Non-Jews Must Speak Out Against Antisemitism, says BMO CEO and FAST Co-founder Tony Comper

TORONTO, June 16, 2005 Citing an all-time record of 857 reported incidents of antisemitism in Canada in 2004, BMO Financial Group CEO and FAST co-founder Tony Comper told an audience gathered at the Empire Club in Toronto that this is a crisis that must be resolved by non-Jews.

“That is why we founded FAST, short for Fighting Antisemitism Together, as one way of crying: Enough! And why we recruited an all-star cast of non-Jewish Canadian business leaders,” stated Mr. Comper.

Comper explained why FAST has chosen to focus on a specific manifestation of intolerance when, tragically, there are so many others. He said, “I know I speak for the whole group when I say that we deplore intolerance in any and all of its manifestations, but also realize that the more well-defined and focused the target, the better the chances of having an impact.”

Comper encouraged all those who feel strongly to start up a version of FAST on their own.

FAST is a coalition of high-profile corporate citizens and non-Jewish business leaders that was founded by Mr. Comper and his wife Elizabeth to combat antisemitism in Canada and that is dedicated to the safety and well-being of every Jewish child in Canada.

“I am here because my wife Elizabeth and I believe that in the end, this is a crisis that must be resolved by non-Jews,” he said. “If antisemitism is to vanish from the Earth, it will be from the transformation of non-Jewish rather than Jewish peoples. Non-Jews must join the battle against what has been described sadly, but accurately, as the oldest and longest of hatreds.”

Comper told his audience that FAST, in its earliest efforts, addresses itself to the young, in the form of a vow that “if we can help it, not one more generation of Jewish children will grow up in fear of the people around them.”

“Elizabeth and I have been profoundly influenced by stories we’ve heard over the years from contemporary-and-older Jewish friends and colleagues, and the childhood fears they knew in the face and wake of the Holocaust…even here in pre-cosmopolitan Toronto, where being Jewish was reason enough to get beat up on the way to and back from school, along with torrents of verbal abuse that would make a psychopath cringe,” he said.

“Indeed if we are to make antisemitism ‘vanish from the Earth’, this seems like the place to start, reaching out with truth and reason to young, still-interpreting minds.”

FAST’s first educational project is a curriculum-based learning program called Choose Your Voice, which FAST is developing in close partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario Region, for use initially in Ontario schools. The DVD and learning guides address antisemitism in the broader context of bigotry. Choose Your Voice is expected to be launched this fall.

“We realize that this initiative — and for that matter, any others that FAST may undertake — is unlikely to touch the hearts and minds of the real hard-core crowd, the ones who most likely learned their hatred at the parental knee. But it could serve to further marginalize them, which sometimes is the best you can do when dealing with bullies and bigots.

“How so? First, by stripping them of their potential power base, the people who really don’t know any better; and who, for whatever reasons, haven’t sought out the truth for themselves. Second, by going one step further and helping to encourage active opposition to the Jew-haters and racists and assorted other bigots and bullies the moment they start telling their despicable lies or making their ugly, pathetic ‘jokes’. We believe if the truth can make us free, it should also make us bold.”

Comper ended his remarks with a reference to the writings of Professor and Rabbi Emil Fackenheim, an internationally celebrated philosopher and Holocaust scholar who taught and wrote at University of Toronto from 1948 through 1984.

“Among the many memorable things Dr. Fackenheim spoke of and/or published in his 87 active and productive years is his coining, in 1970, of the now-oft-referred-to expression, ‘the 614th Commandment’. Quoting Rabbi Fackenheim, Comper noted, “in Jewish tradition there are 613 commandments, sufficient for all situations future as well as past. But the tradition could not anticipate Hitler: the Holocaust was unpredictable, even for Torah.

“So what is this extra commandment that Dr. Fackenheim believes Jews should also live by?” asked Comper. “Let me restate the 614th Commandment,” he [Fackenheim] writes in one of his last essays, “That Jews are forbidden to give Hitler posthumous victories.

“When it comes to antisemitism, whether you look back 60 years, 600 or 6000, things that once seemed far-fetched — Kristallnacht, for example, or Auschwitz — have suddenly, brutally turned very real,” said Comper. “I am here today because I believe that this should not be a lonely battle, as it has so often been, for so many, for so long. And because I believe that this 614th Commandment is something we all should be living by.”

An audio download is available today at:
2:05 pm and 2:45 pm on BN Channel 4

Photos and a copy of Mr. Comper’s speech will also be made available at www.bmo.com.

About FAST
FAST is a vigorous, new offensive against antisemitism in Canada that is funded and driven by a coalition of non-Jews, many of them leaders in the Canadian business community.

Under the banner of Fighting Antisemitism Together, this coalition of corporate citizens and business leaders was founded in response to the fact that 2004 was the worst year in more than half a century for vicious anti-Jewish activity in this country.

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Contacts:

Ralph Marranca, Toronto, (416) 867-3996
JoAnne Hayes, Toronto, (416) 867-3996
Ronald Monet, Montreal, (514) 877-1101