After the conflict that began on October 7, the world has certainly never been the same. An initial violent and bloody attack by the extremist group Hamas escalated into a new war, when what we needed more than ever was peace.
The world was divided, and it wasn’t long before the voices of those who, for different reasons, were on one side or the other were heard. The protests have been increasingly recurrent across the globe – in the pro-Palestinian acts, they are mainly defending the non-generalization of Palestinians in relation to the extremist group’s attacks. As far as pro-Israel is concerned, solidarity is being expressed for the innocent people affected by the attacks.
With no ceasefire expected in this conflict, there is not only growing tension in the relationship between the countries of the Middle East, but also disinformation and hate speech aimed at both sides of the conflict, boosted to a large extent by digital platforms.
Investment in strengthening the security of Palestinian and Jewish communities has become a priority in several countries: in Canada, considered a country where there is a place for everyone, reports of hate crimes have increased by 132% in Toronto, following the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
On Sunday (12), an attack on Yeshiva Gedola, a Jewish school in Montreal, added to a series of incidents against the Jewish community in the country.
Justin Trudeau has already publicly condemned these attacks and said that “hate has no place in Canada and we must all stand together against it” – but is this really the case? Or could democracy in an openly multi-ethnic country be at risk today?
That’s what we tried to find out from the President of the Toronto Board of Rabbis and the spiritual leader of the First Narayever Congregation in Toronto, Rabbi Edward Elkin.
Milénio Stadium: Throughout its history, the Jewish community has faced immense challenges. Do you think that your capacity for resilience and for emerging stronger from adversity has always been one of your most marked characteristics?
Rabbi Edward Elkin: Yes. Many of our most important narratives, including the exodus from Egypt, the Chanukah victory of the Maccabees, the rebuilding of the Temple after its destruction by the Babylonians, and the establishment of the State of Israel following the Holocaust all embody the characteristics of the Jewish community: our ability to be resilient and and emerging stronger from adversity.
MS: When we finally see the end of this war, what do you think will be the marks left on the community?
REE: Since October 7 Jews have experienced a renewed sense of vulnerability. Jews living in Israel saw their borders violated and their personal security attacked in the most horrific way. Jews living in the Diaspora have experienced a rise in antisemitism. It will take a long time for our sense of security to be reestablished. However, another mark has been a renewed sense of unity among the Jewish people. The last year has been a time of great division over the controversial far-right Israeli government. The atrocities of October 7 have gone a long way to overcoming those divisions as Israel and the Jewish people come together to counter this threat. I hope the war ends soon and we can sustain that renewed sense of common purpose.
MS: In the manifestations that have been taking place in the city of Toronto, there is evidence of hate speech and in the case of the pro-Palestinian protests, there are also some signs of anti-Semitism. Are there any fears about the safety of the Jewish community in Canada?
REE: For the most part, Jews in Canada feel safe and welcome as part of this wonderfully diverse and multicultural country. However, even before October 7 there were signs of increasing antisemitism and tragically that has only increased in the last few weeks as emotions have run high on the street, social media, in schools and workplaces.. Some of the pro-Palestinian protests have used language that makes many Jews feel unsafe and afraid. We are grateful for the stepped-up vigilance of local law enforcement around Jewish institutions and in Jewish neighbourhoods.
MS: Canada is known for being one of the most multicultural and multiethnic countries in the world. However, could democracy in the country be compromised today?
REE: Our democracy is strong. However, we have seen many democratic countries veer off the path in recent years in various ways, and we all must do our part to safeguard our democracy here in Canada, and not to take it for granted.
MS: What measures should be taken by those responsible for public security to ensure that this type of speech does not spread, guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression?
REE: This is a challenging issue in any democratic society. We believe strongly in civil liberties and in freedom of expression. However, there is such a thing as hate speech in our criminal code. We rely on our judicial system to find an appropriate line that maximizes freedom of expression while still protecting vulnerable groups from hate.
MS: How can Canada – and the rest of the world – help and support the Jewish community?
REE: We appreciate that the government of Canada has established the Security Infrastructure Program which provides grants for security upgrades to institutions which are vulnerable, like synagogues and mosques. We appreciate whatever diplomatic support our government can provide Israel at this difficult time, especially interventions to help secure the release of the hostages, and also the continuation of strong cultural and commercial relationships between Canada and Israel. We hope that our political leaders and also communal leaders across the country will continue to denounce antisemitism and express solidarity with the Jewish community. It very much helps to know that we have friends and allies.