I would like to start with some basic definitions, so we all have the same understanding.
- Semitic. This word has two, related definitions:
- Relating to or denoting a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and, Aramaic.
- Relating to the peoples who speak Semitic languages, especially Hebrew and Arabic.
Based on this generally-accepted definition, we can see that it isn’t only Jews who are victimized by anti-Semitism. Hostility or prejudice against Arabs, many of whom are Muslims, is also anti-Semitism.
A few more terms:
Judaism is a monotheistic religion. Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world. They believe that Moses was the prophet of the Jews.
Islam is also a monotheistic religioin that is the third of the Abrahamic religions. It teaches that Muhammad is the messenger of God. It is the world’s second-largest religion, with over 1.8 billion followers, or 24% of the world’s population. Adherents to Islam are most commoly knowns as Muslims. Muslims make up a mojority of the population in 50 countries. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, unique, and has guided humanking through prophets, reveald scriptures and natural signs.
Zionism started as a movement for the establishment, development and protection of a Jewish nation. It was established as a political organization in 1897 by Theodor Herzl.
I have not mentioned Christianity, and I don’t want to imply that Christians are not persecuted anywhere in the world; this is simply not true. But my focus today is on the anti-Semitism, as described above, that seems to be growing within North America, how it is growing and the way it is or should be being combatted.
In recent years, the term anti-Semitism has evolved slightly to denote prejudice against the Jewish people. This is only partially true, since Arabs are also Semitic. So prejudice, bigotry, and violence against Arabs, demonstrated most recently in the horrific massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where many of the victims were Arab, is anti-Semitism, and must be opposed as strongly as prejudice, bigotry and violence against Jews.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, envisioned a nation for the Jewish people, which eventually was established in Palestine. This action disregarded the basic human rights of the millions of mostly-Arab people already living in Palestine, so it was, by definition, anti-Semitic.
Anti-Semitism against Jews perhaps reached its peak in the years up to and including World War II, when an estimated 6,000,000 Jews were murdered by the Hitler regime. This unspeakable crime against humanity was, unfortunately, then used by Zionists to compound the crime by dispelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, with no recompense and no say in the decision, to establish the nation of Israel. Additionally, at least 10,000 Palestinians were slaughtered at that time. The victimization of one group, the Jews, in no way justifies the victimization of the Palestinians.
While one might say that, with persecution of the Jews a centuries-old problem, perhaps having its origins in some Christians or Christian sects blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Jews needed a protected homeland. But one could also argue quite reasonably that that homeland could have been established somewhere in which the displacement of 750,000 people, and the murders of at least 10,000 more, wouldn’t have been required.
How is anti-Semitism manifested today? I have already mentioned the recent slaughter of 50 people praying in mosques in New Zealand. But white nationalism seems to be on the rise in North America, too; note the white-nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017, in which people were chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’, and which resulted in the death of one woman opposing the white nationalists. U.S. president Donald Trump, commenting on this event, said there were good people on both sides. This is hardly a ringing condemnation of the blatant anti-Semitism against Jews that was the foundation of this demonstration. One might expect better from the so-called ‘leader of the free world’.
Additionally, the U.S. government has worked with some success to block Muslims from travelling to the U.S. The regulation doesn’t say ‘Muslims’, but those prevented from such travel are from mainly Muslim countries, and this regulation keeps one of Trump’s campaign promises, that he would prevent Muslims from entering the country until the U.S. government could ‘figure out what was going on’. This is clearly, also, anti-Semitic.
In the U.S. and Canada, government officials are working to criminalize criticism of Israel. The government of Israel, with separate schools, roads, laws and regulations for Israelis and non-Israelis, is itself practicing anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year said this: “Israel is not the state of all of its citizens. According to the nation-state basic law that we passedc, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and of it alone.” This provides second-class status to nearly a quarter of the population of Israel. Imagine, if you will, the response in Canada and throughout the world if Canada determined that only 75% of its citizens could enjoy all the rights of citizenship. Would there not be widespread condemnation? Would other nations criticize Canada, or would they outlaw such criticism? Attempts in the U.S. and Canada to do the latter must be seen as supporting an apartheid regime, and are thus anti-Semitic, since the population being ostracized and oppressed is Semitic.
On a more anecdotal note, my wife and I have an old friend, a woman we’ve known for almost 30 years. She happens to be Jewish. She grew up in Chicago, but lived for the last 25 years or so in New York City. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the rise in the number of swastikas and other anti-Jewish symbols and behaviors that she saw caused her to ask us if she could stay with us until she found a permanent place to live. She was with us for several months before moving to Columbia.
Whenever I attend a conference, I always want to come away not only with more information, but with specific things I can do to further the cause of justice. I will now list a few things each of us can do to fight racism in all its ugly forms here in Canada. My suggestions will focus on the topic of anti-Semitism, but can certainly be expanded to assist in combatting racism in whatever form we might encounter it.
- Talk about it. There is sometimes a tendency to avoid unpleasant topics, but this tendency has caused untold suffering throughout history. In the 1930s and 1940s, some people in Germany found it ‘unpleasant’ to recognize that their Jewish neighbors were disappearing. Today, some people find it ‘unpleasant’ to recognize that Palestinian homes in the West Bank are bulldozed to make room for new settlements that only Israelis can occupy. We must speak up.
- Defend. If you witness any act of racism, take immediate action. I’m not suggesting putting yourself at risk of physical harm, but often a few words from an uninvolved bystander will dispel an ugly situation, and bring it to an immediate end. Again, we must speak up.
- Take action. Demand the right to criticize racism in all its forms; don’t allow the government to take that from you. Let your government representatives hear from you, as you disagree with their support of any racist regime. We must make our voices heard.
- Look inward. Do you harbor any prejudices yourself? If someone makes a ‘raghead’ or similar insulting ethnic joke, to you smile, or do you immediately address it for what it is? Perhaps you have no prejudices, but are hesitant to speak out. I implore you once again to overcome your hesitancy, and speak.
Martin Niemöller was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany who was an outspoken critic of Hitler. As a result, he spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. You may not be familiar with his name, but you have probably heard his words:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I am neither Jewish nor Arabic; I’m not Muslim. I’m a Christian of European descent, and yet I feel compelled to speak out against the blatant and growing racism against Muslim, Arabs and Jews that I see today. Like everyone here, I have an obligation to do so, regardless of how unpleasant it might be. I can’t enjoy my own privilege, knowing that, here in Canada and around the world, other people are suffering horrifically, simply because they happen to be Palestinian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or African, or something else that doesn’t fall into a privileged category. I urge you, and all of us, to act.