Synagogues damaged. Community centres defaced. Children bullied. Threats of violence online. Hate targeting Jewish Canadians is growing. When it comes to hate crime, the Jewish community is the most frequently targeted group. According to Statistics Canada, an anti-Jewish hate crime occurs, on average, once every 24 hours.
We in British Columbia are not immune. The Vancouver Police Department reports that, in 2018, there were 141 hate crimes, of which Jews were the most targeted.
This rising threat is either unseen or misunderstood by most Canadians, which is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is so important. It can empower our political leaders, judges, educators, and others to recognize and address rising antisemitism. After all, if you cannot identify the problem, you will not solve it.
Grounded in decades of research by experts in Holocaust remembrance, antisemitism and Holocaust denial, IHRA, an international group comprising 34 member countries, including Canada, adopted – by consensus – a working definition of antisemitism.
The definition includes 11 illustrative examples that help Canadians understand the evolving nature of antisemitism. In all, the IHRA definition is a vital, non-legally binding instrument to combat antisemitism, one that provides flexibility, consistency and understanding of its many manifestations.
Since its publication in 2016, the IHRA definition has become the most widely supported definition of antisemitism for organizations and governments at home and abroad. It is an important instrument in the coordinated, consistent response to a grave international threat.
In Canada, support for the IHRA definition is widespread – backed by almost every Canadian Jewish organization, including the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus and rabbis and lay leaders of the Canadian Reform movement. The definition is a foundational part of the federal government’s national anti-racism strategy and is supported by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Province of Ontario, and many municipalities.
Internationally, the definition has received extensive backing. From the European Union, to the United Nations Secretary General, to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, to governments throughout the world, the IHRA definition of antisemitism is supported by leaders of every political stripe.
Notwithstanding the IHRA definition’s widespread recognition, there is a small but vocal cadre of detractors, unrepresentative of the Canadian Jewish community, who reject the IHRA definition, claiming it is a conspiracy to stifle criticism of the state of Israel. This contention is false.
The IHRA definition states explicitly that, “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Here, the IHRA definition distinguishes between political expression on Israeli policies and hate targeting Israel as a Jewish collectivity. The IHRA definition describes manifestations of antisemitism, such as denying Jewish self-determination and characterizing Israel or Israelis with classic antisemitic images or symbols.
For nearly all Jewish Canadians, a connection with Israel is central to their Jewish identity. For 86% of Jewish Canadians, caring about Israel is an essential or important part of being Jewish, according to the 2018 Study of Jews in Canada. This link cannot be ignored or denied, nor can the link between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Those denying the Jewish right to self-determination are, in essence, rejecting the heart of Jewish identity: peoplehood – a right to control our own destiny.
This tiny group of detractors also criticizes the IHRA definition as too vague. The IHRA definition is not a checklist. Context is critical. The real world is rarely black and white. When read together with the 11 examples, the IHRA definition provides a nuanced understanding that allows the specifics of a situation to be duly considered.
This unrepresentative faction goes on to assert that “real” antisemitism is rooted exclusively in white supremacy. This one-sided, dangerously narrow view erases Jewish experience, history and identity. While antisemitism is undoubtedly a prominent feature of white supremacy, antisemitism is not confined to any single position on the political spectrum. There is as much antisemitism on the extreme left as on the extreme right.
Antisemitism is not limited to a place, a time, or a specific political ideology. That is precisely one of the reasons that the IHRA definition is important. It is a tool to identify antisemitism wherever it may root, breaking through the subterfuge and identifying antisemitism in a thoughtful and context-specific manner, so that we can stand together as a society against antisemitism, building a better tomorrow.
Visit cija.ca/ihra to learn more about the IHRA definition of antisemitism and how you can get involved.
Geoffrey Druker chairs the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Pacific Region Local Partnership Council. CIJA is the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. CIJA is a national, non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Jewish life in Canada through advocacy. It represents hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with Jewish federations across Canada.