Anti-Semitic, anti-Asian incidents on the rise during pandemic
By Daniel J. Rowe, digital reporter, CTV News Montreal
Some organizations have noted a rise in racist acts towards specific minority communities during the COVID-19 outbreak.
B’nai Brith Canada, the grassroots human rights advocacy group, released its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, which saw another rise in attacks in 2019, something that’s continued and intensified during the pandemic.
And Korean Montrealer Kyungseo Min has been working with the anti-racism group CRARR, and compiled a report of anti-Asian incidents in Quebec since the start of the COVID-19 health crisis.
B’nai Brith’s anti-Semitism audit found an eight per cent increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2019. There were 2,207 reported incidents, exceeding the 2,000 plateau for the second year in a row. The audit found an average of more than six anti-Semitic incidents a day.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said B’nai Brith regional director for Quebec Harvey Levine. “It’s very, very worrisome indeed.”
Far right, far left target ultra-Orthodox Jews
The highest numbers came out of Quebec (796 incidents for a 12 per cent rise) and Ontario (783 incidents for a 63 per cent jump), which have the highest Jewish populations, and there was an 11 per cent increase in anonymous online harassment, “much of it advocating genocide and Holocaust denial,” the audit reads.
“Online hate has become a major, major area,” said Levine. “This is a growing international problem.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified anti-Semitism, particularly against the most visible ultra-Orthodox populations.
“Both the far-right and the far-left have been targeting the Jewish communities and blaming them for the spread of COVID-19,” said Levine. “There are all kinds of conspiracy theories, which always happens when there is some kind of a pandemic or outbreak.”
Conspiracy theories and statements have popped up online blaming Israel for starting the virus, spreading it to benefit their pharmaceutical companies and other far-fetched notions that recall historic anti-Semitic tropes.
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“It continues to be so bad during COVID-19 that it reminds me of the 1800s in Europe when there was the bubonic plague,” he said. “The Jewish community was blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague… It’s frightening how it’s so reminiscent of that.”
Levine added that Jewish populations have been singled out for not following public health orders, such as avoiding gathering and quarantine measures.
“You have to ask yourself with such a small population, why target the Jews, as if they are the only ones who have done anything to perhaps have some gatherings, or in the eyes of some of the police or politicians not done the right thing when there are so many others in Montreal who are not following the rules either,” said Levine.
Levine said the Kiryas Tosh community in Boisbriand, for example, was denied essential material deliveries and some orthodox people were thrown out of stores.
“Only because they were visibly Orthodox Jews,” said Levine.
People of Asian descent targeted
Min’s report, titled “Racism Against People of Asian Descent Related to COVID-19 Pandemic in Quebec,” chronicles hate-motivated crimes and hate incidents towards people of a variety of Asian heritages during the crisis.
The report includes people being harassed in stores, racist taunts, and even physical assaults.
“I know some people who were shoved, were chased and who were punched,” said Min.
Min’s report reflects what many media stories have reported since the COVID-19 pandemic began. She reports a woman intentionally coughing in an Asian person’s face, a Korean man getting stabbed and a series of taunts for people to “go home” or blaming them for the crisis.
Min said there was only one incident reported to authorities from the over 15 she gathered.
“There’s this amazing sense of, I would say, negative humility going on,” she said.
Part of the problem, Min said, is that Korean and other Asian communities tend to downplay experiences. Asian people, she said, are taught “not to make a fuss.”
“Racism towards people of Asian descent is more systematic and more hidden,” said Min. “We have a tendency to not raise our voices… Weirdly, I feel in our society that it’s okay to be racist towards Asian people.”
Like the Jewish conspiracy theories and accusations B’nai Brith noted, Min’s report includes multiple accounts of Asian people being blamed for the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is all happening because of you people,” one person shouted at a victim walking across the street.
Media attention about the problem has helped Canadians understand more of what both populations are going through.
B’nai Brith has started receiving more calls from non-Jewish Canadians reporting anti-Semitic acts such as spray-painted swastikas on playgrounds or schools.
“Which is really, really great,” said Levine.
The B’nai Brith audit includes an eight-point plan to tackle anti-Semitism with the following suggestions:
- Institute dedicated hate crimes unites in every major city
- Provide enhanced training for hate crimes officers
- Publish the attorney-general’s guidelines for sections 318 and 319 of Canada's Criminal Code
- Declare a zero-tolerance approach to government funding on anti-Semitism
- Introduce anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation in all provinces and territories
- Hold post-secondary institutions accountable for campus anti-Semitism
- Adopt a national action plan for anti-Semitism
- Develop an action plan to counter online hate
“We find that it’s very easy for all levels of governments to condemn anti-Semitism, as they do all of racism, but it’s another thing to create laws and put teeth to those laws,” said Levine. “It’s not words that matter, it’s actions.”
COVID-19 has affected all communities, and has not discriminated when infecting people across the globe. It’s a fact Levine said is worth remembering.
“This is a time when the entire worldwide community has to work together on doing the right thing and fighting this virus, not picking on different communities, different minorities, pointing fingers and contributing to a horrible rise in racism,” said Levine.