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Dr. Catherine Chatterley

Dr. Chatterley Delivers A Sweeping Overview of the State of Antisemitism in 2020

by Rhonda Spivak, June 24, 2020

Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, delivered this year's Shindleman Lecture online by giving a sweeping overview of the state of antisemitism in 2020.


She began her lecture by noting that "In 2018, there was a significant increase in antisemitic incidents and a 13% rise in antisemitic violence globally... Canada reported that 2018 was the third consecutive year in which record numbers were reached... The numbers for Canada, the UK, the US, and Germany are all in the same ballpark—between 1,600 and 2,000 incidents per year—and the trends are toward harassment as the dominant mode of attack. The vast majority of these incidents of harassment and threatening behavior occur online via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and by email."


"Canada has a very high number of incidents per capita compared to the United States (ten times as many) and a high number compared to the UK and Germany (two to three times as many). The one main difference between Canada and other Western societies is that while it has the highest per capita number of incidents, Canada has the lowest number of violent attacks. Violent antisemitic attacks in Canada actually decreased to 11 in 2018 from 16 in 2017. The steady increase in incidents has been in harassment, most of it online."


Regarding numbers for antisemitic incidents in 2019, she pointed out that Canada "set a record for its 2,206 antisemitic incidents... representing an 8% increase over 2018." 


Dr. Chatterley stressed that the numbers of antisemitic incidents continue to increase in Western societies and "Canada has the highest number of incidents, both by total number and per capita, however it continues to have fewer violent attacks compared to other countries. The US, Canada, Germany, and the UK have now recorded the highest numbers of antisemitic incidents in their history of record-keeping."


According to Dr. Chatterley, "there is scholarly agreement that there are three main sources of antisemitic violence in the Western world today: the far-right, the far-left, and from within the Muslim community."  For example, "Germany and Austria are particularly concerned about neo-Nazi and far-right organized activity against Jews, Muslims, and immigrants, while France is forced to contend with high profile violent crimes, including those linked to international terrorism, perpetrated by French Muslims against French Jews."


A 2017 Norwegian study of antisemitic violence in Europe between 2005 and 2015 concluded that “individuals with backgrounds from Muslim countries stand out among perpetrators of antisemitic violence in Western Europe.” As Dr. Chatterley indicated "Only in Russia—where the lowest level of violence against Jews was recorded during that ten-year period—were far-right skinheads and Neo-Nazis identified as the main perpetrators of antisemitic violence."


In the United States, she explained, "there has been renewed concern about far-right white supremacist activity. On October 27, 2018, 46 year old Robert Gregory Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and opened fire murdering 11 Jews and wounding six more. On April 27, 2019, a 19 year old man shot up a Chabad synagogue north of San Diego killing one woman and injuring three other people, including an eight year old girl.”


“Both of these men targeted Jews for specific reasons and announced this in online chat rooms. They believe that Jews are engaged in a conspiracy to destroy America and, in particular, its Christian European foundations. Their views reflect contemporary conspiracy theories circulating in Western societies (and throughout Eastern Europe) about a specific plan to use refugees and immigrants to replace the established Christian European majority, known as ‘The Great Replacement.’”


Dr. Chatterley opined, "The United States of America is anything but united today. How their political, social, economic, and so-called racial divisions will play out in the upcoming election, especially under the duress of the COVID-19 crisis and now under the Black Lives Matter protests and riots, is unclear but it is possible that Jews could be impacted if they are blamed and then scapegoated for the loss of the presidency."


She noted "The Internet is the most powerful vehicle for the transmission and dissemination of antisemitism across the planet, and this is also true in Eastern Europe. The anonymity of the Web allows people to express honest feelings of hatred and to connect with others who share those sentiments, emboldening groups of people who had previously been isolated in their silence." 


Turning to the issue of how Jews feel about the problem of antisemitism, Dr. Chatterley referred to a 2019 survey by The American Jewish Committee that found that 88% of American Jews think antisemitism is a problem in the United States. The survey also found that 31% said that they avoided wearing, carrying, or displaying things that might help people identify them as a Jew in public. She emphasized "That is one third of American Jews who now admit to hiding their Jewish identity in public."


Dr. Chatterley then referred to the “2018 Survey of Jews in Canada” that found "that 10% of Jews say they have been called offensive names or snubbed in social settings in the last year, and almost 40% have at some point downplayed being Jewish in some situations, such as at work, or tellingly when travelling outside Canada. The ADL surveyed the Canadian population in 2019 about their attitudes toward Jews and found that 8% of Canadians hold antisemitic views of Jews. This was the second lowest number (after Sweden) of the 18 countries surveyed around the world."


She then discussed the International Holocaust Remembrance Authority (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, the 2019 global report on antisemitism by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, and made suggestions about what people can do to cope with and try to improve the current situation. Improved security and education are the two most important responses to this growing problem. For example, Dr. Chatterley recommended that "All Jewish institutions (especially synagogues and children’s daycares and schools) should be audited meticulously for safety and security and any gaps should be filled immediately." 


She also recommended that "Members of Jewish communities, parents and grandparents, should be actively involved in discussions with community leadership about questions of safety and security. Perhaps all Jewish communities should set up a broad-based safety and security committee that coordinates all areas of the community, offers emergency preparedness training, builds awareness, and gets people involved. There is a tendency in Canada to feel safe, which is wonderful, but it also leads to complacency."


She then discussed a program called “Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST) that offers a free online human rights education curriculum for Canadian teachers to use in their high school classrooms and in grades 6, 7, and 8. The program is the brainchild of Tony and Elizabeth Comper who created FAST in 2005 and worked diligently toward its success, now having exposed over 4 million Canadian children to its lessons and principles in human rights, democracy, and Canadian history."


It is absolutely crucial that we do not allow the kind of anti-Jewish violence plaguing Western European countries, much of it connected to the Middle East conflict, to take root in Canada," Dr. Chatterley stressed. 


She also addressed the failures of Holocaust education, conspiracy theories connected to the current COVID-19 crisis, and new cultural, political, and economic developments that are coalescing to make antisemitism a threat to Jews again worldwide.


The complete lecture is now available online. Virtual tickets can be purchased on CISA’s website.





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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.