Assumption University principal John Cappucci has launched a research project to pin down the extent and virulence of contemporary anti-Semitism in Windsor, Ont.

Windsor scholar studies rise in local anti-Semitism

  • January 21, 2021

Persistent prejudice is inspiring one Catholic scholar to respond with persistent and faithful research.

Assumption University principal John Cappucci has launched a research project to pin down the extent and virulence of contemporary anti-Semitism in Windsor, Ont., and surrounding Essex County. Under the title “The Persistent Prejudice: Contemporary Anti-Semitism in a Canadian Region,” the two-part survey of Windsor’s 1,500-plus Jews asks about Jewish perceptions of anti-Jewish hatred, their own safety and their recent experience of hate speech, harrasment, prejudice and bias.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, what the nature of anti-Semitism is in Windsor,” Cappucci told The Catholic Register.

In addition to his job as principal of the Catholic college affiliated with the University of Windsor, Cappucci holds the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Religion and Conflict and sometimes teaches courses in Jewish studies.

Catholic scholarship has a grave responsibility to help the Church come to grips with its 2,000-year history of anti-Semitism, Cappucci said.

“We can’t erase 2,000 years of history, where there was that very strong relationship between Christianity and anti-Semitism,” he said. “It existed in all kinds of different forms and various branches of Christianity used it differently. Unfortunately, for some people, it’s still there.”

But it isn’t just about the history of “one of the oldest hatreds of the world,” for Cappucci. The Catholic scholar wants to look at the rise of anti-Semitism right now.

“In the enlightened third decade of the 21st century, one would think that anti-Semitism would be on its way out,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem like that at all. It seems to be on the rise.”

Fellow researcher Barbara Perry of OntarioTech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism in Oshawa, Ont., believes social media is fuelling a frenzied revival of anti-Semitism.

“Both the quantity and quality of online anti-Semitism are boundless,” Perry said in an e-mail. “Depending on the platform, hundreds or thousands of people can access the narratives, which means that they travel fast and far. And the fact that they are laden with hostility, disinformation and vilification makes them dangerous.”

Perry has been studying anti-Jewish hate crime and harrasment in the Greater Toronto Area, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal. Adding data and analysis from Windsor will significantly add to our understanding of hate in Canada, she said.

“I know of very few others working in this area, so any research is a contribution,” she said.

The B’nai Brith Canada’s Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents for 2019 found an increase in hate speech and harassment for the fourth year in a row, an eight-per-cent increase over 2018. But online hate led the way.

“Harassment by far accounted for the largest number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, representing 91.1 per cent of recorded incidents. Of these incidents, 83.2 per cent of them occurred online,” read the 2020 report.

Cappucci’s scholarly instinct tells him that non-Jews don’t really see the scope of the problem and would probably rate a town like Windsor as both safer and more welcoming than it seems to the city’s small, Jewish minority.

“That would probably be the next step in this study, to compare what the Jewish perceptions are versus non-Jewish perceptions — to see if there’s a difference and what the differences might be,” he said.

When it comes to religiously based anti-Semitism — the belief that Christianity somehow replaced Judaism, or that Jewish faith is somehow illegitimate — the Church still has work to do. 

“The question is, how do you change that belief? That’s the million-dollar question that nobody seems to know,” Cappucci said. “I really believe what (Pope St.) John Paul II said. They are our elder brothers and sisters.”

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