By Michael Levitt
Last week, Canadians were rightly horrified by the hateful carving of a swastika on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a national sacred space. Unfortunately, such acts are as frequent today as they are disturbing. The government of Ontario responded by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, an important first step in stemming the rising tide of hatred against the Jewish community.
According to Statistics Canada, Jews are the minority group most targeted by hate crime in our country, the victims of one out of five illegal hate acts. Indeed, hate crimes have grown markedly over the past five years, with the majority of cases remaining unsolved, compounding the injustice. Behind each case is a real person, a Canadian who is harmed by hate, a tear in the fabric of Canada’s multicultural mosaic.
As United Nations Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed documented in his landmark UN report on antisemitism last year, this oldest of hatreds is “toxic to democracy” and “a threat to all societies.” Antisemitism has remained with us throughout history as the canary in the coal mine, an early warning sign of societal unrest and disintegration. This is why its resurgence, not just in Canada but around the world, must be challenged with great urgency as part of the broader struggle against racism and in defence of democratic values and human rights.
One of the primary principles in the protection and promotion of equality is that victims have the right to define the discrimination they face, not the perpetrators. That is why the adoption of the IHRA definition by Ontario, following the federal government’s adoption of the definition in its national anti-racism strategy last year, is as timely as it is significant. It is a clear and compelling commitment to combating antisemitism as experienced by Jewish Canadians, one that is anchored in and inspired by the support of the Jewish community and its institutions and organizations across the country.
Jews know all too well what antisemitism is and what it looks like. As a parliamentarian, I faced it both online and in the “real world,” and in 2018 I was even accused of being more loyal to Israel than Canada, a manifestation of the ugly “dual-loyalty” trope levelled at Jews for centuries. Sadly, it is today’s reality that antisemitism is often weaponized under the thin guise of “anti-Zionism” and we in the Jewish community see right through it.