Disturbing surge in antisemitic discourse in Canada tied to online activity, reveals joint NCRI and CIJA study

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Nicole Amiel
|October 16, 2023

Trend of online hate manifesting in offline incidents already emerging in Canada as war wages between Hamas and Israel

Ottawa, ON – October 16, 2023 – A comprehensive and data-driven report released today by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in collaboration with the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) highlights a troubling surge in antisemitic discourse and real-world incidents in Canada. This surge followed the May 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict and is closely linked with increased online discourse.

“Given the recent devastating terrorist attacks by Hamas targeting Israeli civilians, and war between Israel and Hamas underway, the findings of the study have become even more relevant, as there is looming anticipation of a similar surge in antisemitism in Canada due to the current unrest,” said Joel Finkelstein, Chief Science officer and co-founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute. “Indeed, we have already started to see several similar trends emerging.”

The study meticulously analyzed more than 100 million social media posts and identified a disturbing relationship between online antisemitic remarks and real-world antisemitic incidents in 2021, which persisted even after a reduction in social media activity. This growing wave of online and offline hate reflects an unsettling trend toward the normalization of antisemitism in Canadian society.

In addition to its online findings, the report sheds light on offline antisemitic incidents in Canada in 2021. Montreal and Toronto, both with significant Jewish populations, witnessed antisemitic activities such as chants of violent slogans against Jews during protests, vandalism of synagogues, hateful graffiti in Jewish neighbourhoods, and other hate crimes. These actions aligned with the spikes in antisemitic rhetoric online.

Obtaining a detailed breakdown of police-reported hate crimes proved challenging, with official sources being less than transparent. NCRI and CIJA's persistence in gathering data directly from local law enforcement proved fruitful, and the analysis revealed a clear pattern: spikes in online antisemitic discourse led to increases in real-world antisemitic incidents.

“This critical research underscores the profound influence of social media platforms in shaping public sentiment and driving real-world actions,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, President and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “As platforms such as Twitter and Reddit become modern public squares, the potential for them to either unite or divide societies grows. While they have the power to uplift and connect, as observed in this report, these platforms can also amplify hate.”

As a call to action, the findings emphasize the urgent need for enhanced hate crime data recording and dissemination as well as more transparent and accessible reporting mechanisms. Addressing the emerging normalization of antisemitism requires a collective effort and begins with understanding its roots and manifestations.

 "The findings of this report document the relationship between online and offline antisemitism, an understanding of which is crucial for both policymakers and law enforcement to protect the Jewish community,” said Fogel. “This report is particularly relevant, as it shows that an overseas conflict can and does have dangerous implications for Canada’s Jewish community. It could not be more timely."

 “The report illustrates the power of social media to transform local wars in Israel into global threats facing the entire Jewish community. Community security must evolve in the age of information disorder to meet these threats with faster, real-time, data collection,” said Finkelstein.

Key Findings:

  • The May 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict led to a marked rise in online antisemitic discourse that persisted long after the overseas conflict had ended.
  • The heightened levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel online discourse corresponded with sharp increases in real-world antisemitic incidents.
  • Even after a decrease in online antisemitic activity, offline incidents persisted, indicating a disturbing normalization of antisemitism in Canadian society.
  • While the research marks a significant step in understanding the relationship between online hate and real-world incidents, it is not without limitations. The lack of uniform hate crime reporting mechanisms across Canada complicates the process of making exact correlations. Absent this high-quality data, research can reveal broad trends but cannot unearth the predictive findings necessary to serve as early warning systems for vulnerable communities.

For the full report, visit: https://www.cija.ca/seasons_of_hate


Additional Background

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Le Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA) est l'agence de représentation de Fédérations juives du Canada - UIA, représentant les fédérations juives à travers le Canada. En cliquant sur  «  Sign up , »  vous acceptez de recevoir des mises à jour périodiques de CIJA. Vous pouvez vous désabonner à tout moment.
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About Nicole Amiel
Nicole is the Director, Media Relations and GTA Communications at CIJA.