Canada to hold an emergency summit on anti-Semitism

Pro-Palestinian protests in Montreal, May 16, 2021 (Credit: Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)

The federal government will hold an emergency national summit on the “alarming” rise of anti-Semitism, to be led by Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy for combatting anti-Semitism, it was announced Friday, June 11.

“Jews in Canada—as elsewhere—have been targeted and terrorized in their communities, neighbourhoods, streets and campuses, while synagogues are torched and Holocaust memorials are defaced,” Cotler said in a statement.

 The “escalating and alarming” number of anti-Semitic incidents is “without parallel or precedent since the Second World War,” he said.

This mainstreaming, normalization and legitimation of anti-Semitism underpinned by indifference and inaction—in the absence of necessary outrage—only underscores the need for this emergency National Summit to Combat Antisemitism.”

Details of the summit, including its specific mandate and potential participants have not yet been made public.

The announcement of the summit was welcomed by Jewish advocacy groups across the country.

“We look forward to working with the government and Special Envoy, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, to ensure that the Emergency Summit includes the right stakeholders at all levels of government, addresses the unique characteristics of anti-Semitism, and leads to a concrete plan of action that reassures Jewish Canadians that they are safe in Canada,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Michael Levitt, CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre Canada (FSWC), also welcomed the news of the national summit. 

“The last few months have been a dark time for the Jewish community, as we have witnessed such a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic incidents across the country. It is so important now that we are able to bring together policy makers at all levels of government to develop a dedicated plan of action to combat the mainstreaming of Jew hatred in social and news media, in our universities, schools, and other public institutions,” he said in a statement.

Fogel said the idea for a national emergency summit had been broadly agreed to in a call with senior leaders of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Liberal government last month. Calls for action on anti-Semitism have also received the “unqualified support” of Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole.

Advocacy groups B’nai Brith Canada and FSWC had also supported the call for a national summit.

 In calling for the summit, Fogel said that  the goal is to create a comprehensive national plan to combat Jew hatred. Such a program, he added, must include mandatory education on hatred and Jewish history to help Canadians understand the truth of the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict. Enhanced community security programs are also required as well as a national campaign on social media literacy.

“Our adversaries seek not just to erase our connection to the land and history of Israel, but to erase the presence there of Jews altogether,” he said at the time. “Their goal is to shrink our thumbprint, and if we fail to understand that agenda, we will fail to thwart their goal.”

In its call to action, CIJA said the dangerous rise in anti-Semitism being noted around the world is a threat to everyone.

“We are witnessing a dangerous rise in anti-Semitism manifesting in our communities, online, and around the world. From chants of ‘F**k the Jews, rape their daughters’ in the U.K., to violent mobs targeting Jews in the U.S., to intimidation and scare tactics in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods across Canada, anti-Jewish hate is real, and it is dangerous.

“History has taught us that what starts with Jews, never ends with Jews. Combating anti-Semitism is not only about protecting Jews; it is essential to insulating all of us from the threat hatred poses to the very fabric of our society.

“Failure to take action now leaves a door wide open for vicious hate to find a home in Canada.”