York Region Adopts IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

BY: Ron Csillag

VAUGHAN, April 20 – York Region, north of Toronto and home to sizeable Jewish communities in Vaughan and Markham, has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

Sitting as a committee-of-the-whole, the council unanimously adopted the motion on April 16. Council ratified the vote on April 30.

“York Region is committed to ensuring a welcoming and inclusive community,” the regional government said in a statement. “Adopting this working definition reaffirms council’s vision of a York Region where all people feel they belong.”

The motion was put forward by Vaughan Mayor Mauricio Bevilacqua. Vaughan’s council adopted the IHRA definition last Jan. 27. The city also proclaimed that day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In a tweet, Bevilacqua said that by bringing the motion forward at the regional level, “we express our support for our Jewish communities & send a strong message that we are opposed to any & every form of antisemitism.”

The regional council’s adoption of the IHRA definition “is another crucial step in the fight against antisemitism,” said Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Shack commended the regional mayors and councillors for their leadership, singling out Bevilacqua and Vaughan Regional Councillors Mario Ferri, Gino Rosati and Linda Jackson “for moving this important initiative forward.”

York Regional Council, representing the municipalities of Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Newmarket, Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, and Whitchurch-Stouffville, joins a growing number of jurisdictions to adopt the IHRA definition.

The Montreal suburb of Westmount endorsed the definition in February. But Montreal’s city council earlier abandoned a motion to adopt the IHRA definition.

A resolution to “explore” the IHRA definition was withdrawn before Calgary’s city council could consider it last November following anti-Israel messages received by the motion’s sponsor. A motion to adopt the definition in Vancouver was postponed last summer and sent to a committee for further study after a similar campaign was waged there.

At the provincial level, Ontario’s legislature passed Bill 168 earlier this year on second reading. The private member’s bill, introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in December and co-sponsored by fellow Tory Robin Martin, calls on the government to be “guided” by the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism when it interprets acts, regulations and policies in order to “protect Ontarians from discrimination and hate amounting to antisemitism.”

Ontario would be the first province to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism should the bill be passed in its current form.

However, the bill is expected to face stiff challenges at committee hearings from those who say the IHRA definition stifles criticism of Israel and threatens to shut down activists fighting for Palestinian rights.

The federal government adopted the IHRA definition in June 2018 as part of a $45 million anti-racism strategy.

“We cannot effectively combat resurgent antisemitism without clearly defining it,” said Shack.

According to CIJA, the IHRA definition now constitutes the world’s most widely accepted definition of antisemitism, having been endorsed or adopted by dozens of countries and bodies, including the United Kingdom, the U.S., France, Germany, and the European Union.

The definition and a list of examples of antisemitism were adopted by the IHRA, of which Canada is a member, in 2016.

In a statement, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre CEO Avi Benlolo thanked York Region for its move.

“The IHRA antisemitism definition is an important tool that helps communities and institutions identify and counter antisemitism, and we urge all municipalities in the country to take a stand against antisemitism by adopting this definition,” Benlolo said.