Left to right: Michael Sachs, director of JNF Pacific Region, with Mission Mayor Paul Horn and city councilor Mark Davies, councilor Danny Plecas, Mission resident Eitan Israelov, councilor Angel Elias, councilor Carol Hamilton (back) and councilor Jag Gill. (photo from Michael Sachs)
At its Jan. 22 meeting, Mission city councilors voted on a motion moved by Mayor Paul Horn: “That the City of Mission Council endorses Canada’s Antiracism Strategy and refers the strategy to the newly formed Accessibility, Inclusion and Diversity Committee as a tool in their work.” The motion passed unanimously. Canada’s Antiracism Strategy uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “Working Definition of Antisemitism,” which defines antisemitism as “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 number of antisemitic hate crimes in Canada declined a fraction last year, according to the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2022. The decline, though, is from 2021, which saw the highest number of incidents since the audit began 40 years ago so, despite the marginally good news, 2022 remains the second-worst year on record. In all, 2022 saw 2,769 incidents, down 1.1% from the 2,799 incidents reported in 2021.
“When viewed from a historical perspective … the numbers are less reassuring,” Marvin Rotrand, national director of the League for Human Rights, writes in the report. “In 2012, the Jewish community sounded the alarm when that audit noted 1,345 antisemitic incidents, the highest ever since we first began auditing in 1982. Ten years later, the number is an alarming 105.9% higher than that reported in 2012, and the second-highest total since we started tracking 41 years ago.”
Aron Csaplaros, British Columbia regional manager for B’nai Brith Canada, noted the most significant finding is that the majority of hate incidents are online.
“The audit says that 74% of hate is now online and that violent incidents are down,” he told the Jewish Independent. Violent incidents across Canada dropped to 25 last year from 75 the year previous. “But incidents have been moving online in the past decade or so and it’s kind of equally, if not more, dangerous when hate is online because it’s much easier to spread, more people read it,” he said. “It’s about context. It’s obviously different than a violent incident but it is equally as dangerous.”
Csaplaros does not have a clear explanation on why violent incidents saw such a drop. It may have to do with the fact that 2022 saw slightly less incendiary conflict in Israel and Palestine, overseas problems that invariably have repercussions worldwide.
“Obviously, we’re happy that violent incidents have gone down,” he said. “Hopefully, the reason for that is that certain provinces have adopted, for example, the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism, and that might have filtered down into education for police forces and how they respond and deal with these situations. But we don’t really have a theory on why the violent incidents have gone down.”
In British Columbia, the number of violent crimes declined from two in 2021 to a single incident in 2022: a threat against Victoria’s Jewish Community Centre during the annual Jewish film festival in the capital city. Other B.C. instances include 51 cases of vandalism, 53 cases of harassment and 137 cases of online hate.
Csaplaros acknowledged that it is difficult to place a number on online antisemitic incidents.
“There are, unfortunately, probably thousands, millions of anti-Israel and antisemitic comments online and, obviously, just because of the sheer number of them, we don’t catch all of them,” he said.
The criteria B’nai Brith uses to measure hate online includes the question, “Is it antisemitic in that it targets Jews as a people and attribute negative things to them? For example, that they caused COVID, or do they use antisemitic stereotypes like Jews control the banks and so on and so forth,” explained Csaplaros. “With a lot of these comments, they are clearly antisemitic.”
B’nai Brith, he said, uses the “three Ds” measure created by Natan Sharansky: delegitimization, demonization, and applying double standards to the state of Israel.
While 74% of incidents were online, 15% involved vandalism, 10% in-person harassment and 1% were violent incidents.
In British Columbia overall, incidents declined more than 40%, to 242, compared with 409 the previous year. (For the purposes of the report, British Columbia and Yukon are reported together.) Examples of B.C. incidents included in the B’nai Brith report are the Simon Fraser University student society’s passing of a resolution referring to Israeli “war crimes and apartheid” and a Tweet accusing Jews of Satan worship and seeking world domination.
“At the end of the day, hate is hate,” said Csaplaros. “It’s important to have a record of how many antisemitic incidents occurred, regardless of whether it was a Laith Marouf-type thing or a violent incident or a swastika drawn on the sidewalk. Hate and antisemitism is hate … and it’s important to record all of that.”
Laith Marouf is a Montreal activist whose Community Media Advocacy Centre received more than $133,000 in federal government consulting fees before his antisemitic social media postings became widely known, including one in which he called Jewish people “loud mouthed bags of human feces.”
Csaplaros called on the province of British Columbia to join half of Canada’s other provinces in adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism and to follow Ontario’s lead by introducing Holocaust education into the elementary school curriculum. The core curriculum in British Columbia does not mandate any Holocaust education, Csaplaros said. Students can learn about the Holocaust in elective courses and may learn about it in core courses, depending on the teacher’s choices.
Richmond city council adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism Feb. 13 after a contentious discussion, as part of a broader anti-racism framework. The vote was 6 to 3.
Councilor Alexa Loo had originally moved adoption of the IHRA definition but withdrew it and proposed adoption of a broader anti-racism statement. The motion that passed endorsed terminologies and definitions from the federal government’s Anti-Racism Strategy, which includes anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism.
“Today, Mayor [Malcolm] Brodie and Richmond city council sent a strong message that antisemitism or hate in any form have no place in society,” said Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, in a statement after the vote. “The IHRA definition will help the people of Richmond identify antisemitism in all its manifestations so that they can help put a stop to it and protect the values of diversity, equality and community that we cherish.”
Three speakers addressed council supporting the motion and two spoke in opposition. An opponent said the definition is an attempt to “shut down criticism of the Israeli occupation,” stating, “A significant amount of what is considered antisemitic is simply critical speech directed toward Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians.”
“We’re not getting into geopolitics here,” said Loo, speaking to her motion. “We’re not condoning government actions. But we are setting out what behaviours are acceptable here in Richmond and we’re working to keep our community safe.”
Councilor Carol Day cited differences of opinion on the definition of antisemitism as justification for voting against it, but the mayor disagreed.
“If unanimity of opinion is the standard here, we will never get there,” said Brodie. “I do believe that the community has spoken on this one and that’s why I’m going to support what’s in front of us.”
Councilor Andy Hobbs refuted arguments he had heard that the IHRA definition is “a slippery slope” and contended that adoption would not prevent “anybody from criticizing a state, whether it’s Israel or whether it’s China or whether it’s another country.” Those free speech rights are enshrined in law, he said.
Councilor Michael Wolfe, who voted against, said the motion had “put a wedge into the community.” He noted that council received 27 messages opposed to the motion and nine in support. “It’s 3-to-1,” he said.
Day, who with Kash Heed also opposed the motion, noted opposition from, among others, the New Israel Fund of Canada, Canadian Labour Congress, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, 40 faculty associations, Independent Jewish Voices Canada “and even Holocaust scholars.”
“Clearly, I don’t know as much as the scholars know,” said Day, “but if they are against it, why are they against it? Is it our job, as a Richmond city councilor, to override all of these groups that I just mentioned and go with something that has been brought down by the federal government? I don’t think it is.”
She said that city council’s responsibilities are roads and infrastructure. “I think this is, to be honest, way above our pay grade,” said Day.
Michael Sachs, a Richmond resident and community leader who is also regional director of Jewish National Fund of Canada, was one of the speakers in favour of the motion. He took exception to Day’s comment.
“A city councilor should be representing and serving the citizens of the city and the community,” Sachs told the Independent. “In actuality, the fact that she is trying to dismiss it is below the pay grade.”
Sachs also noted that Wolfe’s argument that he had received a 3-to-1 ratio of messages opposing the motion is a misreading. All five Richmond-based Jewish organizations – Beth Tikvah Congregation, the Bayit, Chabad Richmond, the Kehila Society and Richmond Jewish Day School – endorsed a letter of support. They collectively represent about 4,500 people, said Sachs.
Although Loo had earlier proposed adoption of the standalone IHRA definition, Sachs said he and others agree that the broader scope is preferable. Anti-Asian hatred and antisemitism both saw startling spikes during the pandemic and the demographics of Richmond, which has an Asian-Canadian majority, makes this especially relevant, he said.
While the IHRA definition was adopted as part of a larger package, Sachs said the discussion at council focused almost exclusively on antisemitism.
“The definition is now on record, it’s been passed,” he said.
Despite assertions that free expression was on the table, Sachs said the facts disprove it.
“At the end of the day, no one’s free speech is really being removed,” he said. “In actuality, hate speech is still continuing to rise.”
The City of Richmond on Feb. 13 adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism, though not without controversy. Several members of the public expressed opposition to the motion, which eventually passed 6-3.
In many, if not most jurisdictions where this definition has been adopted, there has been opposition contending that free expression is threatened by the definition. In some cases, the motions to adopt have been defeated. Vancouver city council initially opted not to adopt the definition and only when a new council was elected last year did it pass – and, again, not unanimously, like one might expect a statement against bigotry to pass in a Canadian city.
Overwhelmingly, the criticisms are not about the definition itself, but about the fact that, of the 11 examples accompanying the definition, seven explicitly mention the state of Israel. But, if the examples are a problem, why aren’t we examining the examples on their merits? It is hardly an argument to say that the examples reference Israel and, therefore, make the definition insupportable. Let’s demand answers: which ones threaten free expression – by which we mean the right to criticize Israel?
The first Israel-related example offered is: “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.” Is this the problematic example? Are critics of Israel afraid that they will not be able to make their case against Israel without resorting to Holocaust denial?
The second example is “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” The “dual loyalty” canard has been a mainstay of anti-Jewish rhetoric for centuries, positing that “the Jew” is always an alien whose collective, tribal instincts trump their citizenship. Are opponents of the IHRA definition afraid of losing the right to invoke this age-old slander?
The third example is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.” Is this the key phrase? Understanding the role that Jewish statelessness played in almost 2,000 years of tragic history is crucial to appreciating the connection of Jewish people to the land and the state of Israel – and it is one motivation of allies to ensure Israel’s continued existence. Is it the wish of IHRA definition opponents to make the Jews of Israel stateless people again? (Spoiler alert: Personally, if there is a single example that rankles, I think this is the one.)
The fourth example offered is “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Is opposition based on the fact that, after practically ignoring the state-sanctioned mass murder next door in Syria, the genocide against Uyghurs in Western China, the almost countless instances of human-created and natural catastrophes worldwide that are overlooked or eclipsed due to condemnation of Israel at the United Nations, opponents – in activist groups and churches, in social justice movements and academic committees – will be called out for their compulsive approbation of the one Jewish state? Is the problem that they do not want to have a spotlight shone on their gross hypocrisy?
Or is it example number five?: “Using the symbols and images associated with classical antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” Are critics of Israel afraid that their effectiveness will be enfeebled if they cannot plumb the depths of the ancient and deadly accusation of deicide or killing babies?
Is it number six?: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Is it the right to deface an Israeli flag by painting a swastika over the Star of David that opponents of the definition fear, the right to accuse Israeli soldiers of behaving like Gestapo?
The final Israel-related example is “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” Is opposition to the definition founded on the fear that critics will not be able to pin blame on their Jewish neighbours for the actions of a government half a world away? Are they afraid that spray-painting “Free Palestine” on North American synagogues or kicking over Jewish headstones will be met with a condemnation these acts do not now evoke?
While critics are correct that seven of the 11 examples included with the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism reference the state of Israel, there is not one of these examples that should be problematic to any person of goodwill. Not one infringes on any right to engage in free and fair criticism of Israel or of anything else. Any doubts about this are negated by the fact that the definition itself explicitly states that it is “legally non-binding.”
Opposition to the IHRA definition is the indignation of bullies being called out as bullies, their belligerent tactics itemized, and their only response being to claim that they are the ones being bullied. It is a self-righteous ploy we have seen since the dawn of the anti-racist movement, now applied to antisemitism.
The adoption of the IHRA definition is a victory for the fight against bigotry and antisemitism. The opposition to the adoption shows us just how far we have left to go.
On Nov. 16, Vancouver city council became the latest Canadian jurisdiction to adopt or commit to using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
The decision received support from organized Jewish community representatives, including both the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“Defining antisemitism is an essential step towards recognizing its manifestations and being able to counteract it,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and chief executive officer, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Today’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by Mayor Ken Sim and Vancouver city council is a clear stand against the rise in acts of hatred against members of the Jewish community.”
Developed by IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is grounded in the research of the international experts on antisemitism and the Holocaust. It is supported by the United Nations, the European Union and 30 countries, including the United States and Canada.
“History has repeatedly shown, what begins as hatred of Jews never ends as hatred of Jews. Canadians must stand united with the Jewish community in the fight against antisemitism,” said Fogel. “The decision made by Vancouver city council today is a victory for all who stand against hate – no matter which group is the immediate target.”
“Today, Mayor Sim and the vast majority of Vancouver city council sent a strong message that antisemitism has no place in society,” said Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. “To combat antisemitism effectively, it must first be defined. The IHRA definition will help the people of Vancouver identify and combat antisemitism in all its forms. The rise of antisemitic hate crimes across the country has meant that fighting antisemitism must be a priority for all Vancouverites and Canadians, not just members of the Jewish community.”
Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung introduced the motion to adopt the IHRA definition.
“Nobody should have to live in fear because of who they are. It was an honour to bring this motion forward to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism,” she said. “We stand united with Vancouver’s Jewish community in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the troubling rise of hate incidents in our city.
“The best means to combat hate is through education, and the IHRA definition can help foster a deeper level of understanding,” she said. “Education is more powerful than any punitive actions could ever be.”
“We are proud to stand with the Jewish community both in Vancouver and around the world,” said Sim. “Antisemitism has no place in our city, and today we take an important step towards building a more inclusive and safe society for all.”
In his weekly email message Nov. 18, Shanken wrote, “In 2019, when the IHRA working definition of antisemitism was first brought before council [by Kirby-Yung], thousands of you wrote letters and signed up to speak in favour of the motion. From community members and leaders to elected officials, clergy, partners agencies, and more, your words were powerful and you were heard by this council – even if your letter was from 2019.”
Shanken highlighted the work of several community leaders: Nico Slobinsky, senior director of CIJA-Pacific Region; Geoffrey Druker, chair of CIJA’s local partnership council; Candace Kwinter, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver; Lana Marks Pulver, chair of the Federation annual campaign; Nina Krieger, executive director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (who has been a member of the Canadian delegation to the IHRA since 2012); and Corrine Zimmerman, president of VHEC.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada posted an open letter to Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim on their website before the Nov. 16 city council vote, expressing concern over the intention to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
While applauding council’s intention to fight antisemitism, Neil Naiman, chair, IJV Canada, Vancouver chapter, wrote, “We are of the view, however, that the IHRA definition serves to deflect attention from real antisemitism by focusing on criticisms of Israel. It does so by adding to the basic definition of antisemitism what it deems to be 11 ‘examples’ of antisemitism – seven of which relate to Israel.
“The existence of these examples and the focus on defending Israel have led IJV and a host of other organizations to oppose the IHRA definition. These include the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, 40 faculty associations, the Jewish Faculty Network, and many others. More than 650 Jewish academics across the country having signed a petition urging the rejection of the IHRA.”
The letter states, “The IHRA definition raises issues which have been debated in the Jewish community for more than 100 years, issues about which there is no community consensus. For example, many of IJV’s members join with Palestinians and others in condemning Israel as a ‘racist endeavour’ (to use one of the IHRA examples). The basis for this charge is that 750,000 Palestinians were expelled when Israel was founded, that it subjugates the inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territories under military rule and subjects Palestinian citizens of Israel to second class status. The IHRA definition would deem these IJV members to be ‘antisemitic.’ By adopting the IHRA definition Vancouver council will be condemning some of its citizens as racists and antisemites based on their legitimate political views of the situation in Israel-Palestine. This would be unconscionable.”
The Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?” (image from Wikipedia)
Civic politics generally deals with maintaining roads and sewers, reviewing development applications and a vast range of close-to-the-ground issues. But municipal politics has also been a place where a vast range of other issues are discussed. For example, Vancouver city council voted in 1983 to declare the city a “nuclear weapons free zone” and, formally or informally, members of council have felt free to address topics of national and global concern.
During debate around the city’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism – which a majority of council voted to refer to committee, effectively defeating it – critics of the definition warned that it could place limits on the right to criticize Israel, despite that the definition explicitly states that it is legally non-binding. While the condemnation of antisemitism is not an international issue, examples accompanying the definition included several relating to anti-Zionism.
Because of the history of using civic positions as platforms for international issues, the Independent asked candidates we profiled two additional questions: “Will you (or won’t you) use your position as a platform to discuss international affairs, specifically Palestine and Israel?” and “If so, can you provide a brief explanation of your perspective on the subject?”
Christine Boyle, the incumbent Vancouver city councilor who voted to refer the IHRA issue to committee, said that commenting on international affairs is not generally part of the role of a city councilor.
“And there are so many important issues and struggles locally that continue to be the focus of my attention,” she said. “But my practice on any topic is to listen to and engage with communities most impacted on an issue, always seeking to uphold human rights, peace and justice.
“I have spent much of my adult life actively engaged in justice work, including opposing and challenging hate and discrimination, and working to strengthen the human rights of all people,” she continued. “I am deeply committed to challenging antisemitism and ensuring that Jewish residents in Vancouver feel safe at home, at worship, and everywhere.
“When a motion came to council asking Vancouver to adopt the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, council received hundreds of emails on the subject, with a diverse range of perspectives on the topic,” said Boyle. “Even my own Jewish family members didn’t all agree on the issue. What I heard clearly from the community was that, while there wasn’t agreement on this definition, there was absolutely a need for the city to do more to address antisemitism and racism. And so council referred the definition to the City of Vancouver’s Racial and Cultural Equity Advisory Committee, with direction for staff to continue working vociferously to address antisemitism and other forms of racism and hate. Since then I have worked hard each budget cycle to ensure our anti-racism and anti-hate efforts are well funded and supported, and will continue that work.”
Vancouver council candidate Ken Charko told the Independent, “Yes, I would use my position as a city councilor as a platform to discuss international affairs [and] yes support of Israel will be part of that platform…. I support Canada moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I would use my position as a Vancouver city councilor and federal Conservative member to outline why Canada should do that under the next Conservative government.”
John Irwin, an incumbent member of the Vancouver Park Board, switched from the Coalition of Progressive Electors last election to Vision Vancouver this election because, he said, “There was a disagreement with COPE regarding their lack of acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism (which was accepted by the Canadian government).”
He added: “As a local politician, I generally use my platform to discuss local issues.”
Carla Frenkel, also a candidate for the Vancouver Park Board, said simply: “I have no intention to use the role of park board commissioner as a platform for international affairs.”
Kyla Epstein, who is seeking a seat on the Vancouver School Board, said that, to her knowledge, international affairs do not regularly come up at the school board table, nor is it generally within the scope of the role of a trustee to take a position on international affairs.
“What I do know is that I bring to the role a deep commitment to human rights and an opposition to antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and all forms of discrimination, racism and hatred,” she said. “In addition, my approach to governance is to listen, welcome different perspectives and reduce barriers for public and stakeholder participation – on any issue. I will fight to uphold a public education system that is a place of learning, curiosity and questioning. I will, no matter the issue that comes to the school board table, reach out to communities, listen and learn, and make my decisions to uphold human rights and equality.”
Ellison Mallin, running for council in the District of North Vancouver, said, “I am always discussing international issues with people, as, in this increasingly connected world, events that happen anywhere can affect us here.
“I do not intend to use any municipal specific platforms, or my position, to bring up Israel and Palestine, and will keep discussions on the subject to appropriate venues. I do recognize that, given my religion, there will likely be comments and questions directed to me, which I will not shy away from,” he said. “I strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist. A safe place for Jewish people to live and to foster Jewish identity and culture is needed. Perhaps, sadly, it is needed now more than ever, as we do see a rise in antisemitism in many areas. On that note, I do not deny Palestine’s right to exist, and believe a two-state solution is needed. I would also like to see Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank, as this further creates divides and hostilities.”
Jonathan Lerner, council candidate in Lantzville, said he does not see Middle Eastern affairs coming into play in Lantzville politics. But, he added: “Everyone familiar with my work will know that I am a strong advocate for respectful dialogue on these issues.
“Where I think municipal governments can play a larger role is in diversity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives,” said Lerner. “Many communities, including the Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities, have been targeted by an increase in hate crimes in Canada. Municipalities have a key role to play in addressing this issue. For example, governments of all levels are considering adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, as well as other racism classifications that help to define and address discrimination.”
Last week, John Horgan sent a welcome letter to the Pacific regional office of CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. The British Columbia premier committed to fighting antisemitism, including using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism as a measuring stick in the ongoing fight against anti-Jewish discrimination.
The premier’s statement came on the very day that Abacus Data, an opinion research firm, released data from a survey of 1,500 Canadians. The alarming results show that a huge number of Canadians subscribe to appalling ideas.
Nearly one in five Canadians, according to the survey, believe there is a cover-up to hide the “fact” COVID vaccines kill people, while fully another 25% of Canadians think that might be true or aren’t sure.
One in 10 believe that vaccines implant a microchip to control human behaviour, and another 14% think that could be accurate.
Things go downhill from there. More than half of Canadians say that official government statements cannot be trusted – a serious allegation in a democratic society.
The poll also found that 44% of Canadians believes a “secret cabal of elites” control world events. As alarming, about 37% of respondents agreed with the statement: “There is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Canadians with immigrants who agree with their political view.”
Whenever phrases like “secret cabal of elites” are employed, informed people know exactly to whom that dog-whistle refers. And the second concept, dubbed the “Great Replacement” theory, was the motivation for the mass murder of 10 Black people in Buffalo, N.Y., last month. The “group of people” frequently accused of masterminding such alleged “replacement” are, of course, Jews. This was something that came to broader public awareness during the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., five years ago, when tiki torch-bearing racists chanted “Jews will not replace us!”
It is above our paygrade to understand or explain the socio-psychological reasons why, at the first sign of crazy, attention seems inevitably to turn to Jews. (At least the caricatured Jews of the antisemites’ imaginations, a pathology that inevitably has impacts on actual Jews.)
For whatever reasons, as we noted in this space a month ago, when a society leans into conspiracies, it seems inevitable that sights turn to Jews. These poll numbers suggest Canadians are further down this slippery slope that we might have imagined.
Canadians – Jewish and otherwise – can be forgiven for feeling a sense of smugness in recent years as we have watched some seriously messed up stuff happening with our nearest neighbours. Many of us have hedged our bets, knowing that, in societies that are in some ways going off the rails – not only the United States, but parts of Europe and other erstwhile stable liberal democracies – Canada cannot be immune from some of these tendencies. And, it seems, we are not.
It is important that government officials say the right things, as Horgan did last week. Of course, that so many Canadians do not trust elected officials presumably dulls the impact of these actions somewhat, but this does not detract from the urgency of forging ahead with what we know is the right thing to do.
The answer remains, as it was when we wrote about this issue (albeit less urgently) a month ago: we must stand verbally and forcefully against misinformation and disinformation. We must recommit, every day, to liberal values of tolerance, pluralism and the quest for truth and justice. We must ourselves exercise as well as teach young people the critical thinking skills to discern truth from fiction, and how to evaluate facts. And we must challenge politicians, commentators, family and friends who promote, or justify, the sorts of ideas that, we now know, are held by far too many Canadians.
On April 20, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) voted in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The motion is in support of Palestinian liberation, which it defines as resistance against Israeli “settler-colonialism” and the occupation of historic Palestine – including the West Bank, Gaza and the present-day state of Israel.
The Hillel chapter at SFU issued a statement on April 20 denouncing the motion.
“Evidently, this motion, and the student council standing in support of it are not concerned with the safety of Jewish students on SFU campus,” reads the statement. “The adoption of the policy, which passed unanimously this evening, and which violates SFU, provincial and federal law, sets a dangerous precedent for Jewish safety, freedom of association and political mobilization on campus.”
The day after the SFSS vote, another campus group also voted on a motion related to debates over Israel.
On April 21, more than 60% of the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) voted in favour of a motion that opposed the adoption of the working definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism was adopted in May 2016, and states that 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 document also lists many examples that could fall into the broader definition of antisemitism. Among the examples are statements about Jewish people and Israel, including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
According to the QUFA motion, this definition threatens academic freedom and intersectional anti-racist and decolonial initiatives.
“The IHRA deﬁnition of antisemitism misconstrues antisemitism to include a broad range of criticism of the state of Israel, particularly targeting
decolonial and anti-racist critiques of the policies, structures and practices of Israel,” the motion reads. “Such targeted attacks, which primarily impact racialized faculty and students, will have a negative effect on the academic freedom of our members in the classroom, in their research and in campus politics more broadly.”
Jordan Morelli, QUFA president, said in an email that the motion was brought forward by individual members of the association, as is their right according to the association’s democratic processes. He also said the vote itself was preceded by a balanced discussion in which everybody who wanted to speak was given the opportunity to do so. Morelli further added that Queen’s recently revised policy on harassment and discrimination defines antisemitism in a manner consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code policies, and that other faculty organizations at other schools, as well as at federal and provincial levels, have expressed similar concerns with the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
Before the vote, Queen’s Hillel published an open letter signed by more than 1,600 people – current Jewish and non-Jewish students, alumni, family members and community members – asking the faculty to vote against the motion.
“This statement contributes to the erasure of Jewish history, religiosity and values. To exclude the Jewish community from impacted ‘racialized faculty and students’ does harm to multi-racial, long-established Jewish communities. It overwrites our lived reality of centuries of constant displacement, colonization, conquest and migration,” the letter reads.
The letter also says that the fears about restricting criticism of Israel and academic freedom do not follow from a “fair” reading of the definition, as Israel is not mentioned in the definition itself, but only in the follow-up examples of what may constitute antisemitism. The letter also questioned why it does not fall to Jewish groups to define their own oppression.
“It is our understanding that a fundamental principle of anti-oppression work is allowing affected communities to define their own oppression,” reads the letter. “It is not the place of any organization external to our community…. It is the Jewish community, and the Jewish community alone, who get to decide this. This double-standard is antisemitic.”
The Hillel letter did note that some of the faculty who proposed the motion are Jewish, but said their views are out-of-sync with the vast majority of Canadian Jews.
After the motion passed, Queen’s Hillel published a statement that said they were “deeply saddened,” called the vote “an utter disgrace,” especially because no actionable steps were suggested in the motion to combat growing antisemitism on campus. However, the statement also said they were “immensely proud” of the support shown across the community.
At McGill, a similar motion in support of Palestinian solidarity that was passed by more than 70% of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) was not ratified by SSMU’s board of governors. In a statement published on April 22, the board said they could not adopt the policy because it contravened numerous SSMU governing documents, including its constitution, equity policy and Quebec law.
The original version of this article was published by The CJN. For more national Jewish news, visit thecjn.ca.
B.C. Premier John Horgan opened the commemorative event. (screenshot)
A uniquely British Columbian virtual commemoration of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, took place April 8, convened by the Government of British Columbia in partnership with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region.
Premier John Horgan opened the event.
“On Yom Hashoah, we remember the six million Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust. We also remember and honour the millions who lost their lives or were murdered because of their ethnicity, sexual identity or disability,” said the premier. “Today, we also pay tribute to Holocaust survivors and, as that community grows smaller, it’s all the more important that we work together to carry that message forward – that we will never forget and it will never happen again, especially in light of the ongoing threats of violence and discrimination Jewish people are facing worldwide today.”
Horgan noted an incident in Victoria where a Chabad centre was defaced with antisemitic graffiti a day earlier.
“These are the types of acts we must stand together and fight against with a united voice, regardless of where we come from, regardless of our orientations or ethnicities or our faith. We must stand against antisemitism and racism whenever we see it,” said Horgan. “As we light the candles at Yom Hashoah in remembrance, we must remain vigilant and, as we take action today and honour those who lost their lives and those who have struggled since the Holocaust, we must again remember that we cannot repeat our past.”
Michael Lee, MLA for Vancouver-Langara, also spoke.
“As the living memory of the Holocaust fades, the important act of remembering and coming together each year grows in importance,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we never forget and such a thing never happens again, because, sadly, this is not just about remembering history, but about standing together today against the racism, bigotry and antisemitism that still exists in our world.… As a community, now and every day, we must stand against these acts of hate and bigotry.
“Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are reminded of why it is so important to come together, to reflect and to ensure that the past is not forgotten. We must remember both the parts of this dark, dark history that we must not let be repeated and the acts of heroism that took place amid such tragedy. Even during a period of humanity’s darkest chapters, there was still good in the world, people who risked their lives to hide and save others from the Shoah. Amidst the horrors and atrocities, there were tales of love, hope and bravery, including with the many righteous among nations, people who demonstrated that light can triumph over darkness. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to never forget; remember the victims, the survivors and the heroes; and we pledge to build a better world in their memory.”
Dr. Robert Krell, founding president of the VHEC, lit six memorial candles. The premier lit a seventh candle “to honour the millions of Roma, Slavic, LGBTQ2+ and people with disabilities who lost their lives.”
Krell, speaking on behalf of Holocaust survivors, noted that 1.5 million of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were children. An estimated 93% of Jewish children in Europe were murdered, which makes his survival extremely remarkable. The fact that both his parents survived, when more than 80% of Dutch Jews were killed, is additionally miraculous.
“I had lost all grandparents, uncles and aunts,” Krell said. “One first cousin remained. The war left its mark and I bear a special responsibility to remember what happened and try to derive lessons from that unfathomable tragedy. The tragedy was unique in its objectives, its focus and its ferocity. Jews were extracted wherever they resided, whether Paris, Prague or Vienna, whether city or countryside or the isles of Rhodes or Corfu. The enemy pursued us and tortured and murdered without mercy, without exception.”
While Dutch citizens remember the Canadian military’s role in liberating that country, Krell also noted Canada’s failure to save European Jews before the war.
Krell also addressed the issue of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. Around the world, he said, 34 countries have adopted the definition, as has the province of Ontario.
“As a survivor who has been deeply involved in Holocaust remembrance and education, it strikes me as unconscionable not to accept the IHRA definition to assist us all in recognizing the signs and symptoms of the scourge of Jew hatred,” he said.
Yom Hashoah fell the day before the federal New Democratic Party convention that was to consider a resolution rejecting the IHRA definition. The matter never made it to the floor, but another resolution condemning Israel passed by an overwhelming margin.
“It is my hope that we will soon see the provincial government’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” said Krell.
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom also took up the issue of the antisemitism definition.
“The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is, I think, the tool that guides us in our work to combat anti-Jewish sentiments,” he said. “I want to urge our provincial government to join other jurisdictions in embracing the action that is required to combat both historical and contemporary hatred of the Jewish people.”
He added: “When we think of the death of a human being, we mourn the loss of the body and the soul, but, in my work, standing with too many grieving families at graveside, it is not the body that we miss most, that is merely the vessel for the soul, the part of that person that is unique in all the world,” he said. “That’s the part that we fall in love with and are forever changed by. The soul of another leaves an imprint on our heart. So, today, we remember six million murdered Jewish souls, their lives that have been extinguished, their dreams unrealized, their loves and relationships gone forever. We pray that those dear souls are comforted and embraced under the wings of God’s presence and that now, remembered so publicly, will never be forgotten.”
Moskovitz then chanted El Moleh Rachamim and a version of the Mourner’s Kaddish that includes the names of the Nazi death camps.
In addition to the B.C. event, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre also partnered on April 8 with the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, the Azrieli Foundation, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Facing History and Ourselves, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, March of the Living Canada and UIA in a Canada-wide Yom Hashoah online program that included survivor testimony from individuals across the country and a candlelighting ceremony.
A day earlier, the VHEC partnered with the Montreal Holocaust Museum for a virtual program focusing on the importance of remembrance in the intergenerational transmission of memory. Survivors and members of the second and third generations spoke about their experiences. Video recordings of all three events are available at vhec.org.