Serving Winnipeg's Jewish Community Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn Youtube

soros benchBy BERNIE BELLAN
Graffiti that was found spray-painted on park benches and other sites primarily along Wellington Crescent and which was first discovered on Sunday, August 13 set off a whirlwind of news coverage and analysis.

The messages that had been painted, but were fairly quickly removed by City of Winnipeg employees seemed to have a common theme of targeting billionaire George Soros and lamenting “lost white civilizations” and “white extinction”.
Since it is highly unlikely that the actual individual or individuals who were behind the graffiti will ever be found – or come forward voluntarily, it was left to others to speculate as to what was the motivation behind what had been painted. In fact, somewhat surprisingly we learned that the Winnipeg Police Service did not even begin an investigation into the spray-painting spree until some four days after it was first discovered.
In an exchange of emails I had with the hate crimes unit of the WPS inquiring about the investigation into the graffiti, I was told by a spokesperson of the WPS that “I have no information I can release on the graffiti at this time. (It actually took 4 days for someone to actually make a complaint. We are not able to pursue issues like this without an actual complainant)” (emphasis mine).

graffitiI was somewhat incredulous at that response to my question. I proceeded to ask: “You’ve got to be kidding me - you mean to say that even though over 10 instances of hateful graffiti appeared on Sunday, Aug. 13, the WPS didn’t want to look into it until someone filed a complaint?
“Does that mean that no investigation was undertaken until this past Thursday?” (August 17)
The spokesperson for the WPS further responded: “I’m sorry Bernie, the phrase ‘didn’t want to look into it’ is pejorative. We are not able to send units out driving around hoping we can find rumoured graffiti. If someone sees it and is disturbed by it, then the onus is on them to report it. We do not dispatch officers based on media reports.”

As a follow-up to this story, which was published in our Aug. 30 print publication, I received a phone call from a reader who said that they had indeed called the WPS on Sunday afternoon, August 13. The reader said that they had been placed on hold for 20 minutes, then called back. This time they spoke with someone who seemed quite unsure of the area that was described where the graffiti had been posted. In any event though the reader did make clear that what they had seen was an instance of a "hate" crime. As a result we again contacted the WPS to ask whether the department was still going to stand by its contention that "It actually took 4 days for someone to actually make a complaint" about the graffiti.

Look - we don't want to blow this entire affair out of proportion. Who knows what lay behind the motivation of the spray-painter? But, I'm wondering about the response I received from WPS. I did send another email to them once I had solid confirmation that a complaint about the graffiti was indeed filed with the WPS well before "4 days": I wrote: "' Look, I'm not trying to crucify the WPS. I just found the response that I received from Rob to be quite strange. If he had simply said that the WPS can't be expected to act upon every instance of graffiti reported well, even though I might have had some difficulty accepting that in this case, the fact that Rob insisted that no complaints were received until four days after the graffiti appeared and that, therefore, the WPS could not act until a complaint was received is the part I had a great deal of difficulty understanding."Screen Shot

Graffiti found spray-painted on Wellington Crescent may reveal more about Jews’ attitudes toward right-wing groups than we are willing to admit

Regardless how the WPS responded to the graffiti, the much larger question is whether what had been spray-painted on Wellington Crescent (beginning at Academy Road and extending into Omand’s Creek, according to reports) was indicative of any kind of a larger threat which should be of concern to citizens. None of the graffiti, for instance, specifically targeted any particular group, although many reports noted that George Soros is Jewish.
Still, it got me to thinking: With the recent events in Charlottesville and other American cities, in which various members of white nationalist groups have either organized rallies or attempted to organize rallies but were unable to do so, and with the apparent connection to the graffiti found in Winnipeg on August 13, just how pervasive is ultra-right wing activity in Canada, specifically in Manitoba?
Various commentators expressed opinions on the subject. Among those the one individual who was quoted in more than one report was retired University of Winnipeg Sociology Professor Helmut-Harry Loewen.
Loewen was interviewed on CBC Radio here on August 17. During the course of that interview he noted that “in many ways, the figure of George Soros is a foil for many of these far-right groups to advance a kind of coded, anti-Semitic, Jewish conspiracy theory.…
“One of the graffiti here mentions Soros and then spoke about white extinction, and that’s a very interesting trope which is being used by a number of far-right groups these days, to claim that there is a so-called white genocide that is being orchestrated by the government through immigration policies, by anti-racists, human rights activists and so on.
“It’s an attempt to occupy public space to send a message to the public that certain groups are not wanted here.
“Now, of course, that’s utter nonsense, but it’s a very compelling narrative which many … who have, you know, concerns about immigration, about changing demographics in the United States and Canada, want to promote, that the white race is moving towards extinction.”
The interviewer from CBC referred to a comment by Aidan Fishman of B’nai Brith Canada who suggested that “the vague nature of the graffiti could be an attempt to get the public to learn more about those groups”.
Loewen agreed with Fishman, saying that “these messages, they’re cryptic and they’re also camouflaged. There’s a whole discourse behind messages about so-called white extinction or white genocide, and [Fishman] was quite correct in pointing out that these very brief messages in the form of graffiti may in fact compel people to explore them further, you know, via social media and other outlets. That, too, is part of a strategy used by people.”

While Winnipeg has seen its share of incidents that might be construed as antiSemitic in recent years, according to B’nai Brith’s “Audit of Antisemitic incidents 2016”, “The Prairie region saw a remarkable increase in antisemitism in 2016, going from 11 incidents in 2015 to 74 in 2016. It should be noted, however, that this is probably due more to an increased reporting mechanism and an awareness campaign about our hotline than to an actual corresponding increase in antisemitic incidents. Numbers in the Prairie region had been down from historic norms for a number of years, and this year’s Audit sees a return to more typical results.”

The election of Donald Trump certainly seems to have emboldened white right-wing groups to emerge from the relative anonymity of the Internet, where they had been able to preach their messages of hatred in safety, far from the view of most of the public. Yet, in researching this article, it was quite apparent that many Jews themselves are sympathetic to some of the aims of many of these right-wing groups.
The supposedly strong support that Trump has for Israel seems to be the overriding concern that many Jews hold in assessing whether Trump is worthy of their support or not, including in Canada. One website, known as, and which apparently takes its name from the slogan of the Jewish Defence League, has been withering in its criticism of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party for allowing an influx of Muslim refugees into Canada.
According to a Maclean’s Magazine article published in January 2016, the “commentators on Never Again are a hodgepodge of Zionists, former and current military, Christian militants, the occasional white nationalist–an irony, given that the white nationalist movement isn’t typically very charitable toward Jews.”

In some ways this convergence of views between right-wing Jews and members of what is now commonly referred to as the “alt-right” (a term that was first popularized by white supremacist – and overt antiSemite Richard Spencer) is not at all unexpected. Breitbart News was, in fact, according to “Wikipedia” founded by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart “during a visit to Israel in mid-2007 as a website that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel, Breitbart News later aligned with the European populist right and American alt-right under the management of former executive chairman Steve Bannon.”

Thus, there is more than a little irony in the graffiti that was found spray-painted on August 13 in Winnipeg, in that George Soros, who was referenced in several of the posts, is vilified not only by white antiSemitic right-wingers, he is also vilified by many Jewish right-wingers.

However, as much as the presence of many ultra right-wing groups in Canada is apparent from their activity on the Internet, an analysis by academics Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens published by Public Safety Canada, and which was reported in the August 17 issue of the Globe & Mail noted that while “the number of groups has increased in the past 10 months by about 20 to 30 per cent, Dr. Perry estimates, each might claim only a dozen or so members.”

In an article written by Stewart Bell for Global News, Terry Wilson, a former hate crimes investigator in B.C. offers this explanation why right-wing spewers of hatred are more loath to go public in Canada than in the United States: The “Canadian racist right is ‘very strong’ but different from its U.S. counterpart. While the American far right has vocal leaders, Canada’s hate crime laws give pause to racists with leadership aspirations, making them cautious.
“ ‘Every time a far right leader goes public, the police focus on him or her. Inevitably the public leadership is very short lived and they fall out of favor,’ he said. ‘Therefore in Canada the leadership is very much behind the scenes, but that does not say there is no leadership.’ ”

Yet, while different right-wing groups have different targets, in Canada the one common denominator seems to be hostility to Muslim immigrants. Other targets, to varying degrees, include the LGBQT community and non-whites in general. The Jewish community itself is deeply divided over the issue of immigration, with many in the community voicing strong opposition to the Trudeau government’s acceptance of large numbers of Syrian Muslim refugees, while others in the community have offered overt assistance to those same refugees.
It is clear, however, that the coalition of right-wing groups in the United States that now seems to be increasingly emboldened by Trump’s tacit - if not overt support, has Jews set squarely in their gun sights (both metaphorically and literally). There is a direct link between Donald Trump’s election and the graffiti that surfaced in Winnipeg on August 13. Just as BB Netanyahu finds himself squirming uncomfortably not knowing how to react to Trump’s refusal to come out four square against the alt-right groups that were so brazen in their racism in Charlottesville, many Jews in Canada are also finding themselves caught in a contradictory situation where they are worried about the dangers these right-wing groups pose to Jews, yet at the same time find themselves in agreement with those groups’ anti-Muslim attitudes.
The ambiguity of the message contained in that graffiti is symbolic of the ambiguity many Jews feel when it comes to a certain part of the ultra-right wing movement in Canada in general.

Add comment

Security code