Independent Jewish Voices Canada spokesperson Sheryl Nestel (bottom left) went head to head with Richard Marceau, Vice-President of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (top right), in a webinar debate over the merits of a definition of anti-Semitism which some claim is designed to protect Israel. Other panelists included York law professor Faisal Bhabha, top left, and Bernie Farber a respected social activist and former President of the Canadian Jewish Congress (centre top). Who won? Read more…
Thanks to a webinar organized by Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a festering debate over a controversial “new definition” of anti-Semitism has been brought out in to the mainstream.
The issue is whether this “new” definition, known as the IHRA definition, is really a step forward in combating anti-Semitism in Canada, or whether it has a hidden objective – to protect the State of Israel from serious criticism.
A number of Canadian cities and a few legislatures have considered this new definition. Several have adopted it and a few have declined to do so. Critics of the definition have attempted, without success, to engage in serious discussion with its sponsors over the value and impact of the definition.
In fact, a year ago, CTIP sent an open letter to former cabinet minister Irwin Cotler, one of its Canadian proponents, inviting him to comment on some of the more problematic aspects of the definition. Mr. Cotler never responded.
For some time, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, a small organization of non-Zionist Jews, has been trying in vain to get the definition’s major promoters to engage in serious debate.
Until now, neither Cotler nor CIJA had deigned to enter into direct and serious discussion over the merits (and objectives) of the definition with any of its critics.
However, on June 11th, IJV crashed through the invisible barrier when Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association organized a public debate, inviting both proponents and critics to lay out their case before the pulic.
Centre for Free Expression Virtual Forum Series
Who won the debate? It depends on who’s measuring and how they measure it. IJV Canada immediately declared victory, claiming that CIJA was unable to refute their argument that the definition is designed to chill criticism of Israel. Bernie Farber’s assessment was that the vast majority of Jews worldwide have embraced the definition and therefore “we must all show increased care not to allow the criticisms of those who reject the wording to bear fruit.”
Meanwhile, on the CIJA website, the debate appears to have been deep sixed – nary a mention although Richard Marceau did tweet a link for his followers.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada must be very encouraged. For many years after its founding 12 years ago, IJV Canada was ignored or marginalized by the major Jewish organizations like CIJA as “irrelevant”.
However, good ideas often start off as fringe ideas. Black Lives Matter, #Metoo, and Truth and Reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous communities were also fringe ideas only a few years ago.
IJV (Canada) is still very small compared to CIJA. But the ideas it is espousing it is emerging from the fringe. “From little acorns mighty oaks do grow.”
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 with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers who have a different point of view are invited to make comment.
Want to learn more about what we do? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.