On Thursday Jan. 27, I was honoured to participate in a commemoration event at the National Holocaust Monument that was live streamed on Facebook to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. That night in my remarks I said, “this week, sobering statistics were released on the state of Holocaust knowledge. Approximately one-third of students surveyed were not sure the Holocaust happened, or thought it was exaggerated or fabricated. Meanwhile, 42 percent of students said they had unequivocally witnessed an antisemitic event, and these were by and large not Jewish students. Some who decry vaccine mandates, continue to egregiously invoke the Holocaust.”
At the time, it did not occur to me that less than 48 hours later, swastikas would be on the streets of our nation’s capital. The presence of swastika flags, allusions to Nazi ideology, the continued appropriation of the yellow star to make the deeply offensive and grossly inaccurate comparison between the victims of Nazism and government health measures is not only egregious, it is dangerous.
It would be easy to dismiss those in the crowd flying a flag of hate as an “isolated incident,” or “radical plants” to take away from the protests’ core messages. The truth is that small numbers of radical haters are not the real issue. What concerns me most is the silence and passivity of other protesters who saw the Nazi symbols and said and did nothing. No media footage seems to exist of any attempts to remove these reprehensible symbols. The silence was deafening.
As Elie Wiesel said, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” We may not eradicate antisemitism, but we can, indeed we must, push antisemitism and all forms of hatred back to society’s fringe and not allow it to be paraded on the streets of our nation’s capital.
Many Canadian flags were flying in Ottawa this weekend. Protesters marched with them and truckers festooned their rigs with them, and some Ottawa residents attached them from their cars in support of the protests.
However, it is an affront to all Canadians that the Nazi flag was flying in their midst. It is surreal that racist groups like the National Socialist Black Metal (Aryan black metal) movement felt sufficiently emboldened to proudly wear their jackets at the protests.
It is not hyperbole to say that right now our society stands at a precipice. What starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. We the Jewish people have become a litmus test for how much hate a society will tolerate, and I am so sorry to say we have reached a breaking point, as evidenced by this weekend’s ugly events.
We know what is needed. Good people must speak out, our government needs to mandate and standardize Holocaust education, criminalize Holocaust denial, and tackle online hate, to name just a few of the needed steps. Governments should be applauded for the actions they have taken to date, even as more are urgently needed.
Make no mistake, the actions that ordinary citizens and our governments take today, will define our country for generations.
Andrea Freedman is the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.