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Violent acts triple as Canada witnesses aggressive spike in anti-semitism

Overall acts of violence, harassment and vandalism aimed at Jews doubled in 2023
Richard Robertson, B’nai Brith Canada Director of Research and Advocacy, holds up an Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in Canada as B’nai Brith Canada and the League for Human Rights and members of Parliament hold a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, May 6, 2024, to divulge details and data about the prevalence of antisemitism in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Antisemitism in Canada exploded last year as the war unfolding in Israel and Gaza was used to “justify” the targeting of Jews in Canada, B’nai Brith said Monday as it released its latest report on antisemitism.

It comes as the world marks Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the rise in antisemitism was a key part of speeches delivered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre at the ceremony at the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa.

“Since Oct. 7, there has been a disturbing increase in antisemitism to a scale we had not witnessed for generations,” Trudeau said.

Based on incidents reported to B’nai Brith, including through collaborations with police, there were 5,791 documented acts of violence, harassment and vandalism aimed at Jews in 2023, more than twice the 2,769 documented incidents in 2022.

“In 2023, we entered a period of crisis,” said Richard Robertson, the director of research for B’nai Brith Canada.

He said there is no one place to lay the blame, saying incidents can be attributed to the “alt-left, the far right and those acting at the behest of foreign actors.”

“What is clear is that the situation is untenable and requires urgent intervention,” said Robertson.

There were 77 violent incidents recorded last year, more than three times the number in 2022.

Winnipeg Police investigated a shooting at a Jewish home in October as an act of hate. Montreal police launched an investigation after two Jewish schools were shot at overnight in November, and another investigation when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue.

In Toronto, police arrested three people after students at a Jewish high school were threatened in October.

“This means that on average, a Jewish Canadian was threatened or assaulted every fourth day in 2023,” Robertson said. “These figures are horrifying and warrant an immediate action in response from all societal stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental.”

There were 462 acts of vandalism in 2023.

The vast majority of recorded incidents — 4,847 — took the form of online harassment. Messages included threats that “you and your family are going to die,” expressing glee at the deaths caused by Hamas on Oct. 7, and declaring an intention to eradicate Israel or Jews.

More than half of the incidents happened in the three months after Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostage. Israel responded with force, launching a relentless air attack on the Gaza Strip that has displaced more than a million people, killed an estimated 35,000 people, and inflicted a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food, medicine and water.

Within a week after Oct. 7, the RCMP called for “increased vigilance” after an obvious rise in antisemitic threats online.

The total number of antisemitic incidents in Canada last year was the largest recorded in a single year since B’nai Brith began producing an annual tally in 1982. The numbers parallel reports from several municipal police forces, including Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, about an exponential increase in hate-motivated incidents targeting Jews last year.

Robertson said the “aggressive rise in antisemitism” has left Canadian Jews feeling dehumanized, “ostracized and abandoned.”

“The systemic nature of the antisemitism has forced Canadian Jews to question the continued vitality of the nation’s Jewish communities,” he said. “For perhaps the first time there was a genuine concern that the Jewish Canadian narrative … is at risk of being subject to erasure.”

Poilievre said Monday that given how long it has been since the Holocaust, some memories have started to fade and some of the same “totalitarian ideologies” that drove the Nazis in Germany, have returned “with the same hateful rhetoric, and in some cases, the same precursor actions playing themselves out today.”

Poilievre pointed to antisemitic rhetoric on university campuses and the targeting of Jewish buildings and homes and said the result is that Jewish Canadians are “making the heart-wrenching decision” not to wear a star of David symbol or a kippah, or to take down the mezuzah on their door frame.

“In Canada it is absolutely unacceptable that you should be faced with this dilemma,” he said.

Poilievre said Jewish Canadians must be allowed to live “fearlessly and proudly” and that “it is the responsibility of every Canadian, Jewish or otherwise, to stand with your right to do that.”

Trudeau said in his speech that the Oct. 7 attack on Israel was the largest mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust, and took aim at those who use “Zionism” to express their hatred.

“In a country like Canada, it should be and it must be safe to declare oneself a Zionist, Jewish or not,” he said.

“Zionism is not a dirty word or something anyone should be targeted for agreeing with. It is the belief at its simplest that Jewish people, like all peoples, have the right to determine their own future.”

READ ALSO: ‘Violent rhetoric’ from ‘extremist actors’ spikes after Israel/Hamas war: CSIS