‘We’re all in this together’: Vigod lecture on rise of antisemitism in Canada

    Still of the Vigod Memorial Lecture Human Rights 2023 with the speaker Michael Levitt. About examining the rising tide of antisemitism in Canada. (Submitted: St. Thomas University)

    Examining the rising tides of antisemitism in Canada was the title of this year’s Dr. Bernie Vigod Memorial Lecture in Human Rights. The lecture by Michael Levitt, President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal, took place at the Kinsella Auditorium on Oct. 4.

    Levitt spoke to students and faculty about the rise in antisemitism in Canada. He referred to antisemitism as the “oldest hate” and said that the internet will ensure that the hate never ends.

    “The internet and social media have been like manna from heaven for those seeking to spew hatred of Jews offering anonymity, ease of use and a vast potential reach within seconds,” said Levitt.

    A surge in antisemitism is what brought this lecture to STU. He cited Statistics Canada and police service numbers as his evidence of the surge.

    “Beyond the cold numbers … we see it as Jews. We sense it. We feel it in our bones. We feel this chill in the air. It’s palpable.”

    B’nai Brith Canada is an independent Jewish Human Rights organization that releases the “cold numbers” each year using data from government authorities and law enforcement.

    B’nai Brith has seen year-over-year increases which came to an end in their 2022 report. Though there was a decrease of 30 incidents, 2022 was the fifth consecutive year to see over two thousand antisemitic incidents, which is 35.7 per cent higher than 2018.

    Online prevalence is apparent, making up 74.3 per cent of recorded incidents of hate towards Jews in 2022.

    “By far the biggest problem of antisemitism is its pervasive presence online. Driven in part by fringe web communities that tech giants are unable or unwilling to block.”

    Levitt said that the antisemitic content found in the dark corners of the internet is starting to spill into the streets. He mentioned recent attacks on synagogues in the United States as examples.

    “Sometimes online hate has real-world violent consequences, inspiring antisemites to carry out physical attacks.”

    Traditional antisemitism groups such as the Goyim Defense League and The Base are growing in Canada, said Levitt. He noted that these groups can be found on the far right and far left of the political spectrum.

    Because of this growth, Levitt closed with a call to action. He believes education is important as ignorance plays a role in antisemitism. He hopes people will call out antisemitism when they see it.

    “Antisemitism can only take root and spread when good people look the other way and don’t speak up. We’re all in this together.”