Home Perspectives Opinions Housefather & Levitt: Why Canada’s adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

Housefather & Levitt: Why Canada’s adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

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(Jesse Kline/The CJN)

On June 25, our government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada is taking a crucial step in the fight against anti-Semitism. As part of our anti-racism strategy, the government will become the first in Canadian history to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism across government. In a world where anti-Semitism and other forms of religious hatred is unfortunately on the rise, this is a significant step for Jewish Canadians.

The IHRA was established in 1998 “to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance.” It is made up of 32 countries, including Canada, which have taken the lead in fighting anti-Semitism.

Around the globe, anti-Semitism is on the rise. In Germany, for example, anti-Semitic crimes rose by over 20 per cent last year. Just last week, the German government’s own anti-Semitism representative, Felix Klein, said that he “can no longer recommend that Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany.” In parts of eastern Europe, some politicians deny their countries’ historic ties to the Holocaust – rhetoric that empowers Holocaust deniers and enables anti-Semitism to fester.

In February, French President Emmanuel Macron told Jewish community leaders that anti-Semitism in his country was at the worst levels since the Second World War.

READ: CANADIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS IHRA DEFINITION OF ANTI-SEMITISM

Even the United States, where millions of Jews fled to escape persecution and find opportunity, has been impacted. The murder of Jews at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif., threats to Jewish community centres and the 2017 march in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us,” are all examples of increased anti-Semitism.

While Canada remains one of the best countries for Jews to live in, we are not immune to this global tide of hate, whether in-person or online. According to the 2018 B’nai Brith Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, last year was the third consecutive record-setting year for anti-Semitism in Canada, up 16.5 per cent from 2017. According to Statistics Canada, Jews remained the minority group that was most targeted by hate crimes in 2017, having been targeted 18 per cent of the time, despite representing only one per cent of Canada’s population.

This threat is clear and pressing. Even though it’s targeted at Jews, anti-Semitic hate threatens the very heart of what it means to be Canadian – our diverse, multicultural society. That’s why it is crucial that our government has taken real action.

Canada is leading the way by adopting the internationally recognized IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. This is absolutely vital. In order to root out anti-Semitism, we must clarify what it really is.

Canada is demonstrating loudly and clearly that in a world where anti-Semitism is resurgent through vile rhetoric, demonstrations and violence, we will not be silent.

Defining anti-Semitism does not detract from the fight against racism and hatred more generally. Indeed, it helps advance it. Only by working from a shared understanding of the problem can law enforcement agencies, human rights commissions, Internet service providers and our education and justice systems effectively work to combat it.

While a definition may seem obvious, anti-Semitism is unique in that it takes on many forms. We know all too well that anti-Semitism is not confined to any one segment of society or position on the political spectrum. Jews in Canada and around the world have been the victims of hate from white supremacists, religious radicals and those who mask their hatred of Jews with thinly veiled attacks on Israel’s legitimacy. The IHRA definition builds on previous initiatives like the Ottawa Protocol to meticulously identify many of the forms that the world’s oldest religious hatred can take in the 21st century.

The IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism includes Holocaust denial, blaming the Jewish people for the acts of a single Jew or a particular group and making stereotypical allegations, including charges of a world Jewish conspiracy to control societal institutions. It also references the classically anti-Semitic charge of dual loyalty.

And crucially, it includes instances where anti-Semitism is masked as criticism of Israel or Zionism. While criticism of Israeli government policy is legitimate, holding Israel to a different standard than other countries, questioning its right to exist or calling for its destruction, like Israel Apartheid Week on university campuses, denies the only Jewish state the rights afforded to every other country.

Canada is leading the way by adopting the internationally recognized IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.

Too often, anti-Israel rhetoric, like that employed by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is marked by delegitimization, demonization and double standards – aspects of discourse that clearly cross the line into anti-Semitism. This happens not only at hateful rallies like the annual Al-Quds Day demonstration in Toronto, but often through the perversion of international institutions to repeatedly and disproportionately condemn the only Jewish state.

Adopting the IHRA definition is of the utmost importance for liberal democracies that value equal rights. Only by defining anti-Semitism can this age-old hatred be clearly identified and rooted out.

By adopting the IHRA definition, Canada is demonstrating loudly and clearly that in a world where anti-Semitism is resurgent through vile rhetoric, demonstrations and violence, we will not be silent.


Anthony Housefather is the Liberal MP for Mount Royal and chair of the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights. Michael Levitt is the Liberal MP for York Centre and chair of the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international development.

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