Fighting anti-Semitism in the activist community

Paul Estrin

I never used to take Tashlich seriously. But lately, my pockets were feeling heavier than usual. 

Being a Jewish activist in an anti-Israel activist world is difficult, to say the least. I know how degrading and de-moralizing –  how painful –  it can be. You learn to turn a blind eye to so much vile vitriol because you’re trying to fight for what is just and right. My recent history with the Green Party of Canada (GPC), the political party I was president of before being summarily tossed because of my views on Israel, is illustrative of a larger problem in the activist world.

After I published a blog post on the party website entitled “Why Gaza makes me sad,” I was pilloried within the party. Many of the responses to my essay were blatantly anti-Semitic. A letter posted to the website Unpublished Ottawa argued, “It is abundantly clear to me that he [meaning me] is a Zionist shill.” The letter claimed Jews “have taken control of most of our major institutions, including the media, the banks, and the government,” and described my religion as a “supremacist cult.” “Remember who did 9/11 –  the same criminal state which is now destroying Gaza,” the writer intoned.

The letter was penned by Monika Schaefer, a Green candidate in the last federal election whose participation in the party dates back to its founding convention. It was posted online by Peter Johnston, a former member of the party’s board of directors.

It gets worse.

A poster was uploaded to (its motto: “Digging to the root of the issues since 1998”). At first glance, it looks like your typical Green Party newsletter, featuring a picture of Elizabeth May in the top right corner and the party logo in both English and French. Except that there’s a Magen David next to the logo, and the text below it is revolting. “Yes all you gullible goy Canadians,” it begins, “the Green Party of Canada kisses Israel’s ass… So you thought you had a choice did you? Well I guess you were all just too ‘green’ to realize that the Zionist Jews control all of us and we do their bidding whether you like it or not.”

It was signed, falsely, “Shalom, Paul Estrin.” 

There’s a lot more like that. But you get the idea. 

Sadly, my experience is not unique. Many people who have endured similar hatred have approached me in recent months to recount their own horror stories. I thank you for sharing – it helped me, and I hope it helped you. 

But all of this raises the question: why do people like me continue to affiliate ourselves with the activist community? I don’t have a full answer, but part of it is out of a desire to create a safe and productive space for Jewish activists to perform tikkun olam. I still believe that’s a cause worth fighting for.

I went to Israel recently, on a trip sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) that included people from all over Canada, MPs and MLAs. We all witnessed first-hand how Israel continues to advance in so many positive ways – economically, politically, and socially. And we were reminded of Israel’s security concerns – from the empty schoolyards of Sderot, to the consistent thud of shells emanating from Syria, just 30 kilometres away, the threat could not be clearer. 

I also met with Israeli activists, and for the first time in a long time, I felt what it was like to not feel insecure because I’m Jewish and support Israel. I only wish I could have brought that feeling back to all the Jewish activists doing excellent work outside Israel who feel the sting of hatred. 

Returning to Canada, I feel ready to move forward. It’s been a rough summer, but it’s time to focus on the future. My pockets are empty.