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Canada: Jewish faculty members oppose adoption of IHRA anti-Semitism definition

March 29, 2021 at 12:15 pm

Protesters demonstrate on September 4, 2018 [Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

Amid growing concern over the weaponising of anti-Semitism by staunch advocates of the state of Israel, Jewish faculty members in Canadian universities are opposing the adoption of the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Jewish racism.

In a statement signed by over 150 Jewish professors and academics, the faculty members said that they have “deep concern” about the IHRA definition. They highlighted the level of “lobbying” on campuses to have it adopted and the “intimidation” and silencing of free speech at those universities that have already adopted the draft. They also dismissed claims that the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is anti-Semitic.

“We add our voices to a growing international movement of Jewish scholars to insist that university policies to combat anti-Semitism are not used to stifle legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state, or the right to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people,” said the group. “We recognise that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a legitimate, non-violent form of protest. While not all of us endorse the BDS movement we oppose equating its support with anti-Semitism.”

READ: In sharp disagreement with IHRA, new definition insists BDS is not anti-Semitic

Warning against the “lobbying’ on campuses, the statement denounced the IHRA document as “a vague and worrisome framing of anti-Semitism.” They pointed to its examples of racism, seven out of eleven of which refer to the state of Israel.

On campuses where the IHRA definition has been adopted, they pointed out, “It has been used to intimidate and silence the work of unions, student groups, academic departments, and faculty associations that are committed to freedom, equality, and justice for Palestinians… Adopting a seriously flawed framework to confront anti-Semitism is antithetical to the broader pursuit of justice and tolerance at the core of the mission statement of many universities. Freedom to criticise the policies and practices of any state without exception, including the State of Israel, is central to accountable scholarship, learning, and education. We believe it is also central to building a more just academy.”

The Jewish faculty members join a growing number of groups and institutions around the world, including the original drafter of the definition, Kenneth Stern, to warn against the IHRA weaponisation. Last week, over 200 Jewish academics and experts issued a new anti-Semitism definition in what they said was an attempt to deal with many of the serious concerns about the IHRA draft.

An article by Professors Neve Gordon and Mark LeVine asks if two of the most famous Jewish figures in modern history, Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, were anti-Semites. Admitting that the question was “ludicrous”, the academics point out that, according to the IHRA definition, both would have been labelled as such.

OPINION: Jewish academics’ new anti-Semitism definition challenges the IHRA draft