TORONTO — Anti-Semitism can’t be sanitized or glossed over if it’s to be eliminated.
That was one of the key messages at a panel discussion hosted by the Law Society of Upper Canada April 15, in partnership with the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
Entitled “How do we Stop the Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism Today: Legislation vs. Education,” the talk was held at Osgoode Hall in honour of Yom Hashoah and attended by about 150 people.
Moderated by Mark Sandler, a Law Society bencher and senior partner at Cooper, Sandler, Shime & Bergman LLP, the panel consisted of Judge Ed Morgan of the Superior Court of Justice and a former president of Canadian Jewish Congress; Evan Zelikovitz, chair of the March of the Living digital archives project and national chair of the management committee of the Canada Israel Experience; and Elly Gotz, a Lithuanian-born Holocaust survivor.
Morgan noted that education and legislation are not, as antidotes to anti-Semitism, mutually exclusive, before delving into a discussion on what he termed “importing anti-Semitism.”
He explained that even within a typically open and culturally sensitive country like Canada, there are dangers of bringing in messages of racism of anti-Semitism from other places. For example, he cited a recent incident in which online ads with the headings “You don’t have to be Jewish to buy this house” and “You don’t have to be Jewish to rent this house” were posted under the name of a Brampton-based real estate agent, apparently by an employee at a third-party posting service located in the Philippines.
“Presumably the anti-Semitism was not coming from Brampton, but from overseas,” Morgan said.
He further gave an example of U.S. President Barack Obama commenting, in an interview with Vox, on the shooting rampage that took place in January in a kosher supermarket in Paris.
He noted that Obama referred to the victims of the attack as “folks,” rather than Jews.
“This is a kind of sanitizing of anti-Semitism… where the world generalizes it as though it’s a thing everyone shares,” said Morgan.
More insidious than importing anti-Semitism is ignoring it, he added, stressing that, “naming and shaming it is the real way to stop it… The law on its own can’t stop it. We have to educate ourselves on it and at the very least, call it by its name.”
Zelikovitz then spoke about the power of education to help quash anti-Semitism. On a recent March of the Living trip he attended, Zelikovitz said, he was struck by a survivor telling the group, “I’m not telling you these stories to sadden you, but to empower you.”
Enabling younger generations of Jews to witness what happened during the Holocaust through trips such as March of the Living is a way to spread messages of hope and perseverance, not hate, he said.
Zelikovitz also spoke of the importance of Holocaust education for non-Jews, as exemplified by Conservative MP and Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal, who is Sikh and has publicly championed a national Holocaust memorial to be built in Ottawa.
Uppal, Zelikovitz said, is married to a woman who more than a decade ago, applied to attend a March of the Living trip, despite not being Jewish. While she initially faced resistance from organizers, she was ultimately allowed to go and was praised for her inquisitiveness and sensitivity.
“This is education and legislation coming together,” Zelikovitz said, suggesting that Uppal had been significantly influenced by his wife’s experiences.
Gotz told the audience of being a young teenager in Lithuania when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. After spending several years in a ghetto, he was taken to a satellite camp of Dachau, where he was put to work building an underground factory for jet fighter planes.
After being liberated by the Americans in 1945, Gotz lived first in Germany, then Norway, then Zimbabwe and South Africa and finally, Canada.
He has spoken to thousands of students at schools and universities about the Holocaust, spreading his message of the supreme importance of Holocaust education.