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

Nov. 20, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Tough With Social Media, Say Global Lawmakers

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cattle Car Replica Helps Students Stand Against Hate

Nov. 11, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To book tickets, click here.

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

Oct. 27, 2020

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

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

“After a heinous act of antisemitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said in a statement on Oct. 27.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking News: Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Oct. 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

“After a heinous act of anti-Semitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook Holocaust Denial Ban Welcomed

Oct. 12, 2020

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

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

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 5, 2020

By LILA SARICK

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

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

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

Ya’ara Saks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brampton Adopts IHRA Definition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Racist in the Ranks; Forces Promise to Act

Sept. 16, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Another racist has been unmasked in the Canadian military, this time in the army.

Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre

Army commander Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre has promised that Canadian Ranger Erik Myggland will be out of the armed forces “within weeks.”

According to a recent CBC report, Myggland has a history of involvement with the white supremacist group Soldiers of Odin.

The army’s commitment to rid itself of another racist in uniform was welcomed by Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

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

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan

“We commend leaders in the Canadian Armed Forces, including Army and Navy commanders, as well as [Minister of National Defence Harjit] Sajjan for speaking out against extremism in the military and taking steps that show it will not be tolerated.”

The action against Myggland follows the revelation last year that a navy reservist in Calgary was a long-time supporter of the racist website Iron March, and once offered to arrange the sale of military grade weapons to another group.

Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was suspended after that revelation but was reinstated in July after saying he had been rehabilitated and no longer held racist views.

That decision to reinstate him is being subjected to a “command level review” by navy commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald.

The Myggland decision comes two weeks after FSWC leaders met with Sajjan, who promised to drive racists and white supremacists out of the Canadian Forces.

In a statement following that meeting Sajjan said there is “no place for hate in Canada, and membership in organizations that promote hate goes against everything that Canadians value, and what the Canadian Armed Forces stand for.”

Several courses of action have been suggested to military leaders. FSWC recommends a zero-tolerance policy and quick dismissal of any members found to be involved in extremist activity.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber is chair) has urged restoring Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code, which allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.

The section was removed by the previous Conservative government, which said it restricted free expression.

Anti-hate activists have also urged Canadian law enforcement to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech.

Under the current system, provincial attorneys general must sign off on turning a charge into a hate crime – something too many have been reluctant to do for fear of constraining free speech.

Activists have also claimed the military has a habit of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.

That’s what happened in 2017 when five Canadian sailors were identified as part of a crowd that disrupted a Native protest in a park named for Lord Edward Cornwallis. A founder of Halifax, the British officer is also the author of a policy of genocide against the area’s Indigenous population.

Four sailors faced probation but were returned to active duty. The fifth left the military.

MP Levitt Quits Politics to Take Over FSWC

Aug. 5, 2020 –

Toronto-area Liberal Member of Parliament Michael Levitt has announced he is retiring from politics to become president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).

Levitt has represented the riding of York Centre since 2015, when he defeated Conservative Mark Adler. He was re-elected in last year’s federal vote. His final day as an MP will be Sept. 1.

In a message to his constituents posted on Facebook, Levitt said the job of MP in Ottawa took a toll on his personal life.

“It hasn’t been without consequence to those I love most, and while it is an incredible privilege to serve the people of York Centre, I know deep down that now is the time for me to put family first and come back home, both physically and mentally,” he said.

Despite that, he said he “loved every minute” of political life. “…it has been the adventure of a lifetime.”

Among a handful of Jewish MPs, Levitt chaired the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group; the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development; and the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

He will replace Avi Benlolo as head of the FSWC. No reason was given for Benlolo’s departure from the organization earlier this summer.

“FSWC is excited to welcome Michael Levitt as President and CEO,” the group’s chair, Fred Waks, said in a press release. “As the Member of Parliament for York Centre, Michael is deeply rooted in the community and his work in the fields of foreign affairs and human rights has garnered him respect from advocates at home and abroad. His distinguished career advocating for human rights, and his support for Israel and the fight against antisemitism, bring a high level of leadership and profile to our organization. We could not be more excited for the future.”

As an MP, Levitt frequently spoke out on Israel and issues of concern to Canada’s Jews, co-sponsoring a 2018 bill to make May of each year Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.

He was visible when Canada said it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and he often addressed anti-Jewish incidents in the country.

But Levitt found himself on the defensive last autumn when Ottawa abruptly changed its vote on a resolution at the United Nations to oppose Israel, which filed a diplomatic complaint against Canada.

Levitt was also a member of the Raoul Wallenberg Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights. Before entering politics, he helped found the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.

In the FSWC statement, Levitt said he plans “to continue the organization’s proud legacy and the work I’ve done over the past five years in fighting antisemitism and promoting human rights, including bringing a renewed focus to the issue of systemic racism in Canada and how we can work together to address it.”

His appointment earned praise from former justice minister and international human rights advocate Irwin Cotler, who said Levitt’s “extensive experience and expertise dovetail perfectly with the mission and purpose of [FSWC], acting on the universal lessons of the Holocaust – combating racism and antisemitism and safeguarding Israel and the Jewish people.”

According to iPolitics, Levitt’s departure will trigger the first byelection of the current Parliament and will be the first during the COVID pandemic.

– CJR Staff