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B’nai Brith Canada: ‘Silence Is Not An Option’

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Some of you are looking at the title of my column and wondering two things – why I am writing about B’nai Brith Canada – arguably Canada’s version of the Anti-Defamation League and why would it be of interest to anyone who does not live in that country – as most of you don’t.

It’s because I think you will sleep slightly better at night – as I do – knowing there is an additional organization in North America whose mandate is to fight anti-Semitism – – one that is quite loud and insistent.

B’nai Brith Canada was created in 1875, making it the oldest Jewish organization in Canada. From inception, its agenda has been the promotion of human rights and battling anti-Semitism and racism. Now more than ever, their staff, who for the most part are observant Jews, takes very seriously the Biblical injunction to “watch over your soul.”

B’nai Brith Canada has repeatedly exposed the biases and prejudices of the powerful United Church of Canada. This summer the Church voted to boycott products exported from Israeli businesses in the West Bank and expressed remorse for previously asking Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.

B’nai Brith Canada has not hesitated to take legal action against the Church for its anti-Semitic rhetoric – which resulted in an apology from the Church.

The organization is meticulous in keeping an eye on Jew-hatred in all it’s manifestations, and is very vocal when it comes to supporting the State of Israel – in particular Yesha. Its Parliament Hill office connects regularly with politicians, civil servants and ambassadors, providing a strong voice on issues of concern to the community.

A decade ago, B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, was the only human rights organization given intervener status by the court in the hate crime trial of David Ahenakew, a national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada. In an interview he gave in December 2002, Ahenakew stated that Jews were a “disease” and that Hitler was justifiably trying to “clean up the world” when he “fried six million of those guys.” (Unlike in the US where “freedom of speech ” can to some extent, legally allow the spewing of racist remarks, Canada has made hate speech a criminal offence).

If I were a cartoonist, I would draw B’nai Brith Canada as a ferocious, tenacious dog, determinedly biting down on the ankle of a surprised and panicked thug.

Very recently, B’nai Brith was alerted that a costume store in Montreal was selling what looked like a concentration camp uniform bearing a Star of David made of yellow and red triangles. The store apparently rents costumes to theatrical groups but makes them available to the public for Halloween.

Due to the organization’s intervention, the offensive costume was removed.

There are those in the community who feel that B’nai Brith is made up of a bunch of “fear-mongers.” They insist that Jews are safe in North America; that America and Canada have a track record of being a goldeneh midina – a golden land for the Jews with incredible freedoms and rights. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that there were signs on hotels saying, “No Jews or dogs allowed.”

And there is the infamous statement allegedly made by an immigration official after WWII who insisted, in regards to Jews coming to Canada, “none are too many.”

In 1939, both countries denied entry to over 900 Jewish refugees on board the MS St Louis, who were desperately trying escape genocide in Europe. The ship was forced to return to Europe. While some countries took in handfuls of Jews, most returned to their countries, where several hundred ultimately perished in the death camps.

(B’nai Brith Canada recently published a student resource book on Canadian immigration policies of the past, present and future titled, Welcome to Canada? to educate a new generation of youngsters, many of whom are first generation Canadians, whose parents come from the four corners of the world. The story of the St. Louis is included).

Those who are confident that there will never be a return to the days when Jews were persona non grata are in extreme denial.

No one wants to dwell on unpleasant realities. It’s easier not to think about loss or death – or anti-Semitism and the potential ominous threat to you and your loved ones. Maybe you do for a few minutes during a Shoah commemoration, but allowing it to infiltrate your daily life is too hard, too stomach churning, too depressing.

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