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Canada assumes leadership role at anti-Semitism summit

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Canada has assumed a historic leadership role in the global fight against anti-Semitism.

Minister Jason Kenney at the conference

At last Tuesday’s first-ever Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, the 12-person Canadian delegation, led by Jason Kenney, minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, reaffirmed Canada’s firm support of Israel.

The London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism 
 The Canadian delegation was the largest delegation at the event.

Conference organizers – who succeeded in drawing experts and public figures from 42 countries – said they faced challenges unmatched by anything they’ve seen for decades and could not have anticipated the urgency when they scheduled the event last year, coming as it did just a month after Israel’s war in Gaza prompted a spike in anti-Semitic incidents all over the world.

Kenney’s speech to the conference reflected Ottawa’s firm pro-Israel position and its intolerance of all forms of anti-Semitism.

“One can criticize Israeli policies without being anti-Semitic. But the argument is not about criticizing the politics of the Israeli government. Lord knows there’s enough of that in the Knesset. The argument is with those whose premise is that Israel itself is an abomination and that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland. And in that sense anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” Kenney told the coalition.

Last week, Kenney was called a “professional whore” by the leader of the Canadian Arab Federation for his unabashed support of Israel.

Aside from Kenney, the other Canadian parliamentarians in attendance were Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler – one of the organizers of the conference – and Liberal MPs Anita Neville, Carolyn Bennett, Raymonde Folco, Hedy Fry, Joyce Murray and Bob Rae, as well as Conservative MPs Randy Hoback, James Lunney and Scott Reid, and Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein.

Presenters at the conference said the number and scope of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide have risen to levels not seen since the Holocaust. New technologies make the spread of hate across borders easy and quick. And last month’s outbursts of anti-Semitism from London to Caracas show a wellspring of hate against Jews just waiting to be tapped.

In demonstrations in January against Israel’s operation in Gaza, criticism of the Jewish state quickly turned to anti-Semitism, analysts said, with banners comparing Israelis to Nazis and Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto.

“Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism,” said Michael Gove, a British Conservative MP.

Gove said Islamist groups are uniting with the far left to try to delegitimize Israel and question its right to exist.

“The extreme left is dressing it as anti-colonialism,” he said.

Recalling trips he took to the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site in Ukraine  and to Mumbai, India, last year, Kenney said that although “68 years and thousands of miles separate the ravine of Babi Yar from the debris of Chabad’s Nariman House [site of the murders of Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg and his wife Rivkah last year by Pakistani Islamist terrorists in Mumbai], these places are connected by the same uniquely durable and pernicious evil of anti-Semitism. Even peaceful and pluralistic Canada sees signs that this evil is newly resurgent.”

Kenney highlighted some Canadian initiatives intended to combat anti-Semitism at home, including Ottawa’s application to become a full member of the international task force on commemoration, education and research of the Holocaust, withdrawing from the upcoming “Durban II” UN anti-racism conference and apologizing to the Jewish community for Canada’s “own history of officially sanctioned anti-Semitism, the most notorious manifestation of which was Canada’s refusal to accept the hundreds of Jewish European refugees aboard the St. Louis as it arrived in Halifax harbour in 1938.”

Kenney said he received “commendations” from many foreign parliamentarians and Jewish lay leaders at the conference about the work Canada has done on anti-Semitism, some of whom were “keen” to have him speak directly to their own governments about it in the future.

Cotler, one of the driving forces behind the summit, said the new anti-Semitism attacks the “Jewish collective” by attacking Israel’s right to exist.

Whereas old anti-Semitism “wished to eliminate individual Jewish people,” Cotler said, “the new anti-Semitism aims at getting rid of the Jewish state.”

British Labour MP Denis MacShane said that “many of those responsible for this new anti-Semitism are Islamist groups.”

Like MacShane, the vast majority of legislators who attended the conference were not Jewish.

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican, said that the way to fight anti-Semitism is by imposing serious penalties for its perpetrators.

Smith said U.S. President Barack Obama should not take part in the so-called Durban II conference, a follow-up to the notorious 2001 United Nations anti-racism conference that turned into an Israel-baiting forum. Smith also slammed the United Nations.

“They pay lip service to the issue of anti-Semitism, but don’t really act,” he said.

But Ottawa has pledged to act and Kenney invited members of the London conference to Canada next year in the expectation that the country would play host to the summit’s followup next year. He told The CJN that he would be working on this with his colleagues across party lines to sort out the “modalities” over the coming months for this “tremendous and hugely valuable” event.

There are, Kenney told the attendees, “a good number of Canadians here who would be delighted to see this important work cross the Atlantic.”

Cotler echoed Kenney’s sentiment, telling The CJN that this event was not merely a “founding conference,” it was the founding of an organization.  

“It’s not a one-off. It’s now been institutionalized… with a declaration which we will seek to implement,” Cotler said, adding that the conference exceeded all his expectations and that he was gratified at the attendance by Muslim parliamentarians from Tunisia, Morocco and Azerbaijan.

(The full text of the London Declaration on Combating anti-Semitism can be found on The CJN’s website,

Despite the bleak picture presented at the conference, experts said they were encouraged by the positive response of legislators who signed the declaration committing themselves to continue to work together, along with their respective governments, to halt the rise in anti-Semitism.

Cotler praised the conference and its issuance of the London Declaration on Combating anti-Semitism as a major breakthrough.

“Here you had 125 parliamentarians from over 40 countries adopt a very significant declaration, which is not only a landmark in the struggle against anti-Semitism, but a landmark in the use of effective ‘soft powers’ as it’s called, in international law,” he said. “This is a declaration which will have impact.”

He added: “It’s a recognition of the responsibility of the international community to prevent incitement to genocide. Now we have a parliamentary declaration that affirms that and on which we can rely for purposes of our work. Here you have… an acknowledgment of the delegitimization of Israel in the international arena, and a clarion call saying, ‘This shall not take place.’”

With files from JTA

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