A History of Antisemitism in Canada by Ira Robinson (review)
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A History of Antisemitism in Canada. By Ira Robinson. Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press. xiii + 287 pp.

Until now a comprehensive study of antisemitism in Canada had not been written. Ira Robinson has filled this void with a survey that covers the subject from its beginnings in Christian Europe until the present day. The experiences of Jews in Canada, similar to those in much of the Christian world, mixes a long history of persecution with varying degrees of acceptance at different times in history. Since the end of World War II, significant changes in laws and societal attitudes in Canada have resulted in greater tolerance and legal protections for minorities. Despite the new atmosphere and opportunities, pockets of antisemitic fervor still exist and are mostly seen in attacks on Zionism and Israeli policies towards Arabs in their midst.

Currently, the Canadian population exceeds 35 million; Jews constitute somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of that total. The first Jews arrived in the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1831 they totaled 107 persons in all of Canada. Eighty years later their numbers had increased to only 16,401 or 0.31% of the population. Historian Irving Abella observed, "if there was a golden age of Canadian Jewry, one could make a strong case for the period before Confederation, particularly the 1830s and 1840s" (22). Ninety percent of these Jews came from Great Britain. By the 1890s, most of the new immigrant Jews hailed from the Yiddish-speaking areas of Eastern Europe, especially Russia and Poland. That wave ended by the late 1920s; not until 1948 did new legislation pass allowing the displaced persons who survived World War II to enter Canada. About one quarter of today's Canadian Jewish population traces its origins to this last group.

Antisemitism in Canada paralleled its development and manifestations in the United States. The mass migration that began in the late nineteenth [End Page 321] century continued in both countries through much of the 1920s, and antisemitic attitudes and behavior intensified as the decades advanced, peaking in the middle of the 1940s. Jews settled mostly in urban areas in and around Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. The Canadian parliament granted Jews some civil and legal rights. Nevertheless wherever they went, they were shunned socially, discriminated against in education and employment, and viewed as pariahs willing to do anything to make money. They and their children endured both physical and verbal abuse. While Robinson offers a variety of reasons for other Canadians despising and distancing themselves from Jews, I believe that the main causes for fearing, hating, and attacking them stems primarily from church teachings and Jews' rejection of Jesus as a savior.

Differences between the vigorously outspoken hostility toward Jews observed in Quebec and the more subtle expressions of similar attitudes in Toronto are explored, but the author is not sure whether the depth of antisemitic feelings was any worse in French speaking areas than in English speaking parts of the country. After the end of World War II, for reasons not easily explained, episodes of Christian bigotry began to decline. Not until the 1980s, however, did in-your-face hostility cease to plague the nation's Jews. Today Jews enjoy complete legal equality, but antisemitism has not disappeared.

Contemporary Jews in Canada, especially descendants of those who arrived after World War II, have a passionate attachment to the state of Israel. They also have a heightened sense of hostility to anyone who questions the purposes and designs of Israel's policies toward the Arabs or who does not appreciate the virtues of Zionism. While a number of Holocaust deniers might be kooks, many are either delusional or antisemitic. On the other hand, some people who despise Jews, but who are too embarrassed to publicize their venomous feelings, mask their bigotry behind legitimate critiques of Israel. Nevertheless, Canadian Jews suspect the motivations of Holocaust deniers, people who oppose Zionism, and anyone who questions Israel's right to exist. Robinson is aware of these attitudes and devotes two chapters to exploring the various opinions and nuances in these conflicting beliefs.

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