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Dramatic increase in Holocaust denial: B’nai Brith Canada audit

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Swastika at U of T
A swastika found on a sign at the University of Toronto

Anti-Semitism reached an unprecedented high in 2016, with significant increases in Holocaust denial and incidents on university campuses and in Arabic-language Canadian media, according to B’nai Brith Canada’s Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents.

Now in its 35th year, the audit, released May 9, recorded 1,728 incidents in 2016, a 26 per cent jump from the previous year, when 1,277 incidents were reported, and six per cent higher than 2014, which had previously been the highest year.

Ninety per cent of the incidents reported to B’nai Brith involved harassment, while vandalism accounted for nine percent and violence, one per cent.

The rise in incidents was not related to the divisive presidential election in the United States, despite media reports that blamed Donald Trump’s candidacy for the hostile environment, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said in an interview with The CJN.

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“What the numbers show, and this is year over year, is there has been a slow and steady increase and a new normalization of anti-Semitism in this country. The total numbers that came out this year, they are in line with those historic trends.”

The report shows a dramatic increase in Holocaust denial, which accounted for 20 per cent of the incidents in 2016, compared with five per cent the previous year. “What was once a fringe belief held only by those on the margins of society is now being positioned as a legitimate source of debate and discussion, even in academic circles,” the report states.

Holocaust denial is flourishing on social media, with its “supposed anonymity,” Mostyn said. “You’re going to have disparate groups that, other than Jew-hatred, don’t have that much in common, but coalitions are already being formed over social media and that’s particularly disturbing.”

The report also noted that Arabic-language media in Canada were the source of a “new and frightening trend… incitement against Jews in mass media.”

A Windsor, Ont., paper was cited for encouraging terrorism against Israelis, while a London, Ont., paper printed articles that promoted Holocaust denial and “virulent anti-Semitism.”

In both cases, police investigated but no charges were laid. “The lack of response from law enforcement and government paints a worrying picture of this phenomenon going forward,” the audit stated.

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“We are going to be continuing to push for the equal enforcement of the law in Canada. When there are hate speech laws on the books… those need to be enforced,” Mostyn said. “Condemnation needs to come down from all levels and there needs to be proper consequences.”

University campuses continued to see “a significant increase” in anti-Semitism, even while measures calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel were defeated at several schools.

The report listed numerous examples of guest lecturers and professors who used their position to promote anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism also manifested itself in student politics. The report cited the case of a Jewish student at York University in Toronto who was “publicly denigrated as a ‘Zionist collaborator,’ despite his lack of public involvement in campus debates about Israel.”

The most egregious example was a organized walkout by student groups at a student union meeting at Ryerson University in Toronto, when a motion commemorating Holocaust Education Week was about to be discussed.

“This is really a wake-up call, it’s really a call out to our leadership in government and in academia to show leadership to ensure that our students are protected and are not facing this outright bullying and anti-Semitic and anti-Israel campaigns on campus,” Mostyn said.