Jacoby: Nuance is crucial in fighting hate. That’s why I helped write an alternative definition of antisemitism.

Worth reading on the background to the Nexus definition and the distinctions with the IHRA definition:

My 95-year-old mother knows a thing or two about trauma. Not only because she is a survivor of Auschwitz but also because she is a psychologist.

“What worries me,” my mother says, “is that we Jews will succumb to our past trauma rather than rise above it.”

I share my mother’s concern.

Jewish Americans face the threats of escalating antisemitism and growing white nationalism at the same time that the Israeli government’s anti-democratic policies are eliciting increasingly harsh condemnation worldwide.

There is no inherent relationship between antisemitism and the outcry over Israeli policies. But when they occur together, they can trigger traumatic memories and confuse our thinking. This confusion can lead to a dangerous conflation of issues at the intersection of Israel and antisemitism.

Prime Minister Netanyahu exploits this confusion to deflect condemnation of his policies. He constructs a misleading equation, portraying severe criticism of Israel as not only a threat to the Jewish state but also to the Jewish people.

To demonize his political opponents, Netanyahu invokes the ultimate act of antisemitism, the Holocaust. He did so when he blasted those negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and when he reprimanded The New York Times over its criticism of the agreements he reached with far-right political parties. His strategy is to downplay antisemitism on the right and emphatically equate left-wing with right-wing antisemitism to obscure their distinctions.

Some Jewish organizations, perceiving strong criticism of Israel as threatening Jewish unity and the Jewish state, reflexively reinforce that equation. A case in point is Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt’s approach to anti-Zionism.

Greenblatt used his keynote address at ADL’s annual leadership summit in May to hammer home his assertion that “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Full stop.” Over the past two weeks, he has played a leading role in the campaign to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance non legally binding working definition of antisemitism (IHRA) as the sole such definition in the Biden administration’s U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. In a tweet urging its adoption, Greenblatt proclaimed: “Anything else permits antisemitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.”

Greenblatt was worried about reports that the White House would include other definitions in the strategy, such as the Nexus Document, which addresses “the complexities at the intersection of Israel and antisemitism.” Greenblatt has repeatedly denigrated Nexus by calling it a “pasted-up process organized by activists” and circulating inaccuracies like: “The Nexus definition assumes that unless there is outright violence involved, anti-Zionism is generally not antisemitism.”

In fact, the Nexus Document includes seven examples of anti-Zionist or anti-Israel behavior that should be considered antisemitic and four that might not be. As Dov Waxman, a member of the Nexus Task Force and chair of Israel Studies at UCLA, tweeted: “Nexus clearly identifies when criticism of Israel or opposition to it crosses the line into antisemitism. But because it is clearer than IHRA in this respect, it is less susceptible to being misused and weaponized against Palestinians and their supporters.”

It’s not that Greenblatt doesn’t understand the complexity of these issues. He has taken nuanced and moderate positions on anti-Zionism in the past. But complex formulas impede the use of simplistic equations. If Greenblatt wants to show that anti-Zionism is always an existential threat to both the Jewish state and the Jewish people, he can leave no room for nuance.

Ultimately, the White House acknowledged the significance of utilizing a varied set of resources to combat antisemitism, stating, “There are several definitions of antisemitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism.” The strategy acknowledged that the United States had already “embraced” the IHRA version, describing it as the “most prominent,” and went on to say that it “welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document” and other efforts.

That formula has angered some supporters of the IHRA definition, including World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, who said: “The inclusion of a secondary definition in addition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism is an unnecessary distraction from the real work that needs to be done.”

Like Greenblatt, Lauder wants to build a consensus around a simple explanation for a complex situation. But their approach actually diminishes our ability to carry out “the real work that needs to be done” because it weakens our ability to confront the dominant force fueling increased antisemitism in America: white supremacy

According to the ADL, white supremacy is the greatest danger facing Jewish Americans. As President Biden said in his opening remarks when the National Strategy was unveiled: “Our intelligence agencies have determined that domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy — including antisemitism — is the greatest terrorist threat to our Homeland today.”

“We can’t take on white supremacy, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ hate, or any form of hate without taking on the antisemitism that helps animate it,” says Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and former head of Integrity First for America, which successfully sued the neo-Nazis who organized the deadly 2017 Charlottesville march. “And likewise, we can’t take on antisemitism without taking on white supremacy or these other forms of hate … All our fates are intertwined.”

But Israel’s policies create a dilemma. When many of our potential allies see Israel, they see a country that calls itself a democracy but enacts laws enshrining Jewish dominance over Palestinian citizens of Israel. And they see a country that has denied fundamental human rights to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for 56 years. So, not surprisingly, they are moved to speak out about these realities.

Criticism of Israel will inevitably heighten in response to the policies and actions of this Israeli government. Some of Israel’s critics may indeed cross a line by using antisemitic tropes or stereotypes or denying Jews the same rights afforded to others, including Palestinians. When they do, they should not get a free pass. Full stop.

But we must resist the temptation to reflexively respond with accusations of Jew-hatred, even when the criticism of Israel is off-base or unjustified. We cannot afford to oversimplify complex issues by conflating political disagreements about Israel with antisemitism. If we do, we risk distracting from addressing the most dangerous instances of antisemitism and bigotry.

Times like these call on us to shed the weight of our past and approach these issues with clear minds and thoughtful consideration. “Sometimes we split the world into good and bad to guard ourselves against difficult realities,” my mother said. “If we can rid ourselves of the bad and make it so the other side is always guilty, then we feel safe. But by doing so, we lose the ability to find a solution.”

Source: Nuance is crucial in fighting hate. That’s why I helped write an alternative definition of antisemitism. – JTA News

Shielding Israel from criticism is not part of US strategy for combating anti-Semitism

Of note (on the IHRA and other definitions):

Supporters of Israel advocating for the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism have suffered a major blow in their ongoing effort to shield the apartheid state from criticism, following the release of a strategy document by the White House detailing its plan to combat the rise of anti-Jewish racism. Since at least 2016, anti-Palestinian groups have been clamouring to place the IHRA at the heart and centre of regulatory frameworks, which critics say is designed to police free speech on Israel and Palestine.

Yesterday, the US President Joe Biden had his say on the issue and the outcome is far from what advocates of the IHRA had been calling for. Instead of adopting the IHRA as the only definition of anti-Semitism, which hundreds of pro-Israel groups had been advocating for during consultation, its status has been demoted as one of the definitions of anti-Jewish racism alongside others that “serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of anti-Semitism.”

The White House’s strategy for combatting anti-Semitism refers to IHRA as “most prominent” but also “non-legally binding working definition” alongside other definitions it “welcomes and appreciates”. The US Administration also cites the non-controversial “Nexus Document” as a valid definition of anti-Semitism. Unlike the IHRA, the Nexus Document does not conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Interestingly, the IHRA is only mentioned once in the report, alongside other less controversial definitions of anti-Semitism, that do not mention Israel.

Noticeably, the White House did offer its own definition of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a stereotypical and negative perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred of Jews” said the strategy document, without mentioning Israel once. “It is prejudice, bias, hostility, discrimination or violence against Jews for being Jews or Jewish institutions or property for being Jewish or perceived as Jewish. Anti-Semitism can manifest as a form of racial, religious, national origin, and/or ethnic discrimination, bias, or hatred; or, a combination thereof. However, anti-Semitism is not simply a form of prejudice or hate. It is also a pernicious conspiracy theory that often features myths about Jewish power and control.”

To the disappointed of pro-Israel groups, the White House’s definition does not mention the apartheid state once. Seven of the eleven examples of anti-Semitism in the IHRA conflate criticism of Israel with ant-Jewish racism. Because of this fact, opponents of the IHRA have warned that instead of focusing on how to keep Jews safe, the so called “working definition” is fixated on shielding Israel from accountability. The Biden administration seems to be implicitly sympathetic to this view. With no mention of Israel in the White House’s own definition of anti-Semitism, there is no other way to interpret the position of the Biden administration other than to view it as a snub to advocates of the IHRA. Having campaigned hard and long to make sure that the IHRA was at the heart and centre of the White House’s strategy to combat anti-Semitism, it was mentioned once and only in passing.

The Biden administration’s strategy represents “the most comprehensive and ambitious US government effort to counter anti-Semitism in American history”. To develop this strategy, the White House held listening sessions with more than 1,000 diverse stakeholders across the Jewish community and beyond. These sessions have included Jews from diverse backgrounds and all denominations. The White House also met with Special Envoys who combat anti-Semitism around the globe to learn from their best practices. Bipartisan leaders in Congress and from across civil society, the private sector, technology companies, civil rights leaders, Muslim, Christian and other faith groups, students and educators and countless others were engaged during “listening sessions”.

A bitter row had ensued during the consultation period over the status of the IHRA. Though there is said to have existed a broad consensus that anti-Semitism in America is a crucial problem and must be addressed, some Jewish organisations tried to undermine this effort, according to Hadar Susskind, the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. By insisting on the prioritisation of the IHRA above all other issues, Susskind claimed that a number of American Jewish organisations had prioritised shielding Israel from criticism over combatting anti-Semitism.

“Rather than support this far-reaching  plan to truly combat anti-Semitism, there are those in our community who, instead, insist that this plan should be about the IHRA definition, and only the IHRA definition,” said Susskind on twitter, while revealing details of the polarisation in the Jewish community over the IHRA. “Why are some insisting that the IHRA definition is so unique that it alone is worthy of inclusion in this effort?” Susskind asked. “Why do those same people insist that the Nexus definition and the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism are so unacceptable as tools to combat anti-Semitism?”

Explaining the difference, Susskind said that “the IHRA definition and only the IHRA definition has been weaponised by the Israeli government and those who defend its worst policies and actions”. He mentioned how the IHRA definition has been used repeatedly to define anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism and “honed into a weapon to shut down criticism of Israeli policy and discourse on Israel-Palestine.”

J Street, another liberal pro-Israel advocacy group, which had urged the Biden administration not to incorporate the IHRA in its strategy, also welcomed the report. “Importantly, the strategy avoids exclusively codifying any one specific, sweeping definition of anti-Semitism as the sole standard for use in enforcing domestic law and policy, recognising that such an approach could do more harm than good” said J Street. “While some voices have pushed the White House to give the full force of US law to the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism and its accompanying examples, the Biden Administration rightly cites this definition as just one of a range of illustrative and useful tools in understanding and combating anti-Semitism.”

J Street went on to add that it was supported by many other advocates in the Jewish community – including the definition’s original author, Kenneth Stern – in warning that the IHRA and examples of anti-Jewish racism cited in the definition have been used to focus attention disproportionately on criticism of Israel and advocacy of Palestinian rights.

In refusing to endorse the IHRA as the only definition of anti-Semitism, President Biden has shown that a genuine effort to combat the rise of anti-Jewish racism cannot have a document shielding Israel from accountability at the heart and centre of its strategy.

Source: Shielding Israel from criticism is not part of US strategy for combating anti-Semitism

Why a debate over how to define anti-Semitism has reached the United Nations

Good overview:

An international debate over what should be considered anti-Semitism — centred around a controversial definition that critics say chills legitimate criticism of Israel — has reached the United Nations.

Last week, a group of 60 human rights and civil society organizations wrote to the leadership of the UN, urging it not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

They say the IHRA framework “has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress, non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism.”

Among the letter’s signatories are three Canadian organizations: Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and United Jewish People’s Order of Canada.

The high-profile appeal is just the latest twist in a now-years-long debate around the definition.

Mainstream Jewish groups and governments have urged the UN to officially adopt the IHRA’s working definition. To this point, the international body has insisted it has no plans to do so.

It has been adopted, meanwhile, in other jurisdictions around the world, including several in Canada.

Here’s a look at how the issue has become such a heated topic of debate.

Source: Why a debate over how to define anti-Semitism has reached the United Nations

Goal of IHRA anti-Semitism definition is to target human rights groups, says proponent

Of note. However the main author of the definition, Kenneth Stern, has been vocal in his opposition to its “weaponization”:

A prominent advocate of the controversial and inaccurate definition of anti-Semitism created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has acknowledged that one of its purposes is to target and silence human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) and others documenting Israel’s human rights abuses.

“The purpose of the IHRA working definition was to prevent the illegitimate demonization of Israel, the singling out of Israel, and the antisemitic aspects of the attacks on Israel, which is exactly what these NGOs are doing,” said a key proponent of IHRA, Professor Gerald Steinberg, the founder of pro-Israel, NGO Monitor.

Steinberg made the remark in response to 60 human and civil rights organisations who on Tuesday released a joint open letter urging the UN not to adopt the IHRA. Steinberg told the Algemeiner that the letter, which was also signed by HRW, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and B’Tselem, is an act of “political warfare against Israel”.

According to Steinberg, the NGOs are doing the very thing which the IHRA was designed to prevent. But critics have pointed out that the IHRA is not preventing anti-Jewish racism and instead has had a chilling effect on free speech and has further undermined the work of the international human rights community.

In the letter to the UN, the groups warned that if the world body endorsed the IHRA then its officials who work on issues regarding Israel and Palestine may find themselves “unjustly accused of anti-Semitism based on the IHRA definition”. A case could also be made for “numerous UN agencies, departments, committees, panels and/or conferences, whose work touches on issues related to Israel and Palestine, as well as for civil society actors and human rights defenders engaging with the UN system,” to be smeared as racist.

The targets of accusations of anti-Semitism based on the IHRA definition have included university students and professors, grassroots organisers, human rights and civil rights organisations, humanitarian groups and members of the US Congress, who either document or criticise Israeli policies and who speak in favour of Palestinian human rights.

Rights group have constantly dismissed the claim that “illegitimate demonization of Israel” and “singling out Israel”, is anti-Semitic. If that principal was accepted in a definition of racism than by that logic, a person dedicated to defending the rights of Tibetans could be accused of anti-Chinese racism, or a group dedicated to promoting democracy and minority rights in Saudi Arabia could be accused of Islamophobia.

IHRA’s qualification that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” has not offered any protection to the constant smearing of critics of Israel. “In practice,” said HRW, “these disclaimers have failed to prevent the politically motivated instrumentalization of the IHRA definition in efforts to muzzle legitimate speech and activism by critics of Israel’s human rights record and advocates for Palestinian rights.”

Source: Goal of IHRA anti-Semitism definition is to target human rights groups, says proponent

Irwin Cotler: To combat antisemitism, we must first agree how to define it

While I am a great fan of Cotler’s contribution, his advocacy for the IHRA definition needs to be nuanced as it can and is sometimes being used to discourage criticism of Israeli government policies. Given the Netanyahu government’s various actions (judicial reform, settlements, citizenship revocation), Israel will come in for more criticism that cannot and should not be deemed antisemitic – but some may do so invoking the definition.

Personally, I was surprised that Cotler in not among the signatories to Statement by Canadian jurists on proposed transformation of Israel’s legal system:

We are presently experiencing a resurgence in global antisemitism — the oldest, longest, most enduring and virulent of hatreds. Indeed, since my appointment as Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism in November 2020, I have witnessed the increasing mainstreaming, normalization and legitimation of antisemitism in the political, popular, campus, and media and entertainment cultures.

In order to combat this concerning surge in antisemitism, we must begin by defining it. Because antisemitism knows no borders, it is important that Canadian institutions at all levels embrace the same definition, in order to facilitate collective efforts to combat it.

Significantly, in 2022, Canadian governments and institutions continued to embrace the most authoritative, comprehensive and representative definition of antisemitism that exists today ­— the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan all officially adopted the definition in 2022, as well as the City of Vancouver. The Government of British Columbia has also expressed support for the use of the definition in B.C. These governments join Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as the Government of Canada, which all previously adopted the definition.

The IHRA definition is the result of a 15-year-long democratic decision-making process involving intergovernmental bodies, governments, parliaments, scholars and civil society leaders. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel was a leading inspiration for the definition and a key initiator of a process in which I had the privilege of participating as a parliamentarian and minister of justice, and which ultimately led to its approval by the IHRA — a 35-country intergovernmental body — in 2016.

As Canadians, we can be proud of the distinct Canadian connection to this process of adoption. The IHRA definition is anchored and drawn from the 2010 Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism, which was endorsed by every major Canadian political party and unanimously adopted by Parliament.

It is also inspired by the equality rights and anti-discrimination provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, reflecting, as Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, put it, “The human-rights lens through which antisemitism should be viewed.”

It likewise offers an explanation of the different manifestations of antisemitism that exist today. Traditional antisemitism is the discrimination against, assault upon and denial of the rights of Jews to live as equal members in whatever society they inhabit. The new antisemitism is the discrimination against, assault upon and denial of the rights of Jews and the State of Israel to live as an equal member among the family of nations. What is common to each form of antisemitism, traditional and new, is discrimination.

The IHRA definition provides examples of both forms of antisemitism. The examples addressing older forms include stereotypes of Jews as controlling the media, world governments and the economy. Examples of newer forms include denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.

These latter examples have provoked some opposition, with opponents alleging that the IHRA definition will stifle criticism of the actions of the Israeli government, as well as advocacy for Palestinian human rights. This claim is as misleading as it is unfounded.

In fact, distinguishing between what is and what is not antisemitic enhances and promotes free expression and peaceful dialogue. In particular, the IHRA definition explicitly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Accordingly, the definition serves to protect speech that is critical of Israeli policy — which I have myself engaged in — so long as it does not cross the delineated boundaries into antisemitism. Conversely, using this definition, genuine antisemitism, such as those examples listed above, can be defined and recognized.

The IHRA definition therefore sets the parameters for a healthy, democratic, tolerant debate and dialogue. It fosters non-hateful communication, and prevents both actual instances of antisemitism as well as unjust labelling of antisemitism. In doing so, it aligns with Canadian values of equality, diversity and human rights.

My hope for 2023 is that the Canadian jurisdictions that have not yet adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism will do so, and that the ones that have adopted it begin to implement and use it. The IHRA definition is an indispensable resource in helping to identify, recognize and define antisemitism, and adopting it is the critical first step towards Canada’s collective effort to combat the rising tide of antisemitism.

National Post

Irwin Cotler is Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism and a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.

Source: Irwin Cotler: To combat antisemitism, we must first agree how to define it

An anti-Semitism expert says that progressives ‘have the right to exclude Zionists’

Stern, one of the authors of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, has been consistent on the use and abuse of the definition:

A leading expert on anti-Semitism has said that university campus groups “have the right to exclude Zionists.” Writing in the Times of Israel, Kenneth Stern argued that, although it may be “hurtful” and counterproductive, the right of progressive groups to exclude advocates of the occupation state must be respected. Stern is the US attorney who took the lead in drafting the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

His intervention follows the growing debate around the exclusion of Zionist students from progressive spaces. Founded on the ethno-nationalist ideals of Zionism, Israel has long been viewed in progressive circles as a racist country that advocates settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. This view has become more widespread in recent times after major human rights groups accused Israel of committing the crime of apartheid.

With Zionism increasingly being viewed as a racist, imperialist ideology, groups advocating for equality, human rights, the rights of minorities and progressive values, in general, are more frequently excluding supporters of Israel from their spaces. This has happened despite protests that Zionism and affinity with the apartheid state are intrinsic parts of Jewish identity. Critics, however, have long questioned this argument and rejected the claim that a political ideology should be treated as a “protective category” in the same way as gender, religion and race are.

The recent row over the IHRA definition is largely a demand by pro-Israel groups for wider society to support their claim that Zionism and support for the state of Israel be accepted as such a category. It is a form of exceptionalist pleading which is rejected wholesale when other groups in society make similar demands. For instance, the political ideology of “Islamism” or the desire to create an “Islamic State” are not only violently opposed and condemned, but any Muslim who insists that their political views and religion be granted special protection is also dismissed out of hand, and rightly so.

A similar example would be if India’s far-right BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and advocates of Hindutva, said that it is racist and anti-Hindu to question their demand to create an exclusively Hindu state. As is becoming increasingly clear, in their quest to refashion India as a Hindu state, Hindutva extremists have placed themselves on a collision course with the country’s secular constitution. No amount of special pleading that India is the only Hindu state in the world should make any difference, but the goal is still no less than the reformation of India as an ethno-religious state affording special rights and privileges to Hindus within a multi-tier system of citizenship. The model state that such Hindus aspire to replicate is Israel. The parallel between the two ideologies is a powerful illustration of the special status granted to Zionism.

Israel and its supporters are granted a privilege that is not extended to any other political community. Public bodies and private institutions across the Western world have not only agreed to their demand, but have also adopted the supposedly “working definition” of anti-Semitism produced by the IHRA that conflates legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Jew racism.

Although Stern does not compare Zionism and its equivalent ideologies around the world, he insists on treating Israel and its founding ideology in the same way as any other political ideology and its followers. The right to criticise freely without being labelled a racist should be preserved, he maintains. He admits that Zionism itself is a contested term but, nevertheless, the feelings about what Zionism means personally for some Jews should not be an excuse to crack down on freedom of speech by labelling people “anti-Semites” for criticising Israel’s founding ideology.

Commenting on the different perceptions of Zionism and the reasons why progressives exclude supporters of Israel, Stern said: “Some progressive students may understand Zionism as a term for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; others may understand Zionism as most Jewish students do – the right of Jews to self-determination in their historic homeland.”

He explained that a significant and growing number of Jews are “agnostic” about Zionism or are anti-Zionist, which appears to suggest that Zionism and affinity with Israel is not as important to Jewish identity as pro-Israel groups claim.

“Anti-Zionist students may feel that letting a Zionist work among them is the equivalent of overlooking whether someone is a Nazi,” said Stern, “just as some Jewish organisations might feel that letting Jews in who support the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is overlooking anti-Semitism.” He disagrees with both assertions, but people on campus must be allowed to define their politics.

Wrestling with the central question of the piece in the Times of Israel — whether it is anti-Semitic to exclude Zionists from progressive spaces — Stern defends the right of progressive groups to be selective. “If a group decides that in order to be a member, one has to have a particular view of Israel and Zionism, the right to make that decision must be respected. Those not invited in, even though exclusion hurts, can find other ways to express themselves, including by creating new groups and coalitions.”

Stern has been critical of the way that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has been employed by pro-Israel groups against critics of the apartheid state. His latest intervention is another defence of freedom of association and speech against what many say is a crackdown on pro-Palestine voices and the dangers of conflating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

“Jewish groups have used the definition as a weapon to say anti-Zionist expressions are inherently anti-Semitic and must be suppressed,” wrote Stern in the Times of Israel two years ago. Concerns raised by him then highlight the claim that the fight against anti-Semitism, as American Jewish commentator Peter Beinart believes, has “lost its way“.

Source: An anti-Semitism expert says that progressives ‘have the right to exclude Zionists’

U of T accepts all recommendations of Anti-Semitism Working Group

Significant and sensible, not adapting the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism or other definitions as “They are not suitable to the distinctive context of the university:”

The University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group has delivered its final report and made a series of recommendations to tackle anti-Semitic racism and religious discrimination on campus – all of which have been accepted by the university.

The report’s eight recommendations also address definitions of anti-Semitism, the extent and limits of academic freedom in a university setting and the provision of kosher food on campus.

“Anti-Semitism is an ancient but still present and problematic form of hatred,” said Arthur Ripstein, chair of the working group and a University Professor of law and philosophy. “Our aim in drafting this report is to make realistic and actionable recommendations of the ways that the university can move forward in addressing it and to ensure that U of T is a place where Jewish members of the community feel safe and welcome.”Comprising student, staff and faculty representatives, the working group conducted extensive consultations across the three campuses. Its findings draw on nearly 700 survey responses, more than 200 email submissions, six focus groups and several interviews with Jewish student organizations, as well as one with Jewish faith leaders.

The Anti-Semitism Working Group was established last December by U of T’s president, provost and vice-president, human resources and equity (now people strategy, equity and culture) to review programming, activities, processes and practices in place at the university, as well as to make recommendations to support the university’s response to anti-Semitism.

The review comes at a time when incidents of anti-Semitism are sharply on the rise in broader society. In July, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission warned that there had been “an alarming increase in antisemitic acts” during the pandemic.

Ripstein recounts that the university has a troubling history of anti-Semitism. In the 19th century, Jews were not able to become faculty members, and through to the middle part of the 20th century some faculties had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

“The situation for Jewish members of the university has improved considerably since that time,” said Ripstein. “But there are still situations in which they are made to feel unwelcome or harassed. Our aim is to address those issues in ways that are sensitive to the particular position of the university as a place of learning and as a place of academic disagreement.”

Each of the working group’s recommendations focuses on ways the university can make itself a more inclusive and equitable place. That includes calling for the university to apply its equity, diversity and inclusion policies consistently, and procedures to ensure that anti-Semitism is treated in the same way as other forms of racism and religious discrimination. Other recommendations include:

  • The university should focus on problems and issues specific to the distinctive context of the university as a place in which difficult and controversial questions are addressed. In so doing, it should not adopt any of the definitions of anti-Semitism that have recently been proposed because of concerns about their applicability to a university setting.
  • Academic units, administrative units and student organizations in which enrolment is mandatory must not make participation in their activities or access to their resources conditional on taking a particular position on any controversial question.
  • The university should issue regular communications about its approach to controversial events, emphasizing that it will not enforce content-based restrictions on such events but that such events must be held in a respectful, safe and open manner.
  • The university must develop measures for responding to various forms of social exclusion, harassment, micro-aggressions and bullying (including online instances) for all equity-deserving groups and apply these consistently.
  • The university and its divisions and academic units should apply the Policy on Scheduling Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances consistently, avoiding scheduling mandatory events on significant Jewish holidays and permitting Jewish members of the university to participate fully in a range of accommodations.
  • The university should ensure kosher food is readily available on its campuses.

In response, U of T President Meric Gertler, Acting Vice-President & Provost Trevor Young and Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity and Culture Kelly Hannah-Moffat said they were pleased to accept all the working group’s recommendations.

“We are profoundly opposed to anti-Semitism,” the university leaders said in their official response to the report. “We are determined to ensure that our campuses are places where members of the Jewish community feel that they are safe, included and respected as members and friends of the U of T community.”

They also thanked the members of the working group, as well as all those who took part in the consultations. “Through their consultations and deliberations, and through their report, [the working group has] made an extremely valuable contribution to the University on behalf of its Jewish community,” they said.

The working group report examined the tensions between the essential need for a culture of respect and inclusion and the university’s unique position in society, where, in the words of the Statement of Institutional Purpose, “the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research.”

Within this context, the working group recommended that the university not adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. “The reason that we are not recommending the adoption of the IHRA, or other definitions, is that all of them are designed for different purposes,” explained Ripstein. “They are not suitable to the distinctive context of the university. Adoption of them would not integrate with the requirements on us and our other existing policy commitments.”

The university’s senior leaders confirmed that a definition of anti-Semitism will not be adopted: “We appreciate that some members of the University community as well as external stakeholders may be disappointed … We also acknowledge and appreciate the working group’s principled and thoughtful reasoning on this point.”

The working group report noted that free speech and academic freedom requirements mean that unpopular views must not lead to any form of sanctions or exclusion from the university experience. Also, academic units should not pressure or require individuals to endorse or oppose political causes, the report said.

The institutional response highlights several ways in which individuals will be reminded of their responsibilities, including through proactive communications and training that address anti-Semitism. There will also be a review of existing policies and guidelines to ensure that they respond to the particular challenge of addressing racism and faith-based hatred that’s found on social media.

The university will provide progress updates on the implementation of the report’s recommendations on its Anti-Racism Strategic Tables webpage.

Source: U of T accepts all recommendations of Anti-Semitism Working Group

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism Is a Very Welcome Initiative

Of note, advocacy of alternative to IHRA working definition that has been increasing adapted by more jurisdictions and institutions:

On March 25, 2021, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) was presented by a group of over 200 eminent Jewish scholars of antisemitism studies and related fields, some of whom had been engaged in discussion since June 2020. They defined antisemitism as follows: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish,’ and made it clear that ‘while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and gender discrimination.”

The authors explain that the declaration is based on universal human rights principles, and is a response to two circumstances. One is the alarming resurgence of antisemitism by groups mobilising hatred and violence in politics, society and on the internet, which make it imperative to have a usable, concise and historically-informed core definition of antisemitism with a set of guidelines; and the other is the definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016, which they regard as unclear in key respects, widely open to different interpretations, and weakening the fight against antisemitism by causing confusion and generating controversy. They express particular concern that some of the ‘examples’ of antisemitism included in the IHRA exclude legitimate political speech and action concerning Zionism, Israel and Palestine. Thus, their aim is two-fold: “(1) to strengthen the fight against antisemitism by clarifying what it is and how it is manifested, (2) to protect a space for an open debate about the vexed question of the future of Israel/Palestine.”

According to the IHRA ‘working definition’ of antisemitism (WDA), “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards 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.” This is followed by 11 ‘contemporary examples’ of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel. A legal opinion by Hugh Tomlinson QC submitted to the UK House of Lords in March 2017 described this definition as “vague”, “unclear”, “confusing”, “too narrow”, and “a definition which lacks clarity and comprehensiveness’; moreover, ‘A number of the “contemporary examples” of antisemitism in public life included in the IHRA Definition might, if read literally, appear to condemn as antisemitic conduct which does not constitute or manifest hatred or intolerance against Jews”.

As Neve Gordon and Mark LeVine observe, according to this definition, Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt would be antisemitic because they sent an open letter to the New York Times in December 1948 describing the Israeli right-wing Herut party as ‘closely akin… to the Nazi and fascist parties’; Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz would fall into the same category because of his reference to ‘phenomena of Judeo-Nazism’ in 1982; and so would Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem for producing a report entitled ‘A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid’. Most damagingly, “Once criticism of Israel becomes the primary marker of anti-Semitism, then the unquestioned support of American evangelicals for Israel is considered a blessing, even as anti-Jewish stereotypes remain prevalent among members of their communities, while Israel’s alliance with Europe’s most illiberal and anti-Semitic governments (particularly Hungary’s and Poland’s) is considered ethically kosher.”

Indeed, it can be argued that by blurring the distinction between the Jewish people and the state of Israel, the IHRA definition is itself antisemitic, because it implies that all Jewish people are implicated in the crimes committed to establish and perpetuate the Israeli state. Those responsible for the aggressive campaign that has led to the widespread adoption of the IHRA definition are also guilty of promoting antisemitism by implying that all Jews – and not the Israeli state and its supporters – are responsible for the resulting assault on academic freedom and victimisation of students, faculty, universities and others who support the human rights of Palestinians and/or criticise the Israeli state.

Support for the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has effectively been criminalised by this lobby. What are the demands of the BDS campaign? (1) Ending Israeli occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories and dismantling the ‘apartheid’ wall that cuts deep into Palestinian land; (2) Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; (3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. Every one of the these demands is supported by international human rights law; to say that Palestinians are not entitled to these universal rights is racist.

The confusion and contention resulting from the IHRA WDA not only undermined struggles against antisemitism and for the human rights of Palestinians, but also divided and weakened antiracist struggles more generally, because “Enacting laws or adopting statements that potentially criminalise criticism of state violence and racism subverts the struggles of marginalised communities seeking social justice.” Concerned at the undermining of their moral standing and physical security by widespread adoption of the IHRA definition, numerous Jewish individuals and organisations explicitly rejected it. The Jerusalem Declaration grew out of this movement.

Because the Jerusalem Declaration presents itself as an alternative to the IHRA definition, it must necessarily grapple with the Palestine-Israel conflict. Of the fifteen guidelines it presents, five are general examples of antisemitism, and ten relate to Israel and Palestine. However, in stark contrast with the IHRA definition, five of these latter are “examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic (whether or not one approves of the view or action)” (emphasis added). These are “11. Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights… 12. Criticising or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism… 13. Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles… Thus… it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid… 14. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic. 15. Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic…”

The authors make the important clarification that each of the guidelines should be read in the light of the others, and they call for judgement and sensitivity to context in applying them to concrete situations; for example, hostility to Israel expressed as a reaction to a human rights violation, or as an emotional response by a Palestinian to an experience at the hands of the state, would not be antisemitic.

Progressive Jewish and other groups campaigning for Palestinian rights welcomed the JDA as a far superior alternative to the IHRA definition, although some had reservations. In the UK, Jewish Voice for Labour recommended that it be deployed in universities, political parties, local authorities and other institutions. In the US, Jewish Voice for Peace acknowledged that it “opens space for debate” and “champions freedom of speech”, but felt that the disproportionate emphasis on Israel-Palestine distracted from the danger faced from far-right white supremacists, and argued that the authors should have included Palestinian perspectives and analyses. These two criticisms had earlier been voiced more emphatically by the BDS National Committee, along with more detailed criticisms of some of the JDA formulations.

I agree with Mike Cushman that the involvement of pro-Palestinian groups in drafting the JDA would have resulted in improved formulations, but at the cost of drastically reducing its weight as a statement about antisemitism. I also feel that oppressed people are entitled to define their own oppression provided their vision of freedom from oppression doesn’t trample on the rights of others; for example, the authors of the JDA may feel that antisemitism predates white-supremacism, and therefore cannot be attributed to it. These criticisms misread the JDA as a statement about Palestine and Israel, whereas its real purpose is to draw the line demarcating antisemitic hate speech from protected freedom of expression and academic freedom. If it is read in the same nuanced manner as the manner in which it has been written, I believe it achieves this purpose.

Source: The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism Is a Very Welcome Initiative

Thirty-nine words about antisemitism are splitting the Jewish community

Of note:

There’s a storm brewing in the American Jewish community over a definition of antisemitism that appears, upon first glance, quite banal.

“Antisemitism,” it reads in part, “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

But the language, adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016, comes packaged with a host of examples that describe various criticism of Israel as antisemitic. As much of the Jewish establishment makes federal adoption of the IHRA definition a top priority for the Biden administration, it has become a proxy for a wider rift in the Jewish community over the politicization of antisemitism.“These are not people I trust to go after antisemitism.”

“The Jewish community is pushing this because they see it as a tool that they want to use to stop certain speech they don’t like,” said Ken Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, who helped draft the language on which the IHRA definition is based.

“I can’t totally speak to their intent,” Morriah Kaplan, strategic director at IfNotNow, which is focused on opposing the Israeli occupation, said of the organizations backing the definition, “but these are not people I trust to go after antisemitism.”

The Conference of Presidents, established in the 1950s to give American Jews a unified voice to communicate with the White House and world leaders, sent a letter on Jan. 12 to now-President Joe Biden urging him to use the IHRA definition to combat antisemitism on campuses.

But that letter was only signed by five member-groups and it is unclear how many of the 51 organizations that joined the Tuesday conference statement also support the call for Biden to use it.

In fact, several conference members had joined a competing Jan. 12 statement by the Progressive Israel Network, which cited “strong potential for misuse” of the definition. The Reform movement, the largest Jewish denomination in North America, announced Monday that it had adopted the IHRA definition but simultaneously opposed codifying the language in federal law. Bend the Arc, a major liberal Jewish group, also came out against government use of the definition late Monday.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Biden supports use of the IHRA definition.

Identifying the threat

As the establishment groups ramp up their lobbying for federal adoption of the definition, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, another left-wing activist group, plan to launch lobbying and educational campaigns to oppose the definition in the coming months.

Kaplan, with IfNotNow, and others on the left argue that after four years of the Trump administration, during which the antisemitic far-right gained new power, the most urgent threat to the Jewish community clearly comes from violent white nationalists.

Public opinion polls suggest that most American Jews agree: 75% said in an American Jewish Committee survey last year that the political right posed a serious antisemitic threat, compared to 32% who said the same about the political left.

Yet many mainstream groups continue to emphasize a need to fight antisemitism across the political spectrum. And the antisemitism that Jewish leaders call out on the left almost always refers to attacks on Israel that they believe cross a line. The IHRA definition, they say, helps clarify that line.“Nobody has a problem of defining antisemitism if it’s waving Nazi flags.”

“Nobody has a problem of defining antisemitism if it’s waving Nazi flags,” said Abe Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The definition deals with a lot subtler issues of what antisemitism is, which today unfortunately includes attacking Israel’s existence.”

Foxman said the IHRA language can be used to deal with all forms of antisemitism, but critics say those promoting the definition are doing so at the expense of focusing on right-wing extremists.

They point to a November memo to Biden’s transition team from the Jewish Federations of North America outlining the organization’s priorities for fighting antisemitism. The document listed ISIS and Al Qaeda as threats to American Jews, but did not name right-wing antisemitism. Sandwiched between increased security grants and Holocaust education was promotion of the IHRA definition.

More outrage came following the Conference of Presidents letter, sent six days after a right-wing mob ginned up on antisemitic conspiracy theories stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“To go forward with a letter to Biden saying that college students advocating for Palestinian freedom are the greatest threat to American Jews was truly unconscionable to me,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist and supports the BDS Movement.

Source: http://click1.e.forward.com/xsrkkdjvvqrtqqmktpblmtslydtpbbdbrlpqdjcpcjvdp_tzwbplvvklcllccbzww.html?a=Daily+Newsletter+USE+THIS+ONE&b=01%2F26%2F2021

Let’s make 2021 the year we eliminate online hate in Canada

Of note, along with contesting Isreal’s non-vaccination of Palestinians, which is a legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, not “a demonstrably false accusation tantamount to a modern-day blood libel.” One can also question the further codification of the IHRA definition, given its sometimes being used more broadly than intended. The other specific recommendations, however, are reasonable:

2020 was challenging. In addition to the horror of disease, the pandemic brought other troubling developments, including a sharp rise in hatred disseminated online. Canadians are clearly immune neither to the pandemic nor to the growing hate it appears to be exacerbating.  

Online hate is not a new phenomenon. At my organization, CIJA, we have been working on the issue since 2013. But, like the coronavirus, online hate has exploited weaknesses in our society to the detriment of all. As our lives continue to migrate online, the very platforms that proved to be a lifeline in so many ways also served as a springboard for spreading vicious hatred.  

Asian Canadians have been wrongfully and absurdly accused of deliberately unleashing COVID-19. 

Indigenous people, subjected to hatred and mistreatment since generations before the invention of the internet, many living in conditions that should embarrass all Canadians, are experiencing vicious online attacks on their culture and identity.    

Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ2+ community are regularly targeted by haters online, where Islamophobia, misogyny and homophobia continue to flourish.   

Good old-fashioned racists seized the opportunity provided by a global discussion about anti-Black hatred to, paradoxically, spread anti-Black hatred.   

And, of course, Jews were accused of this conspiracy or that one, from creating COVID-19 to profiting from the pandemic to claiming that Israel has leveraged the pandemic to oppress Palestinians by denying them the vaccine – a demonstrably false accusation tantamount to a modern-day blood libel, and one that the Palestinians themselves have refuted.   

All deeply offensive, to be sure, but being offensive is the only causes for concern.  

If online hate were simply offensive, it would be easier to dismiss. However, CIJA and the many partners we have worked with over the years – including those who have recently joined us to form the Canadian Coalition to End Online Hate – have increasingly observed, online hate can, and too often does, turn into real-world violence.   

This. Must. Stop.   

The federal government should deliver on its commitments

Following the 2019 election, the Liberals committed to devising a national strategy to end online hate, an issue that was explicitly included in the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to the Ministers of Justice, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Heritage and Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. 

They have a very good blueprint to work from: the June 2019 report on online hate produced by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, then chaired by Montreal-area MP Anthony Housefather. The report followed the murders in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, and Poway, all cases of online hate morphing into real world violence. 

It is now time to take the next steps. We, and the groups we work with through the Canadian Coalition to End Online Hate, a broad-based alliance of close to 40 (and growing) organizations representing a diverse array of communities, are calling for the following concrete actions.  

We propose:   

  • Increasing resources for law enforcement, Crown attorneys, and judges to ensure they receive sufficient training on how to apply existing laws to deal with online hate 
  • Directing Statistics Canada to address the gap in data to help us determine the scope of the problem and monitor progress  
  • Ensuring we achieve balance between combating online hate and protecting freedom of expression, notably by formulating a definition of “hate” and “hatred” that is consistent with Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence 
  • Creating a civil remedy to address online hate and  
  • Establishing strong and clear regulations for online platforms and Internet service providersabout how they monitor and transparently address incidents of hate spread on their platforms.   

The Role of Social Media Giants  

Platforms and providers do not have the best record when it comes to tracking and eliminating online hate. They must do better. And they will only do so with government pressure.  Canadian law must be strengthened to put the onus on platforms and providers to ensure that hateful content does not get published in their spaces. 

A national strategy to address online hate must include both the development of clear, harmonized, and uniform regulations, which apply to all platforms and providers operating in Canada, and an independent regulator to enforce them. 

These regulations should include a mandatory directive that providers incorporate appropriate definitions of hate and hatred. In the case of the Jewish community, we are advocating for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism to be included in their user codes of conduct, algorithms, moderator policies, and terms of service.  

We also strongly believe that providers must make it easier for users to flag hateful content and be transparent about how complaints are adjudicated.  

COVID-19 has significantly accelerated our migration online, which was already well underway. It is imperative that we collectively do what is necessary to ensure the online space is a safe and hate-free place for everyone. 

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/01/11/lets-make-2021the-yearweeliminateonline-hatein-canada.html