ANTISEMITISM: What educators need to know and do

The goal of inclusive education and its inherent quest for equity and justice isn’t passive. It calls for us to join the struggle against all forms of racism and bigotry and to accept the responsibility to promote human rights for all our students and colleagues.

ANTISEMITISM: What educators need to know and do

by Karen R. Mock, Ph.D., C.M.*

The goal of inclusive education and its inherent quest for equity and justice isn’t passive. It calls for us to join the struggle against all forms of racism and bigotry and to accept the responsibility to promote human rights for all our students and colleagues. However, a necessary first step in achieving human rights for all is for educators to become aware of and come to terms with the extent of all forms of discrimination and the promotion of hatred in this country. Only through awareness and acceptance of the realities will we be able to mobilize the energy and resources necessary for the remedies.

While anti-racism/ anti-oppression education has become the norm in most schools today, as well as in teacher education faculties, sadly it has been my experience that in recent years the topic of antisemitism (dubbed by historians as the longest hatred), has been omitted from the social justice curriculum, at the same time as antisemitic hate crime is at the highest level since before WW2. By not putting their theories and policies into practice, many educators are failing their Jewish students and colleagues just when they need them most.

It has been a huge challenge to put the essence of 50 years of work into a brief essay, but here are 10 things I believe educators need to know and do about antisemitism:

1. Understand and recognize antisemitic propaganda

The goal of hate propaganda and hate mongers is to portray a group as inferior, even less than human. The targets of hatred are the objects of prejudice and stereotyping, often characterized as taking advantage of the rest of society and a threat that ought to be removed. People are most receptive to hate mongering when they are looking for someone to blame for their problems so that they can feel better about themselves. Difficult economic times or disasters or pandemics inevitably lead to this pattern of scapegoating, and any identifiable minority group is at risk.

Throughout the history of the Western World, Jews have been a traditional scapegoat. Jewish people have been denied citizenship, the vote, land ownership, housing, education and employment, even in Canada. They have been blamed for the plague, for partnerships with the devil, and for every form of economic, social, and political upheaval. The proliferation of hate propaganda was usually the prelude to pogroms or expulsions.

The most dramatic example of the impact of hate propaganda was, of course, the Holocaust. Goebbels taught us all that if you repeat lies and innuendos often enough, people will believe them, especially if they are ignorant of the true facts. The Nazi promotion of hatred against the Jews was so successful that many people across Europe who were not members of the party participated in the Nazi attempt to murder them all.

Another goal of hate mongers is to instill fear or terror in their victims. Attacks are often particularly vicious, leaving entire communities feeling vulnerable and isolated. Antisemitic hate can lead to a negative self-image in group members, and self-doubt, and a feeling of worthlessness. Individuals may try to assimilate or disappear as an identifiable group; but hate mongers and antisemites would suggest that this is impossible.

According to avowed racists and white supremacists, the minority traits remain as a contaminant of the society or pure race, and must therefore be eliminated to whatever extent possible. How well individuals and racialized groups can tolerate such abuse depends on the strength of one’s ego defence mechanisms, group support and personal experience. But the effect of singling out the group from the rest of society achieves the hate monger’s goal, regardless of the personal effects on the group and its members.

2. Hate Speech is NOT a Free Speech Issue

The Holocaust did not start with guns and gas chambers — it started with words. Canada learned this lesson of the Holocaust, so that in this country hate propaganda is NOT a free speech issue. It is the promotion of hatred against an identifiable group, and in Canada it is against the law.

Even when the audience is unreceptive, hate propaganda can do damage in that it plays on people’s doubts and fears, and feeds on misconceptions, increasing barriers to understanding. Hate propaganda contributes to disunity in society, compromises democratic values, and maintains inequality and oppression. It is ironic that white supremacists and hate mongers are among the most outspoken advocates of free speech, when they use that freedom to deny others their freedoms.

Not all antisemitic incidents qualify as hate crime, and so will not require police intervention. But any offensive antisemitic speech or action (just as any racist speech or action) needs to be countered effectively, in keeping with most school board policies today.

3. Understand the impact of trauma on victims of oppression and hate

In schools today, there are many Jewish students and staff in genuine fear for their safety. They feel afraid to self-identify, hiding any visible symbols of their being Jewish …today in Canada!

While their school boards have policies on human rights, safe schools, and anti-racism/anti-oppression, many Jewish students and staff do not feel safe. Are we ensuring the same self-awareness and self-analysis of staff attitudes when it comes to antisemitism as we do for the other forms of racism and discrimination?

It is very important for those who have not experienced racism or other forms of oppression to understand why incidents that may seem trivial to you may be so painful to members of racialized or minority groups, depending on their level of trauma, and the triggering event(s)

  • Personal experience – actual survivors of genocide, war, slavery, residential schools, internment, the Holocaust (Shoah), expulsion, hate crime
  • Inherited family trauma – 2nd and 3rd generation – children and grandchildren and other relatives of survivors. Their parents’ or grandparents’ experiences impact their childrearing and the narratives they hear.
  • Community trauma – inheritors of the community narrative, historical events, repetitive patterns, in addition to community impact of current conflicts. The experiences of Jews for thousands of years, during eras of “good kings and bad kings” has a huge influence on reactions to antisemitism or suspected antisemitism.

Trauma can be transferred through historical trauma, genetics and even changes in DNA, passed on from generation to generation as narrative and by modelling. It results in feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and often has social and economic impact that continues to affect behaviour and mental health. Defeat has greater impact than victory on the psyche and also fuels ethnic nationalism…for centuries. It is for this reason that a slogan at a political demonstration may be innocuous to some and interpreted to be a simple call for freedom, but can be the foreboding cry of a genocidal threat to Jewish observers.

4. Validate Jewish identities

An important way to counter antisemitism is to ensure that students and teachers also know about the positive history of Jews in Canada and their significant contributions to society, not just the destruction of most European Jews in the Holocaust. There are three components of Jewish identities: Jewish peoplehood (an ethnic identity or nationhood, binding Jews worldwide); the Jewish religion (observance of spiritual and ritual tenets of Judaism, with various denominations within the faith – eg. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanistic); and Jewish culture (celebration of traditions, secular and religious alike, and foods!) Jewish traditions can vary culturally depending on country of origin of the family or ancestors.

It is important also to acknowledge that there are not only Jews of European descent (Ashkenazi) who are primarily white, but there are many Jews of colour (Sephardic, Latino, Black/African, Asian, and South Asian, and well as Misrachi Jews from Arab lands). Celebrate Jewish holidays and festivals in your schools and classrooms in ways that are authentic to the various Jewish cultures. Commemorate Jewish Heritage Month in May (the same month as Asian Heritage Month). And remember it is even more important to do so when there are few Jewish students or families in your schools. Antisemitism is rampant in countries and communities where there are no Jews, in the same way as people have stereotypes of all racialized groups they have never met.

“Too few non-Jews are prepared to stand against antisemitism, as if it is somehow a different kind of racism or discrimination” – David Baddiel, Jews Don’t Count

5. Differentiate between Jewish people, Israel and Israeli Government actions

It is important to understand how and why Israel is part of most Jewish people’s identity and to know the historical facts. But it is wrong to hold all Jewish people accountable for the actions of any government. Recognize that legitimate criticism of the government of Israel’s policies or practices (similar to criticisms against any other state) should not be considered antisemitic; but demonizing or delegitimizing Israel or holding it to a double standard (differential treatment to other countries) can be.

6. Name and call out all incidents of antisemitism.

All educators and administrators need to know what to do when it comes to implementation of the multiculturalism, equity and social justice principles…AND human rights, anti-racism and anti-oppression principles, AND safe schools and anti-hate principles and laws. That is, incidents of antisemitism should not be treated any differently than other forms of discrimination or prejudice or hate. But currently many educators and administrators ignore antisemitism completely, or argue with those who are victimized by it, becoming defensive, or trivializing their experiences and taking political sides. You can’t counter it if you can’t name it; but arguing about definitions does not help heal the hurt of your students or colleagues.

Put into practice the skills of empathy and active listening – and ensure that the victim is supported, and that there are consequences and counselling for the perpetrators. Bystanders too need to know how the incident was handled. Don’t hide behind claims of confidentiality. There are ways to debrief bystanders without violating privacy, and skill building workshops will help. Most students and staff suffer in silence and don’t report incidents. Research shows only 1 in 10 racist or antisemitic incidents is ever reported. Victims and witnesses think nothing will be done because they never hear how incidents were resolved.

Dismantle antisemitism the way you would ANY of the isms or phobias!

7. Systemic problems require systemic solutions

There continue to be many reported incidents of schools and workplaces holding events important to Jewish students and staff on Jewish holy days, clearly against Board, Ministry and workplace policies. Every school should have the Multifaith Calendar. Are you commemorating days of significance in an equitable manner, and not in a discriminatory manner? Are you politicizing your choices of commemorative days? Our work in equity is about systemic change, such that all students see themselves reflected. It is important to include the local community as a partner, and to communicate effectively and regularly to enhance community relations with the administration and staff, and between and among the diverse communities you serve. Unfortunately, boards routinely make public statements about various holidays and commemorative days, but often have to be reminded to include the Jewish ones.

In schools and workplaces ensure all the following systemic issues are considered to prevent antisemitism (and every other ism and phobia):

  • Formal curriculum (at every level of the system, who is represented and who is not?);
  • Hidden curriculum (the informal environment in the school – does it prioritize some groups over others? Are there ‘triggering’ issues or representations?);
  • Holiday celebrations (When? What? Whose?);
  • Is there a political agenda? (Is the curriculum, formal or hidden, factual or biased in terms of political propaganda? Is the student required to adhere to the teacher’s bias? Does the committee have to adhere to the political bias of the leader or majority? Is there any Jewish representation on the committee?)

8. Is your demographic data accurate or exclusive?

Many student and staff surveys these days ask people to self identify as Racialized or White, African, Caribbean, Black, Indigenous, Asian, LGBTQ2 etc. Who is left out or “othered”? Where and how do Jewish students and staff locate themselves when excluded from the surveys? That is, unless religion and/or ethnicity is a category, what do Jewish people do as a historically and currently “racialized” community when the only choice they have is to check off ‘white’? All schools need to ensure that their school climate and their assessment tools and surveys are truly inclusive and validate all students’ identities.

9. Jewish people, including white Jews, are not white supremacists.

There is a trend now for many anti-racist educators to insist that all white people, including Jews, are to be labelled “white supremacists” and even go so far as to ask them to self identify as such. While it is important for white people in a white-dominated society to understand “white privilege”, to use the term white supremacist is to co-opt and change the meaning of the term. At the core of white supremacy ideology is racism and antisemitism! White supremacists (eg Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, KKK members, etc) do not consider Jews to be white, and call them “mud people” and other derogatory names. What is the point of adapting the meaning of words to suit a current theory or ideology?

Terms like apartheid, genocide, Holocaust, white supremacy, have been coopted and the meaning changed (appropriated?) to express the pain and suffering some groups are experiencing. Indeed, Jews have been the victims of antisemitism and hate from those on the far right, and on the far left alike. School officials must ensure that our anti-oppression theories and practices are not used to oppress or silence or marginalize others, and that victims do not become the victimizers. We need also to ensure we do not have a double standard when it comes to Jews. It is a norm of anti-racism work that victimized groups can define their own oppression. They certainly know both what it looks like and how it feels. It is the same for Jews and antisemitism.

10. Are your equity and inclusive education teams truly inclusive?

Where are non-Jewish students, staff and colleagues in the discussion of antisemitism? AND where and to whom do Jewish students and staff go when they are victims of antisemitism and need help? In many schools and boards today Jewish members of the school community (students, staff, parents) feel they have nowhere to turn to resolve the tensions they are experiencing. Their experiences in the system have forced them to turn to the outside for help. Is there support within your school and/or board for victims of antisemitism? Is there effective education and training of board personnel on the subject? Or do stereotypes of power and privilege proliferate about the tiny Jewish minority who is experiencing bullying, antisemitic harassment (both physically and on social media) on a regular basis? Unfortunately, rather than ensuring preventative measures are in place through curriculum and pro-active programming, many administrations do not take action against antisemitism until there is a complaint from a parent or the community. There is no question it is far better for school/ community relations to be proactive than reactive.

In conclusion, we have all heard the saying attributed to Indigenous communities: Never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their moccasins. But I give the last words to the great Hebrew sage, Hillel, who said:

“Separate not thyself from thy community, and judge not
another person until you have been in his place.

And I believe that Hillel’s 3 questions summarize our important work in human rights, anti-racism, equity and inclusion…including our ongoing struggle against antisemitism:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

SELECTED REFERENCES and RESOURCES

American Jewish Committee. Translate hate: Glossary of antisemitic terms, phrases, conspiracies, cartoons, themes, and memes. New York; 2021   https://www.ajc.org/sites/default/files/pdf/2021-02/AJC_Translate-Hate-Glossary-2021.pdf

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) What is Antisemitism? Anti-Israel? Anti-Zionism? www.adl.org

Baddiel D. Jews don’t count: how identity politics failed one particular identity. London: TLS Books, HarperCollins Publishers; 2021.

Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs (CIJA), Canada – Unlearn Antisemitism (2022) www.cija.ca

Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) https://chesatottawa.ca

Facing History and Ourselves  (for workshops, resource materials, inclusive education)

Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST) Choose Your Voice (Elementary) Voices into Action (Secondary) www.fightingantisemitism.ca

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. What is antisemitism? Non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism, 2022  https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antisemitism 

League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada Taking Action Against Hate: Protection, Prevention and Partnerships (A Manual for Practitioners, Educators and Community); also Yom Hashoah Teachers Guide   www.bnaibrith.ca

Mock, K.R. and Shipman, L (1992) It’s time to stop fighting about words and fight racism. Canadian Jewish News (on controversies concerning the definition of antisemitism and Islamophobia)

Mock, K.R. (1995) Combatting Racism and Hate in Canada Today: Lessons of the Holocaust. Canadian Social Studies, Vol. 29, No.4

Mock, K.R. (1995) Freedom of Expression vs. Political Correctness – Where Do You Draw the Line? Canadian Social Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1

Mock, K.R. Anti-Semitism in Canada Today: Realities, Remedies and Implications for Anti-Racism.  In James, C. (Ed.) Perspectives on RACiSM and the Human Services Sector: A Case for Change, University of Toronto Press, 1996

Mock, K.R. (1996) Presenting “the other side”. Canadian Social Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4

Mock, K.R.  From Multiculturalism to Anti-Racism to Equity: Sharing Power or Grabbing Power? In Multicultural Education: The State of the Art National Study, Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers. 1996

Mock, K.R. Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Activists, – Who Are They?  Who are You? Canadian Social Studies, Vol 31, No. 2. 1996

Mock, K.R. (2000) Hate on the Internet.  In Human Rights and the Internet, Eds: Hick, Steven; Halpin, Edward; and Hoskins, Eric. Macmillan Publishers

Mock, K.R. Holocaust and Hope – Holocaust Education in the Context of Anti-Racist Education in Canada. In The Holocaust’s Ghost – Writings on Art, Politics and Education. F.C. DeCoste and B. Schwartz (Eds) University of Alberta Press, 465-482, 2000

Mock, K. R. (2002) Countering Racism and Hate in Canada Today – Legal/Legislative Remedies, Current Realities and Future Directions.  Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR) national roundtable entitled “Hate Crimes”: Challenges for Montreal and Beyond – Implementing the Durban Program of Action Against Hate Crime”

Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre (holocaustcentre.com) (for site visits, speakers, resources)

No Silence on Race – Periphery Curriculum Workshopwww.nosilenceonrace.ca

Your local community!  Don’t forget your own local community resources and NGOs: 

Jewish Federations, Youth Groups, university departments of Jewish studies, as well as various organizations AND your local synagogues where the rabbis, education directors and volunteers would be happy to conduct class tours, facilitate interfaith programs, and/or provide speakers for your school. Local associations include, but are not limited to: Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM); Canadian Arab/Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group; Centre for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA); Enhancing Social Justice Education group (ESJE); Equity Summit Group (ESG); League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada; Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal;  Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR); Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF); JSpaceCanada; No Silence on Race; Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

See also:

Mock, K.R.  Recognizing (and Revitalizing) Multiculturalism.  Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy. http://thepearsoncentre.ca (2021) To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Multiculturalism Policy and to provide an overview of all the relevant Canadian policies, this paper was adapted for the Pearson Centre and updated from a presentation at the University of Victoria conference “Changing Multicultural Identities”, published by U Vic in 2002 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Multiculturalism Policy. That presentation was in turn based on a paper by Karen Mock published previously in Canadian Social Studies, 1997, Vol. 31, No. 3&4, entitiled: “25 Years of Multiculturalism – Past, Present and Future”.

Mock, K.R. Combatting Inequality and Supporting Jewish Identity (Perspective on Ways to Erase Hate) in Stop the Hate for Goodness Sake. By Andrew Campbell and Larry Swartz (2023) Pembroke Publishers Limited, p 65-69.  (edited version of this article)

NOTEThere are many more resources depending on the topic and your specific needs.  Do not hesitate to contact me if you feel I may be able to be of assistance for your and/or your students’or colleagues’ further needs by directing you to other resources.

[email protected]

Karen Mock

Karen R. Mock, Ph.D., C.M.*

*Dr. Karen Mock is a human rights consultant, educational psychologist and teacher educator. She is former Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, after being in teacher education for many years. Karen is qualified by the Canadian courts and human rights tribunals as an expert on human rights, discrimination, racism, antisemitism, hate crime and hate group activity. Well known as a dynamic lecturer and workshop coordinator, and for her interfaith and intercultural work, she is a founding active member of the Anti-racist Multicultural Educators’ Network /Equity Summit Group of Ontario, the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, the Arab Jewish Leadership Dialogue, and the Enhancing Social Justice Education group. Karen is the is Past President of JSpaceCanada, and currently Chair of the Board of the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy. Dr. Mock has received several awards and honours for her human rights work, most recently the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the Order of Canada.

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