It’s a little-known fact that Albert Einstein was a vocal supporter of the civil rights movement in the United States.
When he fled Nazi Germany and arrived in America in 1933, he was appalled by the discrimination and indignities suffered by the country’s black people. At Princeton University, where Einstein became an esteemed member of the faculty, he observed the realities of the American caste system. Even within the academic utopia of Princeton, racism and segregation ran deep.
The twentieth century’s most renowned scientist signalled his revulsion by becoming a member of the NAACP. He co-chaired a committee tasked with putting an end to the atrocity of lynching. Once he obtained American citizenship and felt entitled to speak out more forcefully, he delivered the commencement address at Lincoln University, an all-black college in Pennsylvania. Leveraging the influence his stature had brought him, he declared to the graduating students: “The separation of the races is not a disease of the colored people, but a disease of the white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.” This little piece of history about Albert Einstein aptly serves to introduce a contemporary Canadian who, similarly and intentionally, has decided not to be quiet.
Tony Comper wields substantial influence by virtue of his hard-earned stature at the highest reaches of Canadian business. He began his career as a trainee at the Bank of Montreal and rose to become its CEO. Accordingly when Comper leads, people follow. Some 15 years ago, he and his wife Elizabeth, since tragically deceased, co-founded an organization in Canada to fight what they saw as a rising tide of hatred against Jews. They called their movement Fighting Anti-Semitism Together (FAST). “FAST is unique,” says Comper, “in that it was launched as a coalition of pointedly non-Jewish business and community leaders who were prepared to stand up and speak out against the world’s oldest hatred.”
Since its inception FAST has concentrated on creating and distributing educational materials. Its innovative tools, provided to schoolboards across the country, aim to immunize students against the virus of anti-Semitism while arming them to combat it. Millions of young Canadians have thereby learned about bigotry and the forces that fuel institutional hate. For a number of years after FAST’s founding, Canada saw increasingly fewer instances of overt anti-Semitism. Recently, however, the trend has sharply reversed. In 2019, B’nai Brith’s annual audit recorded well over 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, representing an average of more than six hateful acts per day. That number had previously risen for four straight years, and has since continued to rise. Eight decades after the Holocaust, even in peaceful and supposedly tolerant Canada, Jews remain the target of haters and scapegoat-hunters on the extremes of both left and right.
Gearing to respond, FAST recently enhanced its nationwide efforts by joining forces with the Canadian Institute for the Study of anti-Semitism (CISA). As Comper explains, “The events of the past few months have served as a stark reminder that there is systemic racism and prejudice in every facet of our society. By joining with CISA, we are ensuring that FAST’s award-winning programming will continue for many years to come. And by helping teachers and students, we can marginalize the bigots, racists, and bullies and take away their power to intimidate.”
Tony Comper would surely protest any comparison to Albert Einstein. Still, he should be regarded in such terms for having leveraged his prominence precisely as did the immortal physicist. Both men set an example. Both spent their currency of influence on behalf of selfless causes. Influence buys outsized attention and helps move minds. Most critically, it inspires others not to remain quiet.
Learn more about FAST at fightingantisemitism.ca
Michael Carin’s most recent book can be previewed at thekremlinpapers.com