Montreal city council agrees to investigate rising anti-Semitism

Montreal City Hall. (Photo by Pedro Szekely/Flickr Creative Commons)

Montreal city council passed a motion calling on the administration to look into the rise in anti-Semitism linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The motion, tabled by the official opposition Ensemble Montréal at the council meeting June 16, mandates the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence to produce a report on its findings.

The centre was created in 2015 by the city, with support from the Quebec government, but is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to preventing hateful behaviour through education and community outreach.

The motion “’vigorously denounces” the “threats, violence, acts of aggression, harassment, and insults of a racist character” directed at Jews in recent weeks and urges the city to ensure the community’s security.

It also affirms the necessity of respectful debate concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The motion was presented by Ensemble Montréal leader Lionel Perez and Francesco Miele, a St. Laurent councillor.

The municipal motion follows the National Assembly’s unanimous condemnation of anti-Semitism on May 26 and the Quebec government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

Ensemble Montréal is the party of former mayor Denis Coderre, who is seeking to unseat Mayor Valérie Plante in the November election.

In a joint statement, Federation CJA and its advocacy agency, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), welcomed the city council motion.

CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin said, “The strong denunciation and commitment to combating anti-Semitism by all levels of government offers a measure of relief and encouragement to the Jewish community as we look ahead to the federal government’s forthcoming emergency summit on anti-Semitism.”

Federation chief executive officer Yair Szlak added that the motion “unequivocally condemns the vicious wave of anti-Semitism that has rocked our city.

“Montreal is a city that prides itself on its vivre-ensemble. Anti-Semitism is a threat to every value we hold dearly and we applaud the City of Montreal for today’s motion. Montreal can and must do better in the fight against anti-Semitism on our streets and online.”

The Jewish organizations have been critical of the Plante administration for not entertaining motions to adopt the IHRA definition, which Perez attempted to get on the agenda in January 2020 and this past March.

Perez was successful in having his Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce borough endorse the definition in January. This month, the borough council passed a motion condemning local anti-Semitism, tabled by Perez and independent councillor Christian Arseneault.

CIJA recently applauded the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization for its launch of an online educational tool explaining hateful signs and symbols, for use by the public. CIJA worked with the centre on the sections related to anti-Semitism in the Petit guide illustré de la haine au Québec.

Editorial cartoon marked a flashpoint in the community

Elsewhere, Jewish organizations are accepting as an apology the response of Le Devoir director Brian Myles to a contentious editorial cartoon published in the French-language daily newspaper last month.

The drawing by Éric Godin depicts a uniformed, gun-toting, headless figure placing a knee on the neck of man wearing a keffiyeh lying face down on the ground, against a backdrop of ruined buildings.

The cartoon sparked a flood of outrage from the Jewish community, as well as Israeli consul general David Levy, for its use of the police killing of George Floyd one year earlier to make a point about the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Myles wrote that Le Devoir had no intention of injuring the Jewish community, especially at a time that it is feeling insecure. He explained that Godin’s aim was to comment on Israel’s disproportionate response to the hostilities from Gaza, but conceded the cartoon was “virulent.”

Myles asked that the cartoon be seen within the context of the newspaper’s overall coverage of the Middle East.

“This strong reaction from the Jewish community invites us to reflect on opportunities for rapprochement and collaboration. It reminds us of our duty for vigilance with regard to increasing anti-Semitism, this scourge that we wish to combat just as you do.

“We believe it is possible to reach and maintain a relationship of trust with the Jewish community, while permitting criticism of the actions of all the protagonists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

In addition to previously publishing several letters on the issue, Le Devoir ran an opinion piece on June 14 by Honest Reporting Canada executive director Mike Fegelman, headlined, “We must speak loudly and strongly against antisemitic incidents.” He argues that it is contrary to international law to deny the self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral land.

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