Mr. Chairman, I want to pick up a bit on what the previous speaker said. I am of the belief that until we can find a way through to ending anti-Semitism, we will not have any hope of addressing all of the other antis either, the Islamophobias or whatever. We have to confront this right on.
I want to personalize this a little bit. The member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie talked about how her experience with anti-Semitism had affected her. I have a couple of stories from my history. As a young boy in 1959 in a little town called Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, where the train derailment was last year and where I grew up, we never had a black person in our community. We never had a Jewish person in our community. We had difficulties between the English and French, but we never learned racism.
As a boy of 12, one day in the summer, I was out on the lawn in front of my home and a car went by, a 1949 Dodge. I will never forget it. That has left a mark on me. A man and a woman were on the back seat having a disagreement, and all of a sudden a shoebox came out of the window and it was full of pictures. As a boy will do, I started to collect the pictures. To me, that became the saddest day of my life for many, many years, because the pictures had to have been taken by guards at Auschwitz.
We have heard the stories of the tattoos that became lampshades. There was a picture of that. The picture I still see from time to time was of a women, still alive, being pushed into a furnace on the rack.
I sat back for a long time trying to understand, as a 12-year-old cannot understand, how people could do this to one another. I did not have any idea that they were Jews, and I took the pictures.
My grandmother had an old sewing machine that had a cabinet. I stuffed the pictures in there to hide them, because I did not want to believe that these were anything other than pictures from some horrible movie. It took me many, many years to come to terms with all of that because I did not understand racism and came from a caring community.
Then, of course, it was around the period when the movie Exodus took place, and my father loved to take me to movies, and also Judgment at Nuremberg. That was the first point in time, in a movie, on screen, where there were pictures of bodies being bulldozed.
I cannot express the feeling, the connection between the pictures that I found as young boy and a couple of years later seeing that movie, which is when I started to understand the horror of what had taken place. It left me with a feeling to this day, enhancing the sense of justice and the need to protect all of our people.
As I went along in years and got involved in the labour movement. I was a simple delegate at the Hamilton District Labour Council. There was a gentleman there, probably in his sixties at the time, Al Smith. He was probably kindest, gentlest man you could ever hope to see. He stood about five foot two. He had spent 10 to 20 years on the human rights committee of that labour council.
I happened to be in the office one day and he was tasked with going to some event on behalf of the labour council and had paid for something. He brought the receipt in and was getting change. When the young lady gave the change back to this sweetheart of a man who had fought for 40 years for justice for people, he shoved a nickel back and said, “Oh, no, I cannot take that. That would be Hymie of me to take that”. I remember at the time thinking how insidious this was, how it became part of our culture to the point that Jewish people out and say, “Hymie”, or whatever other nasty name we wanted to put on them.
Tonight we have heard speaker after speaker say pretty well the same thing, that once again in our history anti-Semitism is growing.
We can get into debate on Israel. We can get into debate on Gaza, the PLO, or whatever we want, but we cannot deny that anti-Semitism is on the rise. We can do many things.
I am a firm believer in dialogue, communication, and debate. When we are confronted with hate, we have to stand up to it. If people have different views during Israeli Apartheid Week, they have to say so. I am very concerned that if we stifle that debate in the institutions of higher education, are we not, in the long run, preparing a path for some other form of hate?
The House is the place where we should be debating these issues. Yes, they are very personal for a variety of people and for a variety of reasons. Many members here have Jewish or Muslim communities in their ridings.
I had an experience in Hamilton. There was a firebombing of a Hindu samaj three days after 9/11. A group was started, called Strengthening Hamilton's Community Initiative. It got together to confront racism. The two men who firebombed that Hindu samaj thought that it was a mosque. Racism does not really understand much and the people that purvey it and do these things are pretty horrific.
That created a situation where we had leadership from the Muslim community, leadership from the Jewish community, and many others, during a time when Israel was in battle, one more time, in Gaza. That group of people put out joint statements of Muslims and Jews on the activities that took place. It is proof that people can come together who have extremely different points of view. That is important. We have to find a way to bring that level of understanding across the globe. There are governments who seem to be pleased when some ethnic groups, such as the Jews or the Arabs, or religious groups like the Christians, Muslims, Rohingyas, Tamils, or whoever, can point at another group and say, “They are different. They are lower than we are. They are not as good as we are”, or that they are taking people's jobs or land.
I will give an example of what can happen if we allow that to take place, which New Democrats raise here regularly, and that is Iran, with its rhetoric and hate pointed toward Israel. While it is doing that, it is actually masking the horrific things it is doing to its own people. Last month, 90-some people were hanged in Iran. I do not know the numbers for the last year, but they will be in the hundreds. We can go back to the time when people thought there was a rising in Iran and a chance of democracy blossoming, but we remember the slaughter that took place in the streets. We all remember the young girl who was killed—actually several of them.
I do not profess to have the answer, but I understand one thing: that we have to keep communicating. Canada has to remain a leader, because this is one of the few countries that I am aware of where there can be absolute debate and public discussion. I used to joke with my friends in Hamilton. Gore Park is in Hamilton, the centre of the community, and I used to say that in Canada, we can stand on a box in Gore Park and say whatever we want to say, as long as we are not preaching hate. We can say that we do not like the Prime Minister, not that I would ever say such a thing, but that can be done in this democracy and it can be done freely. If we were to try that in the United States, going to a park in New York City, standing on a soapbox and starting to rant, we would be put in police cars, and the U.S. claims to be the freest country on the face of the earth. No, we are here in Canada, and that is why we have to have a leadership role in fighting anti-Semitism.
We are the one country that many countries listen to and we have to put the programs in place and set the agenda within our own country to ensure that everyone, be they Jews, Arabs, whoever they are, are equally welcome and equally safe. What just happened in Montreal today is absolutely offensive.