Unelected, Unaccountable, Untroubled: CIJA Says What it Wants, Then Says it Speaks For Us

Dec. 16, 2020

By ANDREW COHEN

Since its induced birth a decade ago, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has offered full-throated support for the government of Israel. As official advocate of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, it suggests it speaks for Canadian Jewry.

That CIJA “represents hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with the federation,” is as empty as its claim that it is non-partisan. It isn’t really, at least not when it comes to Israel.

CIJA can scarcely utter a discouraging word about the harshest policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, from expanding settlements on the West Bank, to undermining the multi-party Iranian nuclear treaty.

Three years ago, for example, when the United States announced it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, CIJA quickly assembled an on-line forum of three panelists. All heralded the decision, a breathless exercise in propaganda from an organization which celebrates “educating Canadians about the important role Israel plays in Canadian life.”

Because Likud has been in power longer than CIJA has been in business, we don’t know how CIJA would react to a moderate government in Israel. But we do know how it reacts to a more moderate government in Canada on Israel: CIJA complains and complains.

In 2015, CIJA was quick to jump on Justin Trudeau, then in opposition, for “trivializing” the Holocaust. Yet it was unfazed when Steven Blaney, a Conservative minister, did much the same two days later.

More recently, when CIJA joined two other Jewish organizations in criticizing Canada’s vote at the United Nations in favour of Palestinian self-determination, it showed, once again, how CIJA is out of step with opinion at home and abroad.

CIJA issued a joint statement of protest with B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Each representative was quoted independently, as if none would take responsibility for the other – or, out of vanity, each insisted on his own megaphone.

Jon Allen, Canada’s former Ambassador to Israel, rejected their woolly-minded argument in the CJR. More than most Jews, he knows Canada is an unflinching friend of Israel. He explained persuasively why we voted with the rest of the world, including every one of Israel’s long-standing allies (other than the United States).

But that wasn’t enough for CIJA. Nothing is but the orthodoxy. This happens when your board of directors includes the perfervid John Baird, Stephen Harper’s foreign minister, beloved by CIJA; when he resigned unceremoniously in early 2015, CIJA saluted “his clear and conscientious foreign policy vision of which all Canadians can be proud.” Actually, many Jews were appalled, and helped defeat the Conservatives that October.

The Liberals can appoint Bob Rae as Canada’s Ambassador to the UN; they can avow moral and material support for Israel until the coming of the Messiah; they can appoint Irwin Cotler envoy on anti-Semitism (which CIJA uncharacteristically praised). CIJA is rarely satisfied.

Then again, why should anyone care what CIJA thinks? Its officers are unelected, unaccountable and untroubled by criticism, which it reliably ignores or dismisses. Sustained by the Federation, which is sustained by tax-deductible donations, CIJA says what it wants – and then says it speaks for us.

CIJA has lacked credibility since it was mysteriously established in 2011. Some say it was the product of a hostile takeover of the Canadian Jewish Congress, engineered by wealthy conservative Jews with the blessing of the governing Conservatives. That may explain its defensiveness.

For an organization which sees itself as a communicator, CIJA has clownish media relations. Despite its self-described legion of “analysts, public affairs specialists, web and social-media practitioners, relationship builders and media relations experts,” it is among the least responsive advocacy organizations I’ve seen in 43 years in journalism.

CIJA boasts of its work on Jewish issues in Canada (curiously, it does not have “Canada” in its name), which are detailed on its website. For fighting antisemitism, encouraging Jewish education, protecting kosher food, and other campaigns – wonderful. I applaud that, although it’s hard to judge its effectiveness or its value for money. Its budget is said to be $8 to $11 million, of which 40 percent, goes to advocacy on Israel. (CIJA refuses to say). To push this and other causes, it has 10 or so lobbyists.

For all its resources, though, how is CIJA the voice of “hundreds of thousands” of Jews in a country of 390,000 Jews? By what arithmetic, and with what authority?

The Canadian Jewish Congress, a venerable Jewish parliament, did not worry about its legitimacy. It had the confidence of Jews because it tried to represent all of them. It was a forum of conciliation between faiths, a voice of immigrants, and a champion of social justice. It had authenticity and loyalty. This we can say with confidence: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is not the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The Federation can address the problem with CIJA. It can tell CIJA to stop advocating for Israel in Canada, and focus exclusively on education and other domestic issues. It can allow donors skeptical of CIJA to designate their support to other worthy charities within the Federation. Or choose others outside it.

As the pandemic strains many charities heroically serving our community, CIJA is one progressive Jews no longer want to hear – and need no longer subsidize.


Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is an award-winning columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, a professor of journalism at Carleton University, and the author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History

Reservist Should be Tossed for Racist Ties, Navy Agrees

Dec. 15, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Royal Canadian Navy commanders are recommending a reservist with a history of ties to a racist organization be discharged from the military.

Navy leaders have told Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center the decision to recommend tossing Calgary-based Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic from the Navy was made following a command-level review of his case, including a previous decision to reinstate the sailor.

“We strongly commend the Canadian Navy for its renewed efforts to combat hate and extremism in their ranks and for the decision by Naval chain of command to pursue a release of an individual with deep and longstanding ties to neo-Nazi groups and activities,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, Director of Policy at FSWC, in a news release.

As a supporter of the neo-Nazi terrorist organization Blood and Honour, Mihajlovic was found to have used the neo-Nazi website Iron March to call for a “race war” and offer to sell weapons to white supremacists.

He was suspended from the reserves earlier this year but was reinstated in July after telling commanders he had been rehabilitated by his time in the forces and no longer held racist views.

A senior Navy official told FSWC that Mihajlovic has been informed of the chain of command’s recommendation and will have the opportunity to make representations during an administrative review. That review, which will be independent of his chain of command, will be considered by the Director of Military Careers and Administration, after which a final decision will be made.

At the same time, the commander of the Army has promised to remove a soldier from the famed Canadian Rangers who, according to the CBC, has a history of involvement with the white supremacist group Soldiers of Odin.

Army commander Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre has promised that Master Corporal Erik Myggland will be out of the Armed Forces “within weeks.”

A Forces spokesperson told the CJR on Dec. 10 that it’s estimated Myggland’s release will be finalized next month.

Meantime, “we simply must ensure he is afforded the same treatment as any other member whom we intend to release. The details of this process related to any particular case are protected under the Privacy Act, so we cannot comment further,” stated spokesperson Major Karina Holder.

The Forces remain committed “to the elimination of hateful conduct and has taken strong measures to equip our leaders with the ability to do so,” Holder said.

The Canadian Army Order on Hateful Conduct “makes everyone’s obligations clear at all levels and we have distributed this policy widely across the [Forces], including sharing it with stakeholder groups, posting it to the [internet] and promoting it on our social media channels.”

The decision on Myggland was also welcomed by FSWC.

“We support and appreciate this decision by the Canadian Army to finally remove an individual involved in far-right activity and hateful conduct from its ranks, a decision that sends a message that those who are involved in hate groups and activity are not welcome in the military,” stated FSWC president and CEO Michael Levitt.

In a later statement to the CJR, Sajjan said, “Canadians expect every member who wears the maple leaf on their shoulder to uphold our values, both at home and abroad. If an individual does not believe in values of Canadians and instead promotes hate and intolerance, there is no place for that person in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

FSWC has urged the government to adopt a zero-tolerance policy that includes quick dismissal of any members found to be involved in extremist activity.

Canada Votes at the UN: A Response to the CIJA, B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center

Nov. 25, 2020

By JON ALLEN

I am writing in response to the recent joint statement issued by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center regarding the Nov. 19 vote by Canada on a United Nations resolution affirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

I was surprised to receive the statement and I fundamentally disagree with it. I was surprised because it leaves the reader with the impression that this is a new resolution, a different vote from the one last year, and that the government has rethought its policies and has now betrayed the “Jewish community,” which these organizations purport to represent.

Just to be clear: This is the same resolution that the government, along with 163 other states, including all Europeans, the Nordics and New Zealand, supported last year. There were good reasons then for Canada to support the resolution and it is arguable, given recent events in the region, that there are even better reasons to support it this year. Moreover, it would be highly unusual for a government to change its vote one year as it did in 2019, and then, barring changed circumstances, reverse the change the next. Thus my surprise at both the tone and aggressive nature of the statement in question.

First, the reaffirmation of the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to an independent state is wholly consistent with Canadian government policy, and has been for decades through the Chrétien, Martin, Harper, and now, the Trudeau governments.

Second, some have suggested that the resolution is flawed because it does not specifically mention Israel, its right to exist or the two-state solution. This is a clear misreading of its intent and substance. The resolution is not about Israel or its right to exist. Israel exists and has since 1948, no matter who or how many times its existence is challenged. As the name of the resolution suggests, it is about the right of the Palestinian people to a state. The second to last preambular paragraph (preambular paragraphs set the context for the operative paragraphs that follow) specifically refers to a “lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israeli sides” and then cites: the Madrid Conference, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet road map, all of which assume, support and encourage a two-state solution.

Third, as mentioned, if Canada was correct in supporting the resolution in 2019 – and I believe it was – then given recent events in Israel and the territories, the vote this year is even more justified. The last year has seen significant expansion of illegal settlements, including into areas deep into the West Bank and around East Jerusalem. Such activities threaten the very viability of the two-state solution and the self determination of Palestinians referred to in the resolution. We also should recall that 2020 was a year in which the Israeli government threatened to annex approximately 30 percent of the West Bank, including much of the Jordan Valley.

Finally, I take exception with any statement of this nature that suggests that it represents the views of “the Jewish community.” It does not represent my views or those of the tens of thousands of progressive Jews for whom the two-state solution is seen as the saviour of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be more accurate, if in future communications, the organizations in question would make clear that they speak on behalf of themselves and not the Jewish community at large.


Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.

Breaking News: Irwin Cotler Named Special Holocaust Envoy

Nov. 25, 2020

Canada has named Irwin Cotler, the internationally respected human rights advocate, founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and former Justice Minister, as this country’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

According to a Nov. 25 press release from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Cotler will lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), “working with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history,” Trudeau’s statement said. “Seventy-five years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps revealed the full horrors of the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Canada and around the world face rising antisemitism. The Government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the antisemitism, hatred, and racism that incite such despicable acts. We will also continue to preserve the stories of survivors through younger generations, and work to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion, and human rights.

“That is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named the Honourable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism,” the statement continued.

“The Government of Canada is committed to reinforcing and strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and to combat antisemitism as key elements of the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad.

“With a longstanding record of leadership in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and extensive experience in human rights and justice including in cases related to mass atrocities, Mr. Cotler will lead the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). He will work with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

The statement noted that the federal government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism in June 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy.

As special envoy, Cotler will also support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society, and academia to advance the implementation of the definition across the country and its adoption internationally, according to the statement.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it,” Trudeau stated. “As Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler will use his vast knowledge and experience to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research as we continue working with partners in Canada and around the world to fight against hate and intolerance. Because antisemitism has no place in Canada – or anywhere else.”

As envoy, Cotler will work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and other departments to inform government policy and programming.

The IHRA includes 34 member countries and eight partner organizations with Holocaust-related issues as part of their mandate. Canada joined it in 2009.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “thrilled” to learn of Cotler’s appointment.

“This announcement is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism in Canada and shows a much-needed seriousness in our government’s commitment to this promise,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We very much look forward to working with Mr. Cotler in his new role.”

“Mr. Cotler is a Canadian icon who has been tirelessly advocating for human rights for decades. Canada has demonstrated leadership by creating the position of special envoy, in discussion for months, and we are pleased Mr. Cotler was chosen to fill this important role,” said Joel Reitman, Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Board of Directors.

Canada Repeats Last Year’s UN Vote on Palestinian Self-Determination

Nov. 20, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

In a repeat from a year ago, Canada has voted for a United Nations resolution that refers to “occupied Palestinian territory” – including east Jerusalem and its holy Jewish sites.

Canada voted for the annual resolution on Nov. 19. The measure was adopted 163 to five at the UN’s Third Committee and will now go to the General Assembly for a final vote.

Titled “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution was opposed by Israel, the United States and the Pacific island nations of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Since 2006, over Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada had voted against the measure and has generally sided with Israel or abstained in its votes on the basket of about 20 resolutions introduced at the UN annually this time of year on “The Question of Palestine.”

But a year ago, Canada’s abrupt about-face on this one resolution sent shock waves through the Jewish community and strained relations with Israel. Canada’s move was widely denounced in Israel advocacy circles and was seen as all the more dramatic because it skipped over abstention and went to support.

Others questioned whether it meant a shift in Canada’s Middle East policy.

At the time, Israel said it had no advance warning of Canada’s change of vote, adding that it was considering lodging a formal complaint against Canada.

Entitled the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution stresses “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It further “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine; [and] urges all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.”

In a joint statement the day after Canada cast its ballot, Jewish advocacy groups expressed their “deep disappointment,” saying the resolution fails “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people” while “intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem – including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.”

In its explanation of its vote, Canada said it is a “strong ally and close friend of Israel” and is “committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.”

This country’s support for the resolution “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said the explanation, known as an EOV.

The resolution focuses on two issues, the EOV stated: “The right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, and the need for all countries to do what they can to support the successful creation of a Palestinian state, living in peace and security with its neighbour Israel.

“From the time of the earliest resolutions of the Security Council on these issues, we have endorsed the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ While we do not agree with some elements of the preamble, Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important, core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The EOV said Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism. Our votes on these resolutions across the UN system reflect this principle. We will continue to oppose these resolutions and initiatives which do not speak to the complexities of the issues or seek to address the actions and responsibilities of all parties, including the destructive role in the conflict of such terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, that have refused to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and routinely use violence targeting civilians.

Canada said it welcomes the recent announcement by the Palestinian Authority to resume coordination with Israel. “We continue to insist that real progress will depend on mutual recognition and trust, and a firm rejection of extremism and terrorism. We know that lasting peace and security starts with direct talks, and the concessions and compromise that always accompany successful negotiations. Canada urges both sides to return to negotiations.”

In a statement, newly-elected Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) defended the government’s voting record on Israel at the UN: “The systematic singling out of Israel at the UN is unfair and unjust, which is why we have the strongest record of any Canadian government in opposing the annual UN resolutions that single out Israel, having voted against almost 90 percent of them since 2015. We are the only Western country alongside the U.S. that systematically votes against these resolutions.

“Israelis and Palestinians want and need a resolution to the conflict firmly rooted in the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ Their future depends on it and the new developments of the recent accords show us what can be achieved when states work together.

“The Canada-Israel relationship is stronger and deeper than can be defined by one vote. It is an unbreakable bond that makes both countries better, safer, and more prosperous,” said Saks. “That’s why the government is right now engaged in Canada-Israel collaboration and innovation, and increasing our efforts internationally to promote Holocaust remembrance and combat the global rise of antisemitism.

“I’ve made our community’s position clear to the government, and will always work to further strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship,” Saks stated.

Three days before the vote, Canada’s major Jewish advocacy groups, B’nai Brith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, urging Ottawa to return to its “principled and unequivocal opposition” to this year’s batch of resolutions.

The day after Canada cast its ballot this year, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of FSWC, stated, “We are dismayed by Canada’s decision to undermine its longstanding policy of rejecting one-sided and prejudicial anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. By supporting this resolution, Canada is providing ammunition to those who seek to delegitimize and demonize the State of Israel, which ultimately sets back the prospects for peace in the region.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA President and CEO commented: “The government of Canada has now doubled down on its incomprehensible support for a resolution that simply expands the anti-Israel narrative within the United Nations system – an aberration in the voting pattern established and re-affirmed by successive Canadian governments for almost two decades until the Liberal government changed its vote last year.”

Notwithstanding other “praiseworthy” initiatives by the Liberals, this vote “will undermine the Jewish community’s confidence in this government – its willingness to stand by its principles as they relate to Israel, as well as its relationship with the Jewish community here in Canada.”

Wondered B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn, “Does support for this resolution bring us any closer to a durable and sustaining peace?”

In its own statement, the progressive group JSpaceCanada, sounded a different tone, saying Canada “has once again demonstrated that supporting Israel and recognizing the rights of Palestinians are not mutually exclusive. This year, Canada reiterated its opposition to the annual slate of anti-Israel resolutions, while also re-affirming its support for Palestinian self-determination. While imperfect, the resolution Canada voted for signals that the two-state solution remains a key priority for Canadian foreign policy. With the looming threat of annexation and continued impasse on peace negotiations, it is critical that the international community advance the need for a just peace based on mutual recognition.”

Montreal-born Hillel Neuer, head of UN Watch in Geneva, employed stronger language, saying the Liberal government “has joined the jackals at the UN” by voting for the resolution.

Israel’s embassy in Ottawa had no comment when asked for its position on the Nov. 19 resolution.

The day before that vote, Canada sided with Israel on a UN resolution that recognizes Palestinians’ sovereign rights to natural resources on the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The measure calls on Israel, “the occupying Power,” to “cease the exploitation, damage, cause of loss or depletion and endangerment of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

The resolution was approved by a vote of 156 to six. Opposing it were Canada, Israel, the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru.

Earlier this month, Canada voted with Israel on five Palestinian-related resolutions and abstained on two others.

Get Tough With Social Media, Say Global Lawmakers

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Jewish advocacy agencies are calling for stiff fines, cuts in government spending for online advertising, and new regulations to force social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to get tough with online hatemongers.

B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) and other organizations told a panel of international lawmakers recently that getting tough is the only way to get the tech giants to help drain the cesspool of online antisemitism polluting their platforms.

The groups made their points during the first public hearing of the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism. That body, comprised of lawmakers from Canada, the United States, Israel, Great Britain and Australia, launched in September to deal with the growing problem of online hate.

“In the crisis we are facing now this issue has become all the more pervasive,” said Michael Levitt, CEO of FSWC. “We are seeing antisemitism being weaponized now under the thinly-veiled guise of anti-Zionism.”

One suggested tactic is to form an agency like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a voluntary, self-regulatory body created by the country’s private broadcasters to deal with viewer complaints about news and entertainment programs.

Another is to make directors and officers of social media companies personally responsible for allowing their platforms to be used for hate speech.

“The platforms offer an unprecedented opportunity to spread antisemitism,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC Canada’s campaign against antisemitism. “They have to be held responsible for the material they publish.”

In a news release following its presentation, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said after years of pressure, “there have been some clear signs that social media platforms are gradually coming around,” but the problem is far from solved.

What’s needed, said Mostyn, is greater transparency and a chance to provide input to their policies.

“If necessary, governments and civil society must exert a leadership role. The Jewish community is absolutely ready to contribute to these efforts,” he said.

In its testimony, B’nai Brith argued a key to combating online hate and antisemitism is to define the problem for a global audience. One such tool is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism. That definition has been adopted by several Canadian municipalities, the federal government, and recently in Ontario.

B’nai Brith also argued antisemitism should be seen as an issue of human rights, not simply one of religious freedom. Many of its current forms must be understood as “hatred and demonization of the State of Israel that exceeds the boundaries of legitimate policy criticism.”

“A clear legal and policy framework – domestically and internationally – is required to bring coherence to efforts to take down hate.”

Agencies around the world have noted shocking rises in antisemitism, often driven by driven by conspiracy theories about Jews being responsible for the COVID pandemic. In Canada B’nai Brith has noted an 11 per cent rise in online antisemitism and harassment that often advocates genocide.

Social media companies haven’t been ignoring the problem. Earlier this year, for example, Twitter began flagging some tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump for violating policies that ban threats of harm against an identifiable group.

And last month, Facebook announced a new policy banning Holocaust denial.

In an email exchange, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform found and removed nearly 90 percent of hate speech content before being reported, and in the first quarter of 2020, took action against 9.6 million postings.

Over the last year, “we’ve conducted 14 strategic network disruptions to remove 23 different banned organizations, over half of which supported white supremacy,” the spokesperson said.

In Canada, the company’s work has included a $500,000 program announced earlier this year for the Global Network Against Hate, in partnership with Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism.

Other Canadian participants in the task force include Members of Parliament Anthony Housefather (Liberal), Marty Morantz (Conservative) and Randall Garrison (NDP). Israel is represented by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White).

Trump’s Muddled Foreign Policy Examined at FSWC Event

Nov. 13, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Donald Trump did not make the world safer for Jews, or anyone else, say two prominent officials who worked directly with the soon-to-be former American president.

John Bolton
John Bolton

John Bolton, former national security advisor to the president, and David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and retired four-star general, told a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre event on Nov. 9 that Trump’s often incoherent foreign policy did nothing to counter the threats of terrorism, a nuclear Iran, or Chinese aggression.

The speakers were the feature attractions at FSWC’s State of the Union fundraiser. They told their virtual audience that while the Trump era did produce some promising results, such as the Abraham Accords peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the safety of the world remains threatened.

David Petraeus
David Petraeus

The Middle East agreements, they said, were more driven by domestic politics in the Arab world than by American leadership.

“Both of these agreements reflect changes that are tectonic in their effect in this region,” said Bolton, adding that the move to peace could be attributed to a decreased concern over Palestinian issues, rising concern about a nuclear Iran, and concerns about American staying power as an influence in the region.

Those forces will result in more peace agreements “sooner rather than later.”

Petraeus, who commanded American military efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said that another major piece that brought the deals together was Israel’s agreement to halt settler incursions into disputed land, at least temporarily.

“There are lots of pluses here, it is clearly a positive step forward,” he said. “The question is, can it stick? There’s not much else here for the Palestinians.”

Petraeus added those small gains are the best that can be hoped for now. Anything more will have to wait for new leadership in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Now isn’t the time to be swinging for the fences,” he said. “This is the time to hit singles and doubles, no home runs.”

There are also potential benefits to the region from some parts of the so-called Deal of the Century, Petraeus noted. Among those are the creation of a 25-mile long tunnel between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; allowing travel between the regions without having to pass through Israeli checkpoints; ideas about developing the Red Sea-area Egyptian Riviera that could bring economic benefit to Palestinians; and Israel’s prospects of becoming an energy superpower through the development of natural gas.

That’s all in addition to potential benefits from Israel’s already strong, and growing economy.

“The start-up nation is becoming the scale-up nation,” Petraeus said.

Bolton added a political restructuring in the region is needed.

Rather than the one or two-state solutions that have been so bitterly debated for years, he suggested a three-state deal that would see the Gaza Strip become part of Egypt while Israel and Jordan jointly rule over the West Bank.

Hovering over those potential promises, however, is the continued threat of Islamic terrorism.

Bolton said the radicalization driving some young Muslims to strap bombs to their bodies in the hope of killing Israelis is continuing to spread through both the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.

“The West seems to forget how deeply religious feeling can go toward motivating political action,” Bolton said.

That concern is heightened, he added, as American and allied troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving room of Taliban terrorists from Pakistan to return to the region.

The soldier and the security advisor both said China remains a particular concern to world peace, one Trump failed to handle.

“There was simply no coherent Trump Administration policy on China,” Bolton said. “China is a huge question we have to face and we are not ready for it.”

Beyond seeking trade deals to sell American grain to China, Bolton said the Trump Administration ignored China’s growing economic strength – a strength he said is based on stolen intellectual property and is used to build a military machine.

How the situation changes once President-Elect Joe Biden takes office in January is an open question, they said.

“Right now there’s just no clear indication of where Biden wants to go,” Bolton said.

Despite Trump’s current allegations of voter fraud, both agreed the transfer of power will take place.

“It will happen, but there may be some wild rhetoric first,” Bolton said. “A president has to operate on the basis of facts, but this president does not.”

The State of the Union event raised $3.3 million.

Federal Official Faces Probe Over Antisemitic Posts

Nov. 12, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A senior government official in Ottawa is under investigation for social media posts accusing Israel of the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, “leeching” off American taxpayers, and harbouring pedophiles.

Nizam Siddiqui is described in a government employee directory as a senior analyst in the Privy Council Office, which supports the prime minister and cabinet in policy making for the country.

The posts were first uncovered by Israeli blogger David Lange. Acting on a tip from a reader, he said he matched the person in a Facebook profile to a YouTube video in which Siddiqui was interviewed following a terrorist event on Parliament Hill.

Lange said he deployed “due diligence” in concluding that the man on the Facebook page and in the YouTube video are the same person.

The postings can be seen on Lange’s site, israellycool.com, one of the largest English-language blogs in Israel.

After Lange brought the posts to light, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) called for government action.

Paul Duchesne, the PCO’s director of media relations, told CIJA, FSWC and the CJR that the Privy Council Office “takes this matter very seriously and expects all of its employees to adhere to the Values and Ethics Code of the Public Service. We are shocked and disappointed with this content and we are following due diligence processes to determine the facts surrounding the involvement of this employee to enable us to respond quickly and appropriately.”

His statement did not address whether Siddiqui is still at work or what sanctions he may face if the allegations are found to be true.

The Jewish organizations said they were pleased with the PCO’s response.

“We were gratified to receive assurances from the PCO that they regard the allegations as seriously as we do, and that an investigation and immediate action will be pursued to address the issue,” they said in a joint statement. “In their response, the PCO officials re-affirmed that there is no place for such appalling attitudes amongst members of the public service.

They said they expect that the individual in question “will be dealt with in a manner that reflects the seriousness of his hateful actions and breach of public trust.”

The statement from the two Jewish groups said the Facebook page also includes “a multitude of libels against Israel, referring to it as a ‘parasitic, racist, apartheid state,’ and indicates ‘likes’ for over a hundred extremist anti-Israel groups around the world.”

In an interview, Lange said he uses his blog to uncover antisemitic actions wherever he can.

“A reader sent me an email saying, ‘check this guy out,’” he said. “I looked it, and [Siddiqui’s] Facebook page, and the Youtube video, where he says he works for the government.”

In that video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpsJJuSM9XE), Siddiqui is interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about being in the area of a terrorist attack on Parliament Hill. He expressed the hope the incident would not lead to an increase in Islamophobia.

“This has been bothering me for a long time,” he told the interviewer. “It was very hard to see a young man lose his life like that.”

Siddiqui was likely referring to the 2014 attack in which Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier and reservist on sentry duty at the National War Memorial, was fatally shot by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. 

Siddiqui did not respond to a telephone call for comment.

The Facebook posts also allege that European Jews are a counterfeit people and that Palestinians are the true descendants of the Hebrews of the Bible.

Lange said the views expressed in the posts are especially troubling because they came from someone in a position of public trust.

“It’s always troubling to me when someone has these views,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it is particularly troubling to me that he is close to the prime minister, but it would be extremely troubling to me that now that they know about his views, they were to cover for him.”

Cattle Car Replica Helps Students Stand Against Hate

Nov. 11, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

When it comes to hate crimes, no group in Canada is more heavily targeted than Jews. In an innovative and strategic push for change, 25-year old Jordana Lebowitz has founded ShadowLight, a not-for-profit Holocaust education centre set within…a cattle car.

“We want to help people connect to the survivor stories while being immersed in this historical space,” explains Lebowitz of the unique setting for her effort.

“The Cattle Car: Stepping in and Out of Darkness” was launched Oct. 18 at the Toronto Railway Museum. It is an interactive, multimedia installation within an exact replica of a Second World War-era cattle car that was used to transport Jews and other targeted groups to concentration and extermination camps.

At the Oct. 18 launch of the cattle car exhibit: Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, and Michael Levitt president and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. (Photo by ShadowLight)

As the installation’s name suggests, the windowless wooden freight cars were originally intended to transport cattle. At least 150 unfortunates were crammed into each car, without food, water, washroom facilities, or the ability to sit down. Many perished en route to death mills. Historians have suggested that without the mass transportation carried out on Europe’s railways in these box cars, the scale of the Final Solution would have been much different.

As Holocaust survivors diminish in number, ShadowLight’s installation inspires future generations to take action against injustices around them, say Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), which has partnered with ShadowLight to advance Holocaust education in Canada.

“Holocaust education is the key tool in the fight against and prevention of antisemitism and hate that we are sadly seeing rear its ugly head all too often around the world,” said Michael Levitt, FSWC president and CEO. “Our goal is to work together with Jordana and ShadowLight to create course material for students and make this an even fuller experience on campuses.”

The cattle car museum on wheels will visit school campuses throughout Canada.

Lebowitz’s passion project was born when she was a 16-year old CHAT student taking part in the March of the Living.

She was in the one-time Nazi death camp of Majdanek when she saw a megillah scroll in a glass box, “and that made me sad, yet I realized the story doesn’t end here in a massive pile of ashes,” Lebowitz recalled.

That wisdom planted the seed. She searched for months for a cattle car. Finally, in 2015 as a second-year student at University of Guelph, and with help from Hillel, she brought the cattle car to campus. It has since been displayed every year at the University of Guelph for Holocaust Education Week.

“Jordana drove the whole concept with her student leaders. It was the first incarnation of her program ShadowLight,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario. “FSWC has the ability to take this out in the community and amplify it.”

As a co-op student, Lebowitz worked at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne, Australia, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Lebowitz revisited the cattle car initiative with a renewed determination to bring the powerful educational tool to other school campuses. ShadowLight was incorporated in 2018, with a team of 20 young volunteers and 20 advisors.

“We brought Holocaust survivors Hedy Bohm and Nate Leipciger into a green screen studio and filmed their stories,” said Lebowitz.

Actors then brought their stories to life. “The walls fill up with people to visualize how many would have been squished in this space,” Leibowitz explained. “There are 100 hand-painted footprints on the ground to show how closely family groupings were.”

Lebowitz, who’s pursuing her masters in education remotely from the University of Southern California, marvels about her creation. “I never thought that ShadowLight would come to life,” she said.

The cattle car exhibit runs about 30 minutes and is recommended for students Grade 8 and above. The second public showing will take place on Nov. 15 and 16 at Wychwood Barns Park in Toronto’s St. Clair Ave. W. and Christie Street area. Strict COVID safety measures are in effect.

To book tickets, click here.

Contentious Video Resurfaces in Ottawa Schools

Nov. 5, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A video labelled antisemitic and anti-Israel has resurfaced in an Ontario school three months after the education minister ordered it removed.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Now, Stephen Lecce is demanding the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board explain why his orders were not followed. At the same time, pro-Israel groups want to know how the offensive film got into classrooms in the first place.

“This is totally unacceptable. This anti-Israel and antisemitic video should never have been shown to Ontario’s students,” Lecce said in a statement to the CJR. “The revised version was provided to school boards with clear instructions on how to immediately implement the changes in course. A memo was also sent to all school boards, asking them to confirm they had implemented the changes.

“The board will need to answer for why this video is still being used, given the explicit direction to delete it,” he added.

Lecce ordered the video removed from the curriculum last July.

“I am again calling on all school boards to ensure the new version of the course be used and to respect the very legitimate concerns by so many parents, who are deeply concerned with the content of this biased video,” Lecce’s statement said.

The untitled video was created and distributed by e-Learning Ontario for an online Grade 10 civics course. It was one of four for the course available to all school boards in Ontario.

In it, a youth calling himself Naj declares: “The issue here is that the current occupation of the Palestinian land by the Zionists have (sic) violated the human rights of the Palestinians.

“The Gaza militants have retaliated by firing rockets at Israel. This conflict continues to rage on because the Israelis live as occupiers while the Palestinians live under occupation.

“This needs to change. The government of Israel needs to be pressured into ending this occupation by people around the world whether they’re civilians or politicians.”

In his statement, Lecce said: “We must fight antisemitism in all of its forms. I stand with Ontario’s Jewish community, who simply want to have their kids go through our public education system free of discrimination, bullying, and intimidation.”

The video first surfaced in July in the York Region school system. Thornhill MPP Gila Martow raised the issue with Lecce and he moved the same day to have the item removed.

It reappeared this month in Ottawa, where a parent whose child had been assigned to watch and comment on the video contacted Friends of the Simon Weisenthal Centre and the on-campus group Hasbara Fellowships Canada.

“It is imperative that the province ensure that each and every student exposed to this grossly one-sided video be presented with a balanced and informed perspective,” said Daniel Koren, executive director of Hasbara Canada. “We have dozens of Hasbara high school interns who would be happy to explain why this video is flawed, historically inaccurate, and most importantly, dangerous.”

FSWC also issued a news release “expressing its concern and frustration that the offensive, deeply misinformed video was still being used in the classroom.”

FSWC also commended the principal and the Ottawa school board for their quick action to remove the video.

Concern over the video prompted the New York-based Lawfare Project, in partnership with the Toronto law firm RE-LAW LLP to file an access to information request with the provincial government for all records related to the video.

“We’re doing this to get answers to how this got on the platform in the first place,” lawyer David Elmaleh said in an interview. “This video has a heavily biased perspective that is anti-Jewish being taught to our students.

“Our students should not be taught this kind of antisemitic and racist content,” he added.

Among the questions the Jewish and pro-Israel civil rights litigation fund wants answered are how the video got on the learning platform in the first place; who sourced it; how is the selection of such material overseen, and how it re-emerged after Lecce ordered it removed.

UPDATE: In a statement to the CJR, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said: “Last week, a video log (vlog) was presented in a grade 10 Civics class about Israel and the Palestinian Authority and was intended to show a student response to this situation. Unfortunately, this video was antisemitic and we apologize that it was presented. The vlog was originally included as part of a package of course materials provided by the Ministry of Education for use within the eLearning course. During the summer, we became aware of this vlog and the concerns about this content. The content was removed and we are now trying to determine how that content resurfaced. We have also sent a notification to all principals on this matter to ensure this situation does not happen again.

“This incident is another important reminder about our collective responsibility to create a learning and working environment that is built on the respect for the human rights and dignity of all people, is free from discrimination and harassment, and that values diversity and inclusion,” the OCDSB went on. “In response to this incident, we invited the Superintendent of Instruction to join the class and lead a discussion with students about this video and how that connects to broader human rights issues. Although dialogue surrounding Israel and Palestine have a place in civics and global education, one-sided learning and antisemitic theories do not have a space in any OCDSB classroom.”

Why We Support the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism… Cautiously

Nov. 5, 2020 

By JORDAN DEVON AND KAREN MOCK

On Oct. 27, Ontario became the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. JSpaceCanada, the organization we represent, joined the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in applauding this decision

As most in our community are aware, we do not always see eye to eye with these organizations. As a progressive Zionist Jewish voice, we are unapologetic in our opposition to the Israeli occupation and emphatic in our support for a two-state solution – positions that aren’t always shared by more dominant community institutions.

But on this occasion, we felt the need to rise above these differences. While our community has diverse voices and opinions, there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. 

The IHRA definition states: “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.”

The definition has been given broad acceptance by Jewish communities around the world. By adopting it, Ontario is following the anti-racist/anti-oppression norm that victimized groups can best define the terms that describe discrimination against them.

However, it must be noted that the IHRA definition does not come without its critics.

Shortly after we released our statement in support of the provincial government’s decision to bypass public committee hearings and proceed to endorsement, we received concerned, disappointed, and even angry messages from allies and colleagues in the Arab community, who noted that the IHRA definition has been used to suppress criticism of Israel in jurisdictions around the world. 

Indeed, the IHRA definition comes with a list of illustrative examples of antisemitism, some of which have been interpreted as appearing to conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with antisemitism.

The definition, as drafted by Kenneth Stern and an international team of scholars, was meant to be used as a tool or resource to assist in identification and documentation, and not to be legally binding. However, there is great concern that the IHRA definition has been weaponized by right-wing groups to suppress even tepid criticism of Israel – a reality that has been acknowledged by Stern himself.

But we can understand why reference to the IHRA language is alarming for communities who experience Israel and Zionism differently than Jews do. And we acknowledge the distinctions and relationships between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.

Criticizing Israeli policy is not inherently antisemitic. Indeed, the IHRA definition itself specifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that against any other state cannot be considered to be antisemitic.”

As a progressive Zionist organization, JSpaceCanada has actively criticized discriminatory Israeli government policies, and we will continue to do so, challenging Israel to fulfill the promise of its Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between well-meaning critics of Israel and those who are influenced by antisemitism, or may cross the line into antisemitic rhetoric.

We will continue to call for the cautious application of the IHRA definition in keeping with the drafters’ intent, to ensure it does not supress freedom of speech or academic freedom. In the same vein, we would expect that definitions of racism or any form of discrimination should not be used to silence speech that does not meet one of the criteria of hate speech.

We are committed to monitoring and speaking out against any attempt to misuse the IHRA definition to attack Palestinian activism or to promote Islamophobia. And we will defend those whom we feel have been wrongfully accused of antisemitism.


Dr. Karen Mock is the President of JSpaceCanada
Jordan Devon is the Vice-President of JSpaceCanada. 
JSpaceCanada is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, progressive Jewish organization.

Editorial: Kosher or Treif? Help Us Decide

Nov. 4, 2020

We had in mind to call this new addition to the CJR “Bouquets and Brickbats,” but somehow, “Kosher or Treif?” seemed more appropriate.

From time to time, the editors here would like to recognize individuals and groups for their work, whether it’s advancing Jewish ideals, pushing forward a positive agenda, or simply getting at the truth in an era in which objective truth is proving elusive.

On the other hand, we also need to know about those who, to put it politely, do not have our best interests in mind.

Recognition will be complimentary (K= Kosher) or critical (T=Treif). Please feel free to let us know if you agree by sending us your thoughts at canadianjewishrecord@gmail.ca

KOSHER: Andy Lulka is a Montessori advocate and educator. Her quiet but vital work on Holocaust education and confronting antisemitism from a point of intersectionality and anti-oppression is well known in the field. Despite health challenges, Andy has demonstrated that positivity and wisdom leads to strength of purpose.

KOSHER: York Regional Police, which has charged a white nationalist for “uttering threats” against two anti-racist activists in an online chat room. All to prove that hateful actions online can lead to serious consequences.

TREIF: Bobby Orr. The Canadian hockey legend’s fawning statement of support for Donald Trump only tells us that while he played stellar defence for the Boston Bruins, it turns out his embrace of a racist, sexist, misogynist candidate for president was nothing but offensive.

KOSHER: Mustafa Farook is the Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). His outreach to other faith communities has helped build many bridges. Most recently, following a swastika defacement of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Mustafa publicly tweeted, “…To the lowlife that did this, if you want to intimidate the Jewish community, or dishonour the fallen you have to come through us.”

TREIF: Maxime Bernier, leader of the so called People’s Party of Canada, tried to run for a seat in Toronto’s York Centre riding in the recent by-election. His anti-immigrant, climate change skeptic, anti-transgender policies were eagerly echoed by white supremacists and others of the same ilk. York Centre voters, speaking for most Canadians, soundly sent him packing with just 642 votes. But, alarmingly, at 3.6 percent of the total vote, Bernier did better than the Greens in York Centre.

KOSHER: Annamie Paul has become the first Jewish female person of colour to head a federal party, the Greens, in Canada. She faced down sexism, racism and antisemitism to do so. Mazal tov Annamie. A welcome addition to the political scene.

KOSHER: General John Vance and the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite a slow start, the military has taken decisive action to root out neo-Nazis and white supremacists from their ranks. Gen. Vance, the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, has issued new standing orders that will assist others in command to take decisive action against racists and haters in the military.

TREIF: Kimberly Hawkins, owner of the Toronto-based restaurant/caterer Foodbenders. Following a flurry of online rants last summer equating Zionists with Nazis, glorifying terrorism, and saying Jews control the media, Hawkins was hit with a lawsuit, two human rights complaints and now, a possible review of her business license by the City of Toronto. Even after she issued a wan apology, Hawkins kept posting her bilge. Her food is treif and she gives us heartburn.

KOSHER: The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has initiated a bold new plan that would see thousands more immigrants and refugees welcomed to Canada as part of our pandemic economic recovery.

KOSHER: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and JSpace Canada for the unprecedented move of coming together without rancour to support the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that was approved last week by the Ontario government. This marks the first time in their collective histories that these Canadian Jewish groups from the left to the right of the Jewish political spectrum have issued a joint statement in support of an advocacy issue.

Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism: Jewish Groups Approve; Others are Upset

Oct. 27, 2020

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – motivated by the recent anti-Jewish vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

In a statement, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet “took swift and decisive action” on Monday (Oct. 26) to “adopt and recognize” the definition, even before the legislation could be passed.

“After a heinous act of antisemitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], 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 in a statement on Oct. 27.

“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.

The “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” known as Bill 168, passed second reading earlier this year. It sets out to use the IHRA definition as a framework for interpreting acts, regulations and policies going forward.

It was scheduled to go to committee hearings in late October for public input. But the government’s pre-emptive adoption of the definition means the committee suspended public hearings.

“The government decided to act swiftly in view of the events of Ottawa over the weekend,” York Centre Tory MPP Roman Baber told the CJR via-email, referring to antisemitic graffiti found etched into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the capital.

“It also seemed appropriate given the second anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting [at the Tree of Life Synagogue],” Baber stated.

The legislation will not go to third reading he noted, “as we have accomplished what Bill 168 set out to do.”

The move to adopt the definition and bypass public hearings was carried out by an Order in Council, which read as follows:

“On the recommendation of the undersigned, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, by and with the advice and concurrence of the Executive Council of Ontario, orders that:

Whereas the Government of Ontario believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;

And Whereas systemic racism, including antisemitism, is a persistent reality in Ontario preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity;

And Whereas on May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) decided at its Plenary in Bucharest to adopt a working definition of antisemitism;

Now therefore the Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

Jewish groups issued statements approving the development. They did so jointly – for the first time in recent memory.

Ontario joins “a growing number of jurisdictions, at all levels of government and around the world, in taking action against the growing threat posed to our society by antisemitism,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The IHRA definition “provides a framework that can help guide Ontario government institutions interested in understanding contemporary forms of antisemitism, such as Holocaust denial,” Fogel said.

The adoption of the definition and its many illustrative examples of antisemitism “is a major step forward. From high schools and university campuses to police hate-crime units, this announcement promises much-needed relief for Jews across the province,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

“Ontario will now be equipped to identify and react to incidents of antisemitism in a clear and precise way, and be better positioned to prevent antisemitism and react to it whenever it rears its head anywhere in the province. We applaud the Ontario government for becoming the first province in Canada to adopt the IHRA definition,” said Mostyn.

Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), applauded the move.

He called the IHRA definition of antisemitism “a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario…By making clear what antisemitism is and looks like, the IHRA definition will allow civil society and government to work together more effectively in our shared goal of eliminating hatred in our province.”

Karen Mock, president of JSpace Canada, remarked that “there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the government of Ontario has demonstrated a commitment to implementing human rights and anti-racist policies.”

In a tweet, Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca welcomed the development, saying he “fully support[s] the decision by #ON  to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. There’s no place for hatred in Ontario, and this is an important step in the right direction.”

The New Democrats appeared to have been caught off guard by the government’s unexpected move.

In a statement on Oct. 27, the NDP said the government “secretly” adopted the legislation “behind closed doors and passed it by Ford edict instead of by democratic vote.”

Nearly 100 Ontarians asked for a chance to appear before the committee and “thousands” of messages were sent, the statement said.

“Antisemitism and antisemitic 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 critic for the Attorney General Gurratan Singh. “Adopting a new definition of antisemitism should be done in consultation with the people of Ontario, and discussed in open and transparent debate.
 
“Excluding the voices of community members is no way to build a united coalition against hate.”
 
The NDP had voted for the bill on second reading “while explicitly and specifically saying it was doing so in order to ensure Ontarians would be welcomed into committee hearings, and amendments could be proposed,” the statement said.

Questioned by reporters later, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she had “no idea” how the bill was handled.

“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the government moved ahead on it. When we’re changing the laws in Ontario, we should really have public hearings.”

She said this and other examples of the Ford government cancelling public hearings are “pretty dictatorial. We were waiting to see the outcome of the public hearings and we didn’t get that opportunity, which is the whole point of having a democracy. You’re supposed to actually listen to people and not just ram things through.”

Groups that have opposed the IHRA definition because they believe it would silence criticism of Israel and squelch support for Palestinians were angered by the Ford government’s move, charging that was undemocratic.

NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, in a Facebook post, said she found it “appalling” that the government “did an end-run around democracy and snuck the IHRA definition through by order-in-council, the day before it was to go to justice committee hearings and the day before 100s of civil society organizations had asked to speak to it.

“It is obvious that they were afraid of the storm of public disgust that was on their way in committee — including by many respected Jewish public figures.”

Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which supports the BDS campaign against Israel, condemned the Conservative government “for pulling the plug on democracy in an attempt to protect Israel from criticism.”

“We were less than 24 hours away before members of the public were set to testify before the committee about the dangers of IHRA in regards to free expression,” said Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME. “Apparently, the Ontario government didn’t like to see that they were receiving thousands of emails opposing IHRA, and they shamefully decided to pull the plug before Ontarians had a chance to share their opinions,” said Bueckert.

Another pro-BDS group, Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, said the government’s “anti-democratic order is fitting for the IHRA definition, which poses such a grave threat to democratic principles of free expression and the right to protest.

“One thing is for certain: that we will not be deterred from our efforts to denounce the state of Israel for its systemic racism against the Palestinians. If that means we will be engaging in civil disobedience, then so be it,” said a statement from Corey Balsam of IJV.

Mira Sucharov, professor of political science at Carleton University and founding co-chair of the Jewish Politics division at the Association for Jewish Studies, acknowledged that the Ontario government needs to combat antisemitism. “But by conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism, this particular definition is the wrong way to go about it,” she told the CJR.

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism is opposed by other organizations, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and more. More than 450 Canadian academics signed an open letter opposing the IHRA definition’s adoption by universities, citing threats to academic freedom.

The working definition has been adopted by 35 countries, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Several cities have also endorsed it, while others have shelved it.

Bill 168 was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in late 2019 and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin.

* The above expands a previous version of this story with quotes from the NDP, and clarifies that the Ford government’s move to adopt the IHRA definition unilaterally was done with all-party support.

Breaking News: Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Oct. 27, 2020

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – motivated, it seems, by the recent anti-Jewish vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

In a statement, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet “took swift and decisive action” on Monday (Oct. 26) to “adopt and recognize” the definition, even before the passage of legislation currently before the house.

The “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” known as Bill 168, passed second reading earlier this year and was scheduled to go to committee hearings this week for public input. It contained the IHRA definition as a guide for interpreting acts, regulations and policies going forward.

The government’s pre-emptive adoption of the definition, done with all-party approval, according to a CJR source, means that the committee has suspended hearings on Bill 168. Several communal organizations were scheduled to speak both in favour of and against the bill.

“After a heinous act of anti-Semitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], 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 in a statement on 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.

The move to adopt the definition and bypass public hearings was done by an Order in Council, which read as follows:

“On the recommendation of the undersigned, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, by and with the advice and concurrence of the Executive Council of Ontario, orders that:

Whereas the Government of Ontario believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;

And Whereas systemic racism, including antisemitism, is a persistent reality in Ontario preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity;

And Whereas on May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) decided at its Plenary in Bucharest to adopt a working definition of antisemitism;

Now therefore the Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

Jewish groups issued statements approving the development. They did so jointly – for the first time in recent memory.

Ontario joins “a growing number of jurisdictions, at all levels of government and around the world, in taking action against the growing threat posed to our society by antisemitism,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The IHRA definition “provides a framework that can help guide Ontario government institutions interested in understanding contemporary forms of antisemitism, such as Holocaust denial,” Fogel said.

The adoption of the definition and its many illustrative examples of antisemitism “is a major step forward. From high schools and university campuses to police hate-crime units, this announcement promises much-needed relief for Jews across the province,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

“Ontario will now be equipped to identify and react to incidents of antisemitism in a clear and precise way, and be better positioned to prevent antisemitism and react to it whenever it rears its head anywhere in the province. We applaud the Ontario government for becoming the first province in Canada to adopt the IHRA definition,” said Mostyn.

Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), applauded the move.

He called the IHRA definition of antisemitism “a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario…By making clear what antisemitism is and looks like, the IHRA definition will allow civil society and government to work together more effectively in our shared goal of eliminating hatred in our province.”

Karen Mock, president of JSpace Canada, remarked that “there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the government of Ontario has demonstrated a commitment to implementing human rights and anti-racist policies.”

According to CIJA, the IHRA definition has been adopted by “dozens of countries and other institutions, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.”

Bill 168 was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in late 2019 and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin.

Editorial: Facebook, Holocaust Denial and a School Principal

Oct. 15, 2020

Well, Facebook has finally done the right thing.

According to a notice published over Simchat Torah, the social media behemoth is “updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”

For an entity that prides itself on speed and freshness, this took a depressingly long time.

Jewish organizations from the Anti-Defamation League to the American Jewish Committee, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have been imploring Facebook for years to take action against Holocaust denial and distortion. It took an immense push from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference), which produced dramatic daily videos of Holocaust survivors, including from Canada, imploring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to rid his platform of this toxic content for him to finally take action.

And for those who still believe that Holocaust deniers are simply ignorant white supremacists, consider the story of William Latson, the principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla.

During an email exchange in April 2018 with a parent, Latson insisted that Spanish River students could choose not to take Holocaust studies because “not everyone believed the Holocaust happened.”

He insisted that as an educator, he had to be “politically neutral.”

The parent was naturally astounded, maintaining that everyone knows the Holocaust is a historical fact. Apparently, not Latson, who responded in another email: “I can’t say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

The drama continued for months, with Latson finally being fired for continuing to make these claims. Just last week, he was reinstated with back pay, but will no longer serve in a teaching capacity (the school board voted to reinstate Latson 4-3, with the board’s only Jewish member strongly urging against it. Another member blamed the media.)

Holocaust denial has clearly not abated. Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the world-renowned anti-hate institution, has described it quite properly as “an essential manifestation of antisemitism.”

That educated men like William Latson can take such public positions tells us that it’s not necessarily confined to the racist margins.

So there is no doubt that Facebook did the right thing. And perhaps by doing so, fewer more vulnerable minds than Latson’s will go unpolluted by hatred.

We’ll see. It’s still one thing for Facebook to enact the policy, but quite another to enforce it. If it does, Latson’s young charges will benefit, even if he doesn’t.

Facebook Holocaust Denial Ban Welcomed

Oct. 12, 2020

Canadian Jewish advocacy groups are hailing the decision by Facebook to ban Holocaust denial.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new policy Monday (Oct. 12).

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

“Today, we’re updating our hate speech policy to ban Holocaust denial,” The statement read. “We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust. But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well. If people search for the Holocaust on Facebook, we’ll start directing you to authoritative sources to get accurate information.”

Zuckerberg said he has “struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust. My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech. Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.”

The decision comes amid a campaign over the summer by Holocaust survivors around the world, including from Canada, who made moving videos urging Zuckerberg to remove Holocaust denial posts from the social media site.

He raised eyebrows a few years ago when he said he did not think Holocaust deniers were “intentionally” getting it wrong, and that as long as posts were not calling for harm or violence, even offensive content should be protected.

Zuckerberg later clarified that while he personally found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he believed that “the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.”

In a joint statement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants (CJHSD) welcome the announcement.

CIJA said it had been engaging with Facebook’s policy team “over many months to help them understand how antisemitism manifests on their platform…

“More than an assault on truth, Holocaust denial and distortion are some of the most insidious forms of antisemitism. The claim that the genocide of six million Jews was either a hoax or an exaggeration hinges on classic antisemitic themes of a manipulative world Jewish conspiracy,” CIJA stated.

Pinchas Gutter, co-president of CJHSD, added: “Holocaust deniers call us liars. We are not liars. We are survivors. I witnessed with my own eyes the cattle cars and the horrors of the Majdanek concentration camp, where my mother, my father, and my twin sister, Sabina, were sent immediately to the death chamber to be gassed.

“By directing users to institutions focused on Holocaust research and remembrance, like Yad Vashem, Facebook will be taking an active role in countering the spread of antisemitism online.”

Facebook’s decision “is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism on social media, at a time when hate targeting Jews is thriving online,” said Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in a post on Facebook.

Levitt said it’s time for all social media platforms to enforce “a strict prohibition on Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitism, which continue to fester online and have contributed to the increase in real-world violent attacks against Jewish people around the world.” 

The ban is “years overdue,” said Marty York, Chief Media Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “Banning Holocaust denial and distortion should have been standard practice since Facebook’s inception,” said York. “With antisemitic bullying, harassment and radicalization burgeoning on social media, Zuckerberg finally took a step today in the right direction. Here’s hoping he keeps his word, enforces the ban, and keeps combating hate in all its forms.”

Israeli-Canadian Ya’ara Saks is Liberal Hopeful in York Centre

Oct. 5, 2020

By LILA SARICK

It’s been the challenges of being a single parent and business owner during the pandemic that led Ya’ara Saks to seek the nomination for the Liberals in this month’s federal byelection in York Centre.

As the city went into lockdown, the demand for services at the mental health agency where Saks is the director skyrocketed, she told the CJR in an interview.

Meanwhile, the yoga studio she owns had to shift to online classes and employees were struggling.

Ya’ara Saks

“My staff are part of the gig economy – many of them are women – and watching them try to figure out how to get through this, and the vulnerabilities it exposed, was a real eye-opener [that] we never really addressed,” said Saks. “This is the moment to address them.”

Last month, Saks was appointed the Liberal candidate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, bypassing the traditional nomination process.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” said Saks, pointing out that the party’s decision accorded with its guidelines.

Gary Gladstone, who was unsuccessful as the Liberal candidate in last year’s federal election in Thornhill riding, was also seeking the nomination in York Centre. He said that although he was “disappointed” there was no riding vote, he would be supporting Saks. “I think she’s a wonderful candidate.”

Saks will face Conservative candidate Julius Tiangson, a Filipino-Canadian businessman who lost his bid for a seat in Mississauga in the 2015 federal election. Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, which does not have a seat in Parliament, has also indicated he is running in York Centre.

According to the 2016 census, 17 percent of the riding’s residents are of Filipino ethnic origin. The 2011 National Household Survey found that 13.6 percent of York Centre residents indicated they were Jewish. It has traditionally been a safe Liberal seat, although in 2011, Conservative Mark Adler defeated Liberal incumbent Ken Dryden. The Liberals recaptured the riding in 2015.

The byelection, scheduled for Oct. 26, was called after MP Michael Levitt stepped down to become CEO of the Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Apart from owning a yoga studio in the riding, Saks, 47, is the director of Trauma Practice for Healthy Communities, a charity that focuses on mental health. Addressing mental health issues, especially challenges that have arisen during the pandemic, will be a priority if she is elected, she said.

Saks, who was born in Toronto and has an Israeli father, spent her early years in both Canada and Israel, and her first language is Hebrew. “My family’s moshav, Even Yehuda (just outside Netanya) was and remains a central part of my life,” she said.

She moved to Israel in 1995 and earned a master’s degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in international relations and diplomacy. She spent several years in the Jerusalem mayor’s office, working on community engagement projects, and moved back to Toronto in 2006.

The Liberal stance on Israel dovetails with her own philosophy, she said.

“The policy of the Liberal Party as it stands today is that a negotiated agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis would be in the best interest of both societies, and I am in complete agreement,” she said. “I think that Israelis have the right to be safe and secure within their own borders. I also think that Palestinian society should have an opportunity to come to the table and negotiate as well.”

Saks has been a committee member of the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIF), and said those who fear the organization leans too far left should examine its mandate, which is to “support Israeli society and uphold its Declaration of Independence, which were the founding values of the country.”

The NIF’s goals are in fact “in very close alignment with Liberal values,” she said.

“If we want to push back against BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel], then we want to show that Israelis do care about having a strong, democratic and socially just society. If we can show that, what better way to push back against BDS and the underlying voices of antisemitism that come with it?” she asked.

Running an election campaign during a pandemic is a challenge, but Saks says it was crucial to hold the byelection now so constituents would be represented as the number of COVID cases climb again.

Elections Canada is working with the candidates to ensure that voting can be done safely, she said.

Saks is not concerned that she could be engaged in a second campaign soon after this one should the minority Liberal government be defeated in a non-confidence motion.

Reflecting on the years she lived in Israel, she noted she had experience with the country going to the polls multiple times.

“An election is not something to be afraid of,” she said. “An election is an opportunity to highlight your commitment to the values and the policies that have been put forward and to encourage voters to use their ballot to let us know what they want.”

Brampton Adopts IHRA Definition

Sept. 17, 2020 – The City of Brampton has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown announced on Sept. 17 the city had decided to adopt the IHRA definition in response to a motion brought forward by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Rabbi Michal Shekel of Congregation Har Tikvah of Brampton.

Brampton became the 10th city in Ontario to formally adopt the IHRA definition, “demonstrating strong support in the fight against antisemitism across the province,” stated Barbara Bank, chair of CIJA GTA.

In August, CIJA met with Brown to discuss the importance of the definition as a tool to identify antisemitism. “We appreciate the swift action taken by Mayor Brown and Brampton councillors, with the support of the local Jewish community,” said Bank.

By adopting the IHRA definition, Brampton “is sending a clear message to its residents that it is taking real action in the fight against antisemitism and hate,” said Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre President and CEO Michael Levitt. “As the Jewish community remains the most targeted group when it comes to hate crimes across the country, it’s imperative for all levels of government to take steps to address and combat antisemitism, including adopting the IHRA definition.”

Brown tweeted that his city endorsed the definition “as part of pledge to combat bigotry and hatred.”

The City of Barrie is one step closer to adopting the definition, after being urged to abandon the idea by its foes, who feel it would stifle criticism of Israel. Click here for more information.

Defence Minister Pledges Action on Racists in Military

Sept. 2, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s Minister of National Defence is promising to drive white supremacists and racists out of the country’s armed forces.

Harjit Sajjan made the commitment Aug. 26 in a Zoom meeting with leaders of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).

The Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence

The meeting followed the unmasking of a Royal Canadian Navy reservist in Calgary with a long history of involvement in white supremacy groups.

In a news release, Los Angeles-based FSWC executive director Rabbi Meyer May said he was impressed by Sajjan’s “clear and unequivocal commitment to bringing about structural changes and reforms in the armed forces to ensure there will be no tolerance for white supremacist and extremist members as well as no room for any forms of hate.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of the Canadian FSWC’s Campaign Against Antisemitism, added: “A clear message must be sent to all Canadians, including our diverse communities within and outside the armed forces, that white supremacists will not be tolerated under any circumstances in our military.”

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesperson for Sajjan said, “There is no place for hate in Canada, and membership in organizations that promote hate goes against everything that Canadians value, and what the Canadian Armed Forces stand for.”

Sajjan said he had a “productive” conversation with the FSWC, and wanted to assure Canadians that the Forces treats these matters “with the utmost seriousness.”

May and Kirzner-Roberts proposed creating a body to investigate potential cases of white supremacist activity in the military; requiring allegations to be sent immediately to military police or the RCMP, and to be subject only to administrative/disciplinary action once criminal charges have been ruled out; and ensuring that anyone found guilty of participating in white supremacist activity is released immediately from the military, in addition to facing applicable criminal charges.

The meeting came one month after FSWC sent a letter to Sajjan demanding an investigation into the Royal Canadian Navy’s decision to reinstate a Calgary-based sailor with neo-Nazi ties, and two weeks after meeting with the commander of the Navy.

In the latter meeting Vice-Admiral Art McDonald promised a “command-level” review of the Forces’ decision to readmit the sailor to ensure the Navy handled the matter “appropriately and in accordance with the latest departmental guidance on hateful conduct.”

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber is chairman) and the FSWC demanded action after Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was revealed to be a member of an online neo-Nazi hate group.

Concern intensified after Mihajlovic was accused of trying to sell military-grade weapons to another hate group. There is no evidence a deal was ever completed and he was later reinstated after claiming he was rehabilitated and no longer held racist views.

In 2019, Kurt Phillips, now a director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, was among the first to raise the alarm about the alleged arms deal.

“The big concern here is the Forces and their reaction to this,” Phillips said in an interview. “Our concern now is, what is the Canadian military doing about this?”

Mihajlovic’s racist activities were first revealed by the alnertaive media site Unicorn Riot and by CBC in December. CBC reported his hate group activities included serving as an administrator of the now-defunct Iron March forum, a neo-Nazi website. He was also involved with Blood & Honour for at least four years and its armed branch, Combat 18, a group the Canadian government identified last summer as a terrorist organization.

Mihajlovic told CBC he hasn’t been involved with such groups since Iron March shut down in 2017 and now he realizes he was wrong and rejects racist views.

For Phillips, words like that are a good start, but have to matched with action to show Mihajlovic has truly recanted his former views – such as a sincere apology to the communities he offended and helping law enforcement identify and deal with other groups and extremists.

Separately, Patrik Mathews, a former Forces combat engineer, has been in custody in Maryland since January, along with two other alleged co-conspirators. They face trial on a variety of charges relating to their alleged desire to trigger a race war in the United States.

Mathews vanished from Beausejour, Man., last year following media reports alleging he was a recruiter for a white-supremacist group called The Base.

*See related story today, B’nai Brith Hails Justice for Alleged Neo-Nazi.

Mediating the Situation at York University

Aug. 21, 2020 – By STEPHEN BLOCK

The situation at York University continues to evolve. A brief refresher: In November 2019, a violent confrontation broke out between supporters of Herut Canada, a campus group that had invited active reservists of the Israel Defense Forces to speak against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and protestors affiliated with another campus organization, Students Against Israeli Apartheid, whose members – as the name suggests – are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and BDS, and oppose the occupation.

In light of the melee that autumn night, York president Rhonda Lenton appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell to undertake an independent review. Among Cromwell’s many suggestions was that York consider the definition of antisemitism as formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in developing its policies.

This suggestion itself became a subject of controversy. First, York’s faculty union, YUFA, expressed concern and opposed endorsing the IHRA definition. In its statement, YUFA said:

“While the YUFA Executive opposes antisemitism and all forms of racism and hatred, we see the adoption of the IHRA definition as a potential threat to academic freedom at our university as it can be used to restrict the academic freedom of teachers and scholars who have developed critical perspectives on the policies and practices of the state of Israel.”

Next, while the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism does not clearly state that supporting BDS is antisemitic, a group of York professors who support Israel offered the interpretation that “(t)he IHRA definition …does… associate movements such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, whose expressed purpose is the destruction of the world’s lone Jewish state) with antisemitism.”

This latter interpretation, in turn, has potential implications for the career of tenured professor Faisal Bhabha at Osgoode Hall Law School. Bhabha, In the course of a panel discussion on June 10, sponsored by Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression (CFE) on the subject of “Fighting Anti-Semitism or Silencing Critics of Israel…?” made the following statement, for which he has received considerable flak:

“I am describing what I understand Zionism to be as an idea and as a practice, which is the suppression of Palestinian human rights for the purpose of ensuring Jewish supremacy, and it is exactly what is being protested against today in the United States against white supremacy…I am equating white supremacy with Jewish supremacy. I think both are equally morally repugnant and deserve to be called out and spoken against.”

It should also be noted that B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have weighed in on this, B’nai Brith going so far as to begin a petition to have Bhabha removed as a teacher of human rights, appealing directly to Lenton.

The central question is: Does the York situation potentially afford us a way out of the seemingly interminable arguments about “cancel culture” and threats to academic freedom, or could it make things worse?

Championing a definition of antisemitism that would seem to suit one side raises the question of whether it would be more appropriate to deal with this matter through a more formal process of dispute resolution.

Conventional dispute resolution mechanisms involve a neutral or disinterested third party, one often agreed upon by the disputing parties. The parties are then brought to the table, separately or simultaneously, and a mediator is asked to attempt to find a solution satisfactory to both parties. The primary strength of this method is a greater potential for a fair and stable outcome.

In some forms of mediation, an assumption is made that two disputing parties, acting in good faith, have overlapping goals, even if that is not evident to either party. The job of a skilled mediator is to convince the parties that in some respects, they care about the same things. No doubt that in this instance, there are gaps that are currently unbridgeable.

So how about underscoring the idea of making those points of contention the subject of discussion and debate? In that case, it would appear to change the consideration of what is and what is not within the bounds of reasonable discussion. Therefore, the Ryerson panel seemed an appropriate place for such a discussion.

Absent such discussions, the only alternative would seem to be stricter and more restrictive measures, as a dispute is assumed to be irresolvable and thereby dangerous to campus life. It also promotes a de facto policy that disputing parties must be kept separate. A mediated approach would suggest the opposite – that the parties must be brought together, in one way or another, if a workable solution is to be found. Compelling or encouraging them to openly confront the issues under discussion affords the prospect of a display of mutual respect otherwise made impossible in an environment of choose-up-sides tribalism.

In industrial relations, a mediator acceding to demands from one party in a dispute would not be seen as neutral. This is the challenge that Lenton faces in preparing her formal reply.


Stephen Block
Stephen Block

Stephen Block has a PhD in Industrial Relations and Public Affairs from the University of Montreal and Concordia University, and a graduate diploma in Conflict Resolution from Carleton University.