TORONTO — B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights reported a slight decrease in antisemitic incidents in 2011.
Altogether, 1,297 occurrences were reported by the League in its 2011 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, an annual survey of “patterns of prejudice in Canada.”
The finding represents “a sustained, ongoing undercurrent of antisemitism.”
Nearly 41 per cent of the incidents (528) were considered “web-based hate activity,” down from the 568 the year before, but substantially higher than the 405 Internet incidents cited in 2008.
Breaking down the incidents by type, the audit found that 916 were cases of harassment (70.7 per cent), 362 were classified as vandalism (27.9 per cent) and 19 were considered instances of violence (1.5 per cent).
Though small in number, the violent episodes were shocking: In Winnipeg, a 15-year-old girl was accosted in a school hallway by a youth uttering anti-Jewish slurs who used a lighter to set her hair on fire. In Montreal, a boy wearing a kippah was swarmed by teens and assaulted. And in Toronto, a man walking home from synagogue was swarmed by teenagers who threw pennies at him and called him “dirty Jew.”
While the largest number of incidents was categorized as harassment, even these can be “traumatic” for the victim, said Anita Bromberg, national director of legal affairs for B’nai Brith Canada.
More than 100 harassment incidents included threats of violence, and in many cases, homes were targeted, leaving the occupant feeling very stressed, she said.
Bromberg related an incident recorded in 2009 to illustrate how troubling harassment could be. A young girl, she said, found a swastika on her desk at school. When she came home, she couldn’t sleep, and when Bromberg advised her mother to ask the girl what it would take to make her feel comfortable, the daughter asked that the mezuzah, identifying their house as Jewish, be taken down, Bromberg recounted.
One woman who found threatening messages at her work mailbox went on stress leave, while another left her job entirely after facing harassment, Bromberg added.
The audit suggested the high number of incidents in Canada is part of a growing pattern in the western world.
Levels of antisemitism were high in 2011, “slightly decreasing in some countries, while dramatically increasing in others. But, in total, what these reports have in common is a continuing, steady, global increase in antisemitism in the past decade,” the audit stated.
In Canada, the number of incidents reported in annual audits jumped nearly 25 per cent since 2007. In 2001, fewer than 300 incidents were recorded.
Examining “patterns of occurrence,” the audit noted that “the largest number of incidents in any month occurred in March, when the so-called Israel Apartheid Week took place on university campuses across the country. Anti-Israel rhetoric spilled over into antisemitic expressions, including harassment, vandalism and assault on campus and elsewhere during this period… In 201 of the 1,297 cases reported, there was a direct link between anti-Israel and antisemitic activity, but the latter, while spurred on by anti-Zionism, was distinctly in and of itself antisemitic in nature.”
As for web-based hate, the audit reported, “As in 2010, Jews were blamed for natural disasters, unpopular government policies and the 9/11 attacks, and allegations of government and media control, and organ trafficking continued to be propagated on social networking sites, blogs and websites.”
In a section that offered 10 recommendations for action, the audit called for strengthening of the Criminal Code provisions on hate crimes by specifically including Holocaust denial as a prohibited activity. It also called for removing the defence of truth from the hate crimes provision, while “the defence of religious belief should be clarified or repealed.”
Bromberg said those steps were recently recommended to a House of Commons justice committee looking at Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The section prohibits the dissemination of hate on the Internet or by telephone.
“We understand that Section 13 is going, so if you take Section 13 away, then the Criminal Code will have to fill a gap that is significant in what we’ve been tracking,” she said.
The League for Human Rights also called for banning “hate groups and the symbols they use to advance their racist agenda.”
It also advocated “zero tolerance for hate, from educators at elementary and high schools, and campus administrators, to human rights commissions, police and government. Public education is the key to the success of such an approach