July 19th, 2024

Premier Eby meets Jewish leaders and vows to ‘root out’ antisemitism in B.C.

By Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press on March 8, 2024.

Eby speaks during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 9. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

VANCOUVER – British Columbia Premier David Eby says he heard “devastating” accounts of antisemitism from the Jewish community and has vowed to work together to “root out” the problem.

Eby met with leaders of several Jewish groups on Friday and said afterwards that antisemitism “exists in schools, in civil society, in private employers, and I believe that people have had antisemitism experiences within the government of B.C. public service.”

The premier said although none of the cases relayed to him by the Jewish groups have been reported to the province, he knows from personal experience as a human rights lawyer that people may be “incredibly scared” to come forward.

“If you have had experiences like this, bring forward your concerns,” Eby said. “It will be investigated and they will be addressed, and we will root out these issues.”

As for the province’s directive to public servants on speaking on issues such as the Israel-Hamas conflict, Eby was firm.

“The message for the public service is really clear: You need to leave your politics at home.”

In a joint letter issued after the meeting, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the groups want to see more concrete actions to address rising antisemitism in B.C.

The groups have been critical of Eby’s government since former BC New Democrat cabinet minister Selina Robinson quit the party on Wednesday, citing antisemitism among her colleagues and indifference to the problem.

“We appreciate the first step taken by the premier today,” the group’s letter said. “Now he must make amends for the harms he has caused and address the alarming increase in antisemitism in B.C. with concrete action.”

The letter said the way Robinson was treated has “sent a chilling message that antisemitism is tolerated in B.C.,” and added to the Jewish community’s sense of vulnerability after Hamas’s deadly attacks on Israel in October.

“History has repeatedly shown us that hatred targeting the Jewish community does not remain directed at Jews, but spreads across society like a virus,” the letter said.

Robinson resigned from her post as the minister of post-secondary education last month after saying modern Israel was founded on “a crappy piece of land” in late January.

The remarks sparked outrage from pro-Palestinian groups, who called the comments racist and Islamophobic.

Robinson, who is Jewish, cited antisemitism in the NDP caucus in her resignation letter. She is accusing seven former colleagues of antisemitism or antisemitic comments.

Eby has said he disagreed with Robinson’s characterization of what she saw, but said Friday that the accounts provided by Jewish leaders were so serious that they must be addressed.

The premier said he was told of students being asked by a grade-school teacher to self-identify as Jewish, then told to explain “what Israel was doing in Gaza to the entire class.”

In another, the premier says a student was asked to sit out in the hall for “creating a disturbance” after countering a teacher’s opinion on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“These are devastating incidents for parents that expect, when their kid goes to school, the kid is going to be safe there and supported,” Eby said.

He said he has committed to B.C.’s Jewish community to protect those who have experienced antisemitism, and is asking anyone who has complaints to come forward.

Vancouver police said in January that the Israel-Hamas war fuelled a “record-breaking” year for protests in 2023, while also giving rise to cases of antisemitism and anti-Muslim acts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2024.

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