The promise of the internet was that people could access unprecedented volumes of information for the benefit of themselves and society as a whole. What has regrettably proven to be the case is that it is a fount from which people draw to “prove” falsehoods they choose to believe – or, for nefarious reasons, claim to believe.
Amid the oceans of “information” online, it is sometimes difficult to tell what people genuinely believe as opposed to what they say they believe in public to mislead their audiences. For example, does the U.S. member of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene actually believe that reliance on solar energy means the lights will go out when the sun goes down? Or is her apparent stupidity a deliberate foil for her support of polluting energy sources? If she believes what she said, this is misinformation. If she knows she is telling a lie, it is disinformation.
The terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” are sadly necessary to understand what is happening in our era, as we have said in this space before and feel moved to repeat. In few places is this difference as consequential as in discussions of the history of the Holocaust.
Correspondence between Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and right-wing journalist Bronislaw Wildstein (and two others) leaked last week defines some of the world’s foremost Holocaust scholars as “enemies of the entire Polish nation.” There is other chilling language in the back-and-forth, detailing how top Polish authorities are expending enormous energies to rewrite the history of Polish collaboration in the Shoah.
A 2018 law forbids any suggestion that the Polish state or Polish people participated in Nazi crimes against Jews. International pressure saw the penalties for breaking this law reduced from a criminal conviction to a civil matter potentially resulting in a fine. But the intent and impact remain clear. Prof. Jan Grabowski, a Polish-born Canadian academic, and a Polish colleague, Barbara Engelking, were victorious in a 2021 appeal that saw an earlier court decision order to apologize to a descendant of a Shoah-era perpetrator for betraying Jewish neighbours to the German Nazis. But this court decision has not quenched the thirst for revisionism.
The obsession among top Polish officials on this subject is unabated. The email exchange includes the suggestion that Polish authorities should strategically coopt the Jewish experience in the Holocaust to their own benefit, recasting Poles as the Nazis’ primary targets and victims.
Poland also recently extended its Holocaust-related legislation to explicitly forbid financial restitution or compensation to survivors or their heirs.
The Polish government has steadfastly asserted that Nazi atrocities catastrophically affected non-Jewish Poles, which is plainly true. But two things can be true simultaneously. Many Poles were victimized by the Nazis and many Poles collaborated with the Nazis – and, in some cases, both involved the same individuals.
Wildstein, the journalist who seems to have the prime minister’s ear, makes threatening noises about top Holocaust research and archival bodies, including the Jewish Historical Institute, in Warsaw, and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and mentions “the possibility of introducing our people into their midst.” He accuses the Polish Centre for Holocaust Research of presenting “an almost obsessive hatred of Poles.”
There is paranoia in the idea that exposing historical truth is identical to hatred. Ironically, while Germany is the European country that has engaged in the most introspective contrition, as much as a society can hope to do for so unparalleled a crime, Poland has steadfastly dug in its heels. The society that bears more blame for complicity with the Nazis than any other is the one that is not only refusing to confront its grotesque past but most stridently whitewashing it.
All of this has led to strained relations between Israel and Poland. It should also be a source of friction with other countries, including Canada, partly because it is a Canadian citizen, Grabowski, who is among the most targeted objects of Polish scorn, and partly because all democracies should stand up to this appalling historical revisionism.
There is a grim silver lining in this “debate.” The Polish authorities understand, as too few in the world seem to, that history matters. What happened in the past informs our present and future. If they can recast the past, they can affect the future.
The question for us is whether we, as a society, have the same understanding of and commitment to historical power. Are those who seek truth as motivated as those whose goal is to subvert it?
Editor’s Note: For a contrary point of view, click here to read the letter to the editor that was published in the Jewish Independent’s Sept. 2/22 issue.
The explosive debate around abortion spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a woman’s right to reproductive self-determination reminds us that the Jewish perspective on the topic is nuanced.
“Jewish law approaches each case according to its particular circumstances,” notes an article at chabad.org. This central dictum of halachah, Jewish law, makes generalizations difficult. One thing is almost universally accepted: abortion can be halachically required if the life of the mother is in danger.
In 2015, 83% of American Jews told Pew Research Forum that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, which is more than any other religious group, a finding around Jewish support for reproductive choice that has been true for decades. However, a story from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently noted that a growing alignment between some Orthodox Jews and the Republican party in the United States has led a minority of Jews to adopt what has been largely a conservative Christian approach to the subject.
The Orthodox Union released a statement that they are “unable to either mourn or celebrate” the court’s overturning of Roe. Their position is that an outright ban is unacceptable under Jewish law, but that abortion should be limited to cases where the mental or physical health of the mother is at stake, with an emphasis on the preservation of life. Further, they stated that abortion should be available regardless of someone’s economic status.
The tectonic decision by the court, overturning 49 years of precedent set by the landmark Roe v. Wade case, has set in motion frenetic activity across that country and beyond. State officials have had the issue thrown into their laps. The United States will become a patchwork of regulations on the subject. The ruling has led to triumphant celebrations by opponents of abortion and it has reenergized those endorsing reproductive freedom. What all of this will mean, not only for abortion rights but for social movements and society more broadly, can only be remotely imagined at this point.
The abortion decision was only one of several massive reversals of existing norms the U.S. court issued in its session. In other cases, the court made it more difficult for lower jurisdictions to limit access to firearms, weakened the power of federal agencies to address climate change and struck down a ruling that limited prayer in public schools (in this specific case, Christian prayer at school football games).
The succession of cases throws down a gauntlet that most people – whatever their opinions – knew was coming when the former president appointed three justices to the court, creating a 6-3 conservative majority.
In many cases, though, these decisions are deeply out of step with what the majority of the population believes. Of course, court rulings should not necessarily mirror societal norms. Historically, courts have made society-altering decisions in spite of opposition – desegregating public schools against the wishes of white racists, for instance. Leaving aside philosophy, public opinion may not be able to impact a Supreme Court packed with political appointees (three of whom testified in their nomination hearings that the abortion question was settled law) but public opinion will change society.
Anti-abortion activists (and anti-climate, anti-secularism and anti-gun control activists) have been celebrating their big wins in these cases.
In 1973, as pro-reproductive choice activists were celebrating their Supreme Court win, a new movement was gaining its footing. It would develop into one of the biggest, most powerful movements in American history, a new conservatism that led, among many other social and economic changes, to the elections of Ronald Reagan, two Bushes and Donald Trump. And it accomplished one of the core objectives it set out to address: it tipped the scales of the Supreme Court and stripped women of rights they have had since 1973.
Those who were celebrating in 1973 are today experiencing a vast array of emotions: grief, disillusionment, fear. But also rage, determination and purpose.
As the Roe decision did in 1973, last month’s ruling will launch a new movement that, like the new conservatism before it, will address a broad range of social issues and injustices. It was impossible, 49 years ago, to foresee the changes that would come. Whichever side one may be on, be assured that we have entered a new era.
Criminalizing Holocaust denial would draw a moral line in the sand, say two advocates for legal action, but a lawyer and Canadian-Israeli former member of the Knesset has reservations.
Michal Cotler-Wunsh, head of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Institute for Aliyah Policy and Strategy and a former Israeli parliamentarian, acknowledged free speech concerns but focused more on the need for evidence-based decision-making before criminalizing those who question historical facts around the Shoah. She also noted that the countries that have adopted criminal sanctions against those who spread historical fabrications – Germany and France, for example – are among the very places where antisemitism is at its worst.
Sacha Ghozlan, a French legal expert and former president of the Union des étudiants juifs de France (Union of French Jewish Students), dismissed free speech concerns and warned against confusing cause and correlation between antisemitism and legal proscriptions.
“I don’t think you can draw a line between rising antisemitism in its new forms and the fact that a country has developed legislation to address rising Holocaust denial,” Ghozlan said.
Dr. Carson Phillips, managing director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, in Toronto, generally agreed with Ghozlan. Holocaust denial and expressions of hatred should not be protected grounds based on free speech arguments, he said.
“I don’t see this so much as a freedom of speech,” he said. “This is really an abuse of speech.… Does the listener have to be exposed to hate speech and an abuse of free speech?”
He argued that “putting a fence around free speech” is legitimate in cases where historical revisionism can lead to expressions of hatred.
The three speakers were panelists in an event presented by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) March 29, titled Perspectives on Criminalizing Holocaust Denial.
A private member’s bill introduced in Parliament by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kevin Waugh would amend the Criminal Code section that prohibits inciting hatred “against an identifiable group” to include “communication of statements, other than in private conversation, that wilfully promote antisemitism by condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust.”
Phillips contextualized Holocaust denial as a threat to Canadian society.
“The Holocaust is often [viewed] as being one of the foundational cornerstones of modern human rights and an attack on the Holocaust is certainly an attack on Canadian values and Canadian democracy and it needs to be taken very seriously,” he said.
While he supports criminalization, he acknowledged that this is only a part of the solution.
“I am an educator,” he said, adding that education has to exist alongside legal prohibitions.
“To me, it’s not an either/or situation, it’s a combination,” he said. “I see this as really strengthening and working together.”
Legislating against Holocaust denial would send a societal message, Phillips argued.
“It’s really important to draw a moral line,” he said. “In Canada, where we are a pluralistic society with strong democratic values, I think this is one example of a way of being able to draw a moral line in the sand and being able to say there are certain abuses of free speech that will not be tolerated and for very good reasons because we know where this can lead – obviously, to the Holocaust. But also looking at it from the perspective that Holocaust denial is a form [of], and leads to, antisemitism but it is also an attack on democratic values, which we value so much within the Canadian context.”
Ghozlan said that social media companies have faced calls to pull down expressions of hatred and Holocaust denial, but have often demurred based on the free speech assurances of the U.S. Constitution.
“But it’s not freedom of speech, it’s fake news,” he said. Advocates need to “level up pressure on social media, explaining to them that Holocaust denial is not about freedom of speech but it’s about an abuse of freedom of speech,” he said.
Cotler-Wunsh, former Blue and White party member of the Knesset and Canadian-raised step-daughter of legal scholar and former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, said she has always been a fighter against antisemitism. But she raised red flags around the issue of free expression and focused more narrowly on whether a prohibition on Holocaust denial would have the desired outcome.
“Does the criminalization of Holocaust denial in fact meet the goal of combating antisemitism?” she asked. Banning Holocaust denial – which is easily debunked – may simply be a feel-good act that is “low-hanging fruit” in the battle against anti-Jewish hate and might detract from the bigger responsibility to remain vigilant, contest mistruths in the marketplace of ideas and educate, rather than merely seek to silence, she said.
Canada already has fairly robust legal consequences for hate expressions and Cotler-Wunsh warned that new laws that are difficult to administer, or that sit on the books without being enforced, could have the opposite of the intended effect.
By example, she said, a recent controversy around the Holocaust represents a missed opportunity. After Whoopi Goldberg said on the TV show The View that the Holocaust “was not about race,” she was suspended from the show for a period.
“I would have argued, if anybody would have asked me, that that was a great, great missed opportunity,” said Cotler-Wunsh. It was “exactly the moment to educate the millions of viewers of that show and be able to utilize that opportunity to engage in what the Holocaust was about.”
Education, while slow, is the only answer, she contended.
“At the end of the day, education is the key and that is one of the hardest things to say because it actually is the longest process,” said Cotler-Wunsh. “There is no quick fix in education.”
Where compulsion should be exercised, she said, is on social media platforms, which she said should adopt and implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
She worries that passing legislation against Holocaust denial might let elected officials off the hook. She imagines legislators thinking, “Oh we’ve done something. We confronted antisemitism, when in fact data and empirics may show that criminalizing Holocaust denial hasn’t actually made a dent in the rising antisemitism in Europe 30 years [after some countries criminalized it].”
Cotler-Wunsh, Ghozlan and Phillips were in discussion with Emmanuelle Amar, director of policy and research in CIJA’s Quebec office. The event was opened and closed by Jeff Rosenthal, co-chair of the national board of CIJA.
On March 30, Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti announced a new expert advisory group on online safety as the next step in developing legislation to address harmful online content.
While online platforms play a central role in the lives of Canadians, bringing many benefits to society, they can also be used as tools to cause real and significant harm to individuals, communities and the country. Harmful content, such as hate speech, sexual exploitation of children and incitement to violence, is published online every day. There are no broad regulatory requirements in Canada that apply to platforms regarding their responsibilities in relation to such content.
The expert advisory group will be mandated to provide advice on a legislative and regulatory framework that best addresses harmful content online. The group is composed of diverse experts and specialists from across Canada: Amarnath Amarasingam, Queen’s University; Bernie Farber, Canada Anti-Hate Network; Chanae Parsons, community activist and youth engagement specialist; David Morin, Université de Sherbrooke; Emily Laidlaw, University of Calgary; Ghayda Hassan, Université du Québec à Montréal; Heidi Tworek, University of British Columbia; Lianna McDonald, Canadian Centre for Child Protection; Pierre Trudel, Université de Montréal; Signa A. Daum Shanks, University of Ottawa; Taylor Owen, McGill University; and Vivek Krishnamurthy, University of Ottawa.
The advisory group will hold nine workshops to discuss various components of a legislative and regulatory framework for online safety. They will also take part in additional stakeholder engagement, including with digital platforms. The work of the advisory group will be open and transparent. The group’s mandate, the supporting materials for each session, and non-attributed summaries of all sessions and discussions, will be published.
“We conducted a consultation last year and released the What We Heard Report earlier this year,” said Rodriguez. “It’s clear that harmful online content is a serious problem, but there is no consensus on how to address it. We’re asking the expert advisory group to go back to the drawing board. We need to address this problem openly and transparently as a society.”
Facts and figures on online violence in Canada include that:
62% of Canadians think there should be more regulation of online hate speech;
58% of women in Canada have been victims of abuse online;
80% of Canadians support requirements to remove racist or hateful content within 24 hours;
one in five Canadians have experienced some form of online hate;
racialized Canadians are almost three times more likely to have experienced harmful behaviour online;
there was a 1,106% increase in online child sexual exploitation reports received by the RCMP National Child Exploitation Crime Centre between 2014 to 2019.
“Too many people and communities are victimized by harmful online content that is often amplified and spread through social media platforms and other online services,” said Lametti. “The Government of Canada believes that Canadians should have protection from harmful online content, while respecting freedom of expression.”
– Courtesy Canadian Heritage
Also on March 30, the Canadian Coalition to Combat Online Hate announced the launch of their new website, combatonlinehate.ca, providing youth, parents, educators and policymakers with strategic tools to be effective in their efforts to identify and combat online hate.
“Canadians are exposed daily to a barrage of hateful and divisive online messages that pollute social media forums with content that is antisemitic, anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Indigenous, misogynistic, Islamophobic and homophobic, and that promotes conspiracy theories. These posts, videos and memes are easily discoverable and readily shared, often masked by anonymity or given undue credibility,” said Richard Marceau, vice-president, external affairs and general counsel at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). “We know that online hate can become real-life violence. Hate-motivated murders at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue stand as notable examples. It is incumbent on all of us, before it is too late, to combat online hate with the most effective tools available.”
According to a 2021 survey by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 42% of respondents have seen or experienced hateful comments or content inciting violence online, and younger and racialized Canadians are significantly more likely to be confronted with this hate. The same study indicated that 93% of Canadians believe that online hate speech and racism are problems, of which 49% believe they are “very serious” problems. Findings also showed that at least 60% of Canadians believe that the federal government has an obligation to pass regulations preventing hateful and racist rhetoric and behaviour online. Only 17% prefer no government involvement at all.
“We saw COVID exacerbate online hate exponentially, as stress levels and political division rose amid lockdowns. By working together, we can make the communities we are building online – and, by extension, the communities we inhabit offline – safer places for all Canadians,” said Marceau.
The website combatonlinehate.ca is organized by the Canadian Coalition to Combat Online Hate, funded by Canadian Heritage and powered by CIJA.
It’s no secret that antisemitism around the world has been increasing for years. As recently as Sept. 30, MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert saw his office window hit with a spray-painted red swastika. Make no mistake: there is no place for antisemitism in our world. That’s why Chabad Richmond is offering the four-week Rohr Jewish Learning Institute program called Outsmarting Antisemitism on Wednesdays Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24 from 7:30-9 p.m.
“Join me each week as we explore the ethical impacts of history repeating itself, both within the Jewish community and beyond, by those who believe that antisemitism and hatred are accepted and encouraged practices and attitudes,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond.
Outsmarting Antisemitism takes on this subject directly and unapologetically, with a sense of optimism, faith and a distinctly Jewish approach.
“Through insightful source texts and fascinating case studies, this course examines the sources of this ancient scourge, along with the appropriate strategies for overcoming it. It’s time to find the confidence to fight hate with hope, and to stand tall against antisemitism,” said Baitelman.
“Upon concluding our series Outsmarting Antisemitism, you will be better equipped to campaign publicly against those who oppose both Israel and the Jewish people, and ensure we do everything possible to condition society to bring out the best in humans, rather than their more sinister elements,” he added.
Outsmarting Antisemitism will be offered both in-person and online via Zoom. Sign-in information will be provided at the time of registration. The cost to attend is $75 per person or $130 per couple, and includes the textbook.
This course will also be offered to lawyers for B.C. Law Society accreditation on Nov. 25, Dec. 2, 9 and 16 from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and will take place in person, at Chabad Richmond, 4775 Blundell Rd. The cost is $540 including textbook and the course is applicable for eight CLE approved credits.
An important – and surprising – court decision in Poland last month is a small victory in a longer battle over the history of Polish behaviour during the Second World War.
On appeal, two Holocaust scholars had an earlier decision reversed. University of Ottawa professor Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, a Polish historian of the Holocaust, had earlier been ordered to apologize to a Polish woman who brought a suit against the two, arguing that her family’s name had been tarnished by the historians’ depictions of her uncle’s actions during the war. The case was watched closely, and its appeal is significant, as it could portend how Poland’s judiciary approaches a comparatively new law that proscribes negative depictions of Polish complicity during the war.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party is a right-wing nationalist movement that seeks to glorify Polish heroism during that era and erase – indeed, outlaw – records that demonstrate the complicity in atrocities by individual Poles and segments of that society during the Holocaust.
Grabowski and Engelking are on the frontlines of that conflict. They head a team of researchers that produced Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland, a compendious 1,700-page documentation of Polish atrocities during the war. The researchers, at risk to themselves, delved into often-untouched archival records in small and remote communities across Poland. In a presentation in Vancouver three years ago, Grabowski explained that, after the war, a surprising number of Poles felt no obligation to hide or embroider their activities during that period, content that their neighbours, if not history, would judge them kindly. The researchers plumbed files that had not been opened since 1945 and discovered harrowing tales of neighbour turning on neighbour, of Jews in hiding listening as their former friends pointed out their whereabouts to the Nazis and their collaborators.
The work is monumental and is being translated into English. It also indicates the breadth and depth of Holocaust history that has yet to be even remotely explored. The big picture, certainly, is well known – to the extent that plenty of people complain that it is time to move on from the topic. But the work of Grabowski et al reminds us that, in terms of millions of stories of individuals, heroic and wicked, we have hardly scratched the surface.
This is why the Polish law, and the intent behind it, is so dangerous. The problem is not merely the suppression of what we already know to be true, it is the very tangible possibility that current scholarship will be curtailed and that potential future scholars will choose less arduous fields of study. In either case, the crucial primary research still underway could be squelched.
This urgency was underscored by the publication Tuesday of a new book, Into the Forest: A Holocaust Story of Survival, Triumph and Love by Rebecca Frankel, former executive editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Writing in the New York Times Sunday, Frankel shared the story of one family who survived the war in Poland by hiding in the forests. The “Jews of the forest,” as she calls them, are an example of a massively underexplored facet of Holocaust history. The narratives of these Jews – some of whom survived the war, many or most of whom apparently did not – are absent from most chronologies because, by definition, those who survived (or did not) by disappearing into the forests were not included in the record-keeping of the Nazis and their collaborators.
We know from opinion surveys that there is an enormous amount of ignorance, particularly among the young in North America and Europe, about the Holocaust. In a notable irony, a major survey of European societies discovered that the countries where the largest number of people believes that there is too much emphasis on the Holocaust are the same countries where ignorance of the facts is greatest. In other words, it seems that those who know the least about that history are the ones most determined to close their ears to it.
Prof. Grabowski, who was born in Poland, was evasive in his visit to Vancouver in 2018, deflecting assertions that his work is heroic. Instead, he credited the courage of the on-the-ground researchers in Poland. There should be enough admiration to go around for the researchers, historians, writers and teachers who continue the necessary work of studying and sharing knowledge of that time.
As we have seen from the past seven decades, knowledge of the past does not preclude repetitions of genocide. But ignorance will almost certainly hasten its frequency and severity.
Two bills recently introduced by the federal government are aimed at reducing online hate and putting some controls on the anarchic world of online commentary. Some, like Jewish community organizations, have been calling for stronger rules to deal with rampant online vitriol. Others, like civil liberties groups, balk at any incursions into unfettered expression. It might not matter anyway.
Bill C-36 is intended to crack down on online hate, something Jewish community advocates and many others have been supporting since a similar section of the Canadian Human Rights Act was repealed in 2013 over concerns around free expression. Groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have expressed apprehensions over the new bill, as they had over the repealed section.
The bill would make it an offence to make statements on the internet that are “likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” It would target commentary that is “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor.”
The bill defines hate as “the emotion that involves detestation or vilification and that is stronger than dislike or disdain,” and is not merely language that “discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.”
A different piece of legislation, Bill C-10, is also aimed at online content. In this case, the government would require platforms, such as social media and video streaming sites, to enforce guidelines that extend Canadian content rules, which have long governed radio and TV, to the internet. Again, critics say this is an infringement on the freedom of expression.
Both bills attempt to walk a line between free speech and the government’s attempts to encourage particular outcomes. They are likely to please some and they are likely to offend many. Both are probably founded on the best intentions, but, as critics have pointed out, Canada already has hate-speech laws that apply online and off.
Given the chaotic efforts of social media companies themselves to enforce guidelines for conduct and to curtail hate speech, it is difficult to imagine how legislation would provide a clearer guide to online etiquette. More worrying is the possible chaos that human rights tribunals and courts might have thrust upon them if Canadians begin reporting thousands or millions of problematic online statements.
We should be wary of heavy-handedness not only because the proposed laws hand a lot of arbitrary decision-making power to government or judicial overseers, but also because it is unwise to bury hateful ideas. The best way to confront hate and extremism is to shine a light on it, not to force it onto emerging platforms created specifically to give shelter to the most extreme people and ideas.
However, this all might be moot because Parliament has recessed for the summer. If, as many speculate, a federal election is called before Parliament resumes, these pieces of legislation would die. If the Liberals were to be reelected, they could reintroduce the bills. Conservatives have charged that the two proposed laws are “virtue signaling,” as much about campaign fodder as substantive change. The NDP and Bloc voted in favour of Bill C-10, with the NDP asserting that the “modernization of the law is necessary for [the] cultural ecosystem.”
Whatever the fate of these two bills, the fight against hate (online and off) will continue. We have long contended that the most powerful response to hateful words is more words – words that heal and educate. The online world is a jungle of facts and fictions, wonder and woe, insights and insanity. It is, perhaps, like the larger world, only condensed onto a small screen that amplifies the most fringe and sensational voices. Criminalizing those voices may or may not bring the result most of us seek, which is a kinder world. That said, contesting the worst of the online world is a Sisyphean task that we cannot abandon.
The medium is the message, said Marshall McLuhan, who died long before ordinary people heard the word “internet.” The anonymity and unruliness of the internet has no doubt helped to create a toxicity in our culture. But, while we should take seriously dangerous ideas online, we should remember that these are symptoms of strains in society and not solely products of the technology. Addressing online hate demands returning to first things and addressing all forms of hatred and division in our society. Fixing the online dialogue demands changing minds – and that has been the challenge since long before the advent of the internet.
Members of the Jewish community, as well as members of various professional organizations, are calling on the government of British Columbia to do more to regulate practising therapists and counselors in the province.
According to the Federation of Associations of Counseling Therapists in British Columbia (FACTBC), which is at the forefront of the campaign for this change, there is currently no regulatory body for counseling therapists in the province and, therefore, there are no regulatory standards for the work that counseling therapists do.
As it stands, they claim, someone can call themselves a mental health professional in British Columbia without having the checks that exist elsewhere in Canada. This, FACTBC points out, differs significantly from Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, which have all established regulatory bodies to oversee who can become a mental health professional. And, they add, the remaining provinces have done more than British Columbia when it comes to the consideration of implementing regulation.
A member of the Jewish community recently came to the Independent with her story. In her attempts to remove a social worker from her mother’s life, she encountered what she believes were numerous inadequacies within the present system regarding the protection of the public’s interest and confidence.
“When we seek the help of doctors and nurses, there is a protected title that tells us the person is qualified and safe and that there is a professional regulator to back up this promise,” she said. “Regulation protects people from harm. I cannot change the events of the past, but I can take from that experience and do what I can to ensure that all our citizens are protected, moving forward.
“I knew,” she added, “and had confirmed by other counselors and social workers that what this registrant was doing was in violation of their professional code. I saw my mother become further isolated from friends and family, while her health continued to decline both mentally and physically, while in this registrant’s care.”
The community member filed a complaint with the B.C. College of Social Workers (BCCSW). “Through this experience, I saw firsthand the lack of transparency in the complaint and discipline process that gives social workers the ability to enter negotiated complaint resolution agreements (CRAs) in exchange for keeping matters confidential. How can the public have confidence in regulators if the public is not aware of actions taken by regulators to protect them?” she wondered.
The community member then did what many who lack the financial means could not: she filed a civil claim against the social worker. She was not looking for money, she told the Independent; rather, she was looking for accountability and safety.
In the end, the woman and her family received an apology from the registrant and a promise to not repeat the following conduct: failing to differentiate between professional and personal boundaries; creating a situation of dependence with clients; and failing to limit their practice within the parameters of their competence.
“The college, in their inquiry decision, acknowledged that the time the registrant spent with my mother and the amount the registrant billed were not reasonable. I am not sure I will ever be able to fully reconcile with the events that occurred over a three-year span at the hands of a social worker, who was a friend at the time, and [that] I helped facilitate the introduction to my vulnerable, senior mother,” the woman said.
“To help with my own personal healing,” she added, “I elected to join FACTBC’s stakeholder table. I hope to lend my voice to ensure social workers, counseling therapists and emergency medical assistants who deal with our most vulnerable citizens are recognized as health professionals and regulated under the Health Professions Act.”
For Shelley Karrel of Jewish Addiction Community Services (JACS) Vancouver, the importance of regulation for counselors in British Columbia cannot be overstated. “For counselors working in the area of addiction and recovery, it is critical to know the importance of assessment, understanding the various stages of addiction, being able to identify the options available for treatment and recovery,” she said.
Karrel explained that understanding co-morbidity – i.e., the presence of one or more additional conditions – of mental health issues with addiction requires psychotherapists and counselors to have the proper training and education to know how to help clients deal with their various challenges.
“Having counseling fall under a regulated body will give clients the assurance they are dealing with qualified professionals who have to meet professional standards of practice, ongoing continuing education and clinical supervision,” she stated.
According to Glen Grigg, a Vancouver clinical counselor and the chair of FACTBC, “proper regulation will prevent consumers from harm. A consumer should not have to guess whether the therapist is equipped to deliver the services they promise. Moreover, when harm is done, it is important to know that a registrant’s college has the power to bring restoration and remediation when harm has occurred.”
FACTBC, which is comprised of 14 professional organizations that represent 6,000 mental health professionals in the province, is asking for safety and accountability. On professional title, it recommends one legislative authority and one coherent and fair process that prevents harm and has the power to act accordingly when harm has been done.
The B.C. government has said that it will first implement modernization of the health professions regulatory system – a step that FACTBC enthusiastically supports – and then give attention to the mental health system.
To Grigg, “this response comes down to saying, in effect, ‘despite the opioid crisis and mental health fallout from the pandemic, we can defer this issue.’ When pressed for what is intended after a new regulatory process is put into place, timeline unknown, the response is that government will ‘recommend’ that professions, such as counseling therapy and social work, become a ‘priority.’ A recommendation to a yet-to-be created bureaucracy falls far short of commitment and action.”
Grigg added, “FACTBC has been advocating for public protection where counseling therapy is concerned for more than 20 years and have heard, over and over, variations on the theme, ‘Yes, of course, we are going to protect the public, but later, at a time we’re not prepared to specify.’”
FACTBC does give the province credit for creating a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions – a huge step forward, in their view, as was the $5 million the province put towards increasing mental health services. What the government needs to do to follow up on this momentum is to regulate counseling therapy, they assert.
At present there is no way of accurately ascertaining how many practising counselors there are in British Columbia. However, Grigg cites what Ontario discovered. In that province, in the time since they implemented statutory regulation on counseling therapists, they found that half the people providing services did not have any form of registration or certification.
“That’s dangerous,” said Grigg. “And we suspect that the situation in B.C. is similar but, because there is no central authority, even the scale of the problem is guesswork.”
He stressed, “It’s easy to see why this is so crucial. Suppose you were sick or injured and went to your local clinic or emergency department and discovered that it was up to you to figure out whether the people working there really were nurses and doctors, and whether they were qualified to provide care? That’s what people looking for counseling services are up against every day in B.C. There is no single title, like doctor or nurse or dentist or pharmacist, that identifies qualified and accountable counseling therapists.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Afghanistan is seeking to repatriate a 1,200-year-old siddur, which is currently housed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. (photo from Museum of the Bible)
The National Museum of Afghanistan, established in 1919 at the former Bagh-i-Bala royal palace overlooking Kabul, reflects both the multifaith heritage and tortured history of the Central Asian country that once dominated the Silk Road linking Europe and East Asia.
Following the outbreak of Afghanistan’s civil war in 1992, the museum was repeatedly shelled. It suffered heavy damage in a May 12, 1993, rocket strike. The combination of Taliban mortars and looters resulted in the loss of 70% of the 100,000 prehistoric, Hellenistic, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Islamic and Jewish objects once in its collection. Those pilfered artifacts flooded antiquities markets in London, Paris, New York and elsewhere. Now, the pro-Western regime of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai – formerly an anthropology professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. – wants its cultural legacy returned. Among the treasures it is seeking to repatriate is a 1,200-year-old siddur (prayer book) – the world’s oldest Hebrew manuscript after the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“It is our responsibility to get back our ancient treasures,” said Abdul Manan Shiway e-Sharq – the country’s deputy minister for information and publications in the Ministry of Information and Culture – in the first-ever on-the-record interview between an Afghani official and an Israeli journalist.
Shiway e-Sharq said photos of the ancient siddur in Kabul’s National Museum, dating from 1998, contradict the ownership documents provided by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The MotB says it bought the siddur in 2013 from antiquities dealers in the United Kingdom who provided provenance documents showing the manuscript had been in Britain since the 1950s. The MotB paid $2.5 million for the prayer book. Though Shiway e-Sharq appraised the unique volume at $30 million for insurance purposes, it truly is priceless.
The prayer book may have belonged to the Radhanites, a little-known group of medieval merchants, some Jewish, who traded along the Silk Road linking Christian Europe, the Islamic world, China and India during the early Middle Ages. The Radhanites’ entrepôts and Afghanistan’s early Jewish community were likely destroyed in the 12th and 13th centuries, as the Mongol Empire grew from the steppes of Mongolia to extend from Europe to China.
Responding to a query, MotB’s chief curator Jeff Kloha said the museum will share results of an investigation when completed.
“As noted on the museum’s provenance research web page, museum staff continues to work with external scholars and experts to research this item’s historical and religious significance, as well the item’s history in (apparently) Afghanistan and later Israel and the United States,” Kloha said. “That research is progressing and nearing completion.”
The allegation that the MotB’s rare Afghan Hebrew prayer book is another ancient Near Eastern treasure that was smuggled out of its country of origin is the latest in a series of scandals about looted and forged antiquities that has rocked the Museum of the Bible since its 2017 opening.
The MotB recently shipped 8,000 clay tablets back to Baghdad that may have been taken from the Iraq Museum in 2003, when looters overran it during the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. At the end of January 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security returned 5,500 papyrus fragments from the MotB with “insufficient” provenance to Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, concluding Cairo’s efforts since 2016 to regain its antiquities. And, the museum has acknowledged that all of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments it acquired are forgeries.
MotB founder Steve Green, an evangelical Christian whose family owns the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, and chief curator Kloha have worked to tighten the museum’s acquisition policies after the U.S. government reached a settlement with Hobby Lobby in 2017 requiring the chain store to pay a $3 million fine for illegally importing ancient artifacts.
Leon Hill, the in-house counsel for Transparent Business Solutions, a Dutch company that specializes in corporate integrity management, is keen to see a resolution to the dispute over the ancient siddur. He is dismissive of Green’s explanation that he and Kloha are novices in the museum business and the acquisition of artifacts. “They can’t continue to say that. They’re no longer new. They have a duty to know better. They have a duty to the history and heritage of the artifacts they purport to protect.”
He accused the MotB of “cultural imperialism.” He said, “We hope that we won’t need to be hired by the Afghan government, and that the Museum of the Bible will do the right thing in the right way quickly.”
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem.
Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, says the allegations of recruiting are unfounded. (Consul office photograph)
Last October, a coalition of foreign policy and Palestinian solidarity organizations delivered a formal complaint to David Lametti, justice minister and attorney general of Canada, alleging that Canadians are being recruited for the Israel Defence Forces. Accompanied by an open letter signed by more than 170 supporters, the complaint seeks an investigation into the actions of Israeli diplomats and consular officials, among others.
Under Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act, it is illegal for foreign militaries to recruit Canadians in Canada. In 2017, at least 230 Canadians were serving in the IDF, according to the army’s statistics. The coalition, composed of Just Peace Advocates, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, and the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, alleges that Israeli consular officials have invited Canadians to speak with IDF recruiting officers at the consulate and have sent IDF soldiers to speak at Canadian high schools. In a written statement to the Canadian Jewish Record, which was cited in an Oct. 28 article online, Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, said, “Any allegations against Israel in this matter are unfounded.”
The complaint drew some attention. Montreal-based newspaper Le Devoir reported on it in a front-page article on Oct. 19, under the headline “Israel criticized for recruiting on Canadian soil.” The article pointed to a recruiting invitation posted on the website of the Israeli consulate in Toronto in November 2019. “An IDF representative will conduct personal interviews at the consulate. Young people who wish to enlist in the IDF or anyone who has not fulfilled their obligations according to the Israeli Defence Service Law are invited to meet with him,” read the post, which included contact information to schedule appointments. Further investigations by Le Devoir yielded similar recruiting invitations from 2014 and 2018.
Baram said the invitations were directed only to Israelis. “In Israel, the law requires compulsory service,” she stated. “Every Israeli, male or female, must serve in the Israel Defence Forces. Israeli citizens living abroad are obligated to settle their status with the Israeli authorities.” According to the Foreign Enlistment Act, foreign representatives can recruit their own citizens in Canada, so long as the recruits are not also Canadian.
Baram acknowledged that recruiting officers may be sent to large Israeli communities to conduct interviews, citing Toronto as an example. According to the 2016 Census, however, roughly four out of five Israelis in Toronto are dual citizens, and approximately 3,125 Israelis in Toronto are not Canadian. When invited to clarify to which group the invitations were sent, the consulate declined.
The coalition’s concerns extend beyond Israeli or dual citizens, however. “Any suggestion that all Israel does is recruit their own citizens who have to do their military duty is complete nonsense,” said John Philpot, a Montreal-based criminal-defence lawyer and coalition spokesperson. The Devoir article reported on a visit by an IDF colonel to a Toronto denominational school “to talk about his experiences as a new recruit and as a senior commander.” On the same day the complaint was filed, The Canada Files published an article by Yves Engler, a Montreal-based writer and signatory to the letter, documenting what Engler considers to be extensive promotion of the IDF in Toronto Jewish day schools.
As one example, he pointed to a talk by Seth Frieberg, an IDF “lone soldier,” in January 2020 at TanenbaumCHAT, a Toronto Jewish high school and Frieberg’s alma mater. Lone soldiers are foreign recruits to the military without immediate family in Israel. Frieberg joined the Israeli army in 2013 and served 14 months as a paratrooper. In an interview last October, he credited his time at the Eretz Hatzvi Yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he spent a year after high school, for partly driving his decision to enlist. His teachers spoke highly about Eretz Yisrael, the biblical land of Israel, and the importance of living there. He said he felt a greater connection to Israeli Jews, to the country, and was drawn to and admired the soldiers. He returned to Canada to complete an undergraduate degree at Western University and joined the IDF the following year.
The roots of his idea, however, began before his gap year. He was also motivated by a family history with the Holocaust and a course at TanenbaumCHAT. Two of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors, one of whom, his grandmother, was active in Holocaust education. “She’d always talk about that, so I think I had this idea in my mind about the horrors of the Holocaust,” he said. In his Grade 12 history course, a connection was made between the Holocaust and Israel: he took from it the idea that “had Israel been there during the time of the Holocaust, [it] probably wouldn’t have happened.” In this and other ways, Frieberg said, he relies on Israel. “In the worst sense … if anything bad happened to Jews or myself in Canada, I always have Israel to go to.” He reasoned he should do something for Israel in return: “And that could be charity, volunteer, or going to the army.”
As part of TanenbaumCHAT’s IDF Day, the annual event at which Frieberg spoke, students wear olive-green IDF T-shirts, matching clothing, and sell baked goods with green icing to raise money for the military. By Frieberg’s estimates, he spoke to 80 students about his experience in the IDF, including patrolling the Lebanese border and West Bank, searching for three kidnapped youth, and operations in Gaza. Did his talk inspire others? He said, “You’d have to ask them…. I was just there to tell them my story.”
Last year’s events were organized under the leadership of Israelis and former IDF soldiers Ariel and Lee Kestecher Solomon. Ariel, the school’s Israel engagement shaliach, or emissary, was a commander in the IDF and volunteers with the Jewish Agency for Israel. According to the agency’s website, Israeli emissaries are sent to Jewish communities abroad for two to three years “to strengthen and deepen the mutual connection between Israel and members of the community.”
In his Canada Files article, Engler characterizes these activities – IDF Day, talks by lone soldiers, fundraising for the military, and former soldiers with extended placements in Jewish day schools – as enticement to join the IDF. When invited to comment, Renee Cohen, TanenbaumCHAT’s principal, did not respond to multiple requests.
Why countries like Israel might recruit foreign citizens is a puzzle that caught the attention of Kolby Hanson, post-doctoral fellow at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island. In a 2019 paper for Security Studies, he and co-author Erik Lin-Greenberg categorized the 25 countries that recruit non-citizens into three distinct groups. In an interview in October 2020, Hanson explained that countries either recruit for specific expertise or for sheer numbers to fill ranks, or, like Israel, “within narrow ethnic or commonwealth networks that are more symbolic programs.” As with India, Israel “[uses] the rules around their recruitment to make some statement about who they are and what the nation’s identity is.” Israel recruits foreign Jews for its military to assert its identity as a Jewish state and to establish deeper ties to Jewish communities abroad.
“Someone might grow up and say, ‘My cousin served in the IDF and that makes me feel like I’m really connected to Israel,’ or whether you know someone who came back after serving in the IDF,” said Hanson. Countries that recruit for symbolic reasons tend to have other programs, like expedited citizenship (as Israel has for Jews), to reinforce these ties.
The IDF itself is likely aware of the legal sensitivities around recruitment of Canadians. Hanson described an unusual exchange in an interview with Canadian IDF soldiers: “When we used the word ‘recruitment,’ we had a couple of people get tetchy…. They pounced on it and said, ‘No, no, it’s not recruitment. The IDF allows people to serve, but they don’t try to get people to.’”
In Canada, crossing the line into active recruitment is a legal issue. Unfortunately, it is not clear where exactly the line is. The Foreign Enlistment Act does not define recruitment, nor, according to Tyler Wentzell, doctoral student in law at the University of Toronto, is there case law.
A serving military officer and lawyer by training, Wentzell has published several articles on foreign recruitment and the history of the act. In an October 2020 interview, he said cases have been tried for recruiting for criminal or terrorist organizations, but not for the military of a sovereign state, for which the term would likely be interpreted differently.
“If you’re actually sworn into [a foreign] military in Canada, that definitely crosses the line,” he said, as would undertaking the stages of an intake funnel, including physical fitness and aptitude testing and evaluation. But, at earlier points, like attracting prospects, the line blurs. Is putting a Mountie on promotional material for Canada recruiting for the RCMP, asked Wentzell, or using a national symbol to promote the country? To complicate matters further, recruiting is also “a cultural sense that changes over time,” as with evolving Canadian attitudes towards high school rifle ranges and cadet corps.
In an October 2020 interview, Petty Officer Gian Barzelotti, a recruiter for the Canadian Armed Forces, described where he draws the line when recruiting in Canadian high schools. To students in Grade 10 or older, he advertises the benefits of joining the military, including a paid co-op program in which students can earn high school credit. With younger students, he emphasized, the CAF does not recruit. “We do talk about the military and who we are and what we do for Canada,” he said, but not about programs and benefits nor intake. “You’re not saying, ‘Go down this path and you’ll end up being in the military.’”
Tzofim Garin Tzabar, however, does just that. A branch of the Israeli Scouts that is 70% funded by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, Garin Tzabar describes itself as the “Israeli lone soldier IDF program.” Its online promotional video advertises an “unbelievable three months of one unforgettable absorption process,” “at least 20 new friends,” “a family for life,” and that 30% of its participants are accepted to the IDF’s officer and commander stream. It also lists an office in Toronto.
Likewise, in June 2020, Nefesh b’Nefesh, an Israeli absorption organization, advertised a webinar entitled “Joining the IDF” on the website of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. According to the event listing, the webinar featured “everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF,” including the lone soldier program, the structure of the military, preparatory Hebrew programs, and post-secondary degrees relevant to the IDF. Last year, Nefesh b’Nefesh facilitated the absorption of 390 lone soldiers from North America to Israel. Although the UJA Federation did not endorse the webinar, it did promote it on its website.
In practice, it seems the Canadian government has never done more than slap an offending party on the wrist. During the Vietnam War, said Wentzell, the U.S. army accidentally placed a recruiting ad in a Canadian magazine. “There was a great deal of correspondence back and forth saying, ‘Hey, could you lay off this?… The response was pretty consistently, ‘Yep, sorry.’”
The government maintains an interest in keeping Canadians out of foreign militaries and conflicts. Wentzell illustrated this by way of a Canadian who served in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war: “What happens when Benjamin Dunkelman gets in trouble on the other side of the planet? Do we get him home? Do we owe him anything? These were still live issues.” For the 200-plus Canadians serving in the IDF today, they still are.
“If Canada said to the Israeli consulate, ‘Stop all recruiting,’ [and] went to the schools and said, ‘You cannot have meetings where Israelis invite you to join the army’ … that would be a good step forward,” said Philpot.
To Philpot and the coalition, these acts are part of a “whole series of evidence” that point to IDF recruiting, including an event held by Deborah Lyons, Canadian ambassador to Israel. In January 2020, she hosted 33 Canadian IDF lone soldiers at her residence in Jerusalem to thank them for their service. “We at the embassy are very proud of what you’re doing. It’s really quite incredible,” she said. Philpot said all of this points towards recruitment.
Shortly after the complaint was filed, Lametti responded to questions in an unrelated press conference. He reiterated that Canadian law applies to foreign diplomats but referred calls for an investigation to the police and the public prosecution service. “I will leave the decision to the institutions we have in Canada to monitor the situation,” he said. In mid-November, the RCMP confirmed it was reviewing and assessing the evidence submitted.
Kevin Keystoneis a Toronto-based freelance writer, editor and researcher. His writing has been published in the Literary Review of Canada, the Jewish Independent and Good Old Boat.