Avi Abraham Benlolo
TheFridayReport: A Rabbi Was Stabbed Eight Times. What Comes Next?
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For many years now, I have written and advocated for stronger laws against hate speech. In 2019, I testified at an inter-parliamentary committee about the growth of online antisemitism, hate and intolerance. At the time, I spoke with a panel of parliamentarians about my fear and concern that in the near future, we will be unable to control the widespread hate online. Immediate action was needed.
Sadly my forecast came to be realized over the last year and certainly in the last two months as antisemitism became an online tsunami. In this week's National Post, I expressed support for "the Canadian government’s new “action to protect Canadians against hate speech and hate crimes” would clamp down on individuals who express “detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination. This would apply to public communications by individual users on the internet, including on social media, on personal websites and in mass emails".
I explained that, "statistics Canada reports that the Jewish community is the most targeted religious group for hate crime and hate speech in this country. In 2017, incidents of anti-semitism and hate crime in general increased by a whopping 47 per cent here. In 2019, police recorded 1,946 criminal incidents that were motivated by hate, representing a seven per cent increase from the year previous. Undoubtedly, these figures have increased under cover of the coronavirus pandemic as people have been spending more time online. During the Hamas-israel conflict in May, an online torrent of anti-semitism infected every corner of the planet".
As a promoter of free speech who is exposed to a daily dose of diverse opinion, my rational self agrees with the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ contention that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” But there are problems with this perspective, too. As a student of the Holocaust, I have observed that anti-semitism is an infectious disease that if left unchecked in the social marketplace will rise to the top of hate and discriminatory practice in almost any society. Sunlight does not disinfect anti-semitism. Sunlight allows anti-semitism to replicate when it’s out in the open.
More importantly, there are some hard lessons to learn from the silence during the recent spate of antisemitic assaults. The majority remained silent! Therefore laws are necessary to speak for us if public leaders fail to act. This is primarily why supporting legislation that protects and defends victimized groups is critical now more than ever.
Laws against online hate that incites violence must be toughened up everywhere. In the U.S. this week, a Rabbi was stabbed in a Jewish neighbourhood in Boston. Thankfully he sustained non-life-threatening injuries and is being treated in hospital. The attacker is said to be Khaled Awad and has been arrested and reportedly was also armed.
What comes next? More Jewish people will be assaulted from Toronto, to New York to Los Angeles and around the world unless increased measures are undertaken. The media and social networking companies must take immediate responsibility for making platforms available to this kind of hatred.
At the height of the conflict between Hamas and Gaza, a Canadian French media newspaper published this disturbing caricature of an Israeli soldier on the neck of a Palestinian. Clearly inflammatory. Clearly inciting and clearly wrong. Its this kind of narrative that widely circulates and inflames passions which may in some cases ultimately provoke violence. We have yet to understand the motive of the Boston assailant, but we know from history that sticks and stones will break my bones and name calling actually does hurt.
And thus this week, I am relieved that Muslim leaders have sent me a note of apology for the incident in London Ontario where a speaker compared the horrific tragedy of the Muslim family to what was happening in the Middle East. In their own words, "an important chance for the Muslim and Jewish communities to show unity was discarded because of raw emotion unconnected completely to the family, the interests of the Muslim community, the interests of the Jewish or any other minority community and the interests of Canada generally".
It was equally positive to receive a note Imam Aarij Anwer of the London Mosque thanking me for my sincere condolences on behalf of the Jewish community. There is much work for us all to eradicate hate and violence and promote peace.
Some positive steps are being made globally as this week, Hungary took the EU lead to boycott the upcoming Durbin conference; Arizona's Senate passed a bill to define antisemitism in school lessons and Bahrain pushed forward with the Abraham Accords by naming its Ambassador to Israel.
- Shabbat Shalom, Avi
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Read Full National Post Article on strengthening hate speech laws:
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.