Opinion | We need more than just the government to combat antisemitism - World Jewish Congress

Opinion | We need more than just the government to combat antisemitism

Nati Pressmann
Nati Pressmann
Ambassador Program Treasurer, Jewish on Campus
Opinion | We need more than just the government to combat antisemitism

Being a Canadian Jew has allowed me to live comfortably with my identity. I have never been forced to run to a bomb shelter like my family in Israel or been imprisoned for expressing my Jewish identity as my ancestors in the Soviet Union were for expressing their Zionism and desire to make Aliyah to Israel.

The uncomfortable truth though is that antisemitism is alive and well in much of the world. It’s not uncommon for Jews, even in Western democracies, to see their synagogue vandalized with a swastika, be assaulted for simply for wearing a Kippah or Magen David or be called Nazi for their support of Israel. Fortunately, governments around the world are aware of the bigotry Jews face and are taking active steps to combat antisemitism through adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, banning Holocaust denial, increasing security to Jewish institutions.  

While laws combatting hate speech and mandating Holocaust education are essential to limiting the spread of antisemitism, they do not completely eradicate it, nor do they create a meaningful and prosperous Jewish life by themselves. Even in countries with outstanding educational initiatives teaching students about the Holocaust and outlawing Holocaust denial and swastikas, antisemitism persists; Jews have their kippot ripped from their heads and Israelis are attacked for publicly speaking Hebrew. Antisemitic incidents are not a failure of these legislative initiatives, but rather indicate that the government can only do so much; the rest is up to people of good conscience. 

To build a prosperous Jewish life, we must not only pass legislation to actively combat antisemitism, but need Jewish organization concerned with the rise of antisemitism and other human right abuses to build bridges between government and community initiatives combatting antisemitism.

For example, at the University of Toronto when the student union attempted to ban kosher food, there was little word from the Ontario provincial government, which funds the University's activities with taxpayer dollars. Instead, change was only possible with the intervention of on and off-campus Jewish advocacy organizations.

At my own University in Ontario when the faculty presented a motion  opposing the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the Hillel and student leaders wrote an open letter that received over 1600 signatures supporting IHRA. It is these efforts and more that are essential to creating a prosperous Jewish life.

What is clear from these incidents is that Jewish organizations, like the World Jewish Congress’ Canadian affiliate, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), play a key role in advocating for Jews across Canada and filling in the gaps needed to protect the Jewish community.While, I am grateful to live in a country that limits hate speech and attempts to protect marginalized groups and individuals, I equally grateful for the important work of  CIJA and other Jews organization to tackle online antisemitism, a field where bigotry perpetrates widely.

I encourage all Jews in Canada to become more involved in these community-run organizations and understand that they are never alone in their fight against hatred. Fighting antisemitism and experiencing it is frightening. Knowing that there is a community that stands with us, lifts some of the weight of our shoulders.

In October 2021, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Jewish on Campus (JOC) announced a joint partnership to amplify the voices and strengthen the actions of college students who identify antisemitic occurrences at their schools. The two organizations will provide support to Jewish student communities internationally, which expands the Jewish on Campus network as well as WJC’s relationships with Jewish student communities.