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.
Did not see it, but can believe that IJV easily won the debate on the IHRA AS definition against CIJA as being designed or used to stifle criticism of Israel and reduce support to Palestine. . There is indeed no mention of Israel in the central defn of AS as actions and extreme criticism of Jews Judaism. It clearly says that normal criticism of Israel is not anti Semitism. The interpretive examples ie calling people Nazis or comparing Israeli treatment of Pals to Nazis or charges of dual loyalty etc are contrived and extremely biased and are used in public political discourse in many contexts including in Israel itself. and among Jews.The originators of the defn have clearly said that it should not be used to constrain discussion and criticism of Israel in context of Israel Palestine conflict which Israel lobby constantly does.
Too bad you did not see it George. You would have been so proud!
Sheryl Nestel Is such an intelligent and articulate speaker. She frequently left Richard Marceau scrambling for words trying to offer a rebuttal to her arguments. IJV were the clear winner. The debate in its entirety will be made available online. ( if it isn’t already)
Obviously you saw the debate that IJV refused to show. Nester came out stating that the Jews have no right to a state. Bernie absolutely destroyed Nester and caught her up short when she continued to try to put words in Bernie’s mouth.
Bhababa was totally out of line and was certainly making antisemitic statements. Strangely, he continued with antisemitic tropes. I think the Jews acted admirably by not just condemning Bhababa and shutting down the discussion.
Hey Frank, would you pls be so kind as to point out some of those “anti semitic tropes” by Bhababa.
You are joking, of course. Both Bernie and Richard were aghast at Bhabha’s statements: minute 34+ “Zionism is Jewish supremacy.” By that token, it is logical to state that the Palestinian National movement is Islamist and based of Muslim supremacy (with a nod of the head to inferior Christians). “Zionism “is the suppression of Palestinian human rights for the purpose of ensuring Jewish supremacy” “The IHRA is anti-black and anti-brown.” Not antisemitic, just anti-intelligent. Around minute 37+, Bernie states how offensive Bhabha is to make such statements. Notice how Nester had to interject to protect Bhabha as he refused to define “Jewish Supremacy.”
Richard then proved that the still nonexistent Palestinian state will be Islamist, by Palestinian Arab basic law – an Arab Muslim supremacist state.
Hey Mr. Sigman,
I don’t know Mr. Bhabha, but he did say he had lived in Israel for a couple of years. I think that would be enough to convince any non-Jew that Zionism as it is practiced in Israel, is Jewish supremacy. Israel is defined as a Jewish State, and Jews have a myriad of legal and administrative prvileges in Israel that non Jews do not enjoy.
The clearest examples are in land ownership, housing and education, where segregation is permitted by law, just as it was in Jim Crow USA.
There may be other forms of Zionism which do not support Jewish Supremacy, but as Zionism gets played out in the only Jewish State in the world, Jewish supremacy is not just a practice, but the law.
It appears that Bernie Farber, the respected social activist and former President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, won the debate. His proven rebuttal to Nester’s statement that the originator of the IAHR definition now disapproved it, was very enlightening and showed that Nester, like Norman Finkelstein, is prone to making statements that are not quite accurate in the effort to win a debate. IJV lost, although not badly.
An informative debate. The context of the debate, however, is a world largely constituted of nation-states (such as Canada and Israel) created to serve and maintain capitalist private property rights. Inevitably, the inherent drive within capitalism to private wealth accumulation translates into vast inequality within and between nations, the prevalence of racism and other forms of supremacist ideology, and enormous waste, leading ultimately to the socio-ecological crisis we now face.
The silver lining to this crisis of inequality and environmental degradation is the potential that our will to survive will push the majority of us past the barriers erected by the defenders of capitalism to create a more cooperative system, one based on human solidarity, a common commitment to global equality of access to natural resources and distribution of the products and services created by past and present generations, and acceptance of a corresponding responsibility for the creation of a sustainable relationship with nature and each other. For more on this, my partner Karen and I invite others to read our argument in eleven articles, Achieving an ecologically sustainable civilization, published online by Green Social Thought, and available on our website, http://www.greensocialdemocracy.org. – Charles McFadden
“There may be other forms of Zionism which do not support Jewish Supremacy, but as Zionism gets played out in the only Jewish State in the world, Jewish supremacy is not just a practice, but the law.” – Peter Larson
Thank you Peter Larson for substantiating this conclusion as clearly as could be done.
So long as the profit motive continues to dominate economic relationships, religious bigotry and other means of dividing and ruling the exploited and oppressed will continue to be its necessary ally, as in formerly apartheid South Africa, in Jim Crow USA, in a Canada in which the Indian Act continues to be the law, in contemporary Israel with its similar apartheid laws, or in that most egregious example, in the use of anti-Semitism as a pretext by the Nazis and fascists for the holocaust.
Shame on the current state of Israel for going so far as it has to replicate the behaviour of some of the worst anti-Semites in history. It is the moral responsibility of all humanity to call for the end of Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, Enough is enough.
Thank you for proving why Canada needs to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism if only to keep people from you from thinking it is alright to post such antisemitic comments.
Israel does not replicate the behavior of any antisemitic regimes. It is the moral responsibility of all humanity to see the context in the relationship between the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and the Palestinian Arabs who voted for Hamas, a genocidal terrorist group, to run their affairs. Enough is enough.
Peter Larson, why are you so upset at being identified as having antisemitic intentions that you must censor my statements? Of what are you so afraid/ Do you think the vast majority of the Jews of Canada do not already feel contempt towards you and your blog?
Hey Mr. Sigman,
I don’t think that the vast majority of Jews of Canada feel contempt for my blog. Hardly any of them know about it. I would be happier if more did, so we could enter into thoughtful conversation.
About my being “identified as having anti-semitic intentions”… I don’t have any. And am happy to engage with anyone who claims the opposite. I am solidly rooted in democracy, equality and human rights… for ALL.
Mr. Larson, as you allow antisemitic comments to your blog, there is no reason to believe that you do not have antisemitic intent. It is highly doubtful, based on your posts and comments, that if more Canadian Jews knew about your blog, they would not find it just as distasteful and would likely engage you merely to educate you.
Hey Mr Sigman,
Of course I don’t like it when I am accused of “anti-Semitism”, but the accusation does not scare me. If you can point to specific things I have said (rather than an inferred anti-Semitic “intent”), we can discuss.
Nor will I accept anti-Semitic comments on my blog. Again, if you can point to such, we can also discuss that.
I do not accept the argument that opposing the Zionist idea of a Jewish State is anti-Semitic. There are hundreds of ethnic groups in the world – probably thousands. But there are only about 200 states. I don’t accept the idea that Jews have some special status that warrants a state that most ethnic groups do not have.
I think the accusation of anti-Semitism is a serious one but not to be thrown around lightly. I would like to have a thorough discussion on these accusations before accepting any more of your comments.
Have a good day.
I do accept the proposition that given the horrible history of anti-Semitism in Europe, that Jews deserve special protection.
Mr. Larson, This is not an antisemitic remark? “Shame on the current state of Israel for going so far as it has to replicate the behavior of some of the worst anti-Semites in history.” Really.
Do the Jews have some special status that they deserve a state? Highly doubtful, but like Mexicans returning to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the Jews returned to the Palestinian region. Unlike the Mexicans, the Jews were set upon by the Arabs who had previously conquered and colonized the land 1300 years earlier. While not going into the entire history of the conflict, the UN approved a resolution recommending partition of the land between the Jews and the Arabs. Unhappy with that recommendation, the Arabs started a war with genocide in mind. It does not matter that they had no ability to do so.
The Jews won that war and established an independent state. It had nothing to do with deserving a state. However, that state is quite legitimate and any suggestion to the contrary borders on antisemitic thought.
Why on Earth would anyone be afraid of being labeled an antisemite? It does not appear to stop anyone from doing anything. It certainly will not stop you.
What should not be thrown about lightly is the suggestion that Israel is acting like Nazi Germany. Yet you allow such comments.
Hey Mr. Sigman, Thank you. We now have something to work with.
YOU “Mr. Larson, This is not an antisemitic remark? “Shame on the current state of Israel for going so far as it has to replicate the behavior of some of the worst anti-Semites in history.” Really.”
PEL – Israeli actions toward the Palestinians, inside and outside Israel, are based on a belief that one race (or ethnic group) is superior to another. The specific acts are not the same. There are no genocide camps in Israel for example. On the other hand, Germany did not use fighter bombers to attack Jewish concentration camps either.. But the clear intent is to ethnically cleanse all of historic Palestine of its Palestinian (ie. non Jewish) citizens. This is the same ideology that motivated the 3rd Reich, though directed at another group in different circumstances.
YOU “Do the Jews have some special status that they deserve a state? Highly doubtful, but like Mexicans returning to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the Jews returned to the Palestinian region. ”
PEL – There was no objection to Jews immigrating into Palestine. In fact, in many cases they were welcomed because they brought European investment, jobs, etc. But when they started to take over the land, and evict Palestinians, then things became ugly.
YOU ” The Jews won that war and established an independent state. It had nothing to do with deserving a state. However, that state is quite legitimate and any suggestion to the contrary borders on antisemitic thought.”
PEL – YES the Jews did win the war, with the aid of the imperial powers. Israel is today a legitimate state recognized by the UN. However, states are not permanent. What is created can be undone. Look at the USSR, Jugoslavia or Rhodesia. They were dismantled. Or states can be reconfigured – look at the Union of South Africa. Still a state, but a changed regime. That will happen to Israel as well.
YOU “Why on Earth would anyone be afraid of being labeled an antisemite?”
PEL – I am not afraid of it. I expect to be called anti semitic by a few extremists. I don’t expect to change their minds. But I am happy to discuss it openly and honestly. My experience is that most independent onlookers end up agreeing that the accusation is not well founded. So, please keep it up.
Claims of anti semitism in any criticism of Israel for its discriminatory treatment, control and occupation of Palestinians was proved nonsubstantial in the debate. The central IHRA defn of antisrmitism as activities or speech against Jews and Judaism is perfectly legitimate. Any of the examples pertaining to Israel are bogus and designed to limit and bias the discussion on Israel Palestine. Calling Israel racist, Nazi like, Jewish supremacist nation state law or even Jews rejecting Israel outright happens every day in Israel. It is anti Israel as a state and its pokicies and is not antisemitic any more than the criticism of any other state from Nazi Germany to Communist China or Islamic republic of Iran is against the state and not all people of that nationality or racial ethnic religious makeup..
Not so. There was no claim of antisemitism, despite it appearance, so that the discussion would not fall apart and just become a verbal slugfest. As for your remark regarding behavior in Israel among Jews, African Americans and Canadians can use language that would get any member of any other group fired if they used the same identical language when referring to African Americans and Canadians. So that argument does not hold water.
Anti-Israel is more than just criticism of state policy. It is the denial of the right of Jews to have a state in their ancestral homeland. That is antisemitic in intent. It is interesting that you chose genocidal regimes for comparison rather than liberal democracies, such as the US, Canada, and Australia, all of whom are guilty of the same policies that are objectionable in Israel. That is also quite telling.
Your opinion borders on the JVP line, those who practice some form of Judaism while denying that the Jews are a people.
There was no claim of antisemitism in the debate, despite it appearance, so that the discussion would not fall apart and just become a verbal slugfest. As for your remark regarding behavior in Israel among Jews, African Americans and Canadians can use language that would get any member of any other group fired if they used the same identical language when referring to African Americans and Canadians. So that argument does not hold water.
Anti-Israel is more than just criticism of state policy. It is the denial of the right of Jews to have a state in their ancestral homeland. That is antisemitic in intent. It is interesting that you chose genocidal dictatorships for comparison rather than liberal democracies, such as the US, Canada, and Australia, all of whom are guilty of the same policies that are objectionable in Israel. That is also quite telling.
You are manipulating any criticism of Israel into non existent antisemitic intent using the highly problematic Israel references in IHRA definition whose central definition is actions and activities against Jews and Judaism incl as a people..
In the debate the point was made by the IJV rep that Israel is a racist state practicing Jewish supremacy and apartheid., the Jewish nation state law was rejected by most panelists, annexation was totally rejected by all, BDS and other sanctions were explained as normal political action and in no way antisemitic, human and equal rights and a Palestinian state were favored by all, the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state was not rejected by anyone and neither were all Jews were to be judged in any way responsible for Israel’s deviations.
All of these would be considered under your interpretation of the IHRA extended defn as antisemitic and threatening to Israel as a nation state of the Jewish people, whereas none of them are in fact . Countries and their leaders including Canada are called all sorts of names including Nazis and racists but that bears no resemblance to a systematic opposition and prejudice to the people of these countries no matter how much systemic racism might exist inside them including traditional antisemitism. A good counter example is that the criticism of Saudi Arabia and its policies does not necessarily constitute a universal anti Arab or islamophobic bias.
The only real threat to a Jewish democratic human rights respecting, law abiding and internationally accepted Israel is the continued nonimplementation of a state of Palestine and freedom for the Palestinian people who are living under occupation discrimination and apartheid like conditions. If annexation proceeds and options for a 2 state solution are cut off, Israel will be faced with having to enforce an unacceptable unsustainable status quo or accept a single democratic state. .
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