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Joel Lazer

Message from Joel Lazer, the President of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg

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June 4, 2021

Dear Community Members,

Since the conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted last month, our community has been dealt a new set of challenges after a year that was already fraught with so many. Not only did we watch with great concern over what was taking place in Israel, but some in our community have experienced vile, antisemitic hatred in-person and on social media for showing their support for Israel.

You may have seen comments from me in the media as we did our best to respond to an ever-evolving situation that was unfolding overseas. Some stories were published days after I had provided commentary and my apologies if some seemed out-of-date.

The ceasefire brought with it a halt to the attacks on our brothers and sisters in Israel. Unfortunately, the anti-Israel vitriol has remained and may remain for some time. Our community is resilient and strong, and we will weather this storm as we have in the past – by banding together and demonstrating our Jewish perseverance and tenacity to the world.

The onslaught of anti-Israel rhetoric that has taken place in recent days is most troubling. The war against Israel escalated dramatically both in Canada around the world through physical attacks and hate crimes, fueled by one-sided media reports. Israel's international reputation has been damaged further. Still, we stand unwavering in our support for Israel and Jews everywhere. It is my hope that the cease fire halts the deaths, injuries, and terror, and will lead to renewed discussions for lasting peace.

The blog “I Am Fed Up” is a good read, which leads to the following:

On Racism: “Hamas Charter calls for every Jew to be killed, anywhere in the world. Israel is not perfect but offers equal rights to all citizens and has Arab citizens in every part of society, from Supreme Court judges to Member of Parliament to University Professors.” If you are anti-Racist then you should stand against Hamas.

On Homophobia: “Israel has the only Pride weekend anywhere in the Middle East. Meanwhile Hamas throws gay people off rooftops.” If you are against Homophobia, you should stand against Hamas.

Over the course of the conflict, we issued many communications in an effort to keep you apprised of what was going on and the spillover effect it was having here. An example is the Community Briefing which was held on Thursday, May 20. There were at least three other briefings in the preceding ten days.

We coordinated a full-page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press, also published here. It was signed by 31 of our community’s organizations, showing our solidarity with Israel. The collaboration in a very short time period is a testament to the strength and cohesion in our community. There was a phrase that was included that has a better version, which we missed. For that, we apologize and will do better in the future.

We had some excellent speakers share their perspectives on the conflict, and how the challenges in supporting Israel can be met in ways that encourage education and bridge-building with those who may not agree with our viewpoint.

It is when those viewpoints cross the line into antisemitism it becomes unacceptable. We condemn all acts of antisemitism that are levelled against community members whether in-person or online and take them with great seriousness. Our advocacy team is meeting with elected leaders to raise awareness of antisemitism and secure stronger commitments in the fight against it. For example, we have brought troubling statements made by the Federal NDP to the attention of their Provincial counterparts. A copy of our CIJA’s response to the federal NDP is here.

For those who have taken the time to reach out to elected leaders about their silence on the recent conflict or the surge in antisemitism, I appreciate your advocacy. I urge all of you to pick up the phone, or write an email to your local MLA or MP and voice your concerns. I, as a private citizen, have reached out to four politicians and none have replied. Still, we must make our voices heard loud and clear.  You can join us in this effort by clicking here.

As part of the recent conflict and incidents of antisemitism, we have already had multiple touch points with the Winnipeg Police Service who has reaffirmed their commitment to support and protect our community. If you encounter an active aggressor or are being threatened, please report it immediately to the Winnipeg Police and then please fill out a report online via our website so that we can follow up on the incident.

There were two sessions for our youth on how to deal with antisemitism, one which was locally led called Tough Conversations about Israel on Wednesday, May 26. We can all be proud of Emily Kalo – her wisdom, energy, and commitment are a privilege to watch. We also hosted an event with British Muslim and former Winnipegger Kasim Hafeez on Wednesday, June 2 to learn about his journey to Zionism, after being raised in an environment of antisemitism.

I have had some ask why Federation has not participated in any of the rallies that have taken place. Under normal circumstances, we would encourage community members to gather peacefully to show support for Israel. While we understand that some felt a need to gather, we have only held virtual events so as to be mindful of the health and well-being of our community members. We will continue to engage you actively in this way until it is safe to have in-person events.

My door is always open – your constructive criticism and any suggestions you have for us to function more effectively are always welcome. I encourage everyone to take part in standing together for Israel and fighting antisemitism. Shimon Fogel, the CEO of our CIJA, had an excellent op-ed published in the Globe and Mail, which I encourage you to read. If you missed it, you can read it here. A recent book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss is also an excellent read.

Above all else, I want to underscore that we are in this together, now and always – and together, we will get through this. I am happy to discuss any of the above or discuss how you might become more involved. I can be reached at [email protected], via my office phone at 204.977.3500 or on my cell at 204.792.5635.

Zai gezundt and Shabbat Shalom.

Joel Lazer
P.S. Please check out this video, The REAL History of Israel, produced Amos and Avi Sochaczevski.
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