Don’t downplay threats against religious groups
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Opinions Editor
Recently, the Jewish Community Centre of Vancouver was evacuated twice in one week due to a bomb threat. In response, the federal government contributed $100,000 for increased security measures to the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Violence against religious minorities is not a new threat, either historically or in the modern era. The holocaust, in which millions of Jews were murdered in government-funded concentration camps, is still in living memory. Hatred and persecution of any religious community is wrong, and targeting them specifically is encouraging the most dangerous type ideology.
In response to the government contribution, board chair Stephen Gaerber said “We deeply appreciate this investment, which will help make our community facilities safer as they welcome people from all faiths and backgrounds.” This is perhaps the most important point. It is not just erasing targeted violence. It is creating a safe and inclusive area for all people, regardless of their culture.
It is not enough to simply condemn the threats of violence. Stamping out hatred involves honest discussion on prejudice that forms within the community. It is not about just addressing extremists who make bomb threats. Bigotry and hatred begins at a subtler and more ingrained level within society.
In the age of a growing far-right nationalist movement, it is important to remember that bigotry and white supremacy is an issue in every area. It is not confined to conservative and rural areas, or simply in the US. Vancouver is one of the most progressive and tolerant cities in North America, but that doesn’t mean bigotry has been completely eliminated here. In fact, it’s much more common than most people realize.
The people who initiated this threat did not just plan to target any community centre. This was deliberate intimidation of a very small group (less than 2 per cent of the Vancouver population is Jewish) that has been historically persecuted. This was about generalized anti-Semitism, violent threats against minorities, and white supremacy. The Jewish community is considered not to be “white” and they are treated as a separate ethnic group by white supremacists and Nazis, many of whom use a “Christian” defence to justify hatred towards Jews.
The rise of Nazi Germany did not begin with proposing that Jews be placed in death camps. It involved general sentiments against the group, encouraging general distrust against Jews, and limiting their rights and privileges by law. Perhaps even more importantly, it involved creating a society where targeting others for their religious and cultural backgrounds was considered justified. Germany in the 1930s was a different time, when people were more racist in general, but the rise of an extremely racist government (Hitler was elected democratically) involved exploiting natural racist tendencies.
Does the vast majority of the Vancouver population hate Jews or encourage bombing them? Of course not. But there is a growing sentiment of targeting others for their religious and cultural beliefs. Governments all across North America and Europe are encouraging nationalism and Islamophobia. Societal distrust of Muslims and laws limiting their freedoms are already in place in the US, Europe, and even our land, glorious and free, Canada.
Standing up for social justice and erasing hatred in the community means extending tolerance and respect towards all minority groups. Jews may not be a big part of the community, but it doesn’t mean prejudice towards them is any less important to take a stand against.