Anti-Semitic attacks of May 2021 triggered by protests that became ‘open hatefests’: B’nai Brith Canada

Protesters outside the Manitoba Legislative Building dance to an anti-Semitic song May 15, 2021. (Credit: B'nai Brith Canada)

A new report from B’nai Brith Canada says an unprecedented number of attacks on Jews occurred in May, and many of the reports of anti-Semitic harassment and vandalism occurred at anti-Israel rallies.

The advocacy agency said the 61 incidents of violence reported in May is the highest ever reported in one month since the 1982 start of the Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. In 2020, only nine incidents were reported during the entire year.

Last month, the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, sparked anti-Israel protests across Canada.

Reports of anti-Semitism have been coming in so fast, the agency said, it had to pull staff from other work to help the League for Human Rights keep up with the volume.

“B’nai Brith spent the entire past month gathering data and investigating incidents. We can now reveal that the situation was far worse than previously reported,” the agency said. “The month was tarnished by more than 250 known incidents, including assaults.”

Most of these incidents, B’nai Brith added, involved anti-Israel activists at public events targeting anyone publicly displaying Jewish or Israeli garb or symbols.

Specifically, the agency said across Canada during May there were 154 reported incidents of harassment, 51 cases of vandalism and 61 incidents of violence.

“One alarming finding that has not been sufficiently publicized is the degree of anti-Semitism present at anti-Israel rallies,” the agency said. “In almost every city where such rallies took place, Jews were singled out and targeted for abuse by angry mobs of demonstrators.”

The cases are not confined to large cities with Jewish populations, either.

On May 14, for example, the normally quiet streets of Milton, Ont., north-west of Toronto, were disturbed by a crowd of protesters with many calling for violence against Jews.

A day later, anti-Israel demonstrators in Winnipeg burned an Israeli flag. In Montreal, people attending a pro-Israel rally were assaulted and had rocks thrown at their heads.

“These rallies were not the typical kind of civil and lawful political protests with which most Canadians are familiar,” B’nai Brith said. “Many of these events devolved into open hatefests with blatantly anti-Semitic, obscene, and violent rhetoric.”

“In some cases, individuals displaying Israeli flags were beaten in plain view of police officers. Individuals ended up in the hospital with serious injuries. Property was damaged, stolen and vandalized. Some reported having feared for their lives at these events when they realized the severity of the situation they were in,” B’nai Brith said.

“Witnesses were shocked to see that this behaviour was allowed to take place in Canada, in public, with little consequence or media attention,” it added.

“Consistently, when anyone identifiably Jewish or Israeli showed up at or around these events, they were cornered and attacked with impunity. When angry mobs saw people with Jewish or Israeli symbols, they did everything from openly yell slurs at them, to pelt them with rocks, to steal their items, to assault them.

“Mob rule took over at these events, and Jews were not safe as a result,” it said.

B’nai Brith added the 266 incidents reported in May likely are not the full picture and it expects more details to come out. The numbers also do not include online hate incidents or a total for police-reported incidents.

“The dangerous rise of anti-Semitism in the month of May must serve as a wake-up call to all Canadians. If, as a society, we stand united against hate, then we must also stand united against anti-Semitism,” B’nai Brith said. “If left to fester, the hatred of Jews will lead to the fraying of the very foundations of our civil society.”

B’nai Brith is collecting reports at [email protected]. Online incidents can be reported at [email protected].