Canadian anti-Semitism institute aims to fill worldwide void (TORONTO STAR OP-ED) By Bob Hepburn 05/09/12)
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When Catherine Chatterley was growing up in Winnipeg, the first
serious book she read was The Diary of Anne Frank, the harrowing
story of a young Jewish girl forced to hide for nearly two years in
an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
“I was in shock,” Chatterley recalls. “I couldn’t understand how a
girl like Anne Frank could be perceived as a threat to Germany.”
For Chatterley, who was raised in a devout Lutheran home, the famous
book sparked a lifelong fascination with the Jewish people, the
Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
That fascination has prompted Chatterley, an adjunct history
professor at the University of Manitoba, to develop the first
academic institute in Canada to focus on the study of anti-Semitism,
which she says is a persistent — and in some parts of the world
flourishing — problem facing Jews today.
“There is a void in academia, our universities and our human rights
discourse” when it comes to the study of anti-Semitism, she said in a
telephone interview from Winnipeg, where the Canadian Institute for
the Study of Anti-Semitism (CISA) is based.
CISA, which is barely two years old, is one of only six such
institutes in the world. Its mandate is to promote research,
education and awareness of anti-Semitism.
Ultimately, her goal is to have the independent, non-profit institute
fund and offer university-accredited courses leading to an
undergraduate degree in the study of anti-Semitism. In addition, she
plans to develop an online publication for young people and publish
an academic journal on current and historical anti-Semitism.
Already, the young institute is attracting international attention,
especially after Elie Wiesel, the renowned Nobel Peace Prize winner,
agreed to serve as honourary chairman.
But why such an institution? And why now?
Chatterley, who will speak May 15 at Beth Tzedec Congregation in
Toronto and May 16 in Montreal, agrees many universities have courses
in Jewish studies, but it’s rare they have actual courses about the
Holocaust, let alone about anti-Semitism. In fact, she says Holocaust
courses are dwindling, being replaced by comparative genocide studies.
Because of that void and because Jew-hatred is absent from much of
the academic and political talk about human rights and racism,
Chatterley says an academic institute devoted strictly to the study
of anti-Semitism is badly needed.
In Chatterley’s view, anti-Semitism is the historic product of the
Christian accusation that Jews killed Christ. “Its origins are
theological, which is why it has lasted so long” and is known as “the
longest hatred,” she says.
Studying anti-Semitism is “a minefield,” she says, because many
people believe that scholars who do so merely want to defend Israel
and its policies toward Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
“It’s become highly politicized,” she admits, but adds it’s a serious
problem that deserves serious scholarship.
While some may argue anti-Semitism is waning here, Jewish leaders
would disagree, pointing to several recent developments.
This week, an east-end Toronto Islamic school was forced to apologize
after a complaint was filed with police claiming that some of its
school texts referred to Jews as “treacherous” and compared them to
Last week, a report by the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith
Canada cited 1,297 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada in 2011, down
less than 1 per cent from the previous year. The incidents ranged
from death threats to verbal taunts.
In March, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs announced it will
train some 25 unarmed volunteers in how to observe and monitor
threats and vandalism in heavily Jewish neighbourhoods in Toronto.
In recent months, Chatterley has had two death threats against her
and lots of hate mail. She now has an unlisted telephone number and
requires police security at all of the institute’s public events.
“Anti-Semitism poses a real threat today,” she says, although many
academics and other leaders are downplaying it, with some even
denying it exists at all.
“I can tell you that the fear today of anti-Semitism in Jewish
communities is very real,” she adds.
Chatterley has big dreams for her fledgling institute. Some will
never come true, but those that do hopefully will help all Canadians
better understand the roots of anti-Semitism, the reasons it still
persists — and how to combat it. (© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2012
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