Anti-Semitism isn’t what it used to be. The favorite ploy of contemporary anti-Semites is to deny their anti-Semitism and cloak it as something else.

Nowadays, anti-Semitism frequently parades as high-minded opposition to Israel’s supposed sins. The guise of political-humanitarian righteousness facilitates double standards against the Jewish state, and its demonization and delegitimization. Oftentimes, bigots feign innocence, claiming diminished responsibility on assorted grounds – from being under the influence to pseudo- psychological pretexts.

A particularly cogent example of the latter category emerged a few days ago from Winnipeg, Canada, where Provincial Court of Manitoba Judge Robin Finlayson refused to rule a particularly repugnant November 2011 attack on a 15-year-old high school student a hate crime.

The attacker, himself a student, grabbed a Jewish girl whom he encountered near his locker, flicked a lighter, yelled out, “Let’s burn the Jew,” and singed her hair. He pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and was sentenced to 75 hours community work.

The judge accepted the version whereby the attacker did not set out to burn his victim’s hair, or to single her out because of her Jewishness. He was instead described as a “jerk and a bully.” His therapist opined that “the offense was an impulsive teenage action” and the “Burn the Jew” exclamations constituted a component of an “established pattern” of interactions by students at the school.

In her victim impact statement, the girl said the attack “changed her world upside down.” She needed psychological counseling to deal with resultant fears, while at school her attacker’s friends placed the blame on her. Yet in the court’s view, “vulgar and inappropriate” as the incident was, it was “impulsive, unplanned and not racially motivated.”

The ruling had rightly sparked indignation among a broad variety of Jewish organizations. B’nai Brith Canada, for example, urged the Canadian attorney-general to review the guidelines for imposing enhanced sentences in hate crimes. It pointed out that “the notion of hate-motivated crimes in the Criminal Code is not limited to those crimes which are planned in advance. There is nothing in the Code to suggest such a limitation. The prosecutor and court seem to think that a dish is only hatred if it is served cold. Yet hatred is a dish which can be and is most often served hot.”

“The perpetrator’s behavior was disgusting and reprehensible,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “While bullying is far too common, this incident was uniquely extreme and called for a serious response. From our perspective, what’s most important is that the court was firm and unequivocal in dealing with the offender accordingly.”

This, of course, is food for thought for all of us. We may reasonably ponder what a hate crime is, but not when it is an unprovoked attack in which a portion of a young girl’s hair is burned to the accompaniment of loud jeers and aggressive slurs.

We may also plausibly speculate on what the reaction would have been had the victim been black or had a Jewish attacker done the same to a girl of Arab extraction. It is not far-fetched to assume that the response of the legal community would have been radically different.

Like it or not, there is consistently – and not only in Canada – greater lenience and near-indulgence toward offenses against Jews, be they verbal or physical. Complaints by Jews are more often than not considered nitpicking bothers and fault is ascribed to the complainant for “milking it” and disturbing everyone’s peace. As the girl in this case attested, she was censured for not keeping mum about the attack.

It must be clarified that Canada is by no means among the worst societies on the anti-Semitism scale. In fact, Canada is among Israel’s best friends in an increasingly hypocritical and hostile international community. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is due to visit Israel this month, where he will be a most welcome guest.

Ottawa certainly has no control over local courts, but this case illuminates, more than anything, a mindset that creates an atmosphere in which Jews – individually and collectively – are judged by different yardsticks than those applied to everyone else. This is as true for a Jewish teenager as it is for the Jewish state.

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