Anne McLellan   Letter 15   02-Apr-1998   Jews do attack Jews

April 2, 1998

The Honourable Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Room 360, Justice Building
239 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H8

E-mail: [email protected]

Dear Ms. McLellan:

In my letter to you of 1 April 1998, I asked that you bring to the attention of law-enforcement agencies the possibility that anti-Jewish violence may originate from Jewish sources.  The following article from the Jewish Telegraph Agency reinforces the notion that such a possibility exists and that it should be anticipated:

Canadian Jew charged in synagogue arson attack

By Bill Gladstone

TORONTO, March 2, 1998 (Jewish Telegraph Agency) A Jewish man has been charged with an arson attack on a Canadian synagogue days after he was interrogated in connection with fire damage at a synagogue in Phoenix.

Jonathan Bashinsky, 38, was arrested last Friday, two days after a fire caused minor damage to an exterior wall of the Conservative Or Shalom Synagogue in London, Ontario.

Minutes after dousing that fire, firefighters spotted smoke at the nearby Orthodox Beth Tefilah Synagogue and quickly extinguished a blaze which damaged a wooden fence.

Both fires were set on the morning of Feb. 25 by someone who ignited cardboard boxes filled with paper, twigs and a fire log.

"We're investigating the second fire to see if we have enough evidence to lay another charge of arson," said David Lucio, an inspector with the London City Police Force.

The London fires occurred only five days after Arizona police questioned Bashinsky as a prime suspect in a fire at the Orthodox Beth Joseph Synagogue in Phoenix in which some $3,000 worth of prayer books were destroyed.

Bashinsky was questioned because he fit the description of man who had visited the synagogue the day before and asked if he could use the mikvah, the ritual cleansing bath, and then pray in the synagogue's sanctuary.

Rabbi Harris Cooperman said he approved the man's request because he was "dressed the part" of an Orthodox man.

But after a local Jewish attorney, Michael Freeman, intervened on behalf of Bashinsky, the police questioning was halted.

London police already had been alerted about Bashinsky.

According to Lucio, police in Phoenix had contacted the London City Police to verify the validity of the identity that Bashinsky had given them via an Ontario driver's license.

"They said, 'If he is who he says he is, we should perhaps take some steps because he seems to be an individual out of control,' " Lucio said.

Several days before the London fires were set, police notified the city's three congregations to be wary.  The city's Reform synagogue was not attacked.

"This gentleman needs help," said Hillel Boroditsky, executive director of the London Jewish Federation.  "It's possible that what he did was a cry for help."

With respect to the above report, I have only two observations:

(1)  As arson can cause vast property damage, as it threatens not only the building which is set on fire but also nearby buildings, as it endangers the lives of firefighters, and as it may take the lives of people trapped in the fire, then the overriding responsibility of the police should have been to prevent future arsons by understanding the motivation of the suspected arsonist and by ascertaining the extent of his crimes.  Thus, I am disturbed by police questioning of the suspect Jonathan Bashinsky being halted by the "intervention" of "Jewish attorney, Michael Freeman."  I cannot grasp by what power or by what authority a defense attorney was able to halt police questioning, and I cannot imagine what consideration could have taken precedence in the minds of the police ahead of the protection of life and property from this most heinous of crimes.

(2)  By quoting Hillel Boroditsky's statements that "This gentleman needs help," and "It's possible what he did was a cry for help," the above article attempts to depict the suspect Jonathan Bashinsky as hapless and pitiable, and as acting solely on the basis of irrational impulse.  However, touring North American synagogues for the purpose of setting them on fire may be something more than yielding to a pathological impulse it may be the carrying out of a conspiracy.

Thus, it is possible that Jonathan Bashinsky was not acting alone.  It is possible that he was not acting irrationally.  It is possible that he was not paying his own travel, hotel, and restaurant expenses.  That Bashinsky may have turned out to be largely ineffectual in his efforts does not prove that he acted alone and irrationally; it could instead be the result of insufficient planning and inadequate training on the part of his sponsors; and it could instead be the result of the difficulty of hiring competent help for such repugnant work.

However, the danger persists that interests that might want to promote Jewish cohesion or Jewish support of Israel or Jewish emigration to Israel through the vehicle of increasing the concern of North American Jews for their own safety might decide to implement similar actions in the near future, but with better planning and training, and relying on more competent personnel.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak