The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research condemns the vicious murders of eleven Jews in the Etz Chaim/Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and extends its profound sympathy to the families of the victims and wounded, including the courageous police who, risking their own live, rushed to defend the congregation and disarmed the assailant.

Rising antisemitism, of both the extreme left and right, nurtured by the dynamics of the ubiquitous “social media”, has been well documented recently in the U.S. and Canada, including a rising tempo of synagogue desecrations. We also observe with increasing anxiety the toleration of virulent anti-Israel sentiments among elements of the left (“progressive”) wing of the U.S.’s Democratic Party. This phenomenon, not dissimilar from the situation in Europe and Great Britain (where Jeremy Corbyn, a known and unrepentant antisemite, currently heads the British Labour Party), is deeply concerning.

In North America, one major channel for the revival and spread of the “longest hatred” marking Western societies has been the Arab-backed and pro-Palestinian BDS and related anti-Israel and anti-Zionist movements on University campuses, which have manipulated freedom of expression and “speech codes”   to delegitimate Jewish Israel and harass and break up Israel-related speakers. 

This growing antisemitism, on and off campuses, must be immediately confronted by both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, as well as by government, educational, and police officials at all levels.  Every effort must be made to maintain the openness, safety, and decorum of American public and religious life, and not to have to adopt here the European practice of permanent police and military supervision of Jewish schools and places of worship.

To this end, we urge all private and public organizations, agencies and educational institutions, at all levels, immediately to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism drawn up in 2015 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance:  

 “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.  Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The following examples may serve as illustrations:

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Anti-Semitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of anti-Semitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are anti-Semitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Anti-Semitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

Adoption of this clear definition, coupled with its rapid, and    effective, application in particular cases, will—with resolute action at all levels of private and public institutions, governmental, educational, media and religious—contribute to preventing vicious and murderous events like the Tree of Life Congregation killings. 

All North American ethnic and religious groups, as well as all individuals, must be free to exercise the precious individual rights guaranteed us by our democratic governments and public laws, and by our open society’s liberal traditions.

And all social media providers must also subscribe to the general definition given here, and act rapidly to remove or close down racist, antisemitic posts and sites violating its clear guidelines.

Let us hope that the Jewish community, in face of this vicious assault, reaffirming its unity and identification with the state of Israel, will issue from this tragedy stronger and more determined than before. The only answer to antisemitism and racism, whenever and wherever they raise their ugly heads, is to defeat them.

Never again! And never here, in North America!!


Professor Frederick Krantz

Director, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research