Montreal Jewish leader: Vandalism not always made public

Community members unaware of many attacks; security c’tee head says institution targeted earlier this month didn’t want act publicized.

Canada synagogue vandalism 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Canada synagogue vandalism 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MONTREAL – Not all recent acts of vandalism against the Montreal Jewish community have been made public, the head of the Montreal Jewish Federation Combined Jewish Appeal’s security coordinating committee has disclosed.
Recent media reports have focused on anti-Semitic incidents directed at five synagogues and a school on January 16. However, the head of the committee, Rabbi Reuven Poupko, told The Jerusalem Post that there were other acts of vandalism over the last 18 months that had been reported on a timely basis to the police, but deliberately kept from the media. As a result, members of the Montreal Jewish and general community have not been aware of all of these acts.
Poupko told The Canadian Jewish News on January 17, that “incidents of vandalism have been occurring on a more regular basis, perhaps once a month, but they have gone unreported for fear of triggering ‘copycats’ or creating an unreasonable degree of fear.”
Asked whether police investigators were the ones requesting that certain incidents of vandalism not be reported to the media for fear of jeopardizing an ongoing investigation, Poupko said, “No.” He clarified that it was the committee he chaired that made the decisions not to report certain incidents to the public.
Poupko said it was a “judgment call” as to which incidents his committee released to the media and which ones it didn’t, and this was decided “on a caseby- case basis.”
Describing the composition of his committee, Poupko said it was “a partnership between [Montreal Jewish] Federation and Canadian Jewish Congress Quebec Region.”
Asked specifically how many incidents of vandalism had been reported to the police but not been made public, Poupko said he couldn’t “give a specific number.” He said that administrators of an institution were told of a given event such that the institutions themselves knew and could therefore take precautionary measures.
Explaining why his committee would decide not to inform the public of a given incident, he said that “we don’t want to grant them [the perpetrators] victory,” and “we don’t want to give them the satisfaction” of reading about their act “in the newspaper.”
The incidents of vandalism, including those unreported to the media, have taken place in the constituency of veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian minister of justice.
Cotler chairs the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, which just concluded its second international conference in Ottawa last November.
In its report last week, The Canadian Jewish News said a source had told the paper two weeks earlier that “‘a major community institution’ [in Montreal’s Jewish community] was hit by vandals, but the incident went unreported.”
Poupko confirmed that this incident, although reported to the police, had not been reported to the public. He explained that “management of that [major community] institution” didn’t want it to be reported to the media, so his committee had honored that request.
Asked whether he could now disclose the name of this institution, especially in light of the recent string of vandalism attacks, Poupko responded, “No I can’t. They have asked me not to tell.”
Cotler told the Post that he had not been told about the incident some two weeks ago against this institution.
Asked whether his committee had notified B’nai B’rith Canada about the incidents reported to police but not to the media, Poupko said it had not, and that it had no intention of doing so.
However, according to B’nai B’rith Canada CEO Frank Dimant, this means these incidents will not be part of the statistical data that comprises B’nai B’rith’s Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in Canada – information that is “forwarded to the University of Tel-Aviv,” which compiles world data relating to anti- Semitic incidents.
Dimant added that he did not know which “major community institution” in Montreal had been vandalized two weeks ago.
Heidi Oppen, Quebec director of B’nai B’rith Canada, also confirmed she did not know.
Dimant said that in his view, all Jewish organizations combating anti-Semitism ought to be notified of all incidents of vandalism against Jewish institutions that are reported to the police. Dimant urged all institutions in Montreal to get proper security cameras in place and to avail themselves of any money available from Canada’s federal government for this purpose.
Rhonda Spivak is editor of the e-paper