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.”

Groups that have opposed the IHRA definition because they believe it would silence criticism of Israel and squelch support for Palestinians were not pleased with the Ford government’s move.

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 & University Chair of Teaching Innovation, and founding co-chair of the Jewish Politics division at the Association of 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.

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.

Critics of Ontario’s Bill 168 Miss the Mark

By HARRIS WATKINS

Working for a member of Ontario’s provincial parliament, I have often seen coordinated email campaigns influenced by external and third-party organizations (using the same subject line usually gives it away).

Such was the case when the office of Progressive Conservative MPP Natalia Kusendova (Mississauga Centre) began to receive concerns about Bill 168, The Combating Antisemitism Act, 2020, as anti-Israel activists in Toronto ramped up their pressure campaign against the proposed legislation.

Introduced last year by Conservative MPP Will Bouma and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin, Bill 168 calls on the government to be guided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in “interpretation of acts, regulations and policies designed to protect Ontarians from discrimination and hate amounting to antisemitism.” The bill passed second reading last February and now heads to committee hearings.

The coordinated email effort against the bill lists two predominant criticisms. First, because the IHRA definition was intended to be a working definition, it is insufficient to serve as a legal standard due to its inherently broad wording. Second, the definition is susceptible to being used as a tool to curb freedom of speech (specifically, criticism of Israel).

Both arguments fail to hold water.

The most widely accepted definition of antisemitism today, the IHRA interpretation has been endorsed by Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Parliament, France, Germany, and various academic bodies as a direct response to rising rates of antisemitism. More than 128 Jewish organizations recently signed an open letter calling on Facebook to adopt the definition, as antisemitism continues to fester on its platform.

If one were to consult the stated mission of the IHRA, they would see that its foremost objectives are to identify and address the practical needs of policymakers in eradicating antisemitism. The definition was created for the benefit of policymakers globally to provide nations around the world with an important tool to combat rising hatred and discrimination within their realms. Antisemitism is a global problem and requires global language to fix. The IHRA accomplishes this.

This same language in the IHRA definition can also be found in the writing of Bill 168 itself. The bill’s preamble states that its purpose is to use the definition in a manner that allows for a consistent interpretation of all governmental action directed toward protecting Ontarians from hatred and discrimination. It goes on to say that the government will “be guided by the working definition of antisemitism and the list of it adopted by the IHRA.” 

This appears to me to be in line with both the stated purpose and wording of the definition.

The bill’s premise is that the definition will aid in enacting legislation that will itself be legally binding — not simply that the definition will be taken and made into law without any sort of democratic guidance in the policymaking process. This wording affirms the ability for policymakers to use the definition as a tool in governance.

Thus, the Ontario government is seeking to utilize the definition as it was intended.

Second, the IHRA definition clearly has no gripe with legitimate criticisms of Israel and its policies. What it does, however, is draw a valid link between antisemitism and anti-Zionist prejudices. This encompasses the noted double-standard invariably applied by antisemites to the actions of Israel but not to other democratic states. It also provides a valid condemnation of the belief that the Jewish people are not, like all other peoples, entitled to a geographical homeland. 

What sort of “legitimate” criticism of Israel could take issue with the fact that the IHRA definition reiterates the right of Israel to exist?

If the so-called legitimate criticism of Israel purported to be silenced by this legislation does not even hold that the country should exist, there clearly isn’t a point in engaging in dialogue, because criticism implies improving; we cannot work to improve what some would rather simply destroy

If a problem-solving discussion is what opponents of Bill 168 want, the IHRA definition is clearly able to facilitate it.

What the Ontario bill’s detractors really seem to want, however, is the freedom of speech to decry the legitimacy of Israel’s existence; as being null, and, as long as the state exists, as bonafide apartheid.

Supporters of Bill 168, including a plurality Canadian Jewish organizations, agree that calling for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state is antisemitic, hence a form of illegitimate criticism. In turn, naysayers say they are simply “cowering to Israeli interests” and promoting “Zionist propaganda.” Like the COVID conspiracy theorists, they truly have an answer for everything.

The reality is that the scope of real discourse is severely constrained if the IHRA definition is not in play, as it allows detractors to fester and solutions to legitimate problems be damned.

Look no further than the vast array of debate within Israel itself to see just how much the Jewish people are divided on the actions and policy of the government. Legitimate criticism of the government is rife — as it should be in a democratic state — yet within this discussion is an overwhelming consensus that the state is legitimate and should exist. This is absolutely no different than any other democratic country, for these diverse views on governance and policy that Israelis hold are typically borne of a personal perspective of how the country can best flourish according to their perspective. 

Detractors say that even Jewish and Israeli groups will be silenced by Bill 168. This is simply fear-mongering. 

The IHRA definition admirably attempts to help policymakers and decision makers of conscience by providing them with a definition of antisemitism conducive to decision-making to the benefit of constituents. Of course, while no itemized definition of antisemitism will be perfect and able to account for every aspect of this complex phenomenon, this definition is no doubt the most extensive and most fit to curb the alarming rise of antisemitism in our province.

This is something not only to the benefit of Ontario’s Jewish community, but all of us who value eradicating hate and prejudice wherever they may manifest. 


Harris Watkins
Harris Watkins

Harris Watkins is the Israel Advocacy Coordinator with Hasbara Fellowships Canada and a staff member in the office of MPP Natalia Kusendova.

Barrie Endorses Antisemitism Definition

Sept. 22, 2020 – As expected, the City of Barrie has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, after withdrawing the motion a month earlier for further consideration.

City council on Sept. 21 unanimously adopted a resolution that Barrie endorse the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, as codified at the IHRA plenary in May 2016.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

It was the same resolution Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman withdrew at the 11th hour last month just before it was to go before the city’s General Council.

Lehman and members of council had received some 200 letters and emails, the vast majority from outside Barrie, opposing adoption of the IHRA definition, alleging its acceptance would stifle criticism of Israel and silence pro-Palestinian activism.

In a recent CJR interview, Lehman said he withdrew the measure party because he didn’t want council making a decision based solely on opposition to it.

The full council “needed to hear why this was important and to hear from our local community, which really hadn’t mobilized that way,” he said. “To be frank, I don’t think anybody really expected that degree of opposition.”

In the interim, Lehman said he received support for the definition’s passage from “well beyond the [local] Jewish community. We had a number of community leaders speak to city council, and send in letters and emails of support.”

Councillors heard from both sides Monday night.

Rabbi Audrey Kaufman of Barrie’s Am Shalom Congregation told council the definition is not an attempt to silence criticism of Israel, reported Barrie 360.

“The IHRA definition has nothing to do with Israeli politics,” Rabbi Kaufman said in her deputation. “It’s not pro-Zionist, pro-Israel or anti-Palestinian. It does not prevent anyone from criticizing Israeli policies.”

She said accepting the IHRA definition “creates a sense of protection for the Barrie Jewish community. It is proof to us that expressions of hatred toward Jews will not be tolerated in this city and we have our municipal government’s full support,” Barrie 360 reported.

Critics of the IHRA definition called it counter-productive and said it has already been used to stifle Palestinian causes, including in this country.

The definition “has been used time and time again by its pro-Israel backers to silence voices for Palestinian human rights,” said Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, which led the charge against the measure.

In a statement, Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said that by adopting the resolution, the city “has sent a clear message: There is no place for antisemitism and hate in Barrie.”

Statistics Canada data confirm an “alarming trend of Jews being the country’s most frequent target of hate crime,” Shack continued. “This is not just a problem for Jewish communities – it harms society at large. The adoption of the IHRA definition is an important step in addressing this scourge. After all, you can’t effectively solve a problem if you can’t properly identify it.”

The definition has been endorsed by 35 countries, including Canada, and, according to CIJA, by the European Parliament and the United Nations. A bill incorporating the IHRA wording is before Ontario’s legislature.

Last week, the City of Brampton endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

– By CJR Staff

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.

Easing of COVID Restrictions = More Hate Graffiti

Sept. 17, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Hamilton police are reporting a rise in antisemitic hate graffiti as COVID lockdowns ease.

Det. Paul Corrigan, head of the Hamilton Police Service’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents have risen in the last three weeks after lagging sharply for several months.

Corrigan added that while the year-over-year number is still down sharply from 2019, likely because of COVID-related lockdowns, the recent increase is still of concern.

“The reason we’re seeing an uptick is because it had been reasonably quiet for a while with people locked down because of COVID,” he said. “It’s not an increase over normal times, it’s just an increase over abnormal times.

“I’m no statistical expert, but I’m guessing it’s because of COVID,” he added.

To date, 42 hate crimes have been reported in Hamilton, compared to over 80 for the same period last year. Jews were the targets of 15, or 36 percent, of those incidents. Of that total, 14 were graffiti incidents. Only one, a minor assault in January with antisemitic insults thrown in, involved a serious crime. That case is still before the courts.

The most recent incident occurred over the Labour Day weekend in the Dundas neighbourhood of Greensville, a collection of higher-end homes atop the Niagara escarpment. Three swastikas were drawn on roadways, shocking residents out enjoying the last long weekend of the summer.

Resident Kristin Glasbergen told CBC she saw one of the hate symbols while out for a morning stroll and another two days later.

“I called the city to let them know and I posted on Facebook to let the community there know,” she said. “This doesn’t happen in Greensville.”

David Arbuckle, another area resident, told CBC he was “shocked and disgusted that someone took the opportunity to purposely spread a message of hate in our community.”

Reactions like that are common, Corrigan said, and it’s a chief reason he classifies something a swastika chalked onto a roadway as a hate crime.

“Some police services don’t look at that as a hate crime. They see it as a criminal offense of graffiti, but I look at the swastika as a symbol of hate,” he said. “I know the argument that it’s a peace symbol to a Buddhist, but when I see a swastika, I see it as criminal and there is a hate-bias motivation to it.”

While that approach may give some the impression Hamilton is a hate-filled place, Corrigan said he will continue to rate incidents that way until the federal government comes up with a national definition.

In 2019, Hamilton was dubbed the “Hate Crime Capital” of Canada after Statistics Canada figures showed that hate crimes in the city the year before were up 6.6 per cent against a national decrease of 13 percent.

With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average.

Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.

Hate crime in Hamilton and area continued through 2019. In Burlington, for example, two men were charged after six antisemitic incidents were reported in May and June.

In those cases hateful messages were posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts, and private vehicles.

Just as charges were laid in the Burlington incidents, members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services last Oct. 5 to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the synagogue.

The drawings included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.

While local police services grapple with the problem of crudely-drawn hate symbols aimed at Jews, B’nai Brith Canada is urging the federal government to use its upcoming Speech from the Throne to bring in new legislation to deal with antisemitism.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said COVID has “accelerated the bitterness of attacks faced by the Jewish community,” and called for a national action plan to combat antisemitism.

The plan, Mostyn wrote, should include standardized and mandatory school programs on antisemitism and the Holocaust overseen by a new official reporting directly to the prime minister.

Mostyn argued Canada should now take “practical steps” to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Ottawa adopted last year as part of an anti-racism plan.

“We believe the government should emphasize that addressing racism, antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes is a public safety issue, not just a multicultural issue and that combating these is one end of the spectrum of countering radicalization to violence,” he wrote.

Mostyn also urged Ottawa to pour resources into digital literacy programs; to refuse diplomatic engagement with Iran unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist; declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; denying funding to UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing Palestinian refugees; deporting Nazi war criminals like Helmut Oberlander; and ratifying the 2002 Convention on Cybercrime that criminalizes online racism.

Barrie a Step From to Adopting IHRA Definition

Sept. 16, 2020 – By RON CSILLAG

The City of Barrie, Ont. is one step closer to adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, a month after it unexpectedly withdrew the motion.

Meeting virtually on Sept. 15, the city’s General Committee quietly passed a resolution to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The measure now heads for ratification by city council, which meets Monday, Sept. 21, when members of the public can have their say.

The motion was identical to one that its sponsor, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, withdrew at the 11th hour last month after he and council members received a slew of letters and emails opposing its adoption.

Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (IJV), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and vehemently opposes the IHRA definition, boasted in August that “well over 100” of its members and supporters sent letters and messages to Barrie city councillors urging them to vote against the resolution.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

In a CJR interview, Lehman conceded he put the item on the agenda last month “without a lot of broader discussion in the community, in part because it was the middle of the summer.”

Concern about the motion was raised after he and council members received about 200 messages opposing its adoption – “obviously a coordinated campaign by certain groups.”

Lehman said he didn’t want council making a decision based only on that.

“They needed to hear why this was important and to hear from our local community, which really hadn’t mobilized that way,” he said. “To be frank, I don’t think anybody really expected that degree of opposition.”

After the resolution was withdrawn, Lehman’s office told the CJR the motion was shelved “following a large number of requests from the Jewish community in Barrie for further consultation.”

Lehman confessed to being “a little confused by that language. I wanted to provide the time for that consultation, and I was concerned we hadn’t heard it.”

However, over the past month, he received “extensive correspondence” from the local Jewish community supporting the IHRA resolution.

In fact, that support “went well beyond the Jewish community,” Lehman added. “We had a number of community leaders speak to city council, and send in letters and emails of support.”

He said almost none of the letters and emails urging Barrie to defeat the IHRA resolution were from residents. “Of the nearly 200 emails, I believe only three that I received were from local residents.”

Should Barrie’s council pass the measure, it would join the Quebec cities of Westmount, Cote St.-Luc and Hampstead, and Vaughan, Ont., all of which have endorsed it.

As of this summer, the definition has been adopted or recognized by 18 countries. Last year, the federal government endorsed the definition as part of its anti-racism plan.

A bill before Ontario’s legislature on combating antisemitism, which contains the IHRA definition, passed second reading earlier this year and is headed to committee for public input.

IJV of Canada and other groups have called the IHRA definition “dangerous,” claiming its acceptance would stifle criticism of Israel and silence pro-Palestinian activism.

That concern is “certainly not supported by the language I see,” Lehman said, pointing out that the definition states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

On Monday, members of the public will be given five minutes each to make their views known.

David Shron, president of Barrie’s 63-family member Am Shalom Congregation, said someone representing the synagogue will address council in support of the IHRA motion.

He told the CJR that many of the messages sent to the mayor and council members opposing the measure came from outside Ontario.

In the past month, city officials were “inundated with information from people who actually know what’s going on in our local community.”

Shron said he was “very happy” the resolution was approved by the General Council, adding, “I don’t expect it having a major problem” before council.

The 2011 National Household Survey showed there were 660 Jews in Barrie.

Clamp Down on Hate Speech, Jewish Groups Urge Facebook

Aug. 31, 2020 – Canadian Jewish advocacy organizations are urging Facebook to clamp down on extremist activity and hate speech.

Some 145 Jewish and Zionist organizations around the world sent an open letter this month to the social media giant, urging it to “fully adopt” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as the “cornerstone of Facebook’s hate speech policy regarding antisemitism.”

Canadian signatories to the letter include B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and Students Supporting Israel.

The letter, sent to the company’s board of directors, noted that Facebook’s Director of Content Policy Stakeholder Engagement, Peter Stern, “recently attested to the usefulness of the IHRA working definition when Facebook first developed its hate speech policy.

“However, Mr. Stern admitted that Facebook does not have a policy aimed at combatting online anti-Semitism,” the letter alleged. “He further admitted that Facebook does not embrace the full adoption of the IHRA working definition because the definition recognizes that modern manifestations of antisemitism relate to Israel.”

Nearly 40 countries have already endorsed or adopted the IHRA working definition in some official capacity, either through their membership in the IHRA or independently, the letter noted.

Canada adopted the IHRA wording last year as part of an anti-racism policy. So have several Canadian cities, while others have either shelved or withdrawn efforts at adoption amid accusations that it would stifle criticism of Israel.

The letter came amid growing concern from Jewish groups worldwide that Facebook is allowing Holocaust deniers room to expresstheir views.

Today’s antisemitism “undoubtedly includes the delegitimization of Israel’s right to exist,” the letter goes on. “This bigotry is expressed in various ways, such as the rejection of Jewish self-determination, Holocaust revisionism and denial, and the application of double standards toward the Jewish state and people.”

Adopting the IHRA definition would provide Facebook “an effective, neutral, and nuanced tool to protect Jewish users from hate speech and imagery that incites hate and oftentimes leads to violence,” the letter argues. “While the impact of online hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation on our society continues to be researched and explored, we cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

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.

Barrie Withdraws IHRA Definition, Cites Need for ‘Consultation’

By RON CSILLAG

The City of Barrie, Ont., has become the latest municipality to withdraw adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

A motion to adopt the IHRA’s widely-accepted definition of antisemitism was to be considered by Barrie’s General Committee on Aug. 10.

According to the city’s website, the General Committee is comprised of all members of council, and the mayor presides. The committee’s duties include studying and reporting to council on matters brought to it by smaller “reference” committees.

The IHRA motion was sponsored by Mayor Jeff Lehman. But Lehman withdrew it hours before it was to be debated.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

In a statement emailed to the CJR, Lehman explained his change of heart: “Following a large number of requests from the Jewish community in Barrie for further consultation, the motion was withdrawn in order to allow for this discussion.”

Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (IJV), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, boasted in a statement that “well over 100” of its members and supporters sent letters to Barrie city councillors urging them to vote against the IHRA motion.

In a letter Aug. 12 to Lehman and Ward 2 councillor Keenan Aylwin, Rabbi Audrey Kaufman, spiritual leader of Barrie’s Am Shalom Congregation, said she hopes that withdrawing the resolution “does not mean that this motion is being laid to rest. I hope that you will quickly move forward with making the right decision of passing this motion.”

The motion to adopt the IHRA definition was endorsed by local rabbis in Barrie “and represents a crucial educational tool for local authorities to address anti-Semitism,” according to Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“We are confident that the mayor and the council will do the right thing,” Shack told the CJR.

Shack said CIJA has been “engaging” with Lehman “for an extended period” about the need to combat antisemitism, particularly following an incident in June at Berczy Park, in which playground equipment was daubed with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. Barrie police arrested and charged a 50-year-old man with nine counts of mischief under $5,000.

The 2011 National Household Survey showed there were 660 Jews in Barrie. There an active branch of Chabad.

Barrie now joins Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, where measures to endorse the IHRA definition were withdrawn or postponed following protests that its adoption would stifle criticism of Israel and squelch support for Palestinian rights.

The Quebec towns of Westmount, Cote St.-Luc and Hampstead have adopted the definition, as has Vaughan, Ont. Last year, the federal government endorsed the definition as part of its anti-racism plan.

A bill before Ontario’s legislature supporting the IHRA definition passed second reading earlier this year and is headed to committee for public input.

According to Barrie’s website, the city has included as part of its 2018-2022 Strategic Priorities “fostering a safe and healthy community and building strong neighbourhoods…we have a shared responsibility to stop antisemitism in all its forms through education and public consciousness as antisemitic demonstrations continue to threaten communities and undermine democracy.”

The resolution before the General Committee pointed out that the IHRA is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1998 that consists of 34 countries, including Canada, “each of [which] recognizes that international coordination is needed to combat antisemitism.”

It referenced Ontario’s Bill 168, the Combating Antisemitism Act, “which directly mentions IHRA” and passed second reading “with all-party support.”

Barrie “is enriched by its thriving, active and engaged Jewish and Israeli communities,” the resolution’s preamble stated.

The resolution resolved that Barrie adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism as endorsed at the IHRA plenary on May 26, 2016, as follows:

“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.”

Details are contained in the many examples of antisemitism listed by the IHRA. One of them “might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” the alliance explained. “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

IJV of Canada called the withdrawal of the “problematic” resolution in Barrie “another major victory for all who oppose antisemitism and support Palestinian human rights.”

While supporters of the IHRA definition have tried to present it as innocuous and legally non-binding, “they have also attempted to weaponize the definition in order to shut down freedom of expression in relation to Israel-Palestine,” IJV said in a statement to the CJR.

CIJA called the IHRA definition “the world’s most widely accepted definition of antisemitism.”

Nazi Monuments in Canada Must be Removed

Aug. 10, 2020 – By BELLE JARNIEWSKI

As Canadians continue to confront the ongoing influence of colonialist monuments in our country, one memorial commemorating the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, initially known as the Waffen-SS “Galicia” Division, was recently “vandalized.”

As reported on these pages, graffiti spray-painted on the memorial, located in a private cemetery in Oakville, Ont., read, “Nazi war monument,” which, of course, describes it accurately. The Division was, after all, part of the Nazi Waffen SS. Many of its members were from the region of Galicia and served in the Nazi killing machine under the direct control of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler.

In fact, in a speech to this unit in May 1944, Himmler issued a pep-talk to its members: “Your homeland has become more beautiful since you have lost – on our initiatives, I must say – the residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia’s good name – namely the Jews. I know if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles, I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”

In a bizarre move, Halton Regional Police initially announced it was investigating the vandalism as a hate-motivated offense. Police have since apologized and continue to investigate the event as an act of vandalism.

Another monument in Edmonton memorializes Roman Shukhevych, a Ukrainian nationalist who was one of the commanders of Nachtigall Battalion, and commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which was responsible for the massacre of Jews and Poles. The bust of Shukhevych, which stands at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in North Edmonton, was funded in part by taxpayers through programs designed to promote multiculturalism.

As several have pondered, the bigger question is why such monuments exist on Canadian soil in the first place.

One argument presented in their defense is that they memorialize the fight against Communism. They portray individuals like Shukhevych as national heroes and play down their active and voluntary participation in the murder of Jews and others.

Journalists and scholars who have written articles critical of these monuments have found themselves accused of writing “pro-Kremlin propaganda” and subject to campaigns to discredit them.

For instance, in 2012, some Canadian Ukrainian organizations sent a letter of complaint to the vice-chancellor of Lund University in Sweden regarding Per Anders Rudling, now an assistant professor at the university. Rudling has been researching eastern European nationalism for the past 15 years and his research has been peer reviewed and published in prestigious academic journals.

However, Rudling came under attack for writing about the emerging cult of personality around Shukhevych, as well as pointing out his wartime crimes against Jews and Poles. A number of Ukrainian Canadian groups remain steadfast in their claims that Shukyvych should be remembered as a Ukrainian national hero, and they dismiss any accusations of Ukrainian complicity with the Nazis as “fake news” manufactured by the Kremlin.

In addition to Rudling’s scholarly work, journalists Scott Taylor and David Pugliese, among others, have written about the Nazi monuments, and articles on the subject have appeared on many sites, including Radio Canada International, the Ottawa Citizen, Esprit de Corps, and The Nation. Their assertions have been supported by eminent Canadian historian John-Paul Himka.

Oddly enough, voices from the Jewish community remained silent, for the most part, until the recent “vandalism” in Oakville. Until then, the loudest voices opposing the monuments came from outside the organized Jewish community.

The ongoing existence of these monuments is a clear example of Holocaust distortion. At the most recent plenary session of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) under the German presidency, a statement was issued “condemning all attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of persons who were complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.”

These monuments are explicit attempts at doing just that, and they must be removed.


Belle Jarniewski
Belle Jarniewski

Belle Jarniewski of Winnipeg is Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Since 2013, she has served on the federally appointed delegation to IHRA, as a member of its Academic Working Group and the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial.


For more on this issue, read the latest update from Edmonton by Jeremy Appel in our News section.