What would our ancestors think if we could tell them that, in the second decade of the 21st century, the world’s leaders were so terrified of being labelled anti-Semites that they habitually accused one another of fomenting anti-Semitism? And that these same leaders tried to outdo one another in their pledges to fight anti-Semitism, everywhere except in their own backyards?
What would they think of Bernie Sanders, a Jewish contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States, penning an op-ed that states, “Opposing anti-Semitism is a core value of progressivism,” while accepting endorsements from the likes of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar? How would they react to news that the Saudi cleric Mohammad al-Issa, a former minister of justice, condemned the Tree of Life shooting and will be visiting Auschwitz in January?
Less than 100 years removed from “none is too many,” the leaders of both major Canadian political parties have become so comfortable with the language of anti-Semitism that they think nothing of weaponizing it on campaign literature or implying that their opponents keep company with white nationalists. If this keeps up, non-Jews will soon profess to tell us a thing or two about anti-Semitism!
While it isn’t a bad thing that fighting anti-Semitism has become trendy – especially when you consider the alternative – it feels a bit like what happened when Kabbalah was hot. Some Jews may be overjoyed that non-Jews are finally noticing, but many of us know that a superficial understanding of the subject is just not sufficient.
Thankfully, our erstwhile new allies seem to (mostly) understand that the Jewish community is still responsible for setting the parameters of what anti-Semitism is and isn’t. And if nothing else, we owe the rest of the world a clear and unambiguous definition. They may not like the definition, but they like a fuzzy definition, or one that’s applied inconsistently, even less.
This was the problem with Bill M-103, the supposedly uncontroversial non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia passed by a divided Parliament in 2017. It turned out that while nobody wanted to be accused of Islamophobia, many people weren’t sure what Islamophobia was.
Fortunately, there is a definition for anti-Semitism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism fits this bill. It’s short, clearly worded and, best of all, makes it perfectly clear that you cannot pick and choose the parts you like and leave out whatever suits your political agenda. To be worth your salt as a fighter of anti-Semitism, you have to be against holding Israel to double standards and against claims that the Jews are conspiring to fling open the borders.
We need to evolve from widespread acceptance of the idea that anti-Semitism is bad, to the idea that a consistent stance against anti-Semitism is necessary to do something about the problem. However, as recent developments relating to the McGill student newspaper’s ban on Zionism show, achieving this next step is likely to be another uphill battle for the Jewish community.
After the McGill Daily refused to let Jewish students reply to an editorial that equated Zionism with racism, the editors argued that the paper’s Statement of Principles prohibits racial prejudice, and since they contend that Zionist content dehumanizes Palestinians, allowing such content would violate those principles.
This line of reasoning presumes that a student newspaper could credibly represent itself as an authority on what constitutes racial prejudice, to Jewish students. But then again, of course the Daily would believe that is possible, in the absence of a universally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.
The Daily is putting its own politics ahead of the needs of the Jewish community. So is any fairweather political friend seeking to buy Jewish loyalty or votes. Today’s Jews – much like our forefathers and foremothers – need to be able to tell the difference between those who want to use us as a sword or a shield, and those who are truly on our side.