July 19, 2024
Thousands of Jewish community members and allies from across the country united on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in solidarity with the hostages, the people of Israel, and the safety of Jewish Canadians, Dec. 4, 2023. Photo by Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen

As antisemitism surges on the left, Jews are pushed to the right

Jewish Canadians will soon confront a new world that requires new allies

In the ever-shrinking world of the Jewish diaspora, Canada, along with Australia and the United States, hosts a most vital and comparatively healthy community. Yet in the midst of the current Israel-Hamas war, that community as well as those elsewhere, are under a siege that, at very least, will change their social and political orientation.

Historically Canada, where Jews have lived since 1732, has served, like other immigrant groups, as a haven both of economic opportunity and relative sanctuary. Jewish Canadians have thrived, as in the U.S. and Australia, by being part of a “nation of immigrants” more than a country defined by a particular ethnicity. By the early 20th century there were thriving Jewish communities in Montreal’s “The Main,” Toronto’s “The Ward” and Winnipeg’s “North End.”

Unlike Asian immigrants, Jews did not face such things as head taxes and quotas, notes historian Robert Bothwell in The Penguin History of Canada, although they did suffer both elite discrimination at schools like McGill University and street-level hostility, particularly from French Canadians. Yet despite these conflicts, Canada’s Jews have thrived. In 1900, Canada was home to barely 30,000. Today the population reported by Statistics Canada stands at 335,000, the fourth-largest in the world, and was projected to become the third-largest in a 2018 Environics Institute for Survey Research study. This is not so much a product of growth — the population is about where it was in 2000 — but due to the emigration of the beleaguered French Jews, some to Quebec.

In the past, noted Eran Shayshon, an Israel-based researcher on antisemitism worldwide, the cohesion of Canada’s Jews was sufficient to fight off previous waves of antisemitism, such as those associated with earlier Israeli-Arab conflicts. He described the Toronto Jewish community, now the country’s largest, as “punching above its weight.” He also credits the strong support from former prime minister Steven Harper, a strong Israel backer, as helping bolster ties to Ottawa.

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