Canada’s recent vote against Israel at the United Nations sparked spirited discussion in the House of Commons.
On Nov. 19 – the same day Canada voted for a resolution affirming Palestinian statehood – Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong demanded an explanation for Canada’s vote.
“Today, the Liberal government voted against the state of Israel at the UN General Assembly for a second year in a row, contrary to our long-standing Canadian policy of opposing all resolutions that single out Israel, a policy that former prime minister Paul Martin had put in place,” Chong said.
“Even [Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bob] Rae said he disagreed with the preamble of the resolution. Why did the government break with long-standing Canadian policy and vote against the State of Israel at the UN General Assembly today?”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland did not directly address the question in her response.
“Let me just be very clear: Israel is a close and important friend of Canada, and Canada will always stand with Israel,” she said. “Let me also be very clear to Jewish Canadians in my riding and across the country: We stand with them, particularly today when we are seeing an appalling rise in antisemitism here and around the world.”
Chong then asked when the Liberals would “restore Canada’s long-standing opposition to these anti-Israel resolutions, which were upheld by previous Liberal and Conservative governments and put in place by former prime minister Paul Martin?”
Freeland replied: “Let me speak to Canada’s place in the world and to our foreign policy. We are living in a world today where there is a worrying rise of authoritarian regimes, a worrying rise of anti-democratic populism – and our country in that world will always stand up for human rights and will always stand up for the rules-based international order,” Freeland said. “That may not always be popular but that is the Canadian way.”
For the second consecutive year, major Jewish organizations denounced Canada’s vote in favour of the resolution as one-sided against Israel.
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.”
The resolution passed 163 to five, with only Israel, the United States, and the Pacific Ocean nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru voting against, and 10 other countries abstaining.
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.”
Independent Jewish Voice of Canada, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, lauded this country’s vote as “commendable.”
Until last year, Canada had voted against the annual resolution, part of a basket of pro-Palestinian measures introduced at the UN this time of year.
A year ago, Ottawa’s abrupt shift on the measure – skipping over abstention to support – shocked many in the Jewish community and led Israel to say it might lodge a complaint.
Canada’s support this year “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae in his explanation of the vote (EOV) to the General Assembly.
“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,’” Rae said. “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.”
Rae also said that Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism.”
He referenced the “destructive” role in the Mideast conflict of such “terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.”
A second complaint has been filed against a Jewish judge accused of interfering in the hiring by the University of Toronto law school of a scholar who has been highly critical of Israel.
The new complaint was filed with the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) on Oct. 10 by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, and Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (which supports the BDS campaign against Israel).
It alleges that Justice David Spiro, a judge on the Tax Court of Canada, used his influence to oppose the hiring of Valentina Azarova, a scholar with a record of supporting Palestinian human rights.
“If the allegations against him are true, Justice Spiro’s conduct fails to meet the standard of integrity and impartiality required of a judge,” the association said.
Backers of the new complaint have asked for their issues to be joined with an earlier complaint filed by two law school professors.
The complaints allege that U of T offered to hire Azarova as director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program. The offer was allegedly withdrawn after a university donor complained of Azarova’s history of anti-Israel work.
Law school dean Edward Iacobucci has never denied being approached about the hiring, but has said that while there were initial talks with an applicant, an employment offer was never extended because of immigration difficulties.
Spiro, who, along with his extended family, has helped U of T raise millions of dollars, was identified as the source of the alleged interference by reports in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.
For Azarova’s supporters, the affair challenges academic freedom.
“The BCCLA is deeply invested in the resolution of this complaint for two main reasons: to uphold judicial independence and to protect freedom of expression, both of which are crucial to the democratic process,” said Meghan McDermott, Interim Policy Director of the BCCLA.
“As a civil liberties organization, we always fear the chilling effect that public decisions can have on the expressive rights of individuals and the general quality of public discourse. What happened to Dr. Azarova appears to us to fit into an escalating pattern of people being censored or otherwise penalized for expressing their views about the human rights of Palestinians.”
CJC communications director Johanna Laporte said in an email that the Spiro complaint is “under active review.”
Meantime, the university has appointed Bonnie Patterson, former president of Trent University and the Ontario Council of Universities, to review how the search was handled and whether any university policies were breached.
Patterson’s report is to be submitted by mid-January. U of T president Meric Gertler has ordered that the final report be submitted directly to him and not to administrators involved in the decision. He promised to make it public “subject only to respecting the privacy of individual candidates involved in the search process.”
He said he has followed the controversy with “deep concern.”
“Any suggestion that academic freedom has been violated must be treated with the utmost gravity. It is also critically important that the integrity of our search processes be upheld,” Gertler wrote.
James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, said the moves taken by Gertler are “a good step” but don’t fix the real problem.
“Clearly, the U of T felt a lot of public pressure because of its mishandling of this,” Turk said in an email. “The only proper solution is to restore Prof. Azarova’s job offer.”
Ontario’s government has flatly rejected claims that it dropped words linking criticism of Israel to antisemitism from a new order defining Jew-hatred in the province.
In a sudden move last week, the Progressive Conservative government cancelled public hearings on Bill 168, which adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism for Ontario. Instead, it passed an Order in Council approving the bill as law.
Opponents of the IHRA definition at first accused the government of trying to short-circuit debate by circumventing public hearings. In the days following the order, however, they suddenly claimed Ontario’s Order in Council dropped the most contentious clauses from the IHRA wording.
In an email to the CJR, a spokesman for Government House Leader Paul Calandra said the Ontario standard endorses the entire IHRA definition, including the “illustrative examples” that opponents found objectionable.
Owen Macri said the government moved “swiftly and immediately” to cancel public hearings and impose the IHRA definition by Order in Council after “a heinous act of antisemitism” at a Canadian war memorial in Ottawa last month.
“This government does not need a committee study to know that antisemitism is deplorable and fundamentally wrong,” he wrote. “We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedom.”
He also rejected arguments that cancelling hearings on the bill was undemocratic.
“We disagree fundamentally with the idea that it could ever be anti-democratic to condemn antisemitism,” he wrote. “The Government of Canada and other national governments have adopted the Working Definition of Antisemitism and have similarly done so as a decision of government.”
Approved in May 2016, the IHRA document defines antisemitism as “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 includes 11 “illustrative examples” of antisemitism meant to guide governments in using the document. According to those standards, antisemitism could include Holocaust denial, accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations, claiming the State of Israel is a racist endeavor, comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis, and holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.
As the bill enacting the new definition wound through the legislative process – it passed second reading last February and headed to committee – opponents, including groups like Independent Jewish Voices, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and others, argued that the examples made the definition nothing but an attempt to silence their criticism of Israel.
In one critique, for example, IJV activist Sheryl Nestel argued, “First, we don’t believe the goal of the IHRA [working definition of antisemitism] is to address antisemitism. We believe its goal…is to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism.”
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, among others, have also opposed the definition and its examples as an infringement of academic freedom.
In the days following the Order in Council, however, opponents claimed to have been told by Conservative MPP Kaleed Rasheed (Mississauga East-Cooksville) that only the main text of the IHRA definition, not the examples, had been adopted.
Rasheed was quoted as telling a Zoom meeting with CJPME and other community groups: “Rest assured, the definition as adopted by the Order in Council does not include the IHRA definition’s illustrative examples.”
CJPME president Thomas Woodley declared in a news release: “This reveals that the Ontario government made a decision that its adoption of IHRA should not be used to silence political expression about Israel.”
Going forward, Woodley continued, “anyone who refers to the IHRA definition must recognize and respect the fact that the examples related to Israel have not been adopted by Ontario, and they are not applicable to evaluating speech in Ontario.”
The CJPME statement was later removed from its website after Rasheed denied making the claim. He told CJR in an email “This is not accurate and does not reflect my views or comments…”
York Centre Conservative MPP Roman Baber also noted the content of what Ontario had approved.
“The Order in Council explicitly provides that the ‘Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.’ The Illustrative Examples helped form the Plenary’s definition, are referenced in the Plenary’s definition, and are therefore part and parcel of the definition,” Baber told the CJR via email.
The claim that the Order in Council was selectively worded was also taken up by four Arab-Palestinian groups, which sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford thanking him for not including the definition’s illustrative examples, which they alleged “allow for criticism of the State of Israel to be labelled as antisemitism.”
Palestinian-Canadian groups “should be honest with their constituents about what has occurred,” responded B’nai Brith Canada wrote CEO Michael Mostyn in a statement on Oct. 30. “The Government of Ontario has adopted the leading definition of antisemitism, and has recognized that certain attacks on Israel can and sometimes do cross the line in Jew-hatred.
“The sooner they and all Ontarians internalize this fact, the better.”
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.
Jewish advocacy groups will not have a say in the case of the wine labels from Israel.
In a recent ruling, a Federal Court judge denied intervener status to a dozen organizations that sought input in the ongoing challenge to wines made in the West Bank but labeled as “Product of Israel.”
They included the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.
One of wineries at the centre of the case, Psagot Winery Ltd., was added to the case as a respondent, but the court said its participation “must be limited.”
At issue in the case is whether wines produced by the Psagot and Shiloh wineries in West Bank Jewish settlements can be labeled as “Product of Israel” under Canadian law.
Last year, a Federal Court judge found that “made in Israel” labels on settlement wines are “false, misleading and deceptive” because international law does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, and that Canadians have a right shop “conscientiously.” She returned the case to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s appeals board for further consideration.
The government appealed her ruling. But before the appeal could be heard, a judge dismissed everyone who wanted to weigh in on the case, saying, in effect, that the court will not be drawn into a battle over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his ruling, Federal Court of Appeal Judge David Stratas said that “a number” of parties wishing to intervene wanted to address “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including the status of the West Bank, the territorial sovereignty of Israel, human rights and humanitarian concerns, issues of international law, and other related issues. Many of them appear to want this Court to rule on the merits of these issues.
“But there is one basic problem,” the judge wrote. “This appeal does not raise the merits of these issues.”
He said the case should properly rest on Canadian laws regulating the labeling of food and drugs, which are designed to protect consumers. There is “nothing to suggest,” Stratas said, that these laws “were enacted to address state occupation of territories and, in particular, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”
The Israel/West Bank issue “is a controversial one, with many differing views and deeply-felt opinions on all sides,” the judge went on. However, it is not “useful” for the appeals court to hear the interveners.
In addition to CIJA and B’nai Brith, Stratas dismissed requests to intervene from Independent Jewish Voices, the Centre for Free Expression, Amnesty International Canada, Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, Prof. Michael Lynk (the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights), the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, the Transnational Law and Justice Network, and Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, Al-Haq.
Independent Jewish Voices and B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights were interveners in the Federal Court case.
Stratas also took aim at other judges who “give the impression that they decide cases based on their own personal preferences, politics and ideologies. Increasingly, they wander into the public square and give virtue signalling and populism a go.”
The judge said he didn’t want to be too hard on the prospective interveners, saying he suspects that some of them were “lured” to the appeal “by torqued-up press reports distorting what the Federal Court decided. And once one group applies to intervene on a controversial issue like this, others feel they also have to apply.”
The Psagot winery, about 20 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem in an Israeli settlement of the same name, was added to the case as a respondent because the court should have notified it of the case, said the judge. The court said the winery was “never invited” to join the case but should have been, and that it found out about the matter from media reports.
The winery “is pleased to have been granted the opportunity to be a party to this important legal proceeding,” said its lawyers, David Elmaleh and Aaron Rosenberg of the Toronto firm RE-LAW.
The firm’s website leaves little doubt about how it feels when it comes to the winery’s legal status:
“Psagot Winery’s wines are produced by Israelis under the auspices of an Israeli company in an Israeli community on Israeli land subject to Israeli law, in the State of Israel, and in the Land of Israel. Its wines are products of Israel.”
In a statement to the CJR, David Matas, legal counsel to the League for Human Rights, found fault with Stratas’ “over-generalizations.”
Also, this ruling was made by a single judge. “Yet the appeal itself will be heard, presumably, by a panel of three judges. The other two members of the panel might disagree with this judge on many of the statements he made.”
Interveners may ask the court to reconsider its decision within 10 days of the ruling, but “it is too early for B’nai Brith Canada to decide whether we will or will not do so.”
The case goes back to 2017, when Winnipeg resident David Kattenburg raised concerns with Ontario’s liquor board that products from the two wineries were from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, not from Israel itself, and were deceptively labeled as “Product of Israel.”
He then complained to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which sided with him. However, after Jewish groups protested, the agency abruptly reversed course, saying the wines could be sold under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
Kattenburg appealed to the agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office, which upheld the reversal. He then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court.
The court sided with Kattenburg, and Jewish groups urged an appeal based on what they said were errors committed by the judge. The government agreed. Due to delays brought about by COVID, it is not clear when the matter will be heard.
* The above clarifies that the Psagot winery was added to this case as a respondent, not an internever.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
In his recent editorial “On Spellings, Antisemitism and Free Speech” (June 12, 2020), Bernie Farber defends the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism by arguing that 1) it is not a threat to free speech because it states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”, and that 2) the vast majority of Jewish groups fully support it.
Regarding point one: This proviso has in no way prevented the IHRA definition from being utilized to shut down Israel-critical speech. Donald Trump’s 2019 executive order incorporating the IHRA definition into U.S. law has increasingly been used to prosecute allegations of antisemitism related to criticism of Israel on university campuses. High-profile cases investigating student activism in particular have arisen at UCLA Berkeley, Columbia, UC Irvine, UMass, Duke and UNC. The message these investigations send to students, faculty and administrators is this: Harshly criticize Israeli human rights violations and you risk prosecution and/or withdrawal of funding.
Farber’s second argument, that there is essentially global consensus on the definition, is clearly debatable. Kenneth Stern, the definition’s co-author, has stated that it “was never intended to be a campus hate speech code. [Trump’s] executive order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.” Moreover, many Jewish organizations oppose adopting the definition, including J Street, Independent Jewish Voices and dozens of others. Others may oppose it as well, but are afraid of the potential impacts of speaking out.
Recently, Independent Jewish Voices published an open letter from over 400 Canadian academics (including many Jews) who oppose adoption of the IHRA definition on their campuses. The signatories fear that the definition’s adoption will imperil academic freedom. We need to heed their voices and protect the right to research, teach and yes, protest violations of Palestinian human rights.
As Holocaust scholars Amos Goldberg and Raz Segal have argued, proponents of the IHRA definition have managed to change the discourse, diverting attention away from Israel’s human rights violations and focusing instead on what is allowed and what is prohibited when criticizing Israel. In conducting this campaign, proponents of the IHRA definition risk not only stifling legitimate speech; they also divert attention from the rise of real Jew-hatred worldwide.