Two places I have called home, two cases of deplorable anti-Semitism, and two very different but wholly predictable responses from the local Jewish communities given the disparity in their size, visibility, leverage and historical posture.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a disquieting incident of anti-Semitism in Bermuda. It concerned a posting on the local newspaper’s website that contained some of the most venomous Jew hatred you’re ever going to see in print, but to be fair, the posting was a one-off event and it could have emanated from anywhere on this planet. Hence, its publication in no way reflects any serious anti-Semitism problem in Bermuda.
In fact, the relationship between Bermuda’s 100 or so Jews and the other 60,000 residents of Bermuda is exemplary, and my own experience living in Bermuda for almost 10 years was overwhelmingly positive.
My complaint was not about Bermuda, it was with the newspaper’s policy of publishing every comment they received without any pre-screening or editing and removing them only if a “legitimate objection” was received. I was also concerned with the discomfort Bermuda’s very small Jewish community must have felt when they became aware of this posting. Complain and they risk being accused of over-sensitivity or wishing to impose conditions on the media or needlessly blowing out of proportion an isolated, minor incident. Don’t complain and you are essentially giving a free pass to those who slander and attempt to intimidate the Jewish people.
Several readers criticized the fact that I made the issue public, suggesting that instead, I should have simply brought the matter to the attention of Bermuda’s Jewish community leaders and let them decide how best to deal with it. I think that’s a legitimate viewpoint. Yet many of us who live outside the very sheltered, very isolated enclave that is Bermuda are exposed to ever-increasing instances of anti-Semitism, and when any Jewish community or individual is threatened or demeaned, that affects all of us.
As mentioned in my original article, I have no difficulty accepting whatever path the local Jewish community decides to follow, and it appears that they have decided to take a low-key approach, which is not surprising given they constitute less than one percent of the island’s population and given that most of Bermuda’s Jewish residents are there on temporary work permits. Ideally, however, I would hope that they would at least request a meeting with the publisher and editor of the Royal Gazette to make them aware of the impact of growing anti-Semitism in other parts of the world as well as the dangers of the dissemination of hateful comments on the Internet (directed not just at Jews). They can then, respectfully, ask that these senior managers responsible for Bermuda’s principle media outlet review their policy of allowing unfiltered and unrestrained commentary on their website.
Meanwhile, in Montreal…
In other news on the anti-Semitism front, turns out I didn’t need to look 1000 miles from Montreal to find a disquieting case of Jew hatred. In the Montreal suburb of Saint-Jean, it seems that the person who owned most of the land in the town some 50 years ago decided that he wouldn’t sell any of his land to Jews, and even more obnoxiously, he stipulated in the terms of sale that anyone wanting to re-sell the land in the future would also not be allowed to sell to Jews. This situation continued without objection or outcry for half a century, and when the municipal government was asked recently about this blatant act of discrimination, they feigned ignorance. I guess the clerks processing the sales had never bothered to read the contents of the land purchase agreements crossing their desks.
The town had even named one of their streets after this unapologetic anti-Semite, and despite the ample evidence of his unacceptable behavior, the town is refusing to rename the street.
Just as troubling as the local government’s failure to act appropriately and expeditiously is the fact that not one of the hundreds of people who purchased land under this condition ever bothered to object or bring it to the notice of the city’s government or the press. Hard not to conclude that the citizens of Saint-Jean are either abject anti-Semites or more likely (given that there are almost no Jews in the town), they simply couldn’t be stirred by something that didn’t affect them personally.
Fortunately, Montreal’s sizeable Jewish community (approximately 90,000 out of Montreal’s 4 million residents) was vociferous in their complaints about this situation. No remedial action has yet been undertaken, but there are several strong Jewish organizations and institutions in Montreal that will continue to monitor this town’s actions (or inaction) and, hopefully, corrective measures will be implemented very soon.
Two places I have called home, two cases of deplorable anti-Semitism, two very different but wholly predictable responses from the local Jewish communities given the disparity in their size, visibility, leverage and historical posture.
The lesson from these two episodes? It’s not easy being Jewish nowadays, no matter where you live.