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Friday, October 22, 2021

‘No excuse’: Anger over Holocaust comparisons used by vaccine mandate protesters

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LONDON — Vaccine mandate protesters’ use of Nazi imagery and comparisons to the Holocaust are angering Jewish organizations.

“The presence of these symbols either speaks to willful ignorance or hate — one of the two,” Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Toronto-based Jewish human rights group, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

“There are ways to be able to push back on authority and have legitimate debate,” he said. “But when you start going to these overtly racist and xenophobic symbols that are often adopted by white supremacists and other extremists, there’s just no excuse.”

At several demonstrations across the country, protesters have been seen wearing yellow stars, similar to the ones Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe. There have also been photos of protesters’ signs directly or indirectly comparing the implementation of vaccine mandates to the Nazis’ actions during the Holocaust. Levitt said that he has also been alarmed to see swastikas drawn on candidates’ campaign signs.

“These are symbols of a genocidal, racist ideology,” Levitt said, saying he finds it “completely unacceptable” for people to compare their anger towards COVID-19 policies to the historical plight of European Jews during the Second World War.

Between 1941 and 1945, Nazis and collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews across Germany and German-occupied Europe. The Nazis also murdered those who they perceived to have racial and biological inferiority including Roma, Germans with disabilities, some Slavic peoples and members of the LGBTQ community, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

With this history in mind, Levitt said, protesters using Nazi symbolism is “at its root … an affront to the memory of every victim of the Holocaust, and the survivors.”

B’nai Brith Canada, a national Jewish human rights organization, has long been tracking incidents involving Holocaust imagery and antisemitic statements. One recent incident they noted involved one woman at a protest selling T-shirts with a yellow Star of David and the word “Covidcaust.”

“I think Canadians across the country are disgusted by these protesters that are comparing their circumstances to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis in one of the greatest atrocities the world has ever seen,” Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

His group recorded 2,610 antisemitic incidents last year, which was the fifth consecutive record-setting year for antisemitism in Canada by its calculations. B’nai Brith Canada says 44 per cent of violent antisemitic incidents in 2020 were COVID-19-related, with Jews being spat on and otherwise assaulted, driven in part by antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Last week, some photos on social media showed a protester in Calgary holding up a picture of Anne Frank, the teenager who described her family’s plight in her diary before she died in a Nazi concentration camp.

“To compare yourself to Anne Frank or compare yourself to a victim of the Nazis is outrageous,” Mostyn said, adding that it is crucial for politicians and those running for office to call out antisemism whenever it happens among their supporters.

Paired with a national summit on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate in July, the federal government also held a national antisemitism summit. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government announced there that it is allocating $6 million in funding for developing 150 projects under a program to support communities that face the risks of hate crimes.

Mostyn also called for social media platforms to be more proactive to stamp out antisemitic posts. “We need to treat this seriously, both in the online space where some of these rallies are being planned and where disinformation is being pushed very aggressively,” he said.

“Some political leaders are speaking up against these vile comparisons. And I think that as good, honest Canadians, we just need to stand up and say it’s not appropriate.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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