Advocating against antisemitism into 2023

As we head into 2023, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa continues to advocate passionately against antisemitism, the latest example being the concerning situation at Sir Robert Borden High School at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

“We continue to have conversations at every level — we’re speaking with the trustees, the administrators and with individual schools, particularly where there have been really disturbing incidents of antisemitism,” said David Sachs, Federation’s Community Relations Specialist. “We’re working mainly behind the scenes in support of families who have been directly affected by incidents and we’re following up to make sure the schools are planning on programming that can actually help the students in the school, to move them away from the terrible attitudes, which are now growing in the student populations.”

Federation has also begun working with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, recently delivering an in-class presentation on antisemitism to students in a joint outreach effort with the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES). This is in addition to CHES’ previous workshops that provided important training for educators at both school boards.

“We hope these kinds of in-person, direct-to-student programming will happen more in the new year,” said Sachs. 

Federation, with support from our advocacy partner the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has already begun building relationships with the new city council and the new mayor. At Federation’s invitation, several city council members and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe were in attendance at the Tamir’s Community Chanukah Party on the weekend where they talked to community members and learned about the important work being undertaken by Tamir and event partners, including Jewish Family Services, The Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, the Kosher Food Bank and Ottawa Modern Jewish School, as well as the Soloway JCC. 

“Andrea Freedman has been in a much higher level of discussion with provincial politicians and party leaders from Queen’s Park,” said Sachs, noting the recent comments from MPP Joel Harden. “She has received a lot of unanimity among the provincial party leaders in their commitment to work with us and stand against any statements from MPPs or otherwise that threaten Jews.”

Sachs said that when people in public spaces or with public platforms have made antisemitic statements, it’s of course horrifying to the Jewish community, “but at the same time, they’ve been proving the points we’ve been making for years.”

“Even when things seem to be getting worse, it actually provides us with examples that are more easily understandable to the larger community which didn’t necessarily see what Jews see. We understand things that our neighbours don’t understand … but when they see these displays of antisemitism in areas we said were problematic, it makes it easier to understand why we need the protections that we’re asking for.”

In Federation’s CEO Andrea Freedman's recent op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, she notes that currently, Jewish communities are experiencing rising hatred from both the left and right of the political spectrum.

“Jew-hatred was once regarded as the purview of far-right extremism. Today, antisemitism transcends partisanship as Jews are targeted from the left and right of the political spectrum,” said Freedman. 

“On the right, Jews are subjected to the white supremacist belief that the white race is in danger of extinction by a rising tide of “non-whites” who are controlled and manipulated by the Jews. Antisemitism on the left manifests itself as the belief that Jews are white, privileged, and responsible for the oppression of others.”

Sachs said that he believes ultimately that the mainstream Canadian community stands with the Jewish community. 

“For the first time I can remember, we’re getting genuine attention from people who have never thought about antisemitism before. They’re realizing that we’ve been going through this for years.”

This has become more evident with an increasing number of public statements being made this week decrying the rise in antisemitism.

A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail carries the headline: “The fight against antisemitism requires solidarity with Jewish Canadians, not just sympathy,” and calls for the universal adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Another example is from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), which also issued a statement in support of the Jewish community: 

“Too often, our Jewish neighbours are targets of hate because of their faith. While Jews make up 1% of Canada’s population, the most recent statistics show they are victims of 62% of all reported faith-based hate crimes. 

“We know that, sadly, Jews of all ages are disproportionately subject to acts and threats of violence, harassment, bullying, and discrimination. Jewish kids are not immune, and this can have lasting impacts on their development and self-worth. 

“CHEO denounces and rejects all forms of hatred. We will always stand up for the rights of all people to live in safety and security, free of intimidation and violence because of who they are. And we are committed - as part of our own journey toward equity, diversity, and inclusion - to learning, listening, speaking out, and being part of positive change.” 

Similarly, The United Way’s United for All coalition condemned antisemitism: “We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we recognize the deep-seated harm that is caused when antisemitism goes unchecked, dismissed, and underestimated as a form of discrimination. We condemn this hateful rhetoric in the strongest terms.”

And Ottawa’s new Chief of Police Eric Stubbs sent a compassionate message directly to the Jewish community in time for Chanukah in which he expresses concerns about antisemitism and pledges to address all forms of hatred: “The Ottawa Police are very concerned by recent incidents of antisemitism in local schools, online, and in our communities. Antisemitism is hateful and unacceptable and it threatens the peace and security of Jewish people and communities. It hurts our entire community. It is also imperative that we address antisemitism in schools through education to teach our children and youth equality and promote human rights for all individuals.”

While these statements are reassuring, Federation will continue to focus on important antisemitism advocacy and other community relations. 

Coming up in the new year, the National Holocaust Memorial Committee is planning an event on January 27, 2023, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day to be held at the Holocaust Monument. 

“It will be an opportunity for our community to come out and stand together,” said Sachs. “I want to point out specifically Algonquin College, which has been really proactive. They are bringing in not only a speaker about the Holocaust through CHES, but also an educator from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and will be dedicating that day to working with their staff to raise their awareness of antisemitism.” 

Sachs said he’d like to see that kind of training brought to other campuses as well. 

Then in early February, internationally renowned speaker and author Ben M. Freeman will be coming to Ottawa for multiple events focusing on universities with some events open to the whole community. To learn more about Freeman, visit here.

As always, when people, or families, experience incidents of antisemitism they should report it on Federation's webpage

“That page also has a range of excellent resources that I would encourage everyone in the community to check out,” said Sachs. “I really believe every community member needs to be empowered to self-advocate. This fight can’t be left to a few specialists, it’s something the whole community has to take on.