Ontario Does Not Need the IHRA Definition to Fight Antisemitism

November 19, 2020

By DOGAN D. AKMAN

On Oct. 26, the Ontario government short-circuited the legislative process around Bill 168, the Combating Antisemitism Act, and passed an Order-in-Council (“OIC”) through which the province adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including the list of illustrative examples – the “complete definition.” The OIC was rushed through by Premier Doug Ford in response to the recent vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, where someone had carved an antisemitic symbol.

Once enacted, the Bill and the OIC require the government to be guided by the complete definition when it interprets its legislation, regulations and policies designed to protect Ontarians from discrimination and hate amounting to antisemitism.

As to be expected upon the OIC’s publication, the next day, three leading national Jewish organizations and a progressive one, JSpaceCanada, immediately praised, applauded and celebrated the decision.

And again, as to be expected, a variety of pro-Palestinian organizations, joined by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), protested the government’s move on the three perennial grounds, namely, the definition is faulty because it –

may be used successfully to label as antisemitic the critics of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians and the  Palestinian Authority; those governing the treatment of her Israeli Arabs citizens; or the governance of parts of Judea and Samaria pursuant to and in accord with the Oslo accords, and

may infringe upon freedom of speech, and academic freedom.

I submit that the best way to begin the assessment of the OIC and predict the nature and scope of the alleged threats to freedoms is to examine Ontario’s record of fighting antisemitism during the years 2014 to 2020, a period when the province adopted an “anti-racism strategic plan” and enacted the Anti-Racism Act in 2017 along with the accompanying Three-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan. Ontario’s legislature also passed a motion denouncing the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign Israel that led nowhere.

Based on Ontario’s track record during these six years, the applause, praise and celebration over the IHRA decision are quite premature. In this period, Ontario became the antisemitism capital of the country. And the alleged twin threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom are unlikely to materialize.

Nevertheless, on Nov. 5, JSpaceCanada published an article in these pages titled “Why We Support the IHRA definition of Antisemitism…Cautiously,” in which it promises “to call for the cautious application of the IHRA definition in keeping with the drafters’ intent, to ensure it does not suppress freedom of speech or academic freedom…We are committed to monitoring and speaking out against any attempt to misuse the IHRA definition to attack Palestinian activism or to promote Islamophobia. And we will defend those whom we feel have been wrongfully accused of antisemitism.”

This, in turn, raises the question of when JSpaceCanada will fight antisemitism instead of allocating its resources to fight and defend Palestinian activism and Islamophobia (the latter has yet to be defined in a sensible manner.)

The plain truth is that Ontario did not and does not need the IHRA definition, whatever its merits, in order to fight antisemitism or to enact a proper BDS motion. It already had and still has the tools long before it adopted the IHRA wording.

But if that was the case, one may wonder why, for example, the province never took universities to task for:

• permitting the establishment of antisemitic campus clubs and demanding that they get rid of them;

• failing to prevent and deter the antisemitic verbal and physical harassment and violence perpetrated against Jewish students, and 

• allowing some of their faculty to engage in written and/or verbal antisemitic behaviour under the cover of academic freedom, and failing that, pleading freedom of speech.

The province also failed to set timelines within which the universities must resolve antisemitic problems on campus, such as the foregoing, and to warn them that failure to do so will result in cutbacks in provincial funding.

Academic freedom is not absolute. This freedom can be legitimately invoked only by those who abide by and discharge the corresponding moral and intellectual obligations. And in this connection, when did, for example, the JSC target those who write, teach and preach in dereliction of their obligations? When did it speak up against studies which deliberately use corrupt methodologies and resort to intellectually obscene analysis of data generated by such methodologies?

Those on the Jewish Left – “progressives” such as JSpaceCanada – risk aiding and abetting antisemitism by remaining silent instead of fighting the foregoing antisemitic activities and a multitude of others of the same ilk.

And given political and electoral realities, it remains to be seen whether this time around, Ontario will do what it would not for years.


Dogan Akman
Dogan Akman

Doğan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology, and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and was a Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals, while his opinion pieces and other writings have appeared in various publications and blogs.

Liberal MP Affirms Friendship with Jewish Community

Nov. 12, 2020 

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—One year after he was elected, Montreal-area Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi welcomed the opportunity to finally put to rest Conservative allegations that he is antisemitic and a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Sameer Zuberi
Photo credit: Bernard Thibodeau

“That’s completely false and wrong; it’s inconsistent with who I am and my record,” Zuberi told a videoconference hosted by Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom on Nov. 3. “…The Conservative attack is a red herring. If it were actually true, I would not be doing what I am doing now.”

On the eve of the contested Liberal nomination meeting in the Pierrefonds-Dollard riding in September 2019, the Conservative Party issued a press release describing Zuberi as having an “antisemitic past” and “promoted conspiracy theories” about 9/11.

The release also denounced Zuberi, who is Muslim, as a “radical activist” when he was a student leader at Concordia University in the early 2000s.

Zuberi, 41, who won the nomination over five other contenders, denied the allegations at the time, but went further in explaining why they were inaccurate and hurtful in response to a question during the virtual Temple event.

First, he emphasized that he comes from a mixed background. His father emigrated from Pakistan in the 1970s and his mother is a third-generation Canadian from Brockville, Ont.

An aunt converted to Judaism, and she, his uncle and their children – Zuberi’s cousins – observe kashruth and Shabbat. “I participated in that from a young age. My parents always reminded me that we have Christians and Jews in our family. Since the cradle, that has always been my world view and why I have worked so hard to create understanding among communities,” he said.

Zuberi, who was active in the Canadian Muslim Forum and worked as the diversity and engagement officer in McGill University’s faculty of medicine before running in the October 2019 federal election, said he has been devoted to bridge-building throughout his life.

Well before he considered entering politics, Zuberi said he attended a Shalom Hartman Institute program in Jerusalem to gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience. There, he “learned from rabbis, thought leaders and civil society in an unvarnished way.”

He said he “cares deeply for the Jewish community and respects the Jews of Canada and the world.”

Addressing the specific Conservative charges, which were never retracted, Zuberi said to characterize him as a “9/11 truther could not be further from the truth. I have constantly denounced terrorism and Osama bin Laden…I am on the record dozens of times.”

The Conservatives reproduced an exchange on Zuberi’s Facebook page from May 3, 2011, just after bin Laden was assassinated, to back up their allegation. Zuberi responded to a comment posted that whether bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 was still “a matter of public debate,” but cautioned the commenter against subscribing to theories that confirmed their views.

Zuberi points out that on that day, he had a letter published in the Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette in which he wrote that “the death of Osama bin Laden is a welcome event.” The thrust of the letter was that, 10 years after 9/11, “it was time to turn a new page and move on to something else,” he explained.

As for the accusation that as a Concordia Student Union vice-president, he supported the suspension of the Jewish student club Hillel in late 2002 because it was accused of disseminating Israel Defense Forces recruitment materials, Zuberi said that, “at that time, I am on the record that Hillel should not be suspended. I dug up that statement and shared it publicly.”

The Temple’s Rabbi Lisa Grushcow’s association with Zuberi goes back to before he entered federal politics. She said they worked together on interfaith and intercultural projects, and collaborated during the fight against Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law. He has taken part in the Temple’s Muslim Awareness Week and other programming, she said.

“Sameer has consistently been a friend of our community,” she said.

Antisemitic Priest Barred From Edmonton Archdiocese

Oct. 14, 2020

By JEREMY APPEL

An antisemitic Polish priest with an international following has been formally banned from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton after lobbying from B’nai Brith and Alberta’s former deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk.

Father Tadeusz Rydzyk runs the far-right radio station Radio Maryja, which has a television affiliate, Trwam, as well as a national newspaper and Catholic college. He has the dubious distinction of being denounced by two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for antisemitism.

Father Tadeusz-Rydzyk
Father Tadeusz-Rydzyk

In on-air comments in 2016, Rydzyk lambasted “synagogue-type behaviour” among some of his followers, and in private conversations, leaked to a Polish magazine said that then-Polish president Lech Kazcynski was taking orders from Jews. His radio station has also promoted Holocaust denial, with a guest in 2000 claiming that gas chambers at Auschwitz didn’t exist.

The station has also featured diatribes against “gender ideology” and the “Islamification of Europe.”

“Most anti-Semites are racist in many different ways,” said Abe Silverman, B’nai Brith Alberta Manager of Public Affairs, referring to Rydzyk as an “equal opportunity” bigot.

And Rydzyk isn’t a fringe figure. Poland’s ruling ultranationalist Law and Justice party has reportedly offered subsidies of about $7.5 million to affiliates of Rydzyk and Radio Maryja. The Polish post office printed a stamp in honour of Radio Maryja’s 25th anniversary in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

“He has a massive following,” said Lukaszuk, who served as deputy premier under former Alberta premier Allison Redford and is a dual Canadian-Polish citizen. “His following isn’t so much religious as it is political.”

Lukaszuk said there’s major overlap between Rydzyk’s followers and supporters of the government.

“He controls a lot of votes. That’s all there is to it. The current governing party before the election campaign literally goes to him for a blessing and he endorses him through his media, and that carries a lot of sway.”

Lukaszuk brought Rydzyk to Silverman’s attention when the priest celebrated Mass at Calgary’s Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in 2018, which was approved by the diocese.

In response, Silverman met with Archbishop Richard Smith to express his concerns.

“The effect of this was that virtually all churches and diocese in Alberta will no longer invite Father Rydzyk to preach,” Silverman said. “I was very well-received and treated with the highest level of respect.”

Since Rydzyk’s programs and speeches are in Polish, Lukaszuk says the archdiocese likely wasn’t aware of the full extent of his bigotry.

At the time of Rydzyk’s visit, Bishop William McGratton of the Archdiocese of Calgary said the priest had changed his ways, pointing to a museum Rydzyk founded in Poland dedicated to the stories of Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, and to a 2016 meeting he had with an Israeli ambassador.

But Lukaszuk said the museum offers a sanitized view of Polish history, downplaying the role many Poles played in carrying out Nazi atrocities. And according to Silverman, the Israeli ambassador reprimanded Rydzyk when they met.

When Rydzyk tours the world, he doesn’t just celebrate Mass but also sells tickets to lectures to raise funds for his various projects.

“If we can somehow cut off his funding by having churches agree not to invite him and give him money, then that’s a win for us,” said Silverman. “If we can successfully start cutting off his funding, and this has to be done on an international level, including the funding he receives from the Polish government, we can maybe put a stop to this guy.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Edmonton said it had no plans to bring Rydzyk back to Alberta.

“If a request was made, it would be denied given Father Rydzyk’s history of making controversial comments that at times have caused distress and division,” the statement read.

Silverman said the ultimate goal is to prevent Rydzyk from visiting Canada again.

“We will go to other jurisdictions that have Catholic leadership and we will have the same conversations with them, and little by little we hope to have Father Rydzyk banned from Canada period. There may be a time when we go to the federal government and make a case, and hopefully they won’t issue him a visa.”

Said Lukaszuk, “if this guy is offensive in Calgary, he’s offensive in Toronto too.”

– This article first appeared in the Alberta Jewish News, where Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

Editorial: May the New Year Bring Healing Stateside

Sept. 16, 2020 – As a New Year begins, it is time to take stock of the year we leave behind and determine what each of us can do to help shape a better world to come. Our tradition tells us that while we need not complete our work to effect change, we must not shirk from trying.

The Jewish year of 5780 has been the most challenging time since the end of the Second World War. Increases in world hunger, further climate damage, war, racial divide, hatred and extremism have all increased in numbers hardly imaginable even a year earlier.

And as this year draws to a close, the world is caught in the grip of a pandemic unseen since the Spanish Flu of 1918. All this happens at a time political leadership in many places seems incapable, unsympathetic, and in some cases, incompetent.

Nowhere is this in sharper relief than with our neighbours to the south. It used to be that no matter which of the two political parties held power, the office of president was revered and respected. With the ascension of Donald Trump, the United States has foundered to a knife’s edge of no return.

Never before have the American people elected a president as singularly unqualified for the job. In the last three and-a-half years, Trump has proven to be a racist and misogynist; an Islamophobe who tried to close the borders of his country to Muslims; has flirted with wild, extreme right-wing conspiracies; and divided his country to such an extent that ultra-conservative militias feel comfortable storming state legislatures with automatic weapons cocked and loaded.

During this presidency, we have seen protests in the streets in the wake of the shootings of numerous people of colour by police, while Republican Party apparatchiks seem oblivious to the fatal harm being caused by Trump.

And all this happens when COVID has taken the U.S. hostage, causing, as of this writing, more than 185,000 deaths, many of which were avoidable had the president acted sooner and had a plan. As we know by his own words in Bob Woodward’s latest book on Trump, Rage, the president was well aware of the dangers posed by the coronavirus, and openly lied to the American people in a hapless effort to avoid panic.

No less a light than Abe Foxman, former CEO of the most significant Jewish organization worldwide fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, broke his self-imposed decision not to endorse or be publicly partial to any political candidate. Said Foxman in an opinion piece he wrote this week for the Times of Israel, “When our democracy is weakened, and nativism is stoked, the rights of Jews and other minorities will be diminished too.” He continued, ominously: “It may not happen overnight, but it will happen, and Jews know this from bitter experience.”

Foxman was sharp and critical outlining his fear of Trump and his minions adding that the president has “given succor to bigots, supremacists, and those seeking to divide our society…he and his administration dehumanize immigrants, demonize the most vulnerable, and undermine the civility and enlightened political culture that have allowed Jews to achieve what no Diaspora community outside Israel can claim in two millennia.”

Those in our community who support Trump point to his support of Israel, seen in the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and peace deals with Arab nations. But it cannot simply be about Israel all the time. The danger Trump poses to the entire world requires us to look well beyond our personal backyard.

Everyone has a role to play in mitigating an American disaster. It’s in our interest as Canadians, as it’s clear that where America goes, so goes Canada. While it may seem there’s little we as individuals can do, we still have a voice. We have collectively many relatives and friends in the United States, and now is the time to speak out and implore them to fix their country before it is too late.

The coming year – 5781 – can be a harbinger of a new and changed society only if we recognize the work that must be done. We don’t have to finish it this coming year, but we all must engage.

Shana Tovah Umetukah to all.

EDITORIAL: Eschewing Hate and Embracing Harmony

It would seem that as we continue to hover in the eye of the pandemic, everything is magnified – from our anxieties, to our learning; from our health, to our diet; and most notably, from our avowed hatreds and dislikes.

All too often, the expressed hatred takes the form of bigotry, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and more. Prior to the pandemic, we of course saw signs of hate and extremism around us. Given our new fears and concerns, issues of racism remain no longer well-hidden or even camouflaged. Indeed like a rabid, growling dog, it is biting us square on the tuches.

Two incidents this past week in the GTA give us all reason for worry.

The proprietor of a little-known Toronto eatery called Foodbenders has chosen to express herself quite publicly about how she believes the Israeli government has abused and mistreated Palestinians, specifically in the occupied territories.

To be sure, there is much to be concerned with. Their treatment, especially by Israel’s current government, has prompted global condemnation. Surely the owner of a small restaurant in Toronto has the right to her opinions about Israel and its policies.

But in this case, those criticisms moved well beyond the political into hardcore antisemitism and anti-Zionist sentiment, mirroring those on the extremes of the political spectrum who have used the term “Zionist” to mean “Jew,” and have done so simply as an excuse to foment antisemitism. In years past, and to this very day, we have seen white supremacists and their ilk use terms like “Zio-Nazi” to mean “Jews.”

And while she has insisted that she has nothing against Jews, the owner of Foodbenders chose to post “Zionists are not welcome” at her eatery (leaving it unclear how she would discern a Zionist if one walked in).

In other social posts, she raised old anti-Jewish tropes: That Jewish groups control the media and influence the economy. She claimed that “Zionists are Nazis.”

Naturally, this led to harsh but proper reaction from mainstream Jewish organizations some of which are launching complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Toronto police hate crimes officers are also investigating.

Sadly, some of the more extreme anti-Muslim elements within and outside the Jewish community have used this hateful incident to engage in some hate of their own, scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the sidewalks and walls in front of the offending restaurant. Once again the Toronto police hate crimes unit is kept busy investigating these offences as well.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few days ago in Mississauga, Ont., what started as a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel harangue replete with ugly antisemitic epithets including “Jews are our dogs.”

All of this occurs while mainstream Jewish and Muslim groups have been trying to find an avenue to dialogue. Indeed, both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have been cooperating of late on anti-racist programs, inter-faith dialogue and more. They join groups like JSpace Canada and Salam/Shalom, which have been engaged for years in dialogue and joint programming.

This is the way towards harmony. Canada provides us with a unique platform steeped in its own attempts at reconciliation and multiculturalism. There is still much work to do on these fronts, but we all have the opportunity. Let us not allow a few with hate in their hearts to spoil our efforts to find a path forward.