by Joanne Naiman
I am writing this submission as a sociologist, a Jew, and a long-time opponent of all forms of oppression. As a person of Jewish descent, I obviously have a personal interest in seeing anti-Semitism addressed wherever it appears. However, as a social scientist I feel the term is currently being used without much precision.
You describe your mission as an attempt to “confront and combat the global resurgence of Antisemitism” and note that “Antisemitism is widely regarded as at its worst level since the end of the Second World War.” These are certainly strong statements, and, if true, require serious action. However, other than noting that students on certain campuses in Canada are “ridiculed and intimidated,” you provide no other concrete examples. (I will deal with the issue of criticism of Israel at a later point.)
Anti-Semitism can be defined as hostility directed at those of Jewish origin. Like all forms of hostility to ethno-racial groups, anti-Semitism consists of both prejudice, that is, an attitude of dislike or hostility toward people of Jewish background, as well as discrimination, which is the denial of equal treatment or opportunities to these individuals. While these two phenomena are usually connected, they can be distinguished from each other. Prejudice is distasteful and can occasionally lead to hurtful acts – including those of a violent nature. However, discrimination is generally the more serious of the two processes since it will inevitably hurt the victim’s life chances, such as getting a job or finding a place to live.
There is ample evidence to show that in Canada Jews as a group do not regularly face discrimination; in fact, they are one of Canada’s most advantaged minority groups. When examining any of the traditional variables utilized to assess socioeconomic status – such as occupation, education, and income – Jews continually come out at or near the top when compared to other ethno-racial groups. In The Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples (1999), Morton Weinfeld notes that “by any criterion, Jews have been successful.” According to Weinfeld, Jews in Canada have low rates of unemployment, have a high number of individuals in “desirable” occupations, have high levels of educational attainment, and “can be numbered among the wealthiest Canadians.” More recently, neither Ornstein (2006) nor Galabuzi (2006) considered Jews to be a disadvantaged group relative to others.
Moreover, the economic and social advantages that have accrued in general to the Jewish community in Canada have also been reflected in what social scientists refer to as an accumulation of social capital. Put simply, those with economic and social advantage are generally able to make important economic and political connections, i.e. to “network” with those who have influence, including those in the media. While one must tread lightly on this reality – given the anti-Semitic stereotypes often expressed about Jews and their excess of power – it would be inaccurate to assume that the Jewish population in Canada has no advantage in this area.
As noted in February by Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, on his return from the London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and 10 other Lib and Con MPs :
"... the U.K. Community Security Trust (CST), which co-hosted the London conference, has developed one of the leading evidentiary methodologies for tracking and understanding anti-Semitic incidents. Last week, it noted that a decrease in anti-Semitic incidents in 2008 (for the second year running) was totally overshadowed by an unprecedented rise during and after the Gaza operations."