Robert Kenedy, an associate professor in sociology at York University who focuses on anti-Semitism, began studying migration patterns around 25 years ago. He shifted his focus to the exodus of French Jews to Quebec in 2006, when a former student of his who was living in Montreal tipped him off to the large number of French Jews who were resettling there.
Twelve years later, that project, along with his research into the BDS movement, served as part of the impetus for an international symposium called Israel @ 70: Critical Perspectives on Diaspora Relations, Identity and Antisemitism. The symposium will take place from Oct. 7 to 9 at York University in Toronto and includes three talks that are open to the public.
In a journal article published last year in Canadian Jewish Studies, Kenedy wrote about the 40 Jewish-French émigrés he interviewed between 2006 and 2009. For the most part, they were the offspring of North African Jews who had immigrated to France because they did not feel safe in their native lands. And many of them felt that their experiences in France echoed their grandparents’ experiences in North Africa, prompting them to leave for somewhere they felt safe.
“The French Jews always wanted that security, so they saw Canada as that place,” said Kenedy.
As a professor at York, he is also very familiar with how BDS advocates have affected the day-to-day lives of Jewish staff and students at the university.
Kenedy said that he interviewed many students for this project – not just Jewish students, but Christian and Muslim students, as well. He found that many non-Jewish students supported Israel, but he also discovered some more worrying trends.
“One of the things that kept on coming out, which I was more surprised about, is how much anti-Semitism was connected. It wasn’t only the new anti-Semitism of Israel and the idea here of being Jewish and the … diasporic identity, but it’s the old anti-Semitism of Holocaust denial, or inversion, or something along those lines that seem to be going with BDS,” he said.
It is important to look at anti-Semitism in the context of other types of discrimination, Kenedy argued, noting that B’nai Brith, which is co-sponsoring the symposium, focuses on the universal aspects of hate. For that reason, the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, which is putting on the symposium, is also co-sponsoring a two-day event at York called Canada: Inclusion at a Crossroads.
Beyond just investigating modern modes of anti-Semitism, the symposium is also intended to be a celebration of Israel at 70 and everything it does well, said Kenedy.
He hopes that this symposium will be the first in a three-part series that will take place in various locations around the world.
The symposium will include talks on topics such as anti-Semitism as it relates to racism and nationalism, Canadian Jewish perspectives on Israel, anti-Semitism from the left and right sides of the political spectrum and more.
There will also be three talks that are open to the public. Esteemed Jewish demographer Sergio DellaPergola will deliver the keynote address, titled “Israel at 70 and World Jewry: One People or Two?” as well as a talk on anti-Semitism in Italy. Beth Torah Congregation will also be hosting a talk on anti-Semitism and the legal system. For details on these events and to register, visit cjs.yorku.ca/news.