Duncan Dee: We must not remain indifferent to the suffering of our Jewish neighbours

On the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, forcefully calling out rising antisemitism is as important as ever
Talia Ben Sasson, right, hugs Ayellet Tzur as they attend a rally in support of Israel in Montreal, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press.

Violence and discrimination against Jews is not a new phenomenon. There are, sadly, too many examples to point to, but today marks a particularly noteworthy anniversary: Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, as the date came to be known, commemorates November 9-10, 1938, when a series of pogroms, violence, and vandalism targeting Jewish people, businesses, and places of worship broke out in Germany and German-occupied areas. This, as we know, was a pale foreshadowing of the suffering to come.

Now, 85 years later, Jewish people find themselves once again under attack and solemnly adding another date to the calendar that will ever after be marked by grief.

On the morning of October 7, North Americans woke up to the news that Hamas terrorists had attacked Israel. Over the next few hours and days, the totality of the carnage and barbarity became increasingly clear.

Over 1,400 Israelis and people of over a dozen nationalities, including at least six Canadians, murdered in cold blood. Babies, children, women, men, and seniors, including Holocaust survivors, butchered in their own homes or while attending a music festival in the most cruel and sadistic ways imaginable. Children murdered in front of their parents. Parents murdered in front of their children. Babies beheaded. Entire families burned alive in their “safe” rooms. Women and girls brutally raped before being murdered or dragged screaming into vehicles to be taken as captives to Gaza. It is estimated that approximately 240 Israelis and people of other nationalities, including at least three Canadians, are still being held captive and used as human shields in Gaza.

The extent of the savagery became clear not only because of extensive investigations by the Israeli authorities but also because the terrorists themselves, in a 21st-century twist to their medieval barbarism, actually took trophy videos of their actions. Wearing body cameras, carrying their own phones, or, in many cases, using the phones of their victims, the terrorists proudly filmed and even live-streamed their cruelty for their bloodthirsty families, friends, and communities to see.

While the Nazis went to great lengths to hide their atrocities and destroy the evidence of their crimes, Hamas sought to create video monuments to their barbarism. Much like a family takes a home movie of a child’s school graduation, the terrorists filmed their atrocities and posed with their victims for posterity.

The world has just witnessed the first video-recorded and live-streamed pogrom.

But despite the video evidence and the multitude of eyewitness accounts from both survivors and heroic first responders, many around the world, including here in Canada, still refuse to believe the extent of the atrocities or, worse, have found logic-bending ways to justify them. Anyone who has ever wondered how Holocaust denial can even be possible can now watch it happen in real-time.

Israeli authorities have been forced to screen for journalists a 45-minute-long compilation of unedited footage and audio recordings taken by the terrorists themselves in an attempt to combat revisionism and prevent it from taking hold. The written accounts of the screenings are horrifying—and for exactly that reason we should read and grapple with what they tell us.

The compilation not only confirms the worst of the atrocities reported but provides video and audio evidence of inconceivable cruelty. Imagine placing the onus on the victims to prove the crime that was committed.

Even though the actual battles are taking place thousands of miles away, North American cities and streets have not been spared the impact of these events.

No sooner had news of the attacks been reported that thousands took to the streets in a shocking display of support for Hamas’ terrorism. Calls of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, seeking the destruction of the State of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, were made both at pro-Palestine street protests and by many individuals online. Prominent union leaders publicly expressed their support for the “resistance”, as did many campus groups, with one Ontario university’s union local posting “Palestine is rising, long live the resistance” as they retweeted a video of Hamas terrorists using a bulldozer to break into Israeli territory. An academic from an Ivy League university proclaimed “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.” In Toronto, Montreal, and New York, signs featuring images of Hamas terrorists paragliding were proudly waved. At some protests, even ISIS and Taliban flags were flown.

Israel had just suffered the worst terrorist attacks in its history and yet thousands took to the streets and social media in celebration.

But, sadly, there was still more depravity to come.

In displays reminiscent of Nazi Germany, protesters targeted a Jewish community centre and school while others surrounded Cafe Landwer in Toronto, covering some of its windows with Palestinian flags, yelling at patrons, and calling for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. With the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht upon us, the significance of these displays cannot be ignored.

If these overt displays of antisemitism can be called “un-Canadian,” then the response was beautifully Canadian. As soon as videos calling for the boycott of Cafe Landwer began to circulate, ordinary Torontonians, of all backgrounds, started posting photos of themselves enjoying a meal at the cafe. Businesses, including other restaurants, began placing large orders. While boycotts are designed to harm and intimidate businesses, buycotts can help sustain them.

Given all of this, then, is it any wonder that many of our Jewish neighbors and friends have been feeling unsafe and targeted? What does it say that in the aftermath of the largest single-day loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, people could be seen celebrating on campuses, on the streets, and online, and calling for Jewish-owned businesses to be boycotted?

One Jewish friend remarked “Don’t think that Jews aren’t making a mental list. We now know which neighbours would hide us, and which would send us to the cattle cars.”

In the face of these atrocities and rising antisemitism, Canadians cannot remain indifferent. The Jewish community cannot, should not, and must not fight this battle alone. “Never again” must not become a simple slogan that gives way to “once again”. For those words to have real meaning, all Canadians of goodwill must come together to loudly call out antisemitism everywhere, all the time. Starting now.

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