In January, an incident took place – or, rather, didn’t take place – in Toronto, which came to be known as #hijabhoax on social media: a young Muslim girl had alleged that an Asian man attacked her hijab with scissors, while she was en route to school. Within a day, the allegation was exposed as a fabrication.
In fact, apart from the Quebec City mosque massacre that was carried out by one deranged man, physical assaults on Muslims in Canada are quite rare; so rare that they’re statistically insignificant in a country of 38 million.
Some observers noted the irony of this non-hate crime, in juxtaposition with a real hate crime that took place around the same time in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, where an eight-year-old Jewish boy wearing a kippah was knocked down and beaten up by teenage assailants. This was the second anti-Semitic assault on a French-Jewish child in January. On Jan. 10, a 15-year-old Jewish girl wearing her parochial school uniform was slashed across the face, on her way home from school. Other acts of anti-Semitism in France in January include the torching of two kosher shops in Creteil, outside Paris, shops that had previously been vandalized with painted swastikas. And that was just one month. Nobody has to fabricate anti-Semitic attacks in France to convince people that anti-Semitism is a serious national problem.
Another fact worth noting, while we’re on the subject, is that there is no fear-based exodus of Muslims from Canada, while there is a significant fear-based exodus of Jews from France. Around 5,000 French Jews make aliyah each year. Out of a total population of 450,000 Jews, that’s a lot.
A small number of French Jews have chosen to emigrate to Canada. Robert A. Kenedy, an associate professor of sociology at York University, conducted a study between 2006 and 2009 of the experiences of 40 French families who settled in Montreal. His report, titled, The New Anti-Semitism and Diasporic Liminality: Jewish Identity from France to Montreal, was just published in the journal Canadian Jewish Studies.
Kenedy found that, overwhelmingly, their primary reason for leaving France was “their experience with the new anti-Semitism,” which focuses “on blaming French Jews for anything connected to Israel.” What attracted them to Montreal was the opportunity to live in a French community and, importantly, to be able to safely practise Judaism. Most of the subjects (17 women and 23 men, plus 10 students) are of Sephardic descent, and their decision to resettle here “was noted throughout many of the interviews as being connected to their parents leaving places like Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in the late 1950s and 1960s,” where they had experienced a similarly anti-Semitic environment.
As one subject notes, “The Arabs killed my family in Algeria, my parents were the only ones to survive … now we left France because of our children for their security and it is sad that this exists in our generation.” Another said: “In the same way that our families left Algeria and Morocco, we have left France and we are now part of the modern French diaspora.” A third noted that, “The only countries that are left for Jews are Canada, the U.S. and Israel.” Indeed, many interviewees cited Israel as their homeland, but felt that Montreal offered better security for their children.
These French Jews are self-starters, having supplemented Jewish agency help with their own support group, Fréquence France. Kenedy says that they are a unique immigrant group: highly educated, bilingual and eager to integrate. We should encourage Fréquence France and actively promote Montreal as a natural destination – a win-win for them and us – for French Jews who can read the writing on wall.