I think we need to be very honest about the situation we’re in as a society. There is a deeply troubling rise in hatred in our society across the board. We see this across the world in the rise of bigotry and the rise of prejudice and the rise of racism. And it is all of our responsibility together. It is a shared responsibility for us all to recognize this trend and to fight against this trend, to oppose this trend. We must specifically acknowledge the various forms of hatred that exist in our society. We must call them by name, and then we must denounce them.
I want to make it absolutely clear: New Democrats absolutely stand firmly opposed to any movement which encourages hate, prejudice, racism or intolerance in any way. We stand opposed to those types of movements. We recognize, in fact, the long-standing relationship and ties between Ontario and Israel, and we want to make sure it’s clear that we stand against all forms of repression.
Let’s name some of those forms of repression. We know there’s systemic discrimination. There’s systemic discrimination based on race, and specifically I want to name anti-black discrimination as a particularly, heinous form of discrimination. I want to also acknowledge that there are definitely various forms of hatred directed towards religions and ethnicities. It’s important to name those as well. That’s why I specifically name Islamophobia as a problem in our society. And, of course, today I think it’s very important for me to direct all of the rest of my comments toward anti-Semitism—as a growing problem, as a historic problem, and as a current-day, modern problem. It is a serious issue.
This specific hate is something we have to name because it is so pernicious and it is so insidious. It has been historic, and it has left a truly lasting, very negative and heinous impact on our society. So it’s particularly important for us to name anti-Semitism, to acknowledge it and then to very repeatedly denounce it. If we can denounce it in this chamber—it’s not enough. We need to continue to do that. The more we can denounce anti-Semitism—it’s not only important for members of the Jewish community. The solidarity that we show with the Jewish community on this issue of anti-Semitism and acknowledging the great suffering of the community is also a way for us to raise awareness of all communities that are suffering, all marginalized communities which suffer.
As a member of a community which is a survivor of a genocide, I have a particularly strong sense of solidarity with the Jewish community as a community that has endured a great and terrible, terrible suffering and tragedy. As a survivor community of that genocide, they are a community that we all look toward for leadership in terms of raising awareness and of remembering that heinous, heinous tragedy and heinous, heinous act of violence against their community.
It’s important for us to acknowledge that by remembering the injustice, we actually work towards preventing injustice. By remembering and acknowledging those who have suffered, we actually prevent future injustices; we prevent future generations from suffering. That’s why it is so important for us to acknowledge that.
In Canada, I feel that we often point fingers in other directions. We look at other communities or other countries and say, “There is injustice there. There is anti-Semitism there. There are problems in other countries.” We often fail to acknowledge that anti-Semitism is alive and real here in Ontario.
All too recently, we’ve seen attacks on members of the Jewish community, and particularly on synagogues. The act of defacing synagogues is an ongoing trend when it comes to one of the more visible forms of anti-Semitism, one of the most visible forms of hatred against the Jewish people. We see that all too often. We must denounce it. We must name it as a hate crime. It’s not simply an act of mischief, but it’s specifically a targeted attempt to create hatred or incite hatred against a community. That’s why it’s so important for us to name it as such, to name it as a hate crime. As always, whenever we name these injustices, we must also commit toward working toward ending all forms of this hatred.
In our fight to end anti-Semitism, in our struggle to raise awareness about this injustice, in our struggle to denounce it and to fight against it, we must not be distracted and we must maintain a focus that is laser-sharp, that is directed at the problem—which is anti-Semitism—and direct it at solutions toward solving this problem and ending this problem.
In our focus, we can’t be distracted by conflating criticisms of a government or criticisms of a government’s policies with anti-Semitism. That distracts us from the real problem, which is anti-Semitism. It exists. It’s real. We see it. We know that it exists. We hear it in the banter that sometimes goes on and in jokes that sometimes go on. We need to address the root causes and the actual problems and combat them. But we can’t be distracted by conflating the criticism of a government’s policies, of a government itself, and the criticism of a people, of a religion, of a faith, of an ethnicity.
People around the world and here in Canada have a right to dissent and to criticize. Specifically, I’ll give you an example here in Canada. I would suggest that it would be well within the right of many people to criticize Canada for its deplorable treatment of the indigenous community. It’s absolutely within the right of people. From direct genocides to a cultural genocide based on residential schools, the ongoing systemic discrimination of indigenous people and their deplorable conditions—people would be fully justified to raise a concern about the treatment of indigenous people. But it would absolutely not permit people to incite hatred against Canadians. It would absolutely not be permissible for people to incite any sort of sentiment of hating the people of the country and of hating the actual community. But concern around the government’s policies—historic and present-day—and criticism of that policy is absolutely appropriate and, in fact, a part of a democratic society. We can criticize the policies of the United States, for example, without hating Americans. We can criticize Saudi Arabia’s government and still combat Islamophobia.
It’s absolutely important for us to recognize that peaceful demonstrations, discussions, debate, discourse, whether we agree with them or not, if they are expressed towards the criticism of a government or its policies, are absolutely, within our democracy, something appropriate, whether we agree or disagree.
We must similarly separate the criticism of the government of Israel or its policies from criticism of its people. That distinction must be made. That should never be conflated. A criticism of a country or its policies, particularly its government, should never mean it’s a criticism of the people of that country or the ethnicity or the religion of that country.
People must be able to have a right to criticize a state’s policies or its decisions. People must be able to encourage a state to follow through on its obligations, whether they’re international human rights obligations or whether they’re international environmental rights and agreements. People must be able to raise their concerns. But we should never allow people to raise those concerns in a way that inflames hatred against the people of that community.
There are serious concerns with respect to the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people. We must support the freedom to raise these concerns. People have that right, and we should support people’s right to do that.
In a free and democratic society, peaceful advocacy directed toward a government or its policies must never be silenced. We should allow that discourse to happen. We should allow that to occur in a free and democratic society.
The only limitation that we place on freedom of speech is specifically hate speech: speech which directs people to hate a particular community, to create violence against a particular race, ethnicity or members of a community. That is something that is simply not acceptable in our society, nor should we ever support it.
We cannot support a motion which, in effect, seeks to ban the right to dissent. That is one of the most fundamental rights of any society: the ability to raise your voice in opposition, your ability to criticize, your ability to have dissent. The right to criticize, the right to raise awareness, the right to advocate for a marginalized people is something that we must protect.
Anti-Semitism is real. It exists and it is growing. We can’t be led to believe that in some way it has been addressed; it’s something of the past; it’s not something that we need to address moving forward. Anti-Semitism is something that we have to denounce. We have to denounce it together. We must use all tools available to denounce it. We must use education. We must use awareness. We must use legislation where it’s appropriate and we must absolutely use enforcement. We must use all the tools that we have as a society so that we can combat this very serious and very real problem.
However, we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by a movement which seeks to criticize a government and conflate that with the real issue of anti-Semitism. We can’t conflate anti-Semitism with a movement that seeks perhaps to influence a government to change its course of action.
These types of discourse, these types of engagement, are something that we don’t have and—in this Legislative Assembly, in this province or in this country—we shouldn’t silence. We should, in fact, encourage more advocacy work towards denouncing anti-Semitism. We should encourage more awareness around the ills, the impacts. The impacts aren’t only to the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism hurts all of us. Hatred against a community poisons the entire society. We must ensure that we work together to solve this problem.
This isn’t something that’s going to be dealt with by one group alone. We need to show solidarity with groups and movements which seek to end anti-Semitism and which raise awareness about the harms and impacts on not only the Jewish community but our society at large. We need to show that solidarity to ensure that we stand up and show that our society is a society that believes in inclusivity, believes in accepting differences, believes in celebrating those differences, believes in diversity and in celebrating that diversity. That’s the country, that’s the province, that’s the city that we live in. That’s the type of society that we need to build.
I support the member’s concerns around anti-Semitism, and as New Democrats we stand always opposed to it.