Defending Kaplan-Myrth from Jew hate must go hand in hand with defending the liberty to criticize her actions.
With less liberty, is Jew hate more likely to thrive?
I am sharing below an email I sent tonight to the Director of Education at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. The email is in response to the following statement from the school board:
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Trustee Nili Kaplan-Myrth, who is mentioned in this letter, has been discussed in previous posts on this Substack. Dr. Kaplan-Myrth has been a tireless advocate of masks and vaccines. This past November, she and others tried unsuccessfully to instate a mask mandate in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. In response, Kaplan-Myrth has been the target of well-justified criticism—but also of unacceptable and vile antisemitic abuse.
I have written this letter partly in response to an inner conflict: when you belong to a minority group that is vulnerable to hate and abuse, as the Jewish people have been for centuries, what is the correct response when a member of your group behaves in a way to which you object—and yet that person styles themselves as an advocate against hate?
To be clear, I do not doubt that Kaplan-Myrth has suffered real antisemitic abuse. I categorically condemn this abuse. This abuse hurts and intimidates me personally. I believe that the people who direct antisemitic slurs toward Kaplan-Myrth would be unlikely to perceive a substantial difference between me and Kaplan-Myrth. They likely believe in false narratives about Jews trying to control the world, etc. They would likely be happy to direct antisemitic slurs against me and other Jewish people if they could (Kaplan-Myrth is just an easier target). In this unfortunate sense, Kaplan-Myrth and I do stand together. Jewish people stuffed into cattle cars and gas chambers during the Holocaust also stood together because hate and violence do not distinguish between individuals based on their personal choices and characteristics. This is why hate is so dangerous and terrifying—and this is why hate should not be used as an instrument of resistance. If Jew hate is allowed to infiltrate the causes of resisting draconian health measures and of protecting civil liberties, these important causes will be harmed and undermined as a result.
However, when it comes to defending the Jewish people against antisemitism, I reject Kaplan-Myrth’s leadership—just as I reject her leadership on mask and vaccine mandates. This is because in my opinion she has not sufficiently exhibited the public virtues that must be present in a leader who works effectively against hate: humility, peacefulness, commitment to not overreach and love of liberty.
There have been many explanations of antisemitism, and the ones that make most sense to me focus on projection: Jew haters project human flaws in an exaggerated and distorted way upon the Jews. The easiest way to demonstrate this point is in relation to the Nazis. The Nazis blamed the Jews for seeking world dominance and for amassing wealth. But who crushed Europe under their boots and threw most of the world into a state of havoc? Who amassed any material good that they could steal from the Jews—including piles of hair and gold teeth?
Because antisemitism is a projection, I believe that it is less likely to thrive in conditions in which people are encouraged to make free choices and to take responsibility for their actions. By the same token, when people are deprived of liberty, antisemitism has the conditions to flourish because they are looking for someone to blame.
Here is the letter to the Director of Education at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board:
Dear Camille Williams-Taylor,
As a Jewish person who grew up in Israel, I thank you for your commitment to standing against antisemitism.
I would like to provide you with feedback on the email that you sent to all Ottawa-Carleton District School Board families on December 9, 2022.
You begin with a statement of general commitment to standing against antisemitism. You next address the antisemitic abuse that has been directed toward Trustee Nili Kaplan-Myrth, and then you turn to the issue of a rise in antisemitic behavior against students and staff in the schools and in the community.
I am concerned that your communication about antisemitism is excessively focused on Kaplan-Myrth. This focus on Kaplan-Myrth might create an implied association between Kaplan-Myrth and every other Jewish student or staff in the school board while also implicitly turning Kaplan-Myrth into a “representative” of the victims of antisemitic abuse.
Any antisemitic abuse that has been directed toward Kaplan-Myrth is wrong. I strongly condemn any abuse that is informed by Jew hate—and all other abuse. At the same time, Kaplan-Myrth's public advocacy for mask and vaccine mandates has also attracted a great deal of well-justified and legitimate criticism. Your statement correctly condemns antisemitic hate directed toward Kaplan-Myrth, but you might unintentionally create the impression that it is always inherently antisemitic to criticize Kaplan-Myrth, which is not true. I feel it is unfair to put Jewish students and staff in a position in which they are assumed to be associated with a public figure whose actions some people (including Jewish people) view as misguided and divisive.
When it comes to resisting hate, all human beings should stand as allies, but people do have the right to strongly disagree with Kaplan-Myrth and to wish to distance themselves from some of her public behavior and opinions. The vast majority of students and staff are not public figures who, like Kaplan-Myrth, have produced a steady stream of social-media and media activity and who have many followers who would defend them, praise them and thank them. I therefore encourage you to focus more on Jew hate as it is manifested in the context of the schools and the daily lives of students and staff. I do not believe that the interests of students and staff are well served by focusing primarily on the provocative and high-profile cluster of activities that have been generated around Kaplan-Myrth in the public sphere. Kaplan-Myrth’s perspective should not be the dominant lens through which Jew hate is viewed and understood.
I urge you to avoid communicating about antisemitism in a manner that can be interpreted to imply that Jewish students and staff are “associates” of Kaplan-Myrth. Kaplan-Myrth is not a “poster person” for the Jewish people. The Jewish people have not elected Kaplan-Myrth as their representative on the subject of Jew hate. Some Jewish people, myself included, take objection to Kaplan-Myrth's views and to the rhetorical style of some of her communications in the public sphere. Your important communications about Jew hate will be more effective if you highlight the individual rights and humanity of all students and staff.
I encourage you to continue to stand against Jew hate and any other kind of hate. Every person, including Kaplan Myrth, must be defended against hate. I also encourage you to communicate in a manner that continues to emphasize the legitimacy of expressing peaceful criticism. Many people, myself included, are deeply concerned about Jew hate but are also opposed to vaccine and mask mandates. Mask/vaccine mandates on the one hand and Jew hate on the other hand are two separate issues. These issues should not be conflated in a manner that would intimidate people who wish to peacefully express criticism.
I recognize that the position that you are in is a difficult one, as indeed we must defend Kaplan-Myrth against hate. At times, hate does mask itself as criticism (this is often the case, for example, with exaggerated and disproportional criticism of Israel that channels Jew hate). However, the peaceful criticism that has been directed toward Kaplan-Myrth is not simply veiled antisemitism. Kaplan-Myrth is a public figure who is pursuing an active agenda of telling people what to do with their bodies—through masking and vaccines; she presents authoritarian measures as if they were simple truths that any reasonable human being must agree with (and thus implicitly characterizes people who disagree with her as selfish spreaders of germs). I am concerned that Kaplan-Myrth might be currently trying to weaponize the struggle against antisemitism to encourage obedience to her point of view and to promote the demonization of people who reject her as a leader. I am also concerned that the prominence attached to Kaplan-Myrth within your communications about antisemitism might be putting Jewish students and staff at higher risk of being victimized by antisemitism by creating an implied association between them and Kaplan-Myrth.
As a parent and a citizen, I rely on you to stand against hate and divisiveness while exercising the public virtues of peacefulness, humility and a commitment to inclusivity and to respecting individual choice.
I have pasted below the statement to which I am responding <https://www.ocdsb.ca/news/standing_up_to_antisemitism>.
“Standing Up to Antisemitism
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board stands against antisemitism. We are aware of the vile, antisemitic statements and messages targeted at Trustee Nili Kaplan-Myrth. Many of these statements have included antisemitic slurs, epithets, threats of harm, aggression, and in some cases, illegal activity. This is unacceptable and inexcusable.
Students and staff in our schools, and in the community, are experiencing a rise in antisemitic behavior. Hateful, aggressive or threatening actions or statements by any member of the OCDSB community will be investigated and disciplined. Any evidence of hate crimes will be reported to local authorities.”
Thank you again for your important attention to antisemitism.
Gefen Bar-On Santor
Source for image of letter: < https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-person-writing-a-letter-6752323/>
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