July 9, 2011
The federal government needs to take more action to combat rising anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world, a report by a panel of MPs concludes.
The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism released its final report Thursday in Ottawa after two years of investigation that included public hearings with more than 70 witnesses.
“Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest and most pervasive forms of hatred,” Mario Silva, chair of the committee, said at a news conference. The former Liberal MP, who was defeated in the May 2 election, said anti-Semitism is still present and even growing in some parts of Canada and a parliamentary committee was needed to identify measures to fight it.
The report adopted the European Union’s definition of anti-Semitism and urges the federal government and law enforcement agencies to do the same. It defines anti-Semitism as a certain perception of Jews that can be expressed as hatred toward them, in physical or rhetorical ways. Anti-Semitic acts can be directed at individuals, their property, or the Jewish community and religious facilities. It also says that expressions of hatred can target Israel, because it is considered a Jewish collectivity.
“Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic,” Silva said, but he added that denying its right to exist, or seeking its destruction, could be considered anti-Semitic acts.
The report said there are “traditional anti-Semitic acts” such as firebombings and vandalism of Jewish facilities but that there is a “new anti-Semitism” that is taking hold in Canada, and internationally. It focuses more on Israel’s role in the Middle East conflict with Palestinians, it said.
“In the most vile and clear expressions of the new anti-Semitism, Jewish support for Israel and the notion of Israel as a criminal state is used to further traditional anti-Semitic themes. These manifestations use the discourse of politics but, in fact, constitute masked hatred,” the report states.
The all-party panel began public hearings in late 2009 that lasted several months and members also reviewed written submissions. Representatives from academia, police services, universities, and other stakeholders were among the witnesses.
Silva and the panel’s co-chair, Conservative MP Scott Reid, said they heard from a number of students who recalled being harassed and fearing for their safety on campus. The report said anti-Semitism is a growing concern at some schools and a large part of the inquiry was devoted to that.
The emergence of “Israel Apartheid Week” several years ago has prompted conflicts and protests on campuses and some anti-Semitic incidents have been linked to those events, the report said.
It said organizers of the events are trying to demonize Israel as the Jewish homeland and use campuses as their staging ground because the audiences are captive. The panel said it heard from supporters of the campaign but reject their arguments that criticism of the events are attempts to stifle their free speech.
The MPs said they respect the right to free expression but that the security of students must be protected.
The report did not recommend that universities try and shut down the events, but made a number of recommendations aimed at protecting the safety of students.
The report makes a number of other recommendations. Among them are calls for the federal government to adopt a clear definition of what anti-Semitism entails and to train police forces to better deal with anti-Semitic incidents and events on university campuses.
Reid said national standards are needed for police services so there is a common understanding of what constitutes an anti-Semitic crime and data can be better collected.
“We have limited ability to measure these things across the country. We need to make them comparable across the country and comparable to international incidents in this regard,” he said.
The report also suggests that Citizenship and Immigration Canada give special consideration to rising international anti-Semitism when making decisions about who is permitted to settle in Canada and from which countries they are coming.
The panel also recommends that education about human rights be made a bigger part of training programs offered to new Canadians.
The inquiry panel took a shot at the United Nations in its report and is urging Canada to step up on the international stage to reform the body’s human rights council.
Reid said the panel wants the House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee to do a study on the UN’s “overemphasis of alleged human rights abuses by Israel while ignoring flagrant human rights abuses of other member states.”
“We recommend that the Government of Canada spearhead initiatives to reform the international human rights regime,” he said.
The committee didn’t hear from everyone who wanted to testify, selecting 74 witnesses from more than 150 applications.
Silva said some groups that wanted to appear before the committee were comprised of people who condemned the panel’s work from the outset.
“I didn’t really want to give a platform to individuals who had no time for us and so why should we have time for them?” said Silva.