Ran Ukashi is the newly appointed national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, which is dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and racism, and advocating for human rights issues. Ukashi, who was born in Winnipeg to Israeli parents, will work out of Winnipeg. This will be the first time in its history that the League for Human Rights will be based outside of B’nai Brith’s Toronto office.
Ukashi recently sat down with The CJN to discuss his new role, what it entails and the challenges involved in fighting anti-Semitism.
How long have you been working for B’nai Brith?
I was hired in July of last year to be the regional director for Manitoba and the midwest region. The position had been vacant for three or four years.
While I have had leadership roles in the past involving advocacy, I welcomed the opportunity to put my skills to work to benefit my own community. That makes this work more personal and more satisfying.
My challenge as regional director was to rebuild the B’nai Brith brand in Manitoba. Over the past year, with the help of Adriana Glikman, our program co-ordinator in Winnipeg, I had the opportunity to meet and work with many people in the community and significantly raise our profile here.
I will also continue to be the regional director here, as well.
How do you feel about your expanded responsibility?
This is a fantastic opportunity. When Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith’s CEO, offered me the position, I readily agreed.
I do have big shoes to fill, though. Aidan Fishman, my predecessor, was terrific. But I feel that I am up to the challenge.
Will it be challenging working away from Toronto?
No. With modern technology and communications, there is no need to be based in Toronto. The work can be done from anywhere.
We have an excellent team in Winnipeg and we get a lot of help from across the country.
What are your responsibilities as national director of the League for Human Rights?
My focus has changed. As regional director, I was mainly involved in development. Now, I have a more clearly defined mandate to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms. That involves educational initiatives, in co-operation with other senior B’nai Brith leaders across Canada, media and government relations, and, most importantly, monitoring incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination across the country. I am responsible for answering our 24-hour, seven-day-a-week anti-hate hotline (1-800-892-2624), which offers assistance to victims of anti-Semitism and hate-motivated acts.
We encourage community members to call us. We try to follow up quickly on all calls.
I am also responsible for compiling our yearly audit of anti-Semitic incidents across Canada. The League for Human Rights has been publishing this report yearly since 1982. The audit has become our flagship report documenting anti-Semitism in Canada. Our audit is regularly cited by Statistics Canada, the U.S. State Department, European agencies and the Moshe Centre in Israel.
What is the state of anti-Semitism in Canada?
I don’t want to overstate the problem. It is still marginal in Canada.
What is concerning is that anti-Semitism is becoming more prevalent on university campuses and more acceptable in public discourse.
According to our surveys, the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents are in Quebec and Ontario, with typically lower rates in the Prairies. That is not surprising, considering that Ontario and Quebec are the most populous provinces and have the largest Jewish populations.
Yet we are very fortunate to be living in Canada. This is a fantastic country. You can criticize the government without any fear of retribution. There is no political anti-Semitism. The vast majority of Canadians accept Jews just like everyone else.
But when anti-Semitism does arise in Canada, we have to combat it. There are trends within the Green and NDP parties that we are working to combat.
For decades, anti-Semitism seemed to be solely the venue of the far right – the Jim Keegstras and Ernst Zundels. But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
The far right are more comfortable mouthing traditional anti-Semitic tropes, such as Jewish ownership of the banks and the media, Jewish control of the government and Holocaust denial. That is still not acceptable in polite company and that affects their credibility.
The left, however, masks their anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism, which makes anti-Semitism more acceptable. Jews who support Israel, for example, are accused by those on the left of loving Israel more than Canada. There is something insidious in this idea that we derive benefits from being Canadian, but are more loyal to Israel. This is that old-time anti-Semitic stereotype of dual loyalty, which is not applied to any other people.
For Jewish students on campus, for Jews who share a leftist point of view, their willingness to denounce Israel is akin to a litmus test for membership. Jews who will not denounce Israel or downplay or deny their Jewish identity are forced out of these social justice movements.
There are no similar values tests for any other group.
How do you respond to people who say that you are trying to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel?
Legitimate criticism of Israel – like criticism of any country – is not beyond the pale. But when your criticism of Israel greatly exceeds criticism of any other country – or Israel is singled out – then that is anti-Semitism. If you look behind the veil of those who claim to be anti-Zionists, you will see that the same stereotypes about Jews are also applied to Israel – the one Jewish state. The claim that Jews control the world and the media are ancient libels.
When it comes down to it, there is little difference between the extreme left and the extreme right. Holocaust denial, for example, is prevalent among both the left and the right.
How do you respond to Jews who claim the right to demonize Israel because they are Jewish, and critics of Israel who justify their claims by citing Jews or Israelis who say the same things?
Just because you may be Jewish, you don’t get a pass if you make anti-Semitic comments. And to claim that it is alright to make anti-Semitic statements because a Jew said the same thing is an ignorant argument. Jews who attack fellow Jews or Israel don’t represent the Jewish people, any more than individual Catholics who attack Catholicism speak for all Catholics.
Do you receive a lot of threats?
We receive threats from all directions. We receive anonymous threats over the phone and letters threatening us, or Jews in general. We take every threat seriously and contact the police.
We also take precautions. My phone number is not made public and security at the door doesn’t let strangers come up. We can’t afford to take risks.
Obviously, your work with B’nai Brith takes up a lot of your time. What else are you doing with your free time?
Well, I am working on a PhD thesis in peace and conflict studies at the University of Manitoba. My thesis is about the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
I also enjoy reading a good book and I work out. And I am planning my wedding.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity