[R-G] The CPCCA: Combating Anti-Semitism or Shielding Israel?
shniad at gmail.com
Fri Nov 6 12:43:24 MST 2009
The B u l l e
November 5, 2009
*Combating Anti-Semitism or Shielding Israel?
Submission to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism*
I am writing this submission as a sociologist, a Jew, and a long-time
opponent of all forms of oppression. As a person of Jewish descent, I
obviously have a personal interest in seeing anti-Semitism addressed
wherever it appears. However, as a social scientist I feel the term is
currently being used without much precision.
You describe your mission as an attempt to “confront and combat the global
resurgence of Antisemitism” and note that “Antisemitism is widely regarded
as at its worst level since the end of the Second World War.” These are
certainly strong statements, and, if true, require serious action. However,
other than noting that students on certain campuses in Canada are “ridiculed
and intimidated,” you provide no other concrete examples. (I will deal with
the issue of criticism of Israel at a later point.)
Anti-Semitism can be defined as hostility directed at those of Jewish
origin. Like all forms of hostility to ethno-racial groups, anti-Semitism
consists of both prejudice, that is, an attitude of dislike or hostility
toward people of Jewish background, as well as discrimination, which is the
denial of equal treatment or opportunities to these individuals. While these
two phenomena are usually connected, they can be distinguished from each
other. Prejudice is distasteful and can occasionally lead to hurtful acts –
including those of a violent nature. However, discrimination is generally
the more serious of the two processes since it will inevitably hurt the
victim’s life chances, such as getting a job or finding a place to live.
There is ample evidence to show that in Canada Jews as a group do not
regularly face discrimination; in fact, they are one of Canada’s most
advantaged minority groups. When examining any of the traditional variables
utilized to assess socioeconomic status – such as occupation, education, and
income – Jews continually come out at or near the top when compared to other
ethno-racial groups. In The Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples (1999), Morton
Weinfeld notes that “by any criterion, Jews have been successful.” According
to Weinfeld, Jews in Canada have low rates of unemployment, have a high
number of individuals in “desirable” occupations, have high levels of
educational attainment, and “can be numbered among the wealthiest
Canadians.” More recently, neither Ornstein (2006) nor Galabuzi (2006)
considered Jews to be a disadvantaged group relative to others.
Moreover, the economic and social advantages that have accrued in general to
the Jewish community in Canada have also been reflected in what social
scientists refer to as an accumulation of social capital. Put simply, those
with economic and social advantage are generally able to make important
economic and political connections, i.e. to “network” with those who have
influence, including those in the media. While one must tread lightly on
this reality – given the anti-Semitic stereotypes often expressed about Jews
and their excess of power – it would be inaccurate to assume that the Jewish
population in Canada has no advantage in this area.
But what about prejudice? Certainly most Jews in Canada can tell you of vile
slurs, stereotypes, or biased comments that they have received or heard.
More serious are hate crimes. According to Statistics Canada (June 2004),
there were 928 hate crime incidents in 2001-2002, with Jewish people or
their institutions the most likely target, at 25% of all crimes. However, by
2007 Statistics Canada noted (May 2009) that police-reported hate crime
overall had dropped, and that Blacks were targeted most often (33%). There
were 185 religiously-motivated incidents in 2007, down from 220 in 2006,
with two-thirds of these against Jews. While such slurs and hate crimes are
certainly disturbing, they can hardly be seen as a wave of anti-Semitism.
Indeed, the majority of hate crimes are listed as being mischief offences,
such as graffiti on public property.
To sum up then, the data indicate that the Jewish population of Canada is,
overall, socioeconomically advantaged, and that the number of hate crimes
against Jews has been dropping. What, then, is the “problem of
anti-Semitism” that your committee is asking governments to address? The
reality is that what is repeatedly being referred to as “new anti-Semitism”
is actually an escalating critique of the policies of the State of Israel
For example, there have indeed been tensions on many university campuses in
recent years. However, these cannot be accurately seen as being rooted in
anti-Semitism. Rather, tensions have arisen between Zionists and those who
support the Palestinian cause, and Jewish students and faculty can often be
found in the latter group. Resolving these tensions requires that university
administrators encourage civil debates, and show fairness to differing
opinions. Unfortunately, the repeated cries of “anti-Semitism” from Zionists
have put university administrators in awkward positions. On some campuses
(such as Carleton and York) their rash overreaction and uncritical responses
not only showed bias but actually aggravated tensions.
How do we explain the strong attachment of Jews to Israel, given that most
Jews are not immigrants from that country? In Canada as around the world,
since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, to be Jewish has meant
being inextricably linked to the State of Israel. From the outset, Israel
declared itself to be a “Jewish state,” and its flag has as its centerpiece
the Star of David, the symbol of the Jewish religion. Many Jews have
relatives living in Israel, and have visited there many times. When I
attended Hebrew School, we studied modern Hebrew (not Yiddish, the
historical language of our people), the history and geography of Israel, and
sang “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Like most Jews, I was told
that Israel was the guarantee that we would never experience another
The strong defense of the State of Israel by the Jewish community can be
understood as part of what is referred to by sociologists as ethnocentrism.
American author Joel Charon (2007,159) writes:
“As we interact and become part of a society or group, we generally come to
feel something good about belonging to that group…Becoming part of a group
encourages a sense of loyalty, and that loyalty encourages ethnocentrism.
Loyalty means a commitment to something we regard as important and right. It
brings a feeling of obligation to serve and defend. Criticism and threats to
the group are defended against.”
Thus, if Jews see support for the State of Israel as an essential part of
being Jewish – and the only thing between them and another Holocaust – then
any criticism of that State or its policies will be seen, de facto, as an
attack on Jews as a group. In the face of growing global opposition to
current Israeli government policies, well-meaning Jews – who simply cannot
accept that their people would do anything immoral – have turned to both
blaming the victim (“the Palestinians started it”) and blaming those who
support the victim (they’re anti-Semites or “self-hating Jews”). Thus, it is
not surprising that as the criticism of Israeli government policies has
increased worldwide, so have cries of the growth of a global resurgence of
The London Declaration states that “calls for the destruction of the State
of Israel are inherently anti-Semitic.” Is a call for the end of a theocracy
and the creation of a fully democratic Israeli state, where all citizens –
of whatever religion or background – are treated equally and humanely then
anti-Semitic? This may seem like an absurd possibility, but for most Jews
this is indeed the case. Allowing equality of rights and freedoms to all its
citizens, regardless of religion, would diminish the “Jewishness” of the
State of Israel, and therefore it is de facto anti-Semitism.
This leaves those who are critical of current Israeli policies in an
impossible situation. If people criticize the policies of the Islamic State
of Iran, or they call for human rights and equality for all its citizens,
are they anti-Islamic? Was opposition to the Apartheid regime of South
Africa anti-White? The ever-increasing cries of anti-Semitism are a way of
deflecting attention from real horrors – the daily humiliations, evictions,
land expropriation, mass imprisonment and killings – currently being
inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel. In one of the true ironies of
history, we now find Jews around the world – who swore after the Holocaust
that they would never again be victims – claiming that they are the real
victims in the Middle East and around the world. Indeed, some argue (Israeli
author Avraham Burg, 2008, for example) that the perpetual need of Jews to
see their victimization as unique is the key to understanding both the cries
of “a new anti-Semitism” and an unwillingness to empathize with the ongoing
plight of the Palestinians.
The CPCCA was created to examine a social phenomenon that, while odious, is
certainly far from being a major social problem in Canada. Compare it to,
for example, the many thousands of homeless people roaming our streets; the
native communities in the North with inadequate housing and water; the
escalating suicide rates of Native youth; the large numbers of farmers and
fishers who can no longer make a living; and the real and persistent racism
faced by many in Canada. While the CPCCA is not affiliated to the
government, many Canadians will be asking – and rightly so – why at this
time a committee of parliamentarians was created to deal with what is a
minor social problem in this country. The only answer can be that the Jewish
community has greater political influence than, say, Indigenous people, the
poor, or racial minorities.
My worry, then, is that however well-meaning the intent of this committee,
it is almost certain to unintentionally fan the flames of anti-Semitism,
convincing those already disposed to believe it that Jews hold undue sway in
the political arena and have too much power. This possibility is enhanced by
the failure of this Coalition to publicly reveal its funding sources,
particularly since an “Inter-Parliamentary Coalition” gives the impression
that you are a publicly-funded government entity. Moreover, to say on your
website that the only funding accepted is that which doesn't “compromise the
terms of reference and the mandate of the CPCCA” is, at minimum, naïve.
Your committee wants to develop meaningful suggestions to combat
anti-Semitism. I have tried to argue that what the Jewish community refers
to as anti-Semitism is almost always either a critique of the abhorrent and
illegal policies of the State of Israel, or is a prejudice against Jews that
has arisen from opposition to the policies of the only country in the world
that considers itself a Jewish state. The global criticism of South Africa
ended when Apartheid ended. Thus, in its final report the CPCCA could do no
better than to advocate for major changes to current Israeli government
policies. Minimally Israel must dismantle the Apartheid wall, end the dual
system of law in the occupied West Bank that favours Jewish settlers, and
end its collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans (a violation of Article
43 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a gross violation of international
humanitarian law). A failure to implicate current Israeli policy in any
possible growth of anti-Semitism worldwide will certainly convince many that
the CPCCA was biased from the outset. •
Joanne Naiman is a retired sociology professor living in Vancouver.
* Burg, Avraham. 2008. The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise from Its
Ashes. Houndmills, G.B.: Palgrave Macmillan.
* Charon, Joel. 2008. Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective, 6th ed.
Belmont, CA: Nelson-Wadsworth.
* Galabuzi, Grace-Edward. 2006. Canada's Economic Apartheid: The Social
Exclusion of Racialized Groups in the New Century. Toronto: Canadian
* Klug, Brian. 2004. “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism” The Nation.
* Naiman, Joanne. 2007. How Societies Work: Class, Power, and Change in
a Canadian Context, 4th ed. Halifax: Fernwood.
* Ornstein, Michael. 2006. “Extremely Disadvantaged Ethno-Racial Groups
* Statistics Canada. 2009. “Police-reported hate crime.” The Daily, May
* ----------------- 2004. “SPOTLIGHT: Hate crime” Infomat, June 8, 2004.
* Weinfeld, Morton. 1999. “Economic Life”, The Encyclopedia of Canada’s
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