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We must work harder to prevent anti-Semitism

by Candice Malcolm

Toronto Sun
September 25, 2015

Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. To commemorate the end of the high holidays, Jews all over the world atone for their sins and ask for forgiveness.

On this Yom Kippur, however, it is us non-Jews who owe our Jewish friends an apology. We have allowed the ancient evil of anti-Semitism to rear its ugly head.

Prejudice and hostility towards the Jewish people are as old as history, but following the atrocities of Nazi extermination camps and genocide in Europe, the world came together and said, “never again.”

But how can we prevent repeating history if we forget the lessons of the Holocaust?

Earlier this week, for example, we learned that Alex Johnstone, an NDP candidate in Ontario, had made sexual jokes about the Auschwitz death camps, where over a million Jews were killed. Johnstone’s excuse?

“I didn’t know what Auschwitz was, or I didn’t up until today.”

Johnstone is the vice-chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. She is in charge of making sure students receive a well-rounded education. If she has never heard of Auschwitz, how is she supposed to ensure that today’s children are learning the lessons that we pledged we’d never forget?

Her ignorance is baffling, but she’s not alone. A television news station in Chicago, reporting on the Jewish high holidays, featured a Nazi-era image of the yellow Star of David. The symbol is easily recognizable to anyone who studied the Holocaust, as Jews were legally forced to wear this emblem on their clothes under Nazi rule in Europe.

Another careless mistake or someone’s cruel idea of joke? I’ll let you be the judge. The truth is that anti-Semitism is alive and well, in Canada, and around the world.

According to the Toronto Police, Jews are the single most targeted group when it comes to hate crimes. The Anti-Defamation League and B’nai Birth Canada noted that anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in Canada increased by 28% last year.

Examples constantly pop up, stemming from both ignorance and malice.

One of the men just convicted in the Via Rail plot – Raed Jaser, described as a Toronto party-boy turned devout Muslim – originally wanted to target Jews. Rather than blowing up a train, this jihadist wanted to buy a rifle and assassinate wealthy Jews in Toronto.

Following the fatal attacks targeting Jews in Paris and Copenhagen earlier this year, award-winning journalist Jeffery Goldberg wrote an essay in Atlantic Magazine pondering whether it was time for Jews to leave Europe altogether.

Goldberg calls France the epicenter of anti-Semitism in Europe and notes that many Jewish families are afraid to stay in France. Thankfully, unlike the dark days of World War II, Jews now have a home in Israel.

The creation of a Jewish state has made Jews around the world feel safer, but it has also given their enemies a thin veil to disguise their anti-Semitism.

We saw this last summer, when a pro-Palestine march in Calgary degraded into a “Heil Hitler” chant and several Jewish bystanders, including women and children, were physically assaulted.

The surest way to prevent repeating the most sordid episodes in our history is through public education and scrutiny against racism. But the very people in charge of informing and educating the public – teachers, politicians and journalists – are often ignorant and therefore part of the problem.

We are failing in our pledge to never forget the atrocities committed against the Jewish people in Europe. This needs to change. On this Yom Kippur, I hope our Jewish friends can forgive us.


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