UJA Federation of Greater Toronto is beefing up security in the Jewish community in the wake of disturbing numbers showing a five-fold spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the month of May.
In an impassioned online address on May 27, UJA president and CEO Adam Minsky noted that between January and April this year, his organization received 10 to 12 reports a month of anti-Semitic incidents in the Greater Toronto Area.
In May, during the Israel-Gaza conflict, it received at least 50, a total that does not include unreported incidents.
“There is a clear correlation between anti-Israel activism and anti-Semitism in Canada,” states a four-page summary of the incidents prepared by UJA Security, an arm of Federation launched two years ago.
The report samples incidents of harassment, graffiti, vandalism, physical assault, suspicious phone calls, letters and emails, suspicious behaviour by persons on foot or by vehicle, all just between May 13 and 19, mainly along or near the Bathurst Street corridor, into York Region. They included:
• Hateful graffiti targeting the parking lot of a synagogue and Jewish daycare;
• A customer verbally harassed and chased out of a retail business for being Jewish;
• A Jewish father and his young child verbally harassed on the street with anti-Semitic slurs, including comments that they should have been “gassed” and “burned”:
• Mock eviction notices posted on the doors of multiple Jewish homes, and
• A family verbally harassed by occupants of a vehicle flying a Palestinian flag, calling the family “baby killers.”
The report was made public “to send a strong message about what’s happening in our community,” Minsky said.
The violent clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators at a May 15 rally in Nathan Phillips Square was “just the tip of the iceberg that we’re confronting as a community.”
Minsky said the current conflict in the region “would not be the first time anti-Semites used this issue as an excuse to spread hatred of Jews, but the volume and vicious nature of the incidents we’ve seen locally, along with the growing hate we have seen on a global level, should be a wake-up call, not just for our community, but for Canadian society.
“As proud Jews and proud Canadians, this is our moment to say, ‘we will not be intimidated. We will not be silent. And we will not allow this to be our new normal in Toronto.’”
Even before this month’s fighting in the Middle East, UJA Community Security had been preparing to “significantly scale up our efforts to provide security support for our community and respond to incidents,” Minsky continued.
The plan, drawn on best practices from other Diaspora communities and adapted for Canada, includes “massively expanding our capacity to train, deploy, and support grassroots volunteers to donate their time to keep our community safe.”
He said “thousands more” volunteers will be trained in security protocols. Those plans will be rolled out in the coming months, he added.
At the same time, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has called on the federal government to convene an emergency summit on anti-Semitism that involves political leadership at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
A plan to combat anti-Semitism “must include enhancements to community security programs, as well as an educational component that will teach our youth about the history, lived experience, suffering, and triumphs of the Jewish people,” CIJA said in a news release.
CIJA reiterated its call for a national campaign on social media literacy “that defines what is and isn’t acceptable.”