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Sunday, July 13, 2014

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Anti-racist organization publishes book on antisemitism

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Lamentably, there is no shortage of work for Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit organization dedicated to combatting antisemitism and racism through education.

Last week, for example, local newspapers reported that police are investigating a complaint that the curriculum of a Toronto Muslim school contains anti-Jewish references.

This is precisely the kind of incident that Facing History and Ourselves, founded in 1976 by two school teachers in the United States, is charged with monitoring and exposing.

“Education is an indispensable tool in fighting antisemitism,” said its Toronto office director, Leora Schaefer. “Our mission is to engage adolescents of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.”

With this objective in mind, Facing History and Ourselves has published A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, written by Phyllis Goldstein, one of its senior writers and researchers.

The book, which opens with a chapter on ancient Egypt and closes with an account of contemporary antisemitism, will be discussed by University of Toronto historian Derek Penslar at a public lecture on May 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.

Since its inception 36 years ago, Facing History and Ourselves has grown into an international organization with nine offices in North America, a hub in Britain and partnerships in Israel, China, South Africa and Northern Ireland.

In Canada, in co-operation with the Toronto District School Board, Facing History and Ourselves developed a grade 11 elective course, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, in 2008.

Approved by Ontario’s Ministry of Education, the course is now taken by more than 500 students in 22 schools around the province.

Facing History and Ourselves also conducts workshops for a number of school boards in Ontario.

“Teachers are embracing the methodology and professional support we provide,” said Schaefer.

She called the publication of A Convenient Hatred timely.

“Antisemitism seems to be on the rise again,” she said. “In recent years, a variety of groups, including human rights organizations and government agencies, have documented a surge in anti-Jewish rhetoric and acts of violence around the world.”

Canada is hardly immune to this apparent trend.

“Last June, Statistics Canada released a study documenting a 42 per cent increase in hate crimes in 2009 compared with 2008, with 71 per cent of the crimes targeting the Jewish community.”

A Convenient Hatred reveals the stereotypes and myths at the heart of antisemitism.

In common with Facing History and Ourselves’ previous publications, A Convenient Hatred uses stories “to prompt reflection and promote civic conversation” on such relevant issues as belonging, the vulnerability of minorities in times of political, social and economic crisis, and the importance and value of education.

In the past, the organization has published, among other works, Fundamental Freedoms: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration and Belonging in a Changing World.

 

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