This state-of-the-art account gives readers the tools to understand why antisemitism is such a controversial subject. It acquaints readers with the ambiguities inherent in the historical relationship between Jews and Christians and shows these ambiguities in play in the unfolding relationship between Jews and Canadians of other religions and ethnicities. It examines present relationships in light of history and considers particularly the influence of antisemitism on the social, religious, and political history of the Canadian Jewish community. A History of Antisemitism in Canada builds on the foundation of numerous studies on antisemitism in general and on antisemitism in Canada in particular, as well as on the growing body of scholarship in Canadian Jewish studies. It attempts to understand the impact of antisemitism on Canada as a whole and is the first comprehensive account of antisemitism and its effect on the Jewish community of Canada. The book will be valuable to students and scholars not only of Canadian Jewish studies and Canadian ethnic studies but of Canadian history.
Ira Robinson is chair in Canadian Jewish Studies and director of the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. He received his Ph.D. at Harvard University. He has taught at Concordia since 1979 and was chair of its Department of Religion. He is president of the Canadian Society for Jewish Studies and past president of the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies.
How odd of God / To choose the Jews.
-Attributed to William Norman Ewer1
In 1932, A.M. Klein had this to say about the phenomenon of antisemitism in Canada: "Anti-Semitism in this country is a mild affair compared with the persistent and malignant forms which it assumes in some countries."2 Over eighty years later, the situation of antisemitism in Canada could well be summarized in a similar way. Thus the index of Robert Wistrich's exhaustive 2010 publication A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad indicates a mere thirteen pages referring to "Canada" as opposed to well over one hundred for a country like France, not including an entirely separate series of references to "French anti-Semitism."3 Why, then, devote an entire volume to the subject of antisemitism in Canada, especially given the fact that Jews were never the sole targets of national, racial, and religious vilification in Canada? For the moment, let us begin by saying that antisemitism has become and remains an important component of the historical memory and contemporary consciousness of Canadian Jews as well as of the cultural and political discourse of Canada. Despite that reality there is, as yet, no comprehensive study of the phenomenon of antisemitism in Canada.4
What This Book Hopes to Do
This book on antisemitism in Canada seeks to present a comprehensive, up-to-date account of the phenomenon. It builds on the foundation of numerous previous studies on antisemitism in general, and on antisemitism in Canada in particular. It is especially beholden to the pioneering collaborative work Antisemitism in Canada: History and Interpretation, edited by Alan Davies, and published some twenty years ago by Wilfrid Laurier University Press.5 It builds as well on the large and growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship on the Jewish community of Canada.6 While this book uses some archival sources, for the most part it relies on published sources, including journalistic and Internet, as well as published scholarly analysis. In this connection, I draw inspiration from the words of German historian Jürgen Osterhamel:
To know all there is to know is not the key qualification . No one has sufficient knowledge to verify the correctness of each detail . or to draw fully adequate conclusions from the existing body of research in countless different areas. Two other qualities are the really important ones: first, to have a feel for proportions, contradictions, and connections, as well as a sense of what may be typical and representative, and second, to maintain a humble attitude of deference toward professional research.7
This book will attempt to understand the many ways in which antisemitism has impacted Canada as a whole, and will examine most especially its influence on the development of Canada's Jewish community. It will give readers interested in the phenomenon of antisemitism in Canada the tools to understand why antisemitism in general is such a controversial subject. It will acquaint them with the deep ambiguities inherent in the historical relationship between Jews and Christians and will then show them these ambiguities at play in the unfolding historical relationship between Jews and their fellow Canadians of other religions and ethnicities. It will examine present relationships in light of history and, most particularly, will consider the influence of antisemitism on the social, religious, and political history of the Canadian Jewish community.
This book presents the reader with the first full-length study of the phenomenon of antisemitism in Canada. While there are numerous books and articles devoted to various aspects of the subject, this is the first one that seeks to present a comprehensive account of antisemitism and its effect on the Jewish community of Canada. This will make it valuable to students and scholars of Canadian history, Canadian Jewish studies, Canadian ethnic studies, and antisemitism.
The Book's Organization
The book is divided into four sections. The first is an introduction designed to accomplish several things. The first chapter discusses the complexities involved in any careful and nuanced definition of the term "antisemitism." It then looks at the broad historical sweep of relations between Jews and non-Jews in premodern times. The second chapter examines more specifically the presence of Jews in the cultures, stories, and imaginations of the French and the English in the medieval and early modern periods. These ideas about Jews were what the first European settlers in what would become Canada brought with them from their homelands. It is these ideas that informed early reactions to the presence of Jews and Judaism in British North America.
The second section examines the interaction between Jews and other Canadians from the mid-eighteenth century to the First World War. Chapter 3 thus details the ways in which Jews and non-Jews interacted in the territories that would become the Dominion of Canada in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The chapter brings the account of antisemitism up to the beginnings of the mass eastern European Jewish immigration at the turn of the twentieth century. The fourth chapter speaks of the fundamental changes that occurred in Canadian society with the simultaneous arrival in Canada of a major Jewish immigrant population and a societal discourse, imported from Europe, which brought the "Jewish problem" in Canada to wide public notice.
Section three speaks of antisemitism in the period between the onset of the First World War and the end of the Second World War, in which Canada greatly developed its sense of itself as a culture and polity. Chapter 5 discusses the Canadian social and institutional policies that affected relationships between Jews and non-Jews in this period. Chapter 6 examines the two major twentieth-century ideologies, communism and fascism, that greatly influenced the ways in which Canadian Jews and non-Jews related to each other in that era.
The fourth section deals with post-Second World War Canada. The discerning reader will notice a difference in the presentation because, in this relatively contemporary period, there really is much less scholarly work to go on; much of the more contemporary material is necessarily journalistic in nature. Chapter 7 discusses the postwar development of Canadian society with specific reference to changing attitudes toward Jews and alternate models for understanding who is a Canadian. These alternative models tended to be more inclusive of Jews and others. It further examines the ways in which the Canadian Jewish community was affected by these trends as well as how these trends influenced the Canadian discourse on antisemitism. Chapter 8 looks at the implications of the Holocaust for Canadian Jews, and the influence of both ongoing antisemitic manifestations and Holocaust denial on relations between Jews and non-Jews in Canada. Chapter 9 discusses the implications of the State of Israel and the Israel-Arab conflict for the phenomenon of antisemitism in Canada. Finally, chapter 10 attempts to evaluate the phenomenon of antisemitism in twenty-first-century Canada.
Entering into this subject is asking for trouble. For, as C.P. Snow stated, "If you want to keep out of trouble, there are about five subjects you should never mention in a speech or in print, either in praise or dispraise or even natural curiosity." One of them is anything having to do with Jewish culture or Jewish people.8 With respect to antisemitism in Canada as a whole, what Phyllis Senese wrote in the 1980s about Quebec remains largely correct: "the history of antisemitism in Quebec remains to be written" and, further, "a great deal of superficial and shallow writing on antisemitism in Quebec is in print."9 I also agree with André Elbaz when he states that antisemitism in Quebec, while similar to manifestations in Europe and the United States, "reveals here specific lines of the historical and ideological evolution of Quebec."10 I therefore fully expect that my interpretations in this book can and will be challenged. Nonetheless it is my responsibility to present my interpretation of antisemitism in Canada as best I can and to let those who think they have a better idea bring that idea to the attention of the public. It is with this clash of ideas that our understanding will increase.
Portions of this book were previously published by me in the following articles: "The Bouchard-Taylor Commission and the Jewish Community of Québec In Historical Perspective," in Howard Adelman and Pierre Anctil, eds., Religion, Culture and the State: Reflections on the Bouchard-Taylor Report (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 58-68, 125-29; "David Ahenakew and His Antisemitism" in Zionism, An Indigenous Struggle: Aboriginal Americans and the Jewish State, Israzine 48, no. 4 (November 21, 2014), http://www.isranet.org/israzine/zionism-indigenous-struggle-aboriginal-americans-and-jewish-state/editorial/#ira; "Reflections on Antisemitism in French Canada," Canadian Jewish Studies 21 (2013): 90-122.
I am pleased to acknowledge the financial assistance of Concordia University's Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies in the publication of this book. I would also like to express my appreciation for the efforts and encouragement of Ryan Chynces,...