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Canada: academics vote to reject IHRA definition of anti-Semitism  

December 2, 2021 at 3:25 pm

Demonstrators hold placards as they protest outside the headquarters of Britain’s opposition Labour party in central London on September 4, 2018 [DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images]

A major Canadian academic association representing more than 70,000 academic faculty and staff around the country has rejected the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in an effort to protect academic freedom.

The motion adopted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), states that it “supports the academic freedom of its members and recognises the need to safeguard the rights of scholars to critique all states, including the state of Israel, without fear of outside political influence, cuts to funding, censorship, harassment, threats, and intimidation.”

Human rights defenders across Canada have applauded the association’s move. It comes as hostile anti-Palestinian groups demand that governments and academic institutions in the western world should adopt the IHRA definition.

Leading this campaign in Canada is B’nai B’rith, an anti-Palestinian lobby group that has long pushed for the formal conflation of valid criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry. Last year it called for the expulsion of Professor Faisal Bhabha from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. Moreover, B’nai B’rith Canada has reportedly insisted that the government should only fund international humanitarian aid organisations that adhere to the flawed definition.

Critics argue that the IHRA definition is a blunt instrument and not fit for purpose in combating anti-Semitism. With seven of the 11 examples conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel, it’s seen more as a political tool to crackdown on free speech about Israel rather than a credible definition to deal with racism towards Jews.

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“Pro-Israel groups have repeatedly pointed to the IHRA definition as a tool that can be used by universities to shut down various forms of student activism, and specifically boycotts of Israel and Israeli Apartheid Week,” explained Michael Bueckert, vice president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, to The Electronic Intifada. “They have also suggested that the IHRA should be applied to scholarship, and have tried to get professors fired for their criticism of Israeli policies or Zionism.”

CAUT’s motion is just the latest in a series of defeats for the pro-Israel lobby’s push to use the IHRA definition to censor scholarship on Palestinian rights in Canada. Last year, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, which represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians in more than 30 faculty associations across the country, publicly rejected the province’s unilateral move to adopt the definition, calling it an abuse of power.

Applauding the motion, Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) and the Academic Alliance Against Anti-Semitism, Racism, Colonialism & Censorship in Canada (ARC), said that it was “a crucial action to protect academic freedom and critical scholarship in Canada.”