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.


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. 


David Feldman: The UK government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities

On the risks of universities applying the IHRA definition of antisemitism:

We all know how the path to hell is paved. But it is a warning worth repeating for Gavin Williamson. The secretary of state for education intends to rid universities in England of antisemitism, but his intervention not only threatens to provoke strife and confusion – it also places academic freedom and free speech on campus at risk.

In October, Williamson wrote to all university vice-chancellors “requesting” they adopt a particular definition of antisemitism: the “working definition” promulgated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. Williamson is not the first ministerto write to universities on this matter, but he has been more forceful than his predecessors. His letter demands action by Christmas, and threatens swingeing measures against refusenik institutions that later suffer antisemitic incidents. He threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.

This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face. As shown in a report released last week by Universities UK – Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education – structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.

Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism

A Palestinian perspective on the IHRA definition, raising some legitimate concerns regarding how the definition is being applied, interpreted and in some cases, weaponized.

The least controversial aspect is that antisemitism should be viewed as being part and parcel of fights against all forms of racism and discrimination. The other elements raise some uncomfortable truths and  reflect some of the more intractable issues:

We, the undersigned Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals are hereby stating our views regarding the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and the way this definition has been applied, interpreted and deployed in several countries of Europe and North America.

In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has been increasingly instrumentalised by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights. Diverting the necessary struggle against antisemitism to serve such an agenda threatens to debase this struggle and hence to discredit and weaken it.

Source: Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism

The Saturday Debate: Is the IHRA definition the right way to fight anti-Semitism?

Worth noting (I share some of the concerns regarding potential over broad interpretations regarding criticism of Israeli government practices and policies):

In late October, Ontario became the first province to officially recognize the “working definition of antisemitism” adopted four years ago by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA wrote the definition in light of evidence that “the scourge of antisemitism is once again on the rise.” The first step involved creating “clarity about what antisemitism is.”

Here’s the definition: “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.”

That was accompanied by 11 contemporary examples of antisemitism to serve as illustrations.

Canada, and now Ontario, are among many governments and organizations around the world that have adopted this definition as part of strategies to fight antisemitism. At the same time, critics argue that the definition, along with the illustrations, has the effect of stifling legitimate criticism of Israel.

In this week’s Saturday Debate, Shimon Koffler Fogel argues the definition is needed, while Michele Landsberg and Avi Lewis say it’s unnecessary and may actually lead to more antisemitism.

Shimon Koffler Fogel

Over the last 70 years, antisemitism has adapted. Today, it is not limited to swastikas, racial slurs or shouts of “Heil Hitler,” though these odious examples persist. Certain perceptions of Jews are too often used to explain why “things go wrong” across all political ideologies, in public fora, and online spaces.

Lip-service to generic anti-racism is no solution. We need to move beyond a shallow understanding of antisemitism focused exclusively on history, which forces our community to continually justify its actual experience in ways that are not just exhausting, but demeaning. We need a shared definition of present-day antisemitism if we are to have any hope of combating it effectively.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism is the world’s most widely recognized tool for understanding contemporary Jew hatred. Following years of collaborative research by leading experts on antisemitism, the IHRA definition was adopted by international consensus. The definition includes 11 examples of antisemitism that can help Canadians understand the lived experiences of Jews and the hate and discrimination we face.

Some of the examples pertain to Israel, describing expressions of hate against Jews as a collective. This may sound complex, but complexity is no excuse for ignoring the problem. Nearly all Jewish Canadians describe their connection to Israel as a key component of their Jewish identity. Antisemitism targeting this facet of Jewish identity cannot be denied — it is real and must be understood and addressed. The IHRA definition is crucial in this regard.

Nonetheless, there are those who, to shield themselves from accountability for their hate, seek to limit Canadians’ understanding of antisemitism to the narrowest possible view. Their claim that hostility toward Israel can never be antisemitic is as ludicrous as the notion that criticism of Israel is always antisemitic.

When the leader of Canada’s white nationalist party claims “Canada has a Zionist occupied government,” that is antisemitism.

When Jewish students at the University of Toronto are denied access to kosher food because the Jewish campus club is deemed “pro-Israel,” that is antisemitism.

When Jewish members of Parliament are slandered as more devoted to Israel than Canada, that is antisemitism.

When students at a Peel Region high school recycle age-old anti-Semitic blood libels to attack Israel, that is antisemitism.

When a senior staff at the Privy Council Office states that Israelis are genetically predisposed to pedophilia, that is antisemitism.

When an anti-Israel protest in Mississauga descends into chants of “the Jews are our dogs,” that is antisemitism.

How can detractors of the IHRA definition claim these examples and dozens more like them are not antisemitism?

The IHRA definition is the consensus standard, in Canada and around the world.

More than 30 democratic countries, including Canada, have endorsed it. Muslim-majority countries, such as Bahrain and Albania, and the Iraq-based Global Imams Council, have too. Hundreds of municipalities, the European Union, the United Nations, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation all support it.

Most recently, the Government of Ontario adopted the definition in response to an unprecedented call for urgent action from hundreds of Jewish community organizations across the province. This outpouring spanned the political and religious spectra. From left to right. From atheist to ultra-Orthodox.

Of course, no community is monolithic. There are Jewish detractors, but this is nothing new. At the height of devastating Soviet persecution of Jews there were Jewish Stalinists egging the authorities on, whitewashing the regime’s crimes.

Much of the criticism of the IHRA definition focuses on the motivation of Jewish groups that support it. Many allege an ulterior motive, a hidden objective to stifle criticism of Israel. The insinuation of a nefarious Jewish plot to advance the interests of a foreign government at the expense of the local population is, in itself, classic antisemitism. For centuries, these twisted theories of Jewish disloyalty, dishonesty, and conspiracy have incited devastating bloodshed. 

The IHRA definition states unequivocally that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be considered antisemitic.” Applied correctly, the IHRA definition protects the freedom to criticize Israel and provides a framework for understanding how and when political expression can become a vehicle for hate.

Antisemitism is a mutating virus. No person, place or time is immune. If left unchecked, antisemitism will tear apart the fabric of our society, undermining our values and democratic institutions. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from accountability. Those who dismiss the Jewish community experience of antisemitism do not get to dictate terms that conveniently protect their own bigoted attitudes from criticism.

Michele Landsberg and Avi Lewis

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism is vague, confusing and utterly unnecessary. We already have working definitions of hate speech and acts that cover all kinds of racism — we don’t need one custom-made for Jews. 

In fact, no matter how many governments are persuaded to adopt this definition (through fear of being deemed antisemitic if they don’t) it doesn’t make us, as Jews, one iota safer, or acts of antisemitism any less likely. It provides not a single new tool to fight antisemitism.

So what is this debate all about? Israel. 

Just like the scorpion’s, the sting of the IHRA definition is in its tail, an appended list of 11 examples of antisemitism. Seven of them are focused on criticism of Israel. This points to what is really going on: pro-Israel organizations are campaigning for the IHRA definition so they can use it to shut down legitimate debate of Israel’s policies and to harass and silence critics.

That’s not just our opinion. It’s shared by Ken Stern, the author of the definition itself. “The problem is … that right-wing Jewish groups took the ‘working definition’ and decided to weaponize it,” Stern told The Guardian last year. 

It is no coincidence that those groups in Canada have secured their first provincial victory in Doug Ford’s Ontario, just as Jared Kushner triumphantly watched his father-in-law, Donald Trump, sign it into law in the U.S. The Trump administration may soon declare Amnesty International, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch antisemitic organizations with the help of the IHRA definition. 

Let’s unpack how it works. One of the examples states that antisemitism includes: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

So if you feel that Canada is a racist endeavour (founded on stolen land, a history of genocidal policies from residential schools to the ongoing, fatal underfunding of services for Indigenous communities,) you’ll have plenty of company these days, and a healthy debate in mainstream media. 

If you argue that Israel is a racist endeavour (founded in the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians, still brutally enforcing the world’s longest illegal occupation, with countless discriminatory laws aimed at the Palestinian minority), the IHRA definition will be invoked to label you an antisemite.

This was always the strategy. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs tipped its hand in an email to supporters in 2018: “We are launching a national campaign to have government and police adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism … because it explicitly confirms that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” 

So: will adopting the IHRA definition make us Jews safer? Quite the opposite, thanks to the dangerous Jewish exceptionalism advanced by its proponents. 

Michael Levitt of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote in the Star this week: “Jews are the minority group most targeted by hate crime in our country …. Antisemitism has remained with us throughout history as the canary in the coal mine.” In other words: hatred against Jews is a unique form of racism, requiring special tools and a special priority.

This is outrageous at a time when anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is raging in Canada, when BIPOC folks are dying at the hands of the police and through overt racism in hospitals and other institutions, when migrant workers who keep us fed during the pandemic are dying from lack of access to health care themselves. 

Jews do have a role to play — helping to build a multiracial, multi-generational movement against racism, in solidarity with those on the front lines. We should be putting our societal privilege at the service of other communities, not singling ourselves out for special definitions and narratives of uniqueness.

Vigorous advocacy for the human rights of Palestinians is not antisemitism. Many of us know the difference. Despite our different generations, we both grew up bathed in bigotry. We have looked in the ugly face of hate, stared down the swastika carved on the front door of the public school, heard the slurs and epithets that trace their toxic lineage back to before the Holocaust. 

That history can either be the ground on which we help build anti-racist solidarity across all communities, or it can be cynically used to silence legitimate debate about Israel. The latter is much more likely to stoke antisemitism.


After Ottawa monument is vandalized, Ontario adopts International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘working definition of anti-Semitism’

Of note despite some of the valid concerns that the definition may be interpreted too broadly with respect to legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies:

The Ontario cabinet has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition of anti-Semitism” after recent vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s ministers “took swift and decisive action” Monday to recognize the definition even before the passage of legislation currently before the house.

“After a heinous act of anti-Semitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa … it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said Tuesday.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

Four years ago, the IHRA, an intergovernmental organization with 34 member nations, including Canada, adopted the definition that reads: “anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

“Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities,” the definition continues.

While MPPs are currently reviewing Bill 168, the proposed Combating anti-Semitism Act, Calandra said the cabinet wanted to move more quickly with a largely symbolic gesture.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to use the working definition.

In a statement, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said “we applaud the government of Ontario for joining the dozens of other governments around the world in adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario.”

“Jews continue to be subjected to vile rhetoric and propaganda and still remain the minority group most targeted by hate crime, which is nothing less than an affront to our basic democratic values as Ontarians,” said Levitt, a former Liberal MP.

Not everyone was happy with the move.

While the New Democrats supported Bill 168, they expressed concern that the “government secretly adopted the definition, behind closed doors and passed it by Ford edict instead of by democratic vote.”

“Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts of hate are growing in Ontario, and we need to take concrete actions as a province to stomp out this growing, racist movement,” said NDP MPP Gurratan Singh (Brampton East).

Source: After Ottawa monument is vandalized, Ontario adopts International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘working definition of anti-Semitism’

Montreal city councillor withdraws motion defining anti-Semitism amid criticism

Always the risk with adopting what was always intended to be a working definition:

A Montreal city councillor has withdrawn a motion to have the city adopt an international organization’s definition of anti-Semitism.

Lionel Perez withdrew the motion endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition after it failed to gain support from Mayor Valerie Plante.

The IHRA definition has been adopted by over 30 countries including Canada, however critics say its wording is problematic because it connects criticism of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism.

While the international organization defines anti-Semitism in part as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred,” critics take aim at a list of examples that includes “denying Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

Corey Balsam of the group Independent Jewish Voices Canada says adopting the definition would put a “major chill” on those speaking out in favour of equality for the Palestinians, while failing to tackle more serious threats to Jewish communities, including the rise of the far right.

Perez said he’s disappointed the city missed an opportunity to take a firm stand against anti-Semitism.

Plante acknowledged the need to fight anti-Semitism but suggested a committee instead work to come up with its own definition — something Perez dismissed as “ludicrous.”

Source: Montreal city councillor withdraws motion defining anti-Semitism amid criticism

Bard’s Kenneth Stern: “I drafted the definition of anti-Semitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.”

More good commentary from someone involved in the drafting:

Fifteen years ago, as the American Jewish Committee’s antisemitism expert, I was the lead drafter of what was then called the “working definition of antisemitism”. It was created primarily so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude. That way antisemitism could be monitored better over time and across borders.

It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week. This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.

The problem isn’t that the executive order affords protection to Jewish students under title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Department of Education made clear in 2010 that Jews, Sikhs and Muslims (as ethnicities) could complain about intimidation, harassment and discrimination under this provision. I supported this clarification and filed a successful complaint for Jewish high school students when they were bullied, even kicked (there was a “Kick a Jew Day”).

Source: Bard’s Kenneth Stern: “I drafted the definition of anti-Semitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.”

What constitutes fair and unfair criticism of Israel?

An article that tries to articulate, in concrete terms, what is legitimate and what is not legitimate criticism of Israel.

When I was involved in negations over the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, there was a preference for more general wording (“criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”) with some examples, rather than a more comprehensive illustrative list.

Using international human rights as a basis, as Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann argues, is the most sound approach although there will likely be differences of interpretation:

Canada recently voted at the United Nations for the establishment of a Palestinian state. At the same time, Canada reiterated its position that there were too many UN resolutions about Israel. Canada argued that these resolutions unfairly singled out Israel for criticism.

Nevertheless, Israel’s ambassador to the UN claimed that Canada’s vote delegitimized Israel.

This event raises questions of what are legitimate or illegitimate criticisms of the state of Israel. It also raises questions about when or whether such criticism is anti-Semitic.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” It states that evidence of anti-Semitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

However, it also states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Using this definition, Canada’s vote for creation of a Palestinian state does not delegitimize Israel, any more than Canadian criticism of any other state delegitimizes it.

Illegitimate criticism

On the other hand, activists for Palestinian rights who call for the state of Israel to be destroyed, for example, by referring to a free Palestine “from the river to the sea,” engage in illegitimate criticism.

Regardless of the circumstances of its creation, Israel is a sovereign state that enjoys the right to exist. All sovereign states enjoy this right. Like any other state, Israel also has the right to defend itself against attack.

To suggest that Jews have no right to live in Israel is also to engage in illegitimate criticism. All states are permitted to determine who will live within their borders. And suggesting that Jews should not live in Israel means advocating the creation of a huge refugee population based on religio-ethnic criteria.

Some critics call Israel a colonial power. They assume that it is illegitimate for any Jewish “settler” to live in Israel proper. This assumption is based in part on the belief that Jews are not indigenous to the Middle East. But Jews have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years.

Israel was created in 1948. An estimated 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the subsequent Arab-Israeli war.

In later years, about 800,000 Jews left Arab countries. About two-thirds of them settled in Israel, and the other third elsewhere. Many of these Jews had been forcibly expelled.

Many Jews settled in Israel from Europe. It is important to remember the context of European pogroms and Nazi genocide that obliged many of them to flee.

This does not justify Israeli violations of the human rights of either Israeli Arabs or of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It merely provides some context as to why so many Jews have settled in Israel.

Sanctions against Israel are legitimate

Having said this, I agree with the opinion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that it’s legitimate to criticize Israel as one might criticize any other state. Thus the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel is legitimate, as long as it does not simultaneously question the right of Israel to exist as a state. Many Jewish people both within and outside Israel who are concerned about Palestinian rights support this movement.

Similarly, although it is not strictly accurate to call Israel an apartheid state, it is within the realm of acceptable political rhetoric. Legally speaking, apartheid can only occur within a state. So calling Israel an apartheid state suggests that it has legal sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza.

A better way to judge Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank is through universal standards. One such standard is international humanitarian law, especially the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. This convention prohibits transfers of population, either from or into conquered territories. That means Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

The International Court of Justice also adheres to universal standards. It ruled in 2004 that the wall separating Israel from the West Bank is illegal, because part of it is built outside Israel’s territory. This wall frequently separates Palestinians from their land, work opportunities and family members.

International human rights law is another universal standard that protects Palestinians. Israel definitely denies some human rights to people in the West Bank and Gaza. But so do Palestinians’ own political leaders, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Both these political groups deny their subjects civil liberties. They also use torture and arbitrary arrest, prohibited by international human rights law.

Other states punish Palestinians

Other states also undermine Palestinians’ human rights. Like Israel, Egypt periodically blockades Gaza . These blockades deny Palestinians freedom of movement across national boundaries. Both these states have the legal right to control their own borders. But these controls frequently mean that Palestinians cannot buy food, go to hospitals or work in Israel or Egypt.

Arab states also undermine Palestinians’ human rights. Some have given shelter to Palestinian refugees and their descendants for decades, but refuse to grant them citizenship.

These states are not legally obliged to grant citizenship to refugees and their descendants. But the reason that Jewish emigrants and refugees from Arab states do not constitute a political bloc, which Palestinians emigrants and refugees do, lies partly in citizenship laws.

Jewish emigrants and refugees obtained citizenship in Israel and other countries like the United States and Canada. Palestinians emigrants and refugees from Israel, and many of their descendants, remain stateless.

Universal rules and responsibilities

Serious concern for the human rights of Palestinians requires consideration of all the states that violate their rights under international human rights and humanitarian law.

These legal standards are universal. As long as they do not advocate eradication of the state of Israel and/or expulsion of Israeli Jews, states and activists that adhere to these standards are engaged in legitimate criticism.

Activists should respect Israel’s rights as a sovereign state. But Israel should respect Palestinians’ rights under universal human rights and humanitarian law. Israel is the most important of all the states in the Palestinian crisis.

Unfortunately, the government of Israel in 2019 was nationalist and expansionist. There’s little hope as we head into 2020 that Israel will negotiate in good faith with Palestinian leaders. Yet Israel will never be safe from attack until it negotiates a peaceful settlement that gives Palestinians their own state.

Source: What constitutes fair and unfair criticism of Israel?