The past year was an intense one in Canadian Jewish advocacy. As we take stock and sharpen our focus for 2019, it is crucial that community members take an active role in shaping our agenda on the issues that matter, beginning with the fight against anti-Semitism.
While our community is diverse in its views, there is a broad consensus that Canadian Jewry is not immune from the global rise in anti-Semitism. In December, Statistics Canada released data showing that an anti-Semitic hate crime takes place once every 24 hours. The massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – the deadliest act in the history of the North American Jewish community – was heartbreaking proof that anti-Semitism remains a lethal threat. In the days that followed, virtually every shul and Jewish institution in Canada rightly re-evaluated its security measures. Without question, 2018 brought a heightened sense of vulnerability throughout our community.
CIJA has expanded our efforts to offer security guidance and practical resources to Jewish institutions. Given that emergency training saved lives in Pittsburgh, we have redoubled our advocacy work in this area, calling on the government of Canada to invest in community security training. Having established the clear link between online hate and offline violence, we mobilized a broad, interfaith coalition – and more than 1,000 community members – to push for a national strategy to combat this phenomenon. And we successfully urged MPs to amend Bill C-75 so that terrorism-related crimes can never be treated as minor offences, ensuring that terrorists and their enablers always face the full weight of the law.
But making our community safer will not happen overnight. In 2019, we must not only be compelling in explaining to Canadians why anti-Semitism is a danger to our entire country. We must also commit to being more conscious of security in communal settings. By increasing awareness and taking appropriate precautions, we will continue to live our lives as Jews openly and proudly – guided by resilience, not fear.
Last year also saw anti-Israel activists become more brazen in their hate. This has included aggressively targeting Jewish MPs with bully tactics on social media and holding a provocative protest in the heart of one of Canada’s largest Jewish neighbourhoods. In Gaza, Hamas refined its cynical strategy of pushing masses of Palestinians to the border fence, with the twin goals of attacking Israelis and damaging Israel’s global image. In Lebanon, while Hezbollah’s multiple tunnels into Israel were exposed by the IDF, the northern border remains a powder keg. And behind these terror groups stands the Iranian regime, which continues to threaten Israel with genocide, foment regional violence, and abuse the human rights of Iranians. Throughout the year, we mobilized more than 10,000 Canadians to tell the government of Canada why these issues – and strong Canadian support for Israel – matter to them.
Last year also brought developments on various social policy issues of interest to Jewish agencies and families across the country. A national framework to expand palliative care access was introduced by the government of Canada. A federal accessibility law was passed in the House of Commons. The federal government committed to change discriminatory immigration policies that effectively bar potential immigrants (and their families) if they happen to have a disability. And a serious threat to kosher meat production in Canada, resulting from a misapplication of regulations by a federal inspector, was averted when we intervened on behalf of Canada’s kashrut supervising agencies. These are just four points of progress related to our domestic policy agenda.
This year will be no less significant than 2018. It will bring elections in both Canada and Israel, offering intense debate and reflection on the future of the two countries. I encourage readers to attend CIJA’s annual Grassroots Consultation, occurring in more than a dozen locations across Canada (and online) in the coming weeks. The conversations and debates that take place will no doubt touch on a range of hot topics, including anti-Semitism, Israel advocacy, social policies, and other issues that impact the quality of Jewish life in Canada.
Shimon Koffler Fogel is the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). For more information, visit www.cija.ca/grassroots.