Hamilton

Hamilton police log 26 antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate incidents since start of Israel-Hamas conflict

In the roughly three months following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, police reported half as many antisemitic occurrences and the same number of anti-Muslim occurrences as in all of 2022.

There were 47 hate 'occurrences' toward Jewish and Muslim groups in all of 2022, according to police data

People sit in chairs in a community space, one holding a small Israeli flag.
At a gathering to mark Hanukkah in Ancaster in December, members of the local Jewish community discussed the safety of the community and what they said was a recent rise in antisemitism. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

Hamilton police have logged 26 hate crimes and incidents between Oct. 7, 2023 and Jan. 12, with 21 targeting the Jewish community and five targeting the Muslim community.

That number, over a three month period, is already half as many antisemitic occurrences and the same number of anti-Muslim occurrences as in all of 2022, when comparing police data. 

CBC Hamilton was unable to compare the numbers to earlier in 2023 because statistics prior to Oct. 7 — when the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas began — will not be released until the service's annual hate crimes report is published in March, said Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman.

Anecdotally, community members say they're seeing, hearing and experiencing more hate. 

"For the Jewish community, it's kind of an emergency," said Gustavo Rymberg, who leads the Hamilton Jewish Federation. "We have so many incidents, so many open cases of antisemitism."

How Hamilton police report hate

Police did not respond to CBC Hamilton's request for an interview on the matter. They also did not say if there was an increase in occurrences related to other groups during that period. 

In 2022, which saw the highest number of hate incidents the city has seen since 2011, the groups targeted most were from Black, Jewish and LGBTQ communities. 

Hamilton police classify occurrences as either "crimes" or "incidents." Of the 21 antisemitic occurrences between Oct. 7 and Jan. 12, police classified eight as crimes. They said four of the five anti-Muslim incidents were crimes. The other events were classified as incidents.

According to their website, a hate crime is a criminal offence "motivated by hate/bias or prejudice based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor."

A hate incident is similarly motivated but does not reach the threshold of a criminal offence. "These incidents may include name calling, racial insults, or the distribution of material containing hateful language," police say.

Police reported hate crimes against Jews and Muslims between Oct. 7 and Jan. 12 include "bomb threats, mischiefs, graffiti, and thefts," Penman said in an email. 

According to the police's most recent hate and bias report, which covers occurrences police logged between Jan. 1, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2022, members of Hamilton's Jewish community were the most targeted religious group. Police logged 42 antisemitic occurrences. Members of the Muslim community were the second-most targeted religious group in 2022, with five occurrences. 

In 2021, police reported 24 hate occurrences targeting the Jewish community and 14 targeting the Muslim community.

In Vancouver, police said the recent conflict in Gaza has led to an increase in hate crimes, with 31 per cent more reports year over year. 

Toronto police have said the conflict led to a "staggering" increase in hate crimes in that city, with Islamophobic or anti-Palestinian and antisemitic hate crimes increasing year over year. 

'We cannot stay silent'

Community leaders are also reporting worrying trends. Though he did not share specific numbers, Lyndon George, who directs the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre (HAARC), said since Oct. 7, his team has seen "concerning antisemitic, Islamophobic, and anti-Palestinian incidents related to the ongoing war in Gaza and Israel," both online and in the community. 

HAARC was part of a team that launched an online reporting tool to report hate crimes last year but George said because the tool is new, the data is not yet available. 

A man with glasses looks at the camera.
Gustavo Rymberg is the chief executive officer of the Hamilton Jewish Federation (Submitted by Gustavo Rymberg)

Rymberg said he expected a local increase in antisemitism due to the conflict. He said there was great sympathy and support for the Jewish community in the days following Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, and taking around 240 people hostage. 

That goodwill dried up when Israel retaliated, Rymberg said. 

Since Oct. 7, Gaza health authorities say Israeli attacks have killed at least 25,000 Palestinians and wounded over 62,000. The authorities do not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths but say most of those killed have been civilians.

UN officials say a quarter of the population of 2.3 million is starving, and the fighting has displaced about 85 per cent of Gazans. 

Rymberg said he's receiving near-daily reports of incidents including harassment and vandalism against people in the local Jewish community. Rymberg also said he has received a death threat. 

He said one can be pro-Palestinian without being antisemitic but that he worries criticism of Israel has given people licence to "come out of the closet with antisemitic feelings."

Rymberg said his federation asks anyone in the community affected by antisemitism to report it. "We cannot stay silent."

The federation shares reports about alleged incidents that occur in schools with the relevant school boards, and sends some reports to Hamilton police. The federation also has legal support available for people who are affected, he said.

"The most important thing for us is to make sure that [the people affected] feel protected by us," he said.

Often, Rymberg said, individuals need help managing expectations. "[The system is] not designed to have immediate solutions," he said, noting he knows of cases in which community organizations are paying off-duty police for guard duty. 

Muslim communities seek support, too

At a December Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustee meeting, a motion was passed to address "acts of anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism," according to HWDSB

The motion was put forward by student trustee Thomas Lin and trustee Sabreina Dahab after "after extensive consultation with Palestinian and Muslim students" who cited "increased levels of anti-Palestinian racism in schools." 

A woman standing.
Sabreina Dahab is Ward 2 trustee for the public school board. (Sabreina Dahab/Facebook)

Abrar Mechmechia is a Hamilton-based mental health counsellor whose organization, ABRAR Trauma & Mental Health Services, holds a free drop-in for youth in Hamilton and provides support to newcomers. 

She said she's heard from many concerned Muslim and Arabic people through her work across southern Ontario. Mechmechia said she's heard individuals describe an increasing number of microaggressions and concerns for their employment prospects should they speak about the conflict in Gaza.

She described "a feeling of being dismissed, dehumanized and losing the freedom of speech." 

Going forward, Mechmechia said, building resiliency, advocating for the community through campaigns such as Salam Hamilton, and coming together for group support are important.

"Shared lived experiences bring the community together, strengthens the community, and makes the community feel safer when they're together," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Chandler is a CBC News reporter in Hamilton. He covers all sorts of stories but has a special interest in how public policy affects people. Justin covered current affairs in Hamilton and Niagara for TVO, and has worked on a variety of CBC teams and programs, including As It Happens, Day 6 and CBC Music. He co-hosted Radio Free Krypton on Met Radio. You can email story ideas to justin.chandler(at)cbc(dot)ca.

With files from Thomson Reuters