New Coalition sounds alarm about antisemitism and Islamophobia studies at justice committee

Ottawa, 23 May 2024—A new collective called the Coalition Against Antisemitism, Anti-Palestinian Racism and Islamophobia (CAAARI) is sounding the alarm regarding what they consider a “sham hearing” at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The study, entitled “Antisemitism and additional measures that could be taken to address the valid fears that are being expressed by Canada’s Jewish community,” heard from its first set of witnesses on May 9th, and will host its second and third sets of witnesses today and next Monday, 27 May. The committee will then conduct a parallel study on Islamophobia, as proposed by the NDP member of the committee, Randall Garrison.

The hearings are the product of a motion put forward by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who appears to have been inspired by US congressional hearings of the Education and Workforce Subcommittee in November, which resulted in the resignation of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. As in the US congressional hearings, the Canadian hearings have focused less on antisemitism than on the discomfort expressed by pro-Israel students and faculty amidst a surging movement for Palestinian human rights.

“The hearings so far have been an exercise in political theatre, seemingly intended to replicate the witch-hunts we have been seeing in the US,” said Corey Balsam, National Coordinator of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada. “Given the politicized nature of this so-called study, aimed clearly at delegitimizing and silencing what has become a mass movement against Israel’s genocide in Gaza, it is not surprising that critical voices have been excluded,”

Ariel Salzmann, professor at Queen’s University agrees. “Based on the deputations to date it is clear that the parliamentary hearings will not make campuses safer spaces where students can discuss the burning questions of our time. As an institution of the common good, Canada’s parliament has an obligation to hear a diversity of perspectives to inform their report.” 

“The conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is not only inaccurate and harmful to Canadians who support Palestinian human rights, it also makes Jewish students less safe,” says Jonathan Brown Gilbert, a Jewish graduate student at the University of Toronto. “It perpetuates the idea that the State of Israel and Jewish people around the world form one entity, that the Israeli government acts on behalf of Jewish people everywhere. As Jewish students and faculty, we refuse this conflation.” 

The Coalition’s members put forward a long list of respected subject-matter experts and stakeholders to present at the hearings but none have been selected. Instead, the only views  represented are those that defend the state of Israel and that agree with the premise that Jews are unsafe on campus due to pro-Palestinian activism. This is despite the fact that Jewish students, such as Anna Swanson of the University of Guelph, who sent in a written submission, have been core to the encampment movement across the country. 

Likewise, despite her internationally-recognized expertise, Sheryl Nestel, Affiliated Scholar at New College at the University of Toronto and author of IJV’s submission to the committee, was not invited to participate. 

The Coalition also shares deep concerns about the upcoming hearings on Islamophobia. Notably, the National Council of Canadian Muslims has compared the studies to “McCarthy’s sham committees decades ago”, noting that no Muslim stakeholders were consulted before the study was launched.

Coalition members the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA), Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council (CMPAC), and IJV have recently launched a report and set of recommendations on how to combat antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism together through an intersectional approach. Anti-Palestinian racism (APR) is a form of anti-Arab racism that silences, excludes, erases, stereotypes, defames or dehumanizes Palestinians and their experiences. 

“The parliamentary committee has chosen to artificially divide the fight against antisemitism and Islamophobia, and erase the burning issue of anti-Palestinian racism, when instead we should address these inter-connected forms of hatred together,” said History professor Dyala Hamzah at the Université de Montréal. “The report on combating APR and antisemitism offers important recommendations the Justice committee should follow if it really wants to create meaningful change.”  

“If Canadian politicians are trying to address concerns around safety,” says sexuality studies professor Natalie Kouri-Towe of Concordia, who is both Jewish and Arab-Lebanese, “they need to hear from professors and students who have been working hard to confront difficult political tensions on campus in ways that prevent antisemitism and Islamophobia, not divide our communities through fearmongering.” 

For more information and to arrange interviews with Coalition members, contact:

Willa Holt at