Open Letter to Prime Minster
Office of the Prime Minister 80 Wellington Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
June 1, 2021
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau;
You have spoken out against Antisemitism and in support of Israel’s right to self-defence many times over the years. You have demonstrated respect for Israel by both attending Shimon Peres’ funeral and hosting more recently, Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin. Over the years, we have chatted many times and I have reiterated my appreciation for your public condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and hatred against Jewish people on university campuses.
I am concerned however with what appears to be a change in tone by our federal government. Some parliamentarians have irresponsibly issued letters against Israel with strong vitriolic language that can only serve to inflame passions here at home and around the world. My disappointment in our stance increased this past week when Canada condemned Israel at the UN Human Rights Council in concert with countries like Libya, Venezuela, China and Cuba. While Canada did not vote for an investigation against Israel, its strong statement at the UNHRC empowers those who want to sow hate and discord against Israel. In contrast, the US and Germany condemned the resolution.
While I am pleased to see that Foreign Minister Marc Garneau has been attempting to calm the waters in the Middle East by speaking with the Egyptians and Jordanians, I am concerned about Canada’s Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. In a recent tweet, the representative said that “along with a number of families in #SheikhJarrah, they (a family she had visited) remain at risk of eviction from the home their family has lived in for 3 generations”. This biased rhetoric from our own diplomatic representatives can only exacerbate the heightened tension, particularly since Sheikh Jarrah is widely recognized as a real-estate property ownership issue – and has nothing to do with the State of Israel or its government.
While in the Jewish community, we are all in search of peace, it’s becoming more difficult to envision given the harsh and libellous rhetoric that is fomenting antisemitism. Words like “eviction”, “genocide”, “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” are not only untrue, but may lead to bad policy on the part of government and credible institutions. In Canada, the level of violent antisemitism has skyrocketed in our major cities and online. Jewish people have been assaulted by pro-Palestinian rioters in Toronto and Montreal. This has given rise in Montreal for the Board of Rabbis to plead with our provincial and federal governments for an emergency solution.
Fear of harm to the Jewish community is so palatable that at this Sunday’s rally in solidarity for Israel, the Toronto police service (thankfully) strengthened its overall engagement and protection. Just before my speech, an older woman told me that she was called a “dirty Jew” as she came to the rally in order to exercise her freedom to protest. Many people feared violence and did not come to participate. How has our freedom and security become constrained so quickly? What has given permission to this kind of hatred?
I have been meeting with teachers, speaking to heads of institutions, medical professionals, unions and working with the community at large to mitigate the growing animosity. I am concerned about a new systemic and institutional form of discrimination emerging. People around the country are expressing fear and anxiety about their institutions and the new policies that are being placed. What we are seeing is an increasing number of groups issuing unbalanced statements concerning the Palestinians, while some even go to the extent of using the false narratives described above.
Canada’s voice against this level of hate can be strengthened here at home and around the world. First and foremost, our law enforcement agencies at all levels (federal and provincial) must be given greater resources to pursue and charge hate criminals. Second, Section 13 concerning hate crimes must be repealed in order to allow prosecution of hate speech online and particularly social networking sites. Internet Service Providers must be fined for hosting hate sites or not taking them down within a reasonable amount of time. Third, Canadian public institutions including universities must be directed to reduce the level of toxicity. For instance, it is completely inappropriate for teacher social media forums to delete Jewish teachers and promote inappropriate content for schools. Finally, I recommend updating Canada’s anti-Racism Strategy Guide to fully and comprehensively encompass the many variants of antisemitism.
As an example of how antisemitism is being dealt with institutionally elsewhere, British Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson wrote to principals warning them that they must take action amid a rising number of cases of antisemitism in schools. He said, “Antisemitism is racism. It is abhorrent and, like other forms of racism, has no place in our schools”. Canada’s federal government has no recourse in provincial school systems. As our prime minister however, you are enabled to motivate the Canadian public and our public and private institutions to say that political one sided bias should be avoided and particularly in partnering or engaging with organizations that promote antisemitic or discriminatory views”.
Mr. Prime Minister, you have been outspoken about antisemitism. It’s now time to call on every premier across our great nation and Mayors of major cities to have a unified front against this pernicious hatred. This is a defining moment for our country to defend its Jewish community. If I can be of service to you and to our country in helping define this moment, please feel free to reach out to me directly.
Avi Abraham Benlolo, BA MA, Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) Order of Vaughan, Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal, Race Relations Award firstname.lastname@example.org www.avibenlolo.org ABOUT: Avi Abraham Benlolo has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights. He has dedicated nearly three decades in executive capacities, was founding President and CEO of a major organization in the Jewish community, has raised over $150 million for charities and is a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree, Ph.D. coursework and nearly three decades of professional work has focused on these arenas in addition to peace and security in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles in these areas. In recognition of his national and international leadership in this area, he has received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from a prestigious Israeli university for his work in Holocaust studies and combating antisemitism; an Order of Vaughan for his distinguished contribution to anti-racism, equity and diversity; the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for his contributions to Canada and a race relations award for best practice, based on distinguished service in promoting human rights. As a supporter of Israel, he is proud to have established "The Avi Benlolo Scholarship Fund in National Security" at Haifa University.
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