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Ariella Kimmel: It’s now all too clear how deep the rot of antisemitism runs

Commentary

On October 7, Gina Smiatich woke up to the sound of a red alert, a sound familiar to those who lived in Southern Israel. But this time something was different. The alerts kept coming, and then the message that there were intruders and for people to shelter in space. 

Smiatich, a Czechoslovak-born Terezín camp survivor, was murdered in her living room by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kissufim. After surviving the horrors of the Nazis, she was murdered decades later by the same hate—the hate that seeks the destruction of Jews.  

We now have a better understanding of the brutal and systematic terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas through the South of Israel. The images and stories are horrific. That many Israelis—including more than a dozen children—are still being held hostage in Gaza means that this nightmare is far from over. The descriptions of women being raped so badly that their pelvises were broken or of children being tortured are so much worse than one could ever imagine. 

Yet as awful as the news out of Israel has been, the scenes from our own countries have often made it worse. While many of us in the diaspora have loved ones in Israel, many of whom are now being called up for duty, we’re also looking at the world around us in our cities and witnessing support for these terrorist attacks and other forms of antisemitism from our fellow citizens. Only three weeks after these horrific attacks, it feels like the sympathy for those murdered, tortured, and kidnapped by Hamas has waned, opening the door for those who hate Jews to express it so freely under the guise of “anti-Zionism.” 

It’s painfully clear that many people have lost their moral compass. It’s not just those who’ve hit the streets of Canadian cities over the three past weeks to essentially endorse Hamas and the attacks themselves. There’s something perverted for protestors to claim to be speaking for human rights while targeting Jewish community centres with schools in them or Jewish-owned businesses—to say nothing of ignoring the hostages still being held in Gaza.

There are also the academics, media figures, civil society leaders, and politicians who have used a combination of equivocation and pseudo-intellectualism to try to rationalize the mutilation of young women, the killing of babies and children, and the devastation of whole communities. Claims about “decolonization” or “context” or “balance” may sound clever for certain audiences, but they amount to what Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne has rightly described as “moral confusion.” 

This instinct to explain the attacks, withhold judgment, or actually blame the victims is not the norm for the country’s intellectual and political class. They’re usually happy to condemn and marginalize groups with whom they disagree. It’s not lost on me and other Canadian Jews that the same treatment isn’t extended when we’re the victims. 

We’re also not blind to the realities of what is to come. Antisemitism has been on the rise globally including in Canada. The past three weeks have seen it pulled out from the shadows onto streets of the world’s major cities. There are some places—including Berlin—where Jews are being discouraged from making their faith visible for their own personal security. Stars of Davids have been drawn on the doors of Jewish homes elsewhere in Europe. In Poland, for instance, which is home to the graves of 3 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, there are those marching with smiles on their faces condoning the murder of another generation of Jews. 

It prompts the question: what will it take for these people to recognize the threat posed by antisemitism? 

If they think that the ethos of white supremacists, here in Canada and elsewhere, and that of Hamas are any different, then they’re either not paying attention or are willfully blind. Article 7 of the Hamas charter calls for the genocide of Jews—not Israelis, but Jews. 

The first step of moral clarity is to see the world as it is rather than through various “lenses.” It should have never gotten to a point where the Israeli government is forced to release horrific videos from the attacks to prove what happened. 

What other country would have to release videos of their citizens burnt alive in order to prove that they aren’t lying? What other country would have to release videos of bloody children’s bedrooms or children’s body bags in order to show the world the atrocities that it’s describing are in fact real?

That many among us have failed this basic test of moral clarity has been revealing. We see you. 

We see you: so-called feminist activists who can’t bring themselves to condemn rape. We see you: President of CUPE Ontario who has been silent on the murder of children and instead stood with those who call for our destruction. We see you: journalists who can’t utter the word “terrorists” and the politicians calling for “restraint and calm.” We see you: academics who rely on warped theories to rationalize and defend terrorist acts. And we see you: politicians who equivocate in the face of true evil. 

Antisemitism is not something that exists as an abstract thought that went away after the Holocaust. Instead, it has become normalized and often even excused because of Israel. 

When the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia in 1938, Gina Smiatich and her family never could have imagined what was to come, that no country would take them in, and that the Nazis would be free to carry out their Final Solution for the Jewish people. For many diaspora Jews, for me especially as the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, our love affair with Israel is about more than just our homeland; it’s our safety net. In the wake of October 7, as we struggle to mourn our dead while grappling with the reality that there are those on our own streets that hate us, that safety feels shattered and we are left wondering which of our neighbours could justify the murder of our families and which ones would hide us if they needed to.

Michael Van Pelt: Canada’s top public servant led a life well-lived: Remembering Ian Shugart

Commentary

HAMILTON, ON – The fact that few knew that Ian Shugart was a regular gospel preacher in many Ottawa churches leads to a fitting way to describe the man. Ian rose to be the head of Canada’s public service, some 300-thousand people strong. He was a quick mind with steady judgement and an observer of character.  He was cautious, wise, and thorough—a model public servant. Mostly though, and especially as he travelled the vocational path to the highest position in the civil service as clerk of the Privy Council, he was a pastor. By that, I mean he always looked for the person behind the professional. In the most straightforward way, he got to the heart of things. He had an eye for things that matter to the heart without losing sight of the job at hand. 

I met Ian in 2011 as part of the Advisory Council for Social Innovation. He sat two chairs away from me. He seemed quite at ease to be invisible until he spoke. When I listened to him speak my internal voice exclaimed, “I know that language.” I know the careful wording about human dignity, I know the language of respect, and I know the language of history and wisdom. Simply, I knew right then he was a man of faith. I left the meeting, quickly jumped on to Google, and to my great surprise the first entry on Ian Shugart was a faith-filled speech he presented at the very think tank I worked for, Cardus. 

Not long after that meeting, I was waiting in a government boardroom as part of the long cadre of people deputy ministers meet in a day. Ian walked into the boardroom and said “You know I am a founder of your organization.” With discernable disbelief in my eyes, I listened as he shared that he was part of the early group of Parliament Hill staffers that founded the Centre for Cultural Renewal (which is now a part of Cardus.) 

Since that day we have met many times for more than a decade. Our deal was this. First, let’s not do day-to-day politics, but let’s talk about ideas that matter—and we did that. The second was: don’t ask me to share what you know I can’t—and I didn’t. Only one time did I catch a glimpse behind the scenes. It was a very public scandal that clearly landed on his plate to fix. I was teasing him about his easy life and his eyes went wide and frustration lines reshaped his face, for maybe a second. He never wavered from his commitment to respecting confidentiality.

In the last few years as clerk and then as a senator, Ian paid special attention to the emerging leaders in the Cardus community. As he weakened, his words had a growing intimacy and urgency to them. He spoke less of strategy and more of character and faithfulness. I watched these future leaders—young men and women—allow the voice of Ian Shugart to burn into their hearts and set their trajectory of public service. 

I know from Ian’s own words and worldview that he was deeply concerned about the cultural and spiritual direction of the country he served. Despite his deep concern, he stubbornly remained a public servant in its purest form. Ian would often remind me, “Michael, worry more about the cultural and spiritual state of yourself, your neighbour, and your community. Politicians will follow the culture and the public servant must serve the government. And that is as it ought to be!” Many times I imagined what power a deputy minister could exert by bending an issue in my direction. But here, Ian Shugart was in the tradition of Saint Thomas More, known as the virtuous statesman who never used the means of power to advance a matter of personal interest.

I miss Ian Shugart. Just as the prime minister gave him space to truly voice the wisdom of a Godly and wise man, cancer was breaking his earthly form. I had dared to imagine tackling legislative files with mutual mission. 

When I think about Ian, I can’t help but think of another ancient public servant from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures: the prophet Daniel. Daniel, who spent time in the lions’ den, served in the courts of Babylon all while staying true to his own faith. I know my long-time friend and Cardus co-founder Ray Pennings often saw parallels between the prophet Daniel and Ian. And Ian himself deeply studied the model of Daniel as a faithful leader and public servant. It’s a model worth following and one I hope others take to heart.

Ian faced the brokenness of the world, including cancer, while holding to a hopeful future. I have no doubt that the words he hears today are, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”