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  • Marie Snyder

Problems with IHRA


After receiving literally hundreds of emails on this topic, starting before I was even elected, I watched this excellent panel discussion last night about IHRA presented by Independent Jewish Voices Canada, the Palestinian Youth Movement, and Ground UP Watelroo Region, and featuring Fitsum Areguy, Gred Bird, Jasmin Zine, Sheryl Nestel, Mark Ayyash, and Shatha AbuAhmad.


IHRA is shorthand for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism. Here's some of what I heard and understood from it all so far: The working definition says, "Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities." The concern with the definition involve contention with some of the illustrative examples of anti-semitism, for instance, "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor." or "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." Some of the examples provided (see more here) conflate a typical understanding of prejudice against a Jewish person with disagreement over actions taken by the Israeli government. The IHRA was drafted in 2004 in part by Kenneth Stern, who explains that, "It was created primarily so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude. . . . It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that's what Donald Trump's executive order accomplished. . . . Starting in 2010, rightwing Jewish groups took the 'working definition,' which had some examples about Israel . . . and decided to weaponize it with title VI cases." In 2020, Doug Ford tried to introduce the definition into legislation (Bill 168), but it was so contentious, that, according to the CJPME, "over 100 individuals and organization had applied to speak before the committee," and it was pulled after second reading. The CJPME explain the concern that, "the definition and its examples will be used to stifle free speech and activism related to Israel and Palestine. This is a concern shared by the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the BC Civil Liberties Association, more than 400 academics, and many other civil society groups. . . . [IJV Canada] have compiled a list of more than 30 examples of IHRA being weaponized to silence criticism of Israel." These points were reiterated by the panel tonight: that the definition censors any criticism of Israeli policy, and that this definition is one many that could be adopted, but because there's lack of consensus, it's preferred to leave it open and work with each case individually in a judicious way (loosely paraphrased):

"It's important for educators to consider how the IHRA definition would impact schools as the definition can be used to silence Palestinians and the history of Palestinian oppression. It creates a toxic environment. We must recognize that Palestinian members have the right to participate in institutions without anti-Palestianian racism. The IHRA runs counter to the equity mandates in school boards that include the aim to foster an anti-oppressive, anti-racism, and inclusive culture. The IHRA silences the experience of Palestinian students and teachers, leads to censorship, inhibits the growth of collective knowledge, and stifles social justice education. . . . It makes even Jewish people nervous to say anything critical about Israeli government actions"

One example of the negative effect of this kind of policy can be seen in a school in London that used "Free Palestine" on a t-shirt as an example of inappropriate clothing that "could incite violence." They later apologized.

Furthermore, there are many other definitions of anti-semitism. For instance, the Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) definition is, "Hostility, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. We acknowledge the historic scourge of antisemitism, especially in Christian Europe, and its culmination in the Holocaust."

And the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism has an extensive definition. They encouraged school boards, when hearing Jewish voices, to ensure that progressive voices are at the table as well, like Independent Jewish Voices, and to introduce the language of anti-Palestinian racism to unpack the politics around Israel, and they suggested Antony Lerman's Whatever Happened to AntiSemitism.

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