I wasn’t planning to write to you in the hours before Rosh Hashanah. But events over the past 72 hours have sharply exposed some of the difficulties and opportunities our community faces in the new year.
On Thursday, Dimitri Lascaris tweeted an appalling attack on two Jewish MPs, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather. He openly suggested that Michael and Anthony are disloyal to our country, placing the interests of “apartheid Israel” above those of the Government of Canada. This is a textbook example of antisemitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Lascaris is a board member of the pro-BDS group “Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East”, which regularly peddles its anti-Israel agenda on Parliament Hill. A few weeks ago, he orchestrated an anti-Israel protest in the heart of Toronto’s Jewish community in Bathurst Manor.
And so, while we weren’t surprised to see Lascaris bashing Israel on Twitter, we were shocked that he would openly target Jewish MPs with an ancient antisemitic trope. We immediately contacted friends and officials in all parties on Parliament Hill, urging them to speak out against this vicious slander against two Members of Parliament. Within 48 hours, Prime Minister Trudeau, Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May – along with various other MPs – issued statements denouncing the antisemitic attack and defending Michael and Anthony.
This entire episode brought home for me, just hours before Rosh Hashanah, two crucial points about what we can expect in the year ahead.
First, those who seek to demonize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish State, through BDS and other toxic forms of advocacy, are becoming bolder and more aggressive. They are letting the veil slip on the false distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. And some of them openly seeking to undermine our rights as Jewish Canadians to be accepted as equals in Canadian politics, democracy, and civil society. It’s clearer than ever that the fight against the anti-Israel agenda is a fight to preserve the future of the Canadian Jewish community.
Second, we are not alone in this fight. Elected leaders at the highest levels increasingly recognize that hatred of Israel goes hand-in-hand with hatred of Jews. It is a powerful statement to have federal party leaders unite, despite their many other differences, in defense of our community when we are targeted for antisemitism.
History teaches us just how dangerous it is when broader society ignores or dismisses antisemitism. I am relieved that wasn’t the case this week on Parliament Hill. But this level of support for our community – and understanding of antisemitism – doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of years of briefings, our MP missions to Israel, and ongoing conversations that don’t always make for headlines but make a long-term difference.
I’m disturbed by what we saw this week. But I’m also encouraged by the swift solidarity that followed. We have our work cut out for us in the year ahead. In the coming weeks, we will be in touch about our efforts to combat antisemitism in 5779 – and I urge you to join us as partners in this vital cause.
Shana tova u’metukah,
Shimon Koffler Fogel