For Jews around the world, 2023 was among the most traumatizing years in recent memory. The advent of a new secular year, the turning of the calendar page to 2024, presents a figurative new beginning, some optimism and hope for a potentially better time. These emotions do not come easily right now, which is why the results of a recently released opinion poll seem right for the times, reflecting a little darkness and a little light.
An Angus Reid poll asked Canadians their opinions on the prevalence of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice in Canada.
Addressing both types of prejudice – toward Jews and Muslims – 11% of respondents say there is “not really a problem at all in Canada.” However, about one in 10 respondents viewed antisemitism as a “minor problem” (11%), while 14% said the same about anti-Muslim hatred. More than half of respondents described antisemitism (52%) and anti-Muslim hatred (53%) as “a problem, but one among many others.” And just over one-quarter of respondents, 26%, said antisemitism is “a major problem requiring serious attention,” while 22% said the same about anti-Muslim hatred.
The overall impression left by the poll is that, among Canadians, there is genuine concern and recognition of these bigotries as an issue. Where more worrying numbers arise is when results are teased out based on Jewish and Muslim survey respondents. In both instances, perhaps unsurprisingly, members of the affected groups express the belief that the problems are of much greater severity than the general population seems to think. On the issue of anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice, 48% of Muslim respondents say it is a major problem, while 38% of overall respondents say it’s a problem, but one among many. The first number – with almost half of Muslims saying it is a major problem – is double that of overall respondents.
Meanwhile, 75% of Jewish respondents said antisemitism is a major problem – almost triple the number of overall respondents who thought so. While a vast majority of respondents see antisemitism as a problem, to varying degrees, Jewish respondents are far more likely to view the severity of antisemitism as greater. Conversely, Muslim respondents were almost three times as likely as overall respondents (32% versus 11%) to say antisemitism is “not really a problem at all in Canada.” Fully 49% of Muslim survey respondents said antisemitism is a minor problem or not really a problem, indicating a schism in appreciation of the problem between these communities. Jewish respondents were slightly more acknowledging than overall respondents toward anti-Muslim bias, with 26% calling it a serious problem (compared with 22% overall), 55% as a problem but one among many (versus 53%) and only 4% saying it is not really a problem at all (versus 11%).
Polling is an imperfect science and recent electoral surprises have indicated its shortcomings in dramatic ways. Nevertheless, a poll of this sort probably captures fairly effectively the zeitgeist of Canadian opinion.
One indication seems to be that members of groups affected by prejudice and discrimination view them as much more serious problems than people who are not directly affected. It is human nature to be more concerned about things that affect us directly. However, when there are significant divergences of opinion around the seriousness of a social problem between people who are directly affected and those who are not, it is, at a minimum, a sign of a communication issue and potentially signals a threat to multicultural cohesion.
One might wonder whether those who experience antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry are not doing an effective job of explaining their experiences to the larger community, or whether the larger community is not listening – or, perhaps, a combination of both circumstances is at play.
It is often said that the first step in confronting a problem is the simple acknowledgment of its existence. What is absolutely encouraging is the apparently overwhelming recognition that these are problems that need addressing. There has been, in human nature and across history, a tendency among many people who are not affected by racism to be oblivious to it or to actively deny that it exists. We are fortunate that, if this poll is to be believed, we do not need to convince our neighbours that bias and discrimination are issues.
As we look ahead to the rest of 2024, as Jews and Canadians, let’s dedicate ourselves to tangible solutions to these problems and to really listening to other communities when they tell us they are facing prejudice and discrimination. These are two of the challenges we need to rise to meet.