Jews are not the other --the haters are: A reaction to the antisemitic vandalism in Calgary

by Naomi Lakritz, Calgary Herald

I don't know what the low-life or low-lifes who spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti at various places in the southwest part of the city got out of their disgraceful act of vandalism. But here's what I, as a Jewish person, got from it --a real sense of solidarity and collective outrage from Calgarians that should make the entire Jewish community in this city feel good today. From letters to the editor to comments posted online to reactions duly noted in news stories, the anger is palpable and the sense of our fellow Calgarians reaching out to us is very real.

One thing troubles, however. It is a remark made by Calgary Police Insp. Richard Hinse. While Hinse acknowledged that the deed fits the definition of a hate crime, he also said in part, "This could be kids who have no hate in their hearts and have done something like this . . . "

No. That's not it, Inspector. Too many times when incidents like this have occurred elsewhere, there's always the hope expressed that it was the mindless act of a couple of idle kids who didn't really know what they were doing and weren't targeting anyone. If that were true, then the Holocaust memorial would not have been defaced, and both the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue and the House of Jacob-Mikveh Israel would not have been vandalized. There would not have been swastikas and slogans reading "Six million more" and "Kill Jews." Instead, there would be the run-of-the-mill tags and attempted efforts at artistry or what have you.

It is very clear that this was a hate crime. The individual or individuals who did it knew of the Holocaust, they knew the number of Jewish people who died in it, they knew what the swastika symbolizes, and they deliberately sought out synagogues, the Jewish Community Centre and the Holocaust memorial to get their vile message across--not to mention mailboxes, bus shelters and a house in a neighbourhood with a large Jewish population.

That's not the coincidental behaviour of some kid with too much time on his hands; it's likely the work of a skinhead bigot whose cerebral abilities might best be described as still in a stage of primordial soup.

Try as they might to make us feel like The Other in our own country, people who would do such things can't win. Nothing they can say or write or spray-paint as they skulk around like the abject cowards they are, under cover of night, can make us feel that way. If anything, it is they who are The Other, they who are undesirables, and it is we Jews who love Canada, who will stand together with our fellow Calgarians to protect this country we love from being sullied by actions and by people like these. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in whose riding the crimes occurred, said: "anti-Semitism is a disease of the soul . . . "

So how do we deal with this disease of the soul? This past August, the Canadian Jewish Congress submitted a brief to the Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism in Canada, co-signed by the CJC's CEO, Bernie Farber, and president Mark Freiman, stating in part: "This is not simply a battle that is being waged on behalf of a single community.

"In many ways, the fight is not simply against anti-Semitism but for the values and principles which lie at the foundation of our democratic society . . . Hatred that is directed at a particular group can soon become an entrenched habit that will reach out to include other groups the haters may deem unacceptable. The entire process erodes Canadian values and can eventually endanger any minority group." Government's role, the CJC said, is to "create the framework in which men and women of goodwill can act, and in which persons of ill will cannot."

Last week, Stephen Camp, co-chairman of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee, called for amending the Criminal Code to provide stiffer sentences for those convicted of hate crimes. Camp believes tougher justice could be a deterrent. Current law provides for a prison term not exceeding two years.

As Insp. Hinse says, " . . . what you have to do is get (to) the heart of who did this act. It's really in their heart . . . " The Criminal Code is the best place to start, because it needs to be made clear to losers who would commit the kind of desecration that occurred in Calgary on the weekend that the ugly notions their diseased souls hold about the Jewish people will not be tolerated and are not shared by the larger Canadian society.

Let's hope Calgary police nail the perpetrator and charges are laid under the present hate crime laws. A mere conviction for mischief isn't going to do the trick--this guy will be laughing all the way to his next purchase of a can of spray paint. In the meantime, thank you, Calgary, for rallying around.

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