Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Passion of B'nai Brith

In yesterday's Globe & Mail, Oliver Moore reports that B'nai Brith of Canada is claiming that, "anti-Jewish incidents in Canada surged last year to the highest level ever recorded...,"
In its annual audit, the national wing of B'nai Brith said that 867 such incidents were reported in 2004 and warned that the number probably represents only about one-tenth of actual cases.

These incidents - three times as many as in 2000 and the most since records started being kept more than two decades ago were a mixture of harassment (53 percent) vandalism (43 percent) and violence (4 percent).
Such an increase in anti-Semitic activity is a matter of real concern for every Canadian and ought to be denounced in the most clear language by all. I do so, ... with one reservation.

Frank Dimant, the CEO of B'nai Brith in Canada, attributes a portion of this increase to Mel Gibson's film, the Passion of the Christ. He is quoted by the reporter as saying:
... the movie flies in the face of modern tolerance and is in addition to a "long list of anti-Semitic works throughout history.

We've progressed from the dark ages and the Middle Ages, we have moved forward, and this is really pulling us back into very dark ages that divide people," he said.

"We've made tremendous progress in terms of enlightenment and appreciating the differences and understanding the tragedies of inciting people with religious hatred. Christians and Jews have come a long way in that regard and it is very sad that Mel Gibson took it upon himself to move us back into, literally, the Middle Ages."
This is a very serious charge and one which must be examined very carefully. What evidence does Mr. Dimant mount to defend his view that Canada has literally plunged back into the Middle Ages. I suspect, of course, that he did not mean anything so positive. Have we started to build magnificent new cathedrals all over the land? Have we begun to erect new centres of learning to rival the medieval Catholic Universities of Paris, Oxford and Cambridge. Is there an explosion of interest in classical literature?

Of course, Mr. Dimant meant to focus, not on the very positive elements of the European Catholic Middle Ages, but on the anti-Semitism which was unquestionably prevalent in that society at that time. That being the case, it is incumbent on Mr. Dimant and the rest of us to maintain some perspective, if we can. Rome has not authorized the Government of Canada to conduct an Inquisition. Jews have not been expelled from Canada.

The Globe noted that incidents of harassment and violence against Jews actually declined while vandalism increased.
B'nai Brith worries that the danger may escalate because of Canadian complacency.

They point to the fire bombing of a Montreal school as a sign of what can happen when intolerance is not stopped and say that fear is driving some Jews to hide their faith.
Indeed, the most egregious and disgusting of the 34 anti-Semitic attacks in Canada last year was perpetrated by 19 year old Sleiman Elmerhebi, who burned the library at Montreal's United Talmud Torah school last Passover. He said his motive was Israel's actions in the Middle East. He did not mention Gibson's Passion of the Christ. He was sentenced to 40 months in jail for this hate crime. Frankly, I would have given him a longer opportunity for rest and reflection.

Elmerhebi was clearly not a Christian. Nor was he driven to anti-Jewish arson because of watching Mel Gibson's film. Full stop.

I believe that Mr. Dimant and B'nai Brith have an obligation to prove their assertion that the increase in Canadian anti-Semitic vandalism last year is attributable to The Passion of the Christ. To say it is attributable to the one line in the movie in which the crowd before Pilate called out (in Aramaic, without subtitles) that the blood of Jesus would, "be on us and on our children" beggars the imagination. It is simply not credible.

At the moment, according to B'nai Brith, the case rests on an apparent increase in vandalism concurrent with the movie's first months in theatres. How then does this explain the concomitant decrease in harassment and violence towards Jewish people in Canada during the same period? Resting the case on this flimsy evidence is not justifiable; particularly given that with the volatility of the Middle East, the increase in vandalism may be entirely due to a host of causes unrelated to the release of the movie.

If B'nai Brith cannot make a better case than appeared in my Globe & Mail yesterday, then it should apologize to Mr. Gibson and withdraw the charge. Then we can all focus on more likely reasons for the abhorrent increase in anti-Semitic activity in this country.


At 11:03 pm, March 29, 2005 , Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Mr. Dimant is not stupid.
Mel Gibson does not issue fatwas.

Richard Aubrey


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