July 21, 2021
Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada is concerned about rising antisemitic sentiment in Canada and around the world, notably on the far-right of the political spectrum. IJV therefore welcomes federal government support in combating this scourge. We are also concerned with efforts to conflate legitimate protest for Palestinian human rights with antisemitism. In this short document, we briefly describe our perspective on these matters, and offer several recommendations going forward.
IJV’s involvement in the fight against antisemitism
IJV Canada is a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that actively opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine. We have 18 chapters in cities and campuses across Canada. IJV plays an important role in the fight against antisemitism in Canada as a close Jewish ally to marginalized groups across the country. Examples of our recent work include: publication of our own working definition of antisemitism; co-development with the Canadian Federation of Students on “Challenge Antisemitism” materials for distribution on campuses across Canada; co-development of 5 principles to Fight Antisemitism; and regular delivery of antisemitism
training for antiracist and other progressive groups across the country.
Opposition to the IHRA definition of antisemitism and ‘new antisemitism’ framework
Since June 2019, IJV has been running a national campaign to oppose efforts to advance the flawed and highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. Contrary to the claims of Special Envoy Irwin Cotler and others, a recent research report by Oxford University researcher Jamie Stern-Weiner shows that “there was no consensus within IHRA for including the examples in its Working Definition.” Therefore,
the claim that the IHRA definition and its examples were democratically adopted by the IHRA is false. IJV opposes the IHRA definition because it deflects attention away from genuine antisemitism and equates antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.
The IHRA definition is increasingly divisive and controversial amongst Jews, both internationally and in Canada. In January, a broad coalition of major progressive pro-Israel Jewish-American organizations issued a joint statement against the IHRA definition. The lead drafter of the IHRA
definition itself, Kenneth Stern, has also cautioned against its adoption, noting that it is being weaponized to silence legitimate free speech. IJV has compiled a list of 35+ incidents around the world in which the IHRA definition has been used to censor political speech critical of Israel.
These attacks have disproportionately targeted people of colour, and have often led to racist backlash.
IJV’s position on the IHRA is supported by important labour unions, national student groups and civil liberties groups as well as more than 650 Canadian academics, 170+ Jewish Canadian academics and 25+ Canadian university faculty unions and associations. A 2018 EKOS survey
similarly showed that roughly 50% of Jewish-Canadians believe that accusations of antisemitism are often used to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.
Although antisemitism is unfortunately alive and well in Canada, IJV calls into question oft-repeated claims that Jews are the most targeted minority group, or even the most targeted religious group. As acknowledged by the Department of Justice, a high percentage of hate crimes are left unreported, and groups that are more marginalized tend to be less likely to report. Some groups also have community-based organizations that encourage and facilitate reporting, meaning hate crimes against their communities are more likely to be reported. These factors result in official statistics that are likely skewed toward groups such as Jewish-Canadians who, for instance, have well-established organizations dedicated to
facilitating reporting and likely hold greater trust in police and the judicial system than other targeted groups. Also relevant is a recently-published research report by IJV which found significant and damning methodological flaws in B’nai Brith Canada’s annual audit of antisemitic incidents, which is often cited by government officials. IJV rejects the use of skewed statistics in order to fearmonger, as this strategy is harmful both to other minorities and to the fight against legitimate antisemitism.
- Adopt an integrated and intersectional framework to tackle antisemitism. As some point out, Jews have often been left out of intersectional frameworks. In response, we urge the inclusion of Jews in antiracist spaces and programming, rather than an approach which emphasizes the separation of antisemitism from other forms of racism.
Harmoniously integrating the fight against antisemitism as part of the larger struggle against racism would also help unite targeted communities rather than pitting them against one another, as has too often been the case.
- Take caution in interpreting statistics and work to improve reporting for all hate
crimes. This includes wider recognition of the methodological limitations in gathering such statistics, as evidenced by the under-reporting of hate crimes against racialized minorities. Statistics Canada should also clearly express the limitations in their information when it is published, in order to prevent misuse.
- Consider the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. The recent Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) is signed by 200+ of the world’s top scholars of Jewish studies, the Holocaust and antisemitism and includes its own definition of antisemitism, which is meant to correct the various flaws within the IHRA definition. It’s authors hold varied opinions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, but came together with the goal of “providing clear guidance to identify and fight antisemitism while protecting free expression.” Although it too has some flaws, IJV recommends the JDA as a reasonable guide to whether an act or statement constitutes antisemitism.
Contact: Corey Balsam, National Coordinator, 514-437-2940, firstname.lastname@example.org