In the ever-shrinking world of the Jewish diaspora, Canada, along with Australia and the United States, hosts a most vital and comparatively healthy community. Yet in the midst of the current Israel-Hamas war, that community as well as those elsewhere, are under a siege that, at very least, will change their social and political orientation.
Historically Canada, where Jews have lived since 1732, has served, like other immigrant groups, as a haven both of economic opportunity and relative sanctuary. Jewish Canadians have thrived, as in the U.S. and Australia, by being part of a “nation of immigrants” more than a country defined by a particular ethnicity. By the early 20th century there were thriving Jewish communities in Montreal’s “The Main,” Toronto’s “The Ward” and Winnipeg’s “North End.”
Unlike Asian immigrants, Jews did not face such things as head taxes and quotas, notes historian Robert Bothwell in The Penguin History of Canada, although they did suffer both elite discrimination at schools like McGill University and street-level hostility, particularly from French Canadians. Yet despite these conflicts, Canada’s Jews have thrived. In 1900, Canada was home to barely 30,000. Today the population reported by Statistics Canada stands at 335,000, the fourth-largest in the world, and was projected to become the third-largest in a 2018 Environics Institute for Survey Research study. This is not so much a product of growth — the population is about where it was in 2000 — but due to the emigration of the beleaguered French Jews, some to Quebec.
In the past, noted Eran Shayshon, an Israel-based researcher on antisemitism worldwide, the cohesion of Canada’s Jews was sufficient to fight off previous waves of antisemitism, such as those associated with earlier Israeli-Arab conflicts. He described the Toronto Jewish community, now the country’s largest, as “punching above its weight.” He also credits the strong support from former prime minister Steven Harper, a strong Israel backer, as helping bolster ties to Ottawa.
Constituting barely one per cent of Canada’s population, the community is now hard-pressed to repel rising and unprecedented antisemitism. Recent pro-Hamas demonstrations in Toronto — now home to roughly half the community — have involved intimidating Jews in their homes, schools and businesses. There have been attacks on Jewish institutions in Montreal, as well. Not surprisingly, universities have served as prime incubators of antisemitism; the University of British Columbia, York University, Toronto Metropolitan University and Queen’s University all are facing suits charging negligence from failing to address antisemitism on campus.
Richard Marceau, a former Bloc Québécois member of Parliament, now vice-president and general counsel of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, also cited troubling political developments in an interview, particularly among the Green Party and NDP who each have fallen under the spell of critical race theory and its dualism of “oppressed” and “oppressors.” In 2021, the Greens even evicted their chair, Annamie Paul, both Black and Jewish, in a storm of anti-Zionist rage.
At the same time, the Bloc, which first embraced Israel’s security needs, has backed away and made the usual demand for a ceasefire while also refusing to travel to Israel last month. The Liberal Party and members of the Trudeau administration have drifted away from a strong pro-Israel position, although the party is the traditional home of Canadian Jews. Even the progressive mayor of Calgary, Jyoti Gondek, refused to attend her city’s annual menorah lighting, breaking a mayoral tradition of more than 30 years, due to a belief that the event was “repositioned” to support Israel.
“On the left,” suggests Marceau, “people are being asked to check their Jewish identity at the door.”
Read the rest of this piece at National Post.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.