My Jewish Friends are not OK

The news and social media are full of stories and images featuring demonstrations against Jews and the state of Israel. Toronto – my home city – is no exception but there have been demonstrations in all major Canadian cities just as there have been in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

My Jewish friends are not OK.

A friend sent an email to describe his feelings. I’m sharing those sentiments here as one small act of standing up for Israel and the Jewish people.

He begins with a statement of intent, which is to “describe how most Jews in Toronto, and generally in the Diaspora, are feeling, and why. It’s the “why” that deserves our attention, because we often know what we are feeling but cannot understand all the elements that got us there.” But let me get out of the way, so he can speak directly. It’s a long post (lightly edited), however the message is compelling and I urge you to read it through in order to gain understanding and empathy.

~~~

I am feeling a combination of fear, which is dominant, sadness which is pervasive, combined with indications of anger which will vary in intensity from time to time. I am anxious, having trouble sleeping, and am often tired. There has been so much loss, and there are so many uncertainties and the possibility of more loss. Based on my conversations with other Jews in my orbit, I am not alone.

One thing everyone seems to agree on – whether in Israel, in Canada or in other parts of the Diaspora, is that things are different now post 10/7 and not for the better. Whereas 5 years ago we were upbeat about our lives here in Canada, and positive about the future for us and for Israel, today everything is up in the air. For my part, I moved to code yellow in May of 2021 during the last Gaza conflict, and I have moved to code Orange now … not just because of what is going on in the Middle East, but rather because of what is taking place in our own country in response.

Not long ago, if you asked me about being a Jew living in Canada, I would have said that the time we are living in, and this country we have the privilege to be in, has offered an unparalleled ability to live full and valid lives as Jews, beyond almost any other place and time. And that has been true for many decades. But I am wondering if that golden age has ended.

Prior to the latest government coalition, my comments on Israel would have been exclusively positive. The Start Up Nation with growing GNP per capita, with a society that worked reasonably well despite major differences in some of its ethnicities, and all problems eminently solvable. Then the new coalition came, and again I was of the view that the “Israelis would figure it out” although many disagreed with me and felt the country could possibly implode.

Also, prior to 10/7 I would have said that Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East and is on the way to a positive Middle East revolution as the Abraham Accords were expanded to include the Saudis and perhaps others.

All that has changed after 10/7- and those changes have affected how I feel, created a great deal of concern and anxiety, and a fear of what comes next. Many of those fears are likely overblown, and the anxiety and fear are often the result of irrational thinking, which in some cases comes from simply ingesting too much information, from too many sources. I am by nature an optimistic person. I look for the bright side, and try to make the best of every day regardless of what challenges come my way. But I am also a rational actor, and the feelings I do have – anxiety, fear, sadness and anger – are there for good reason.

The first layer comes from what happened on 10/7. The number of those killed, the way they were killed, the injuries and emotional scars that can never be erased, the images, the videos, and sheer horror of it all is beyond comprehension. The largest pogrom since WW2 with a barbarity that exceeds most of the pogroms of the past. I imagine myself in that situation, imagine the loss and anxiety as a result of friends and family who are dead, injured or are hostages. I cannot get too close to the reality – it is too inhuman and my brain stops me from over-empathizing because it is too difficult.

Layer on top of that the sadness and the loss of trust in Israel’s security establishment in the total surprise at the nature and extent of the attack. The security fence was breached in many places. The IDF soldiers who were in the Gaza envelope responded heroically, but they were far too few. The IDF was misplaced, with most in the West Bank. The loss of faith in Israel’s ability to govern objectively and in the best interests of the people of Israel has shaken me. Many of us knew this coalition government was flawed, but what resulted was beyond comprehension. And what about the many people I know in Israel – will they ultimately be safe, will they be ok after this is over, and what will Israel become as a result
of this attack?

Whereas I would have said that if Canada becomes a place I cannot live, I could move to Israel, can I still say that comfortably? Can I trust certain elements of the government, certain elements of the society, to get it right? Is the IDF truly as magical and powerful as we had believed? These are all valid questions, and the fact that I cannot answer them conclusively in the positive is a major negative change.

But these two layers, centred as they are in Israel, are actually quite far way from us – at least physically. What is actually closer to home is what has happened in Canada and also nearby in the US immediately after 10/7. Let us be clear- terrorists invaded a democratic country and barbarically killed civilians as old as 85 and as young as a few months or less. The revelled in it. They were excited to “kill Jews” and they were proud. I would have thought that, as a result, Canadians, from our politicians to our senior political leaders to our academics would have reacted in horror and with support for the small Jewish community in Canada.

Posted on Twitter/X

Sure, I would have expected protests once the inevitable attacks began in Gaza as they must, and I cannot blame people, particularly those who are Palestinian, from being angered and sad at the bombing and deaths and destruction wrought in Gaza as Israel necessarily responded. (All of which under international law is the fault of Hamas)

But before the blood of the beheaded babies and burned and raped bodies had dried, on Saturday afternoon, the protests of certain people in Canada began. The Jewish state of Israel had just absorbed one of the most horrific attacks in recent memory, yet far too many in Canada were celebrating and protesting against the victim state of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.

Initially I was confused – how can these people be out protesting and cheering after such a barbaric attack? Today, as the bombs drop in Gaza, and as Palestinians are killed or injured and their homes demolished, even though this is the result of Hamas using them as human shields, I still feel badly for the Palestinians.

But I would never protest against the Palestinian people at a time like this, let alone celebrate their deaths. True, I would be happy to hear of Hamas being decimated … but not civilians, especially women and children. Who are these people [protestors on behalf of Palestine] behaving so badly after such a human tragedy? Do I really have to share a country with them?

I have similar feelings about other protests both here and elsewhere, and in reacting to the extreme radical and uncaring views of so many in the academic community. I know of Jews who have been attacked on the street here in Toronto, and we have likely all read about several Jewish businesses being attacked as well.

Is this country Canada permanently changed such that people celebrate atrocities in large numbers? When I was at the anti-semitism conference in Ottawa, a conference that was focused not on undercutting any other groups in Canada, but on finding ways to reduce racism against Jews, there was
actually a protest which took place as the conference concluded. That protest of about 600 to 700 people, forced us, in the major venue of our capital city, to have to walk out the back door at the request of the police to avoid a fracas or worse. We are a victimized people trying to figure out how to deal with anti-semitism, and they had to protest that. Really?

And the protests are ugly, with chants which are both threatening to us as Jews and to Israelis. The stupidity and lack of knowledge I can live with and expect, although it’s incredibly disappointing. But “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”, which is their favourite chant, is beyond aggressive and nothing more than a call to kill 8 million Jews. As a result, we Jews in our native country of Canada, whether first, second, third or later generations of Canadian, feel at risk.

These so-called protestors appear dangerous in word, and potentially in deed. And these are people who share my country, and clearly they have no regard for anything I do, any help I provide to the broader community, and the building that many of us do to make Canada a better place. It appears they simply hate us with a vengeance that cannot be reasoned with.

Sure, there are some green shoots. At the Ottawa conference, it ended with all four party leaders speaking – no, the NDP and Bloc did not say all the things we would have liked, but they came and showed respect in doing so, and we responded accordingly. And our Prime Minister, although he handled the fake news parking lot bombing terribly, and has still not apologized, spoke clearly about Israel’s right to defend itself and our right as Canadians to be and feel safe. And as you might have expected, the Leader of the Opposition, Pierre Poiliviere delivered an exceptional speech which was exactly what needed to be said – and he was applauded over and over again, by the audience and by other politicians. And they were all on the stage as Irwin Cotler was honoured, all at a Jewish event dealing with anti-Jewish racism. And I met a decent man, The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Defence, who has been front and centre in supporting we Jews and Israel which was positive.

And yes, we all have non Jewish friends – some who attended the conference, and others who have reached out for support. And while I am not generally a Biden fan, he has said and done more than I can remember any other president doing in the face of an existential threat for Israel. And yes, Israelis themselves have gotten it together and reunited after almost imploding in order to fight the enemy, and make Israel a place where one can feel and be safe. Our police services at least in Toronto and York, have been exceptional. And I do believe that Israel will be successful in rooting out Hamas once and for all, because they must. Some corporate leaders have been unequivocal in condemning the atrocities and the
organizations and individual leaders behind them. And our own Jewish communities in the diaspora have come together incredibly well in response to the challenges, both in support of Israel and of our own communities. Just today I read of Walmart offering a major donation and outright support for Israel in its task of eliminating Hamas.

So all is not totally bleak. But it feels like we are at a precipice … here in Canada, in the US, in Israel and in the West in general. I cannot help but notice that our Canadian government feels forced into a position approaching moral equivalence in responding to Israel and Hamas for political reasons, though there is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. And of course, I fear the lives lost on both sides as the necessary incursion takes place in order to rid Israel and the Palestinians of Hamas.

But then, after trying to be optimistic, I return to a sense of chagrin and fear in reading about what is taking place on almost all campuses, the lack of regard for our Jewish humanity, the turning upside down of reason, the sheer ignorance of those involved and the incredibly clever manipulation by many ideological leaders as they manipulate ignorance towards malevolent intent and actions. And while our non Jewish friends and allies are often supportive, only some groups and corporations have actually stood up and been counted.

So many things to be aware of, so many fears, so much to be sad about, angry about, and afraid of – it boggles the mind. The layers of emotion are many and varied. The outcomes are uncertain. And we have little control over how our lives may change. That is all worthy of at least some level of anxiety.

~~~

I’ve just read Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State. In it she recounts the conditions that led to the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Erdogan, Putin and others. A few quotes from the book to position today’s abusive behaviour towards Jews with Fascist leaders that Albright writes about. [More on this book in a later post.]

Hitler told his followers that “Germany had been betrayed … by a treasonous cabal of greedy bureaucrats, Bolsheviks, bankers, and Jews.” Antisemitism became the ideology of those who felt cheated.

“In a true democracy, leaders respect the will of the majority but also the rights of the minority.” [D]emocracy is a view of life, it requires a belief in human beings, in humanity.” “Democracy is a discussion. But the real discussion is possible only if people trust each other and if they try fairly to find the truth.

“There is, however, a tipping point where loyalty to one’s own tribe curdles into resentment and hatred, then aggression toward others.” Fascism feeds on such resentments, and “on social and economic grievances.”

And here we are: blaming the victims of Hamas’ terrorist attacks. Using the Jewish people as scapegoats. Not standing up for meaningful discussion and instead tolerating hate and hateful statements. I am afraid for what might follow. A country like Canada and a cosmopolitan city like Toronto should make it clear that the kind of outrageous statements in support of Hamas are unacceptable.

This is what Jews around the world are dealing with. They deserve our support and understanding. Think for a moment of the 1930s in Germany and the many barbaric acts against Jews that took place at that time and during the war that followed. Would you have stood up in their support or would you have closed your eyes to injustice and been complicit?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION – AND OCCASIONAL PERSONAL POSTS –  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.


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12 Responses

  1. I a, not Jewish, but rather, a Jewish friend and family supporter. I read your pain and sense of betrayal with a strong sense of sadness. I am in the US, and read your blog regularly. We must end this madness, but I too see no way for it to end. I am ultimately responsible for my one to one interaction, and humanity, and so I grieve for all the losses of people’s family and homes, the suffering always borne by the person in the street, the employee, the grandmother, the laborer — each of whom has no desire for any of this destruction. Thank you for sharing, as a writer must, your thoughts and your inner turmoil as the compass of the world shifted.

  2. Mary, Thank you for sharing this. It echoes and amplifies what I have heard from a friend in Jerusalem. No matter how much Israel’s policies have contributed to Hamas’ rise and to Palestinian hatred, we cannot lose sight of the existential threat Israel faces. For all our horror at the innocents killed in Palestine, we must recognize that they are the victims of the fanaticism, brutality and contempt for human life of their own leaders.

    1. So true, Helena. And where is that condemnation happening? Definitely not in the street protests. Hamas is the culprit and they continue this fight with Israel that endangers the very people they are supposed to protect. If that isn’t terrorism, what is?

  3. Thanks for sharing your friend’s thoughts, Mary. Here in the US, things appear to be not much different. While anti-semitism has been on the rise for many years now, with the latest turn of events, that looks to be only accelerating. While the tribe on the political “right” is often accused of intolerance, it is clear now that the great up-tick in venom spewed at Jews comes from the tribe on the other side. When will Jews come to the understanding about who their friends truly are?

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bill. I think however that I disagree with your conclusion on the political front – look at Biden’s stance on supporting Israel and Blinken’s efforts to keep the region from joining in. Unfortunately, anti-semitism knows no particularly political boundaries.

  4. Mary, while I sympathise with your Jewish friend’s fear and uncertainty after 10/7 and while I utterly condemn the atrocity committed on 10/7, I would respectfully point out that criticism of Israel does not equate to antisemitism.
    In saying this I am not criticising Israel’s campaign in Gaza per se, but in the historical treatment of Palestinian people in the region. As a person with a particular interest in history you may recall the UN mandate of 1947 which led to the displacement and removal of 750,000 Palestinians – without their approval – from lands they had been occupying for hundreds of years, cultivating grape, fig and olive groves.
    Even prior to the current right wing regime, Palestinians were subject to home demolitions, seizure of land, movement restrictions, imprisonment without trial, attacks by settlers and humiliation and violence at Israeli military checkpoints. Palestinian children are subject to Israeli military law while their Israeli counterparts, (like the illegal settlers) are subject to civil law.
    Putting all these things together, is it any wonder that such actions lead to an undercurrent of resentment and anger that lead young people into the arms of terrorists?
    We’ve seen the same atrocities happen in 2014 and now here we are again. Are we going to see the same in what, another nine years’ time? If you keep doing the same thing, you keep getting the same result.
    Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of all this is the inability of the international community and especially the US to prevail upon Israeli and Palestinian leaders – whoever they might be – to come together and work out a solution.
    In saying this, I want to emphasise that I am not antisemitic. As it happens, one of my neighbours is a holocaust survivor and when she has trouble with say, her kitchen cabinet I am happy to call in and fix it for her. Indeed, when her husband was alive we used to go for a meal and watch an opera.

    1. Hi David … thank you for adding this thoughtful message to the discussion. A few years ago, I read My Promised Land by Ari Shavit in which the author (a Jewish Israeli journalist) lays out the history of Israel and Palestine. It is compelling reading and makes similar points to yours. I deliberately stayed away from this part of the issue because my purpose was, and is, to open eyes to the current trauma felt by Jews around the world. I did not want to do a “yes, but” post. One could think back to the time of Arafat when he had the choice to create a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel – unfortunately and tragically he chose not to. Netanyahu and his coalition of right-wing extremists are not the people to revive this possibility. Hopefully, they will soon be out of office and provide the possibility of restoring some sanity to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

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