The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) brings together governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance. With the ascension of Portugal to full membership at the recent plenary meeting of the IHRA held in Luxembourg City from Dec. 2 to 5, there are now 34 member countries, each of which recognizes that international political co-ordination is imperative to strengthening the moral commitment of societies and to combat growing Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.
Founded in 1998, the IHRA has been in the news of late. In June, Canada adopted its definition of anti-Semitism. Ontario is now considering a bill to do the same. The IHRA meeting in Luxembourg, with a full Canadian delegation in attendance, accomplished much through its working groups and committees.
One major concern is distortion of the historical record. The organization’s project committee is working on a brochure to be used as a handout for politicians, policy makers, and educators. The brochure will include categorized examples of distortion, which will help to clarify the problem.
Canada is not immune: in Oakville, Ont., there is a statue commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Galizien Division. Another monument, in Edmonton, Alta., honours Roman Shukhevych, the leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who is regarded as a war criminal by Jews and Poles for his role in the Holocaust and an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Polish minority in Western Ukraine. The latter project was partially funded by Canadian taxpayers through programs designed to promote multiculturalism.
The IHRA’s Academic Working Group was increasingly alarmed by the role of social media in endangering the historical record and promoting anti-Semitism. The AWG hopes to partner with Wikipedia to ensure the accuracy of its pages in the area of the Holocaust, including the genocide against the Roma. The AWG also discussed the importance of swift responses from the IHRA when grave incidents of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial or distortion occur.
Online hate was discussed in several working groups and committees. Canada’s deputy head of delegation, Giuliana Natale, presented to the Committee on anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial about the many ways the federal government has been combating this issue, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Digital Charter, to the report Taking Action to End Online Hate from the parliamentary standing committee chaired by MP Anthony Housefather.
In Canada, there are some 100 active violent hate groups. It was interesting to note that given the differences in demographics between the United States and Canada, the number of hate groups per capita is virtually identical.
Anti-Semitism on Canadian university campuses was noted, referring to recent events at McGill, the University of Toronto, and York University. Also pointed out were major issues with the Toronto School Board: Daily anti-Semitic events include graffiti and intimidation of students.
Fellow Winnipegger Clint Curle will take over the chairmanship of the IHRA’s committee on the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity next year. The committee has been working on a paper to help organizations communicate about the Holocaust and other atrocities with clarity and respect. A reflective and respectful usage of terms is key to establishing public dialogue in our changing societies.
Canada’s delegation welcomed the updated Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, published in partnership with UNESCO. The publication seeks to empower teachers and educators to accurately and confidently teach about the Holocaust, while providing policymakers, textbook editors, and school administrators with clear and practical insights into the importance of Holocaust education.
The Canadian delegation said it would distribute the guide to provincial and territorial education authorities, as well as have it translated into French.
Perhaps the most poignant and meaningful moment in Luxembourg came when noted Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer took the floor. Speaking on the causes of the Second World War, he called anti-Semitism “a cancer that eats the societies in which it grows, and destroys them.” Anti-Semitism, Bauer said, “is not a Jewish problem. It is a problem for all societies in which it grows.”
As a member of the Canadian delegation of the IHRA since 2013, I have observed the important work and contributions of our Canadian delegates to the various working groups and committees, and I have noted the effect of the work we do at plenary meetings and throughout the year on the situation in Canada. This includes education on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and on the genocide of the Roma.
Our work has provided Canadians with important tools to fight anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and distortion. The latter will be the focus of the German chairmanship next year, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the IHRA. Today, with the resurgence of nationalism and anti-Semitism in so many countries, it is more important than ever to safeguard the historical record.
(Editor’s note: While the IHRA’s spelling is “antisemitism,” a style many media have adopted and which the writer used in her original submission, The CJN uses the Canadian Press spelling).