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Why Seymour Schulich is both right and wrong

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Seymour Schulich
Seymour Schulich FILE PHOTO

Are Jews masters of the fine art of whining?

Some certainly are. It’s even fair to say estimates would be much larger in private conversations than in public discourse, too.

Yet one prominent businessman, Seymour Schulich, has publicly spoken out about the Jewish community’s “whining and bitching” on several issues, including perceived anti-Semitism in Canada and at York University.

Word spread last month about an email he wrote and circulated on a limited basis. Here are a few memorable lines: “I grew up in Montreal, Quebec, where the school system was predominantly Catholic and Protestant. Real anti-Semitism was rife!… Yet in my entire life I have never experienced one iota of anti-Semitism. WHY? THE SIMPLE ANSWER IS BECAUSE I FIT IN WITH THE MAJORITIES! There was a Catholic school across the street from my Grade 8 Protestant school in Montreal. If you wore a yamulka [sic] or a talis [sic] under your shirt, the odds were pretty good you could collect a lot of rocks thrown from the Catholic schoolyard.” 

Schulich also told CJN reporter Sheri Shefa on May 11: “And as far as York goes, I don’t think York is any better or any worse than anywhere else, OK?… I don’t think these boycotts amount to a hill of beans… Israel can take care of itself. I’m not worried about that for two seconds.”

There’s more, but you get the point.

The well-known philanthropist (including at York) has become a lightning rod for controversy among Canadian Jews. Some have written letters and responses condemning his analysis.

What’s my position? Schulich is both right and wrong.

READ: JEWISH GROUPS PEN OPEN LETTER TO YORK PRESIDENT MAMDOUH SHOUKRI

I certainly don’t disagree that Jews should fit in with the majority. York’s left-wing tendencies are certainly the by-product of what Schulich identified: arts students. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is hardly palatable, but he’s right that it hasn’t been an effective political weapon. As well, there’s little doubt that anti-Semitism was far worse in the past than it is in the present.

So there’s no question (in my mind) that Schulich made some valid points. The problem is with his overall position.

We’re fortunate to live in a liberal democratic society and have many individual rights and freedoms at our disposal. This includes free speech, freedom of choice, economic freedom and freedom of religion.

In the latter example, Canadians are allowed to practise their own religion – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and others – at home and in places of worship, free from persecution and derision. (If a person doesn’t wish to practise any form of religion, he or she also has that right.)

The average Canadian, therefore, has the freedom to express himself or herself with a religious identity, and religious symbols. If a Jew wishes to wear a yarmulke, so be it. If a Christian wishes to wear a cross, it’s allowed. If a Muslim woman wishes to wear a hijab, there’s nothing to stop her from doing this.

This is healthy. This is democratic. This defines personal liberty and freedom. This is what we fought wars over and why we continue to fight against totalitarian regimes, rogue states and terrorist organizations.

Or, to sum it up, this is what defines our nation.

READ: WE NEED TO SUPPORT YORK UNIVERSITY’S JEWISH COMMUNITY

If you want to understand why there was significant opposition to the Parti Québécois’ proposed Quebec charter of values (which would have banned religious symbols in the public sector), as well as controversy surrounding the niqab debate in last year’s federal election, now you know.

In my opinion, that’s what Schulich either doesn’t seem to understand or doesn’t care to consider. He has the freedom to express his views about Jews and anti-Semitism, but he doesn’t have the God-given right to impose them on others.

If he thinks that he does, he’s whining even more than those he correctly identified as perpetual whiners.