Up to the beginning of March, a debate had begun in various legislatures in Canada over anti-Semitism and how to fight it. The city councils of Montreal (above), Calgary and Vancouver discussed and declined to adopt a controversial motion which defines anti-Semitism in a way that is aimed to shield Israel from criticism. But those behind the motion have had some successes elsewhere. When the Corona virus crisis abates there is little doubt they will be back to continue their campaign. Why is the motion they are proposing so problematic, and what can be done about it? Read more…
A motion to have Montreal city council adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism was withdrawn last January 28th after intense lobbying by several organizations including Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV). After some debate, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante suggested that the motion be referred to a committee for further study and eventually it was withdrawn.
IJV takes some encouragement from the fact that Montreal joined Calgary and Vancouver city councils in balking at adopting the motion, as IJV Communications director Aaron Lakoff tells Canada Talks Israel Palestine in this short video interview.
But the Israel lobby redoubled its efforts and has had some success proposing the same motion in other municipalities and even in one provincial parliament.
On February 3rd, Westmount City Council adopted the IHRA definition. The affluent Montreal suburb of 21,000 became the second municipality in Canada to adopt it, following Toronto-area Vaughan, which did so on Jan. 28.
And on March 2nd, the town council of Hampstead, Quebec, followed suit.
At the provincial level, a private member’s bill in Ontario’s Parliament on the same topic passed second reading on February 27th with little dissent. Ontario MPPs voted 55-0 to send Bill 168 to committee, leading CIJA to claim an “unanimous vote” . While technically true, those 55 votes represent less than half of the 124 Ontario Members of Parliament. Many Liberals and NDP MPP’s absented themselves, perhaps showing concern about the appropriateness of the motion.
Moves are also afoot in several Ontario universities. At the University of Toronto some professors from the school’s dentistry and medicine faculties, have called on UofT President Meric Gertler to meet with them and adopt the IHRA definition which they say would give the school the tools needed to shut down anti-Semitic activities on campus.
Other Canadian jurisdictions and organizations have also been successfully lobbied to adopt the same motion including, the Canadian Federal government (June 2019), the Ryerson university student union, and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
What’s wrong with a motion to oppose anti-Semitism?
Nothing. Opposing anti-Semitism is a good thing.
Anti-Semitism does exist in Canada. While it might not be as prevalent as other forms of racism in Canada (anti-black, or Islamophobia, for example) it is real and pernicious. And the fear of a possible resurgence of anti-Semitism is at the root of the almost universal consensus among Canadian Jews on the need to protect Israel as a Jewish State.
What’s behind the urge to “redefine” anti-Semitism?
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism itself is not particularly new or innovative.
|“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”
– IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism
Those promoting the new definition claim that the purpose is to clarify what “anti-Semitism” means. But in fact, the new definition is not significantly different from existing widely used ones. Merriam Webster for example defines anti-Semitism as : “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.”
The real motive behind the push to redefine anti-Semitism is the desire to extend the definition by including 11 specific examples of what it calls “anti-Semitic behaviour” many of which seem specifically framed to protect the State of Israel from criticism.
A case in point is the eighth example which claims that it is anti-Semitic to – “require of Israel a behavior not demanded of any other democratic nation”. This argument is often used to label BDS (the movement to boycott Israel) for its crimes against the Palestinians as “anti-Semitic”. Why? Because the BDS movement, a Palestinian initiative, focuses on Israel. Using the IHRA logic, it would have been possible to claim that the movement to boycott apartheid South Africa was “racist” because it didn’t also oppose human rights abuses in other countries.
Heading them off at the pass – a CTIP suggestion
CTIP believes that it is important to fight anti-Semitism in Canada, not only in words, but in deeds. It is entirely appropriate that municipalities, churches, school boards, unions, universities and other organizations take up this struggle. Passing resolutions to show determination can be helpful.
Now that this debate has been temporarily put on “hold”, those who want to actively take up the fight against anti-Semitism might consider developing and proposing an alternative resolution for organizations to adopt instead of the misleading and deceptive IHRA definition.
A sample text follows:
Proposed resolution on fighting anti-Semitism in Canada
“This organization (e.g. municipal council, school board, labour union, religious institution, provincial parliament)” is concerned about the danger of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Canada and will act strongly and decisively to oppose it.
Anti-Semitism is a dangerous form of racism. It is hostility to, or prejudice against Jews. It has been the cause of horrific atrocities against Jews in Europe and unfortunately has a long and disgraceful history in Canada as well.
“This organization” commits to taking specific measures to oppose anti-Semitism, including:
- Reviewing all our documents, statements and texts to ensure that anti-Semitism does not show in them.
- Ensuring that anti-Semitism is included as a special topic in all education courses on racism and human rights offered to employees and/or members.
- Taking allegations of anti-Semitism very seriously by carrying out a thorough and serious investigation and referring cases to appropriate authorities (Human Rights Commission, Police, etc.) for further action as needed.
- Making our opposition to anti-Semitism, as well as any other form of racism, as widely known in the community as we can.
- Carrying out periodic reviews to see whether additional steps are warranted.
When the Corona crisis abates (1 month, 2 months, 4 months??) it can be expected that pro-Israel organizations like CIJA, Bnai Brith, and others will continue to press forward across Canada with their campaign to promote the adoption of the IHRA definition and its protections for the State of Israel.
However, by proposing that legislatures and civil society organizations adopt a succinct and clear resolution on anti-Semitism which includes steps to be taken, the stage will be set for a better discussion on how to effectively fight anti-Semitism in Canada
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue.
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