The dichotomy of Chuck & Geoff’s reaction to Anti-semitism in France.

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© Chuck Duboff

During the next several days, we will be sharing varying responses to the acts of Anti-semitism which continue to occur in France and throughout the world. This is just a small piece of what Geoff and I would like to do to improve conditions for all people, not just in France, but rather…right here in our home city of Winnipeg. There has been a lot of attention paid to Winnipeg recently with the MacLeans cover story calling Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada. Whatever small difference Geoff and I can make by leading this discussion…we hope it leads to a city, country and world of more respect for all people.

© Geoff Brookes

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About a week ago, Chuck sent me a link to a news story in France. Within a month of the infamous attacks on the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist offices, and the horrific murder of Jewish people at a kosher grocery store, there were two new public attacks – one by the sword (knife, against police officers defending a Jewish community centre), and one by the pen (a job advertisement by a recruiting company – “if possible, not Jewish”):

French Jews Rocked by 2 New Anti-Semitic Incidents

Before I go on, at least two items of praise are in order – (1) for the government of France for providing 10,000 police officers to guard Jewish institutions in France after the January attacks, and (2) for the very brave Muslim man who protected as many people as he could (primarily Jewish) at the Kosher supermarket.

When Chuck sent me the news, my initial reaction was “still” astonishment. Not at the fact that it had occurred and was occurring – my intellect was quite capable of confirming this to me. It was astonishment at a visceral level. That such anti-Semitism can still persist in this world. That such systematic racial hatred can still exist – no, flourish. It dismays the part of me that would innocently like to believe that the human race can rise above such hatred. It shocks the idealist in me. It offends my “left brain”, which recounts the histories of World War II, and the holocaust, with horror that is beyond comprehension. How can the human race still carry out such racism? How is this anti-semitism even possible, almost 70 years after the “liberation” of the death camps?

Chuck’s reaction to the news was that anti-semitism is part of his life experiences as a Jewish person. I’ll let Chuck speak to this himself in an upcoming blog post. But he said to me that this was his life journey – all too frequent encounters with anti-Semitism; wondering in many circumstances what someone else might say, or do, when they encounter Chuck, a Jewish person. (In case anyone might have a skeptical reaction toward this statement…well, that’s kind of the point of my article).

There is an interesting story in the dichotomy of our two reactions.

During my teenage years and early twenties, I gradually learned that many of the “institutions” that had been a part of my life had, at one time, excluded Jewish people. I admit that I am a bit naive, and I’m still a little “slow on the uptake”. I understand that those institutions no longer formally exclude Jewish people, and I know of at least one institution which a Jewish friend of mine was recommending to me, as he had recently become an enthusiastic member. Despite the reformed stance of the institution, I was troubled by the idea that it had at one time excluded Jewish people.

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Although many formal instances of anti-semitism have been removed from daily life, there are still the so-called “random” acts of anti-semitism, even in Winnipeg.

My sheltered upbringing and naiveté might be one reason why my instinctive reaction at the news stories is shock and disbelief. My early life experiences did not expose me to these issues.

But the lessons of the late twentieth century, and early twenty-first century, are that racism is not dead, but increasing. To be clear, I want to state that the problem of racism is not limited to anti-semitism. There are many horrific instances of racism all over the world, as well as other non-racial forms of hatred, such as on religious grounds. The movie “Hotel Rwanda” is a “must watch” at some point in your life. It’s not a fun date movie, obviously, but my wife and I decided one evening to watch it. It really must be watched.

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Why is it so important to publicly call out racism, and racist acts?

About a month ago I wrote a review of the MTC-produced play, “Cabaret”. The story is set in Germany, during the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s. One of the characters is Jewish. His non-Jewish fiancé protests that it is going to be difficult for them, and for him, in view of the new antisemitism. In the story, she breaks off their engagement, partly for her self-interest as a landlord in a Nazi state. But just as alarmingly, he protests that “nothing is really changing”, and that “all will be well”, despite specific antisemitic acts that he is enduring. He says “Are we not all Germans? They will not take away my rights.”

And this is the point. If we don’t vigorously battle for human rights; if we don’t call out and fight racism wherever it appears; if we don’t defend freedom of all kinds; then eventually, these battles will be lost. Our freedoms will be removed. Racism will prevail, and have its way. It seems inconceivable, because the decline might seem to occur so gradually. If the last 100 years has taught us anything, it is that evil persists, and occasionally triumphs.

In the same way that “cold” is literally the absence of “warmth”, in terms of the activity of molecules, racism flourishes in the absence of positive actions to promote human rights, and combat racism.

Let’s not be cold. Let’s take action together.

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