Ontario mayors are now discussing strategies to counter antisemitism

Ontario mayors are pledging to get active in the fight against antisemitism.

The vow, mirroring one made last year by Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, was launched Friday during a virtual antisemitism summit of municipal leaders.

Over 100 mayors, municipal councillors, staff and police chiefs took part in the event sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

CIJA Ontario vice-president Noah Shack said the closed-door event was designed to bring the question of Jew hatred into focus for local government leaders.

“We have to do more to uproot Jew hatred in our communities,” Shack said in an interview. “We need to zero in and focus on this critical issue. We need leaders to commit and resolve to find ways to uproot the ignorance that gives rise to this hatred.”

Action is needed now, he added, “before memories of what just happened in Texas fade from the public memory.”

(On Jan. 15, in Colleyville, Texas, a rabbi and three congregants were taken hostage by a gunman demanding the release of a terrorist. The hostages escaped and the assailant was killed.)

Shack said education must play a critical role in the fight against a hatred that too often grows from ignorance.

“It is the way we will keep these seeds from taking root in future generations,” he said.

As one concrete measure, Shack said Jewish and antisemitism resources at public libraries need to be increased to ensure the facts are available to those who want to learn.

“Who thinks of their local public library as a centre for fighting antisemitism?” he asked. “This may not stop antisemitism in its tracks, but it will help.”

Bevilacqua, who chaired Friday’s event, said in a news release another critical step municipalities should take is the formal adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism.

In 2020, Vaughan was the first municipality in the country to take that step as part of a motion declaring Jan. 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Bevilacqua said his city has “been positively influenced by the social, cultural and economic contributions” of its Jewish community. “Our progress on many key city-building initiatives would not be possible without our collective commitment to mutual respect and understanding.”

Despite that, like all places it remains vulnerable to hate-motivated violence.

“We continue to stand up against all forms of hate, systemic racism and intolerance, yet we understand that our community is not immune from hate-motivated violence,” he said. “We cannot sit idly by as discrimination continues to undermine our collective well-being—we must tackle it head-on. The city continues to condemn all forms of racism and remains committed to defending diversity, inclusion and human rights.”

Vaughan has also hired a diversity and inclusion officer, called a special council meeting to gather ideas for action and is hosting a special summit in November with the mayor of the Israeli city of Ramla. That event is aimed at creating a four-year Cultural Partnership Action Plan that will be submitted to city council next year.

Bevilacqua also took part in last year’s national summit on antisemitism.

The pledge Bevilacqua took Friday mirrors one he signed last year vowing to  speak up against antisemitism and to learn from the work of local Jewish communities to ensure Jewish safety security and inclusion. He also promised to include antisemitism in all anti-racism efforts and, by marking International Holocaust Memorial Day, “to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and to help educate all citizens about the continuing imperative to stand against hate.”