TORONTO — It was something of an anomalous manifestation of classical anti-Semitism – not in its noxious and bogus message – but in that it hasn’t been seen in Toronto in some time.
A single bus shelter in the Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue area was defaced with a poster claiming consumers pay a “kosher tax” when they purchase their groceries.
“Why a kosher tax?” states the poster, above a logo from COR, Toronto’s major kashrut supervision agency. “If you see this symbol, you have paid a tax. Look for it on food items everywhere!!!”
The incident comes about a week after anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a UJA Federation of Greater Toronto sign on the corner of Bathurst and Centre streets in Thornhill and after dog feces were smeared on the door of the Beth Joseph Chabad on Bathurst, in Toronto.
Len Rudner, director of community relations and outreach for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said a single poster, likely made on someone’s home printer, was found “in a fairly open area, on a bus shelter sitting in the middle of nowhere.”
“If you had one ‘kosher food tax’ flyer, why would you put it there? It’s an awfully strange place to put it.”
CIJA treated the incident seriously and informed police. “The hate crimes unit has looked at the poster. The poster does not meet the threshold for a hate crime,” said Toronto Police Service spokesperson Mark Pugash.
Though there have been plenty of manifestations of anti-Semitism, Jews accused of imposing a kosher tax has not been seen much lately.
Back in the 1990s, federal finance ministers issued statements rejecting the claim. “This is a kind of like deja vu all over again,” Rudner said. “The kosher tax has a long and dishonorable history.”
“It’s a myth that never dies, that the Jews are up to something, that the Jews are levying an illegal tax of food consumers.”
Rudner said the cost of kashrut supervision for products on supermarket shelves is miniscule.
“How small is the cost to consumers of kosher certification? A report that was authored by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League found that the per item cost for the Bird’s Eye frozen food division of General Foods was approximately 6.5 millionths of a cent,” he said.
A CJN investigation earlier this year on kosher supervision focused, in part, on the cost of kosher supervision for caterers, restaurants kosher markets and other businesses that cater to a Jewish clientele, not the cost of kashrut supervision for products consumed by the wider public.
In Kosher: Private Regulation In The Age Of Industrial Food, author Timothy Lytton points out that millions of non-Jewish food consumers prefer kosher food, prompting food suppliers to satisfy that market.
“Like organic and locavore enthusiasts, a growing number of consumers see in rabbinic supervision a way to personalize today’s vastly complex, globalized system of food production,” he writes.
Nevertheless, the perception of a kosher tax can infiltrate into mainstream sectors of society. Rudner recalled that years ago, when he worked at Canadian Jewish Congress, the agency received a call from an accountant who had been asked by his client to request a tax receipt that he could include in his return.
The purported kosher tax “is the seed of classical, modern anti-Semitism,” said Rudner. “Our responsibility as an advocacy organization and as citizens is to be vigilant and report these [instances] when we see them, and challenge the people when we hear these attitudes expressed.”