents we did not help. We apologize to the imprisoned Jewish refugees who were forced to relive their trauma next to their tormentors."

It was the antisemitism then and it is the antisemitism now that Canada must confront. The Prime Minister was right to call out universities and anti-Israel activists who are victimizing Jewish Canadians once again. He said, "Jewish institutions and neighbourhoods are still being vandalized with swastikas. Jewish students still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation. Out of the entire community of nations, it is Israel whose right to exist is most widely and wrongly questioned." In one swoop, Prime Minister Trudeau put today's antisemites in the corner.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer echoed these sentiments admitting, "antisemitism accounts for the vast majority of religiously motivated hate crimes" and their increase. "We apologize for closing our hearts and minds and our shores," said Scheer.

Perhaps, however, the most meaningful sentiments came from Mario Beaulieu of the Bloc Quebecois who gave consideration to the abnormal rate of antisemitism in his province. He admitted that Quebec was not immune to antisemitism, "much to our regret."

"Antisemitism also found fertile ground in Quebec, which was struggling under the heavy yoke of the church at the time," said Beaulieu. But while antisemitism existed then and we applaud this important recognition, Quebec is still the primary province for antisemitism and intolerance.

Quite similarly, speaking on behalf of the NDP, Mr. Guy Caron pledged that the "NDP stands shoulder to shoulder with Canada's Jewish community against antisemitism…no community should face this hatred alone." While this may be a start and certainly we hope the NDP across the country recognizes this pledge and weighs it against the Prime Minister's observation that Israel is picked on more than others, antisemitism has found its way into left-wing parties – and even while Elizabeth May gave an impassioned speech, we hope her pleas filter widely.

And so, the St. Louis apology was an admittance – a reconciliation – for a historical wrong. An attempt to put together the broken glass. And while broken glass can never be put back together, its pieces scattered in the souls of its survivors and their descendants, on this date Canada grew as a nation by looking at itself in the mirror. As one Holocaust survivor said to me at the end of the day, after all was said and done, "we live in the greatest country in the world."

Shabbat Shalom,


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