Posted Thu, Aug 5, 2010

This, according to one wag, is the quintessential Jewish telegram. I was reminded of this the other day by a cartoon in a book of Jewish humour showing a guy posting flyers with a picture of his dog, announcing that it was “not lost—yet.”

Presumably, the bitter lessons of history remain hard-wired into our collective memories, so that even though we don’t anticipate hordes of marauding Cossacks descending upon us today we understand, at some level, the importance of past experiences. We seem to have come by our subconscious looks over the shoulder honestly.

So all this prompts us to wonder if we Jews really do have an extra gene for worry and angst?

(Though maybe it’s not exclusive: It was said of poet W.B. Yeats that, “Being Irish he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy”.)

Paranoia in our DNA aside, how are we to react when we see that a mere two generations after the holocaust, the public expression of hatred of Jews has not only become tolerable again in Europe and elsewhere, it is in some circles politically correct if not fashionable.

We have felt the sting here in Canada as well. As a small religious and ethnocultural minority, the Jewish community has prospered in Canada’s diverse, pluralistic society but we must always remain vigilant to protect our well-being and our individual and collective security.

Recent hate crimes statistics reveal an on-going pattern of antisemitic incidents in which the Jewish community is the target of some two-thirds of all religion-motivated hate crimes across the country.

The old joke suggests that an antisemite is someone who hates Jews more than necessary, but what constitutes “more than necessary” is a constantly moving target. It is clear that antisemitism is the hardiest of the racism strains and it continually adapts to current conditions and morphs into new forms. As Canadian Jewish Congress noted in our submission to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, “Israel within the community of nations [has become] the stand-in for the individual Jew and anti-Zionism [has become] the new antisemitism.”

Under these circumstances, it would be so easy to throw up our hands in despair, to succumb to the depression we feel realizing that antisemitism is alive and well, to allow a doom and gloom approach to incapacitate the community and reinforce the feeling that as Jews we will always be vulnerable to hate and discrimination and inevitably be consigned to second-class status as Canadians.

I say we need to do the opposite. We need to understand that every generation has the obligation to fight back against antisemitism and all forms of racism.

I would argue that in combating the pathology of antisemitism and in holding our ground to live free and unencumbered by discrimination as Jews, we know that the cause is just and we do not have the luxury of giving up hope.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair.”

As the spiritual heirs of a rich and life-fulfilling tradition we cannot succumb to such despair. As the current links in an enduring chain of history we cannot be paralyzed by fear and uncertainty.

While we have legitimate concerns about antisemitism in Canada, both the “old” and “new” manifestations, we also must realize that the vast majority of Canadians of goodwill regard these actions as beyond the pale and deserving of condemnation. Beyond disapprobation, we are lucky to live in a country that understands that the state has an obligation to protect vulnerable minorities, that hate is hate and not only is such hate incompatible with the values of a democratic society, it corrodes and undermines the very essence of that democratic society.

Through the Criminal Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act and other remedies, our legislators have clearly established that messages promoting discrimination or hatred are outside the scope of protected expression, balancing any diminution of individual rights against the greater collective danger posed by hate speech.

We need to ensure that all Canadians understand that antisemitism and all forms of hate not only threaten the targeted community but the very soul of our nation. Let’s keep fighting the good fight together. After all, we’re not lost—yet.

BY: Eric Vernon, Director of Government Relations and International Affairs, Canadian Jewish Congress

One of Canada's leading experts on antisemitism and human rights, Bernie M. Farber is the National Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).

Mr. Farber has spent more than 20 years with CJC, battling hatred and racism and strengthening relationships with police services, government and other ethnic and faith communities across the country.

The recipient of countless awards, Mr. Farber is an associate member of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, and was recently selected by the Ontario government to serve as a member of the Hate Crimes Community Working Group. He also serves with the city of Vaughan Mayor's Task Force on Community Safety and Security and the York Regional Police Community Crime Prevention Advisory Council.

Mr. Farber is a published author and has contributed numerous articles on the Jewish political scene, human rights issues, the Holocaust, hate crime and white supremacy to newspapers and periodicals including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, and many others.


Eric Vernon was born in Toronto in 1953. He was educated at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Ohio State University, in history and political science.

For over twenty years, Mr. Vernon has been the principal lobbyist in Ottawa of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the lead advocacy organization for Canada's Jewish communities and UJA Federations.

In 1987, he established the Ottawa Advocacy Office of Canadian Jewish Congress and is currently the Director of Government Relations for CJC. In these capacities he has written numerous briefs, op-eds, position papers and correspondence on national legislation, public policy, and international issues affecting Canada and its Jewish community, including antisemitism, Israel and Holocaust commemoration.

Mr. Vernon has performed a wide range of advocacy duties with federal Members of Parliament and Senators, senior public servants, government agencies, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of other non-governmental organizations. In conjunction with these duties he has staffed several Congress committees, represented CJC at inter-faith tables, organized conferences and been involved in legislative and social policy development for CJC on a variety of domestic and international issues.