What is Upstanders Canada?
Upstanders Canada is a grassroots movement to encourage Canadians (especially non-Jewish Canadians) to stand against antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
What is antisemitism?
Antisemitism is discrimination, bias or bigotry targeting Jewish people. It is an ancient, modern and amorphous phenomenon that almost defies description. The most comprehensive contemporary definition is the Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. A bibliography of resources on antisemitism can be found here.
What is anti-Zionism?
First, Zionism is, very simply, the belief that Jewish people have the right to national self-determination in their ancient and modern homeland, Israel. Anti-Zionism, then, is the specific rejection of Jewish self-determination. Zionism is the political manifestation of the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old yearning to return home after multiple exiles and genocides dating back through recorded history. Equating Zionism with racism, or using the term as a derogatory or evil generalization, is harmful and incorrect.
Is anti-Zionism antisemitism?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some people may be philosophically opposed to nationalism of all types. This could be a consistent worldview, although the energy that goes into questioning Israel’s right to exist is incomparable to any parallel movement questioning the right of Canada, France, Japan or Brazil to exist.
Some people may believe that Jewish people should seek out safety in the Diaspora, under the rule of other nations and do not need a state of their own. This may not indicate hatred towards Jews, but it ignores the history and lived reality of Jewish people and the historical catastrophes caused by Jewish statelessness.
Why is a movement like Upstanders needed?
Antisemitism and anti-Zionism have reached worrying levels – even in comparatively openhearted Canada. Every community deserves to feel safe and welcomed in Canada. But, while we have seen significant and laudable mobilization in support of targeted or marginalized communities in recent years, many Jewish Canadians have expressed a sense of abandonment, with non-Jewish people dismissing their concerns or outright denying their experiences. Antisemitism is not a Jewish problem. It is a non-Jewish problem with serious implications for Jewish people. It is a problem created by non-Jewish people and it needs to be confronted by non-Jewish people. This is why non-Jewish Canadians have formed Upstanders Canada.
Upstanders Canada is not political? Are you kidding me?
Upstanders Canada takes no position on issues that deserve to be resolved by Jewish and/or Israeli people. We believe, simply, that Jewish people have a right to live safely and free from fear everywhere in the world, including in Canada and Israel.
Of course, since we are urging action on issues of the day, these, by definition, involve political choices. We confront political issues while striving to be guided always by our simple statement of principle.
Isn’t this problem really just an extension of the Middle East conflict?
There is no excuse for Jewish Canadians to feel threatened or marginalized – no matter what the government of Israel does. Israel does not cause antisemitism – antisemitic acts are perpetrated by antisemitic people and to equate antisemitism in Canada with the actions of a country or its government is wrong. There is no doubt that perceptions of right and wrong in Israel and Palestine cloud perceptions of Jews, Muslims and others in Canada. We need to fight against this tendency, recognize every person as an individual and avoid stereotyping on all sides. Where anti-Zionism (and, too often, even criticism of Israel) crosses a line is when rhetoric employs stereotypes, assumptions and tropes associated with Jewish people. Again, the Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance identifies some of the characteristics of antisemitic attacks on Israel.
Does standing against antisemitism require supporting Israel?
For the most part, no. Nobody criticizes Israeli government policies more than the people and media of Israel. Criticizing Israel is not antisemitic. However, calling for Israel’s destruction represents a disordered approach to the issue. We might condemn the governments of Iran, Venezuela, China, North Korea or many other countries. But in no other circumstance do we adopt a position that the residents of that country should be made stateless. A good measure for where criticism of Israel is morally and intellectually fair is in the “Three D’s” formulation created by Natan Sharansky. If criticism of Israel engages in demonization, delegitimization and double standards, there is a problem.
Non-Jewish people need to understand that Jewish people around the world have spiritual, familial and historical bonds with the land of Israel, and the State of Israel. Zionism is the liberation movement of the Jewish people. It has allowed Jews to rise above centuries of persecution and statelessness and to create a homeland where Jews from anywhere can be safe and live Jewishly. Today, Zionism is the ongoing relationship of Jews everywhere with one another, and with ongoing building up of the nation of Israel.
The words Canadians use in the context of Israel fall on the ears of those closest to us: our Jewish neighbours. If our words and deeds make our Jewish friends and neighbours feel isolated or threatened, we should consider the impact of our words – and we should not, as is far too often the case, dismiss their feelings and experiences. Our bottom line is this: Criticism of Israeli policies is fair game. Advocating – explicitly or implicitly – for the dissolution of the only state of the Jewish people in the world in their Indigenous homeland is absolutely not.
What about the Palestinians?
One of the foremost problems in this narrative is viewing it as a zero-sum binary between Israelis and Palestinians. Every people deserves self-determination. The lack of human and civil rights that Palestinians experience is caused by a number of historical and political factors – some of them relating to the geopolitical conditions under which Israel was created and subsequent Israeli policies, and some of them unrelated. Two peoples living in neighbouring states, in peace, is the goal of people of goodwill. Supporting Israel does not negate the legitimate right to self-determination of Palestinian people and it is a false dichotomy to suggest that it does. Creating a lasting peace will require collaboration, cooperation, coexistence and compromise. The vitriolic language employed against Israel does not advance peace; it drives it further away.
We believe that being pro-Palestinian requires being pro-Israel, and vice versa. One cannot be pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel at the same time. If you seek the destruction of Israel, you reject compromise, coexistence and peace – the only things that will ever bring about an independent Palestine.
Back to Upstanders Canada. If I join, what is expected of me?
Like any commitment you make, it is up to you how much of yourself you want to put into it. You can share some posts on social media and be done with it. You can read our newsletter. You can write, phone, visit or email elected representatives, clergy, union leaders, nongovernmental organizations or agencies. You can write a letter to the editor. Maybe you want to go deeper. With the support of our team, which includes a combined experience of centuries in political campaigns, advocacy, persuasive writing and community organizing, you might choose to become an ally of Jewish people in your church, union, service club, school, social circle, cultural community or among your personal network. Your commitment can be as much or as little as you have time for. But every bit of work to confront antisemitism makes a big difference.
If you have questions, please ask. We will respond and maybe add them to our FAQ.
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