The Sabbath after Israel conducted its daring raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda to rescue Jewish hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in early July 1976, I went to services at the Toronto Shaarei Tefillah synagogue where my parents were among the founders. Attending synagogue was never a voluntary choice but was rather an obligation foisted on me by my modern Orthodox parents. As I’ve previously written, sitting in synagogue I often dreamed of being born Irish and going through life as Liam O’Shaughnessy.
Typically, I ignored the rabbi’s sermon because invariably it was a repeat of the same theme: We were all lacking as Jews and our failure to lead more committed lives devoted to Jewish learning and ethics could ultimately spell the end of the Jewish people. The rabbi urged greater support for Israel, without which he said no Jews anywhere in the world, including Canada, were safe. Keep in mind that in 1976, Israel had only been founded 28 years earlier.
“Sometime in your lifetime, Israel might have to send a rescue mission to Toronto’s airport to rescue Canadian Jewish hostages,” I recall the rabbi saying. “Jews should never deceive themselves that they are safe in Canada or any other country.”
I dismissed the rabbi’s sermon as just another overwrought warning that I repeatedly heard when I attended a Jewish Day School. Although a good share of my classmates were children of Holocaust survivors, I thought it unlikely that Germany’s atrocities could ever be repeated, despite having been exposed to and experienced considerable antisemitism myself.
My father was a mathematical genius, and despite winning a national college achievement award, couldn’t get hired at what was then the Big Ten accounting firms. My father was born and raised in Toronto, and while he forever loved the city, he lived in constant fear of antisemitism, particularly when Canadian Jews began achieving positions of prominence, like when Philip Givens was elected mayor of Toronto, Robert Kaplan became Canada’s solicitor general and close advisor to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and Martin Goodman became editor of the Toronto Star.
“The antisemites will say the Jews control everything,” my dad would worry every time a Jew achieved a position that his generation never imagined Jews would achieve.
I personally experienced considerable antisemitism. When I was about 12 and was allowed for the first time to go see a movie with a friend using public transportation, I was attacked on the streetcar. In those days, I wore a yarmulke head covering and two thugs approached me and started punching me while calling me “a half N-word.” It was the first time I ever heard the N-word. A seeming eternity went by until someone intervened.
When I attended a Jewish day school, a class of students in a higher grade were attacked while on a picnic. There was a period when we were advised not to wear our yarmulkes in the street because antisemitic incidents were flourishing.
While at a Jewish summer camp in what was then the sticks of Ontario, some locals began shouting antisemitic comments when we walked through their town. In college, I was once having beers with several students when they began making Jew hating comments, unaware that I was Jewish.
When I was a Toronto Star business reporter, I had breakfast with a prominent securities industry executive who was railing about an upstart discount brokerage firm founded by a Jewish person that threatened his company’s business model.
“You know what those people are like,” the executive said, presumably unaware that I was Jewish.
Despite all these experiences, I thought the rabbi’s claims about Israel needing to rescue Jews at Toronto’s international airport was over the top. I now appreciate the rabbi’s prescience.
Most Americans don’t know this, but Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his sidekick, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, is fast plummeting into an international joke no longer trusted or respected by the leading western democracies. When news of Hamas’ massacre of some 1,400 Israeli citizens first broke, the leading free-world countries – United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy – issued an unequivocal denouncement of Hamas’ barbarianism and steadfast support for Israel.
Reports out of Canada say that the Trudeau government wasn’t even contacted to sign the joint declaration. That’s a far cry from the Canadian government’s heroism during the 1979-80 Iran crisis when students in that country stormed the American Embassy and took some 52 American hostages. Kenneth Taylor, Canada’s then Ambassador to Iran, at great personal risk to himself harbored six U.S. embassy employees who escaped and worked with the CIA to get them out of the country. Taylor was subsequently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I’m doubtful that Trudeau and Freeland know or care that Toronto’s Jewish community of more than 200,000 residents is arguably one of the most vibrant outside Israel and that Canada’s Jewish population of 335,000 people is the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world. The first Jewish emigration to Canada began at the end of the 19th century and the end of the first world war, when persecution and poverty in Europe forced millions of Jews to find a better life elsewhere. Another emigration began with the rise of Hitler.
According to the Times of Israel, Canadian citizens worked tirelessly with the UN to establish the Jewish state, and Canada’s vote against the Arab states’ motion to protest the partition kept the matter out of the International Court of Justice.
Canadian Jews have been traumatized and impacted by Hamas’ atrocities. Six Canadians, or persons with Canadian family ties, were murdered by Hamas. Prominent Israeli-Canadian peace activist Vivian Silver, who founded the Arab-Jewish Center for Empowerment, Equality, and Cooperation in the 1990s to promote a shared society, is believed to be among the kidnapped hostages.
The Trudeau government has offered little support for Canadians with family members who were murdered by Hamas.
That includes Galit Goren, a Canadian Israeli who grew up in Saskatchewan and whose 23-year-old daughter Tiferet Lapidot was among those murdered attending a music festival. Another is Jacqui Rivers Vital, whose daughter Adi was murdered by Hamas, likely in front of her young sons. Vital told the National Post that the RCMP advised her to stay quiet regarding Adi’s Canadian nationality, over concerns that once the information became public, the Canadian government might be pressured to pay a ransom to secure her release.
Hamas’ atrocities have the implicit support of some prominent Canadians. As reported by columnist Chris George in the Niagara Independent, Fred Hahn, president of the powerful Ontario arm of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, along with other public sector and university unions, hailed the Hamas murderers: “Palestine is rising. Long live the resistance.” Sarah Jama, an elected Ontario official with the leftist NDP party, participated in a march chanting for Israel to be wiped from the map. She posted on X and issued a statement blaming Israelis for the Hamas atrocities, accusing them of settler colonialism and war crimes.
Kathleen Ross, head of the Canadian Medical Association, ignored protests from at least half dozen Jewish physicians over her tweet expressing outrage and sympathy for victims of a hospital Gaza bombing the media falsely said was Israel’s doing. Ross left her post up even after it was reported that Israel wasn’t responsible for the bombing. When Ross finally removed it, she said it was because she was attacked for expressing grief for victims.
One of the protesting doctors was Yoni Freedhoff, a leading authority on obesity and the son of one of my father’s closest friends.
Antisemitism in my native Toronto has soared, and for a taste of some horrific activities this link to the X feed of Documenting Antisemitism provides a sampling. The incidents captured by the organization aren’t what one would expect in a city whose slogan is, “Diversity Our Strength.” Among some recent incidents were the defacing of the entrance of the Toronto synagogue I attended, which occurred even before the Hamas massacre.
To be sure, antisemitism is rife in America, but a fundamental difference is that President Biden has denounced Hamas’ atrocities, and House Speaker Mike Johnson’s first initiative was a resolution supporting Israel, which passed 412 to 10. While America’s mainstream media is pro Hamas and amplifies its propaganda, some prominent conservative journalists like Megyn Kelly have firmly spoken out against the atrocities, as has Breitbart, which for years was falsely maligned as being antisemitic. Indeed, when I first saw the New York Times headline saying Israel bombed a Gaza hospital, I immediately went to Breitbart’s site, which already had posted a story about Israel denying responsibility.
There are also some Canadian politicians willing to take a firm stand. The Ontario legislature passed a motion last week 78-0 Thursday to condemn Hamas and affirm Israel’s right to defend itself. All Progressive Conservative and Liberal elected officials voted in favor of the motion, but leftist NDP party members abstained.
Canada’s government funded CBC broadcast network has a pro-Hamas bent. The columnist Chris George reported that George Achi, the CBC’s director of journalistic standards and public trust, directed the network’s journalists to not refer to Hamas as “terrorists” but rather identify them as “fighters” in a struggle for a free Palestine. He also instructed any CBC report to omit the fact that Israel troops withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
This is the same CBC whose ombudsman said the network knowingly deceived its viewers when it dismissed as Russian propaganda allegations that deputy prime minister Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator who served as editor-in-chief of an antisemitic newspaper in Cracow whose printing presses were seized from its Jewish owner. The allegations have since been confirmed, including by a Freeland family member.
Canada’s parliament recently gave multiple standing ovations to a man who fought for the Nazis during World War II, but supposedly the man’s Nazi past wasn’t known. Regardless, its readily apparent that the Trudeau government is no supporter of Israel or Canadian Jews. If Israel one day is forced to rescue Jewish hostages from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, I have no doubt that Trudeau would protest the mission as an unlawful incursion on Canadian soil.
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