Another record for anti-Semitic incidents, B’nai Brith audit shows

Online harassment, including Zoom-bombing, rose sharply during the COVID pandemic.

Anti-Semitic incidents reported to B’nai Brith Canada set a record for the fifth consecutive year in 2020, despite declines in parts of the country, with the COVID pandemic playing a big part, the organization announced.

There were 2,610 recorded anti-Semitic incidents in Canada last year, an increase of 18.3 percent over 2019, B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights said in its annual audit, presented at a virtual news conference April 26.

Last year also marked the third straight year in which more than 2,000 incidents were reported.

“This is a frightening trend,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn, who noted that the COVID pandemic played an outsized role in anti-Semitism last year.

The audit found that on average, more than seven anti-Semitic incidents occurred each day in Canada in 2020.

Among the audit’s highlights:

– Violent incidents in 2020 decreased to their lowest levels in years, aided perhaps by pandemic lockdowns, but 44 percent of those were linked to COVID, including Jews being spat on and otherwise assaulted, and use of weapons. Most of those incidents targeted Hasidic Jews in Broisbriand, Que., after reports that a local Hasidic community was not abiding by COVID restrictions.

– About 10 percent of anti-Semitic incidents last year related either to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, vandalism, or violence associated with the pandemic.

– There were decreases in anti-Semitic incidents last year in all provinces except Ontario and Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island). Atlantic Canada recorded 199 anti-Semitic incidents last year, representing a 226 percent rise over the year before.

– Alberta saw a 27 percent decline in anti-Semitic incidents. British Columbia’s rate was down 8.5 percent.

– Last year marked the first year in which the number of incidents in Ontario exceeded 1,000, (783 in 2019 to 1,130 in 2020), marking a 44 percent increase over 2019. Ontario accounted for more than 43 percent of all incidents in Canada.

– Quebec, which led anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, with nearly 800, dropped to 686 in 2020. However, Quebec recorded one-third of all violent incidents in Canada, largely targeting visibly observant Jews.

– Incidents of harassment constituted over 95 percent of total incidents over the past year, rising four percent over the previous year. Of all harassment incidents over the past year, 71 percent occurred online – an 11 percent increase over 2019.

– There was more than a 70 percent increase in “Canada-wide” incidents of anti-Semitism, referring to those online incidents that could not be linked directly to a particular region of the country. These accounted for just under eight percent of all incidents for 2020.

– Vandalism accounted for 4.5 percent of total recorded incidents in 2020, the lowest number since 2015.

– “Zoom-bombing,” which interrupts Zoom calls or synagogue services and other community functions with anti-Semitic, racist and pornographic video, became a disturbing trend.

The audit cited some specific examples:

• In Winnipeg, a student was attacked by seven others who said Jews should “go back to the ovens.”

• In Toronto, a man randomly assaulted an observant Jew by hitting him in the face and shouting “f— Jews and f— the State of Israel.”

• Graffiti with the words “f— you” and “Zionists not welcome” was scrawled on a Toronto-area restaurant.

• A Montreal-area synagogue was vandalized, with ritual items desecrated, Torah scrolls strewn on the floor and religious articles found in the toilet.

• Several mezuzahs were ripped from doorposts throughout the country.

 • A swastika and the phrase “Heil Hitler” defaced a kindergarten in Toronto.

The audit cited the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, which found that police-reported hate crime data for 2019 reported that while Jews comprise one percent of Canada’s population, they accounted for 15 percent of all reported hate crimes, and were Canada’s most targeted religious minority.

That mirrors data from the Toronto Police Service Annual Hate Crime report released last week which showed that Toronto’s Jewish community experienced a significant increase in hate-motivated crimes and remained the most targeted group overall in 2020, as the city saw an unprecedented spike in hate crimes last year.

David Matas, senior legal counsel for the League for Human Rights, said “the hate is constant but the verbalization is different,” referring to the explosion in online hate. He said the federal government is considering measures to curb online hate.

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