From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: Striving to be Human in Tempestuous Times

February 3, 2017



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.

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