Striving to be Human in Tempestuous Times
As we experience the horrific events of the past week, it is important to recognize that Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is in exactly the right place in the right time to deal with the pervasive increase in hate and intolerance, by educating every day about issues of bigotry and racism that can lead to terror and destruction.
And this has been a truly horrific week. Six Muslim Canadians were murdered for no reason other than their religion. Five others were critically injured. We all understand the devastating effects on their families and community. It was a completely senseless tragedy.
Not as well publicized, but deeply concerning, was the bomb threat called in to a London, Ontario Jewish Community Centre, just one day after police were dispatched to Muslim sites across London as a precautionary response to the Quebec massacre. The Centre and a nearby apartment building were evacuated; fortunately, no bomb was found. London police are, however, investigating possible ties to similar threats called in to more than a dozen Jewish Community Centres in the U.S. on the same day - the third in a wave of antisemitic bomb threats targeting multiple U.S. Jewish centres in January alone. We all understand the emotional havoc threats of this nature can wreak.
And, as if to drive home the point that Canada is not immune to hatred and intolerance, Montreal police report a spike in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes in the few days since the mosque attack; one man has been arrested on suspicion of promoting hate speech and uttering threats targeting Muslims on social media. It should not have taken a massacre to wake authorities up to the dangers of online hate; agents of civil society must put policies and procedures in place to reduce incidents of hate, antisemitism, racism and intolerance. The Quebec shooting must remain an aberration. No one else should be killed to protect the rights of those who traffic in bigotry and hate.
These events occurred against the backdrop of the dramatic shifts in U.S. policy that are causing a great deal of consternation around the world. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day U.S. President Donald Trump inexplicably refused to admit the uniquely Jewish nature of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people - or to mention the Jewish people at all, in his statement commemorating the date. He also chose this solemn date to announce an anti-Muslim immigration strategy that seems designed to cause maximum outrage and chaos. For example, despite assurances Canadian citizens and permanent residents from the seven Muslim majority countries affected by Trump's immigration ban would not be targeted, there are reports individuals on both sides of the border have had their Nexus border cards revoked. On the positive side, the Trump administration has put Iran on notice for its ballistic missile test this week which contravenes its nuclear agreement with the U.S. As a state sponsor of hate and terror, the Iranian regime is the greatest threat to further destabilize an already fragile Middle East.
The situation seems similarly bleak around the world. Only yesterday a British charity which monitors antisemitism reported antisemitic hate crimes in the UK are at an all time high, while the non-governmental organization UN Watch just released a damning indictment of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In its detailed report "Poisoning Palestinian Children," UN Watch notes examples of incitement against Israel by the UN, including UNRWA teachers and staffers celebrating the terrorist kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, cheering rockets being fired at Israeli civilian centers, endorsing various forms of violence, erasing Israel from the map, praising Hitler and posting his photo, and posting overtly antisemitic videos, caricatures, and statements.
It has, indeed, been a terrible week. It looks like it will be a difficult month. The world anxiously anticipates the meeting between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February15th to discuss issues that will likely range from the status of Israeli settlements and Jerusalem to Syria, Russia and global security. As the U.S. president has made contradictory statements about Israeli settlements in the short time since he assumed office, it is impossible to predict the likely outcome of that conversation.
The only certainty is that the global landscape is changing each morning as we awaken. It is up to each and every one of us to retain our compassion as we navigate a tempestuous moment in history. To paraphrase the sage Hillel, we must "strive to be human." We cannot lose sight of the pillars of humanity that guide us.