Faculty of Canadian university oppose IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

B’nai Brith Canada urges University of Manitoba’s Faculty Association to abandon motion opposing adoption of IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Elad Benari ,

University of Manitoba
University of Manitoba

B’nai Brith Canada on Wednesday called on the University of Manitoba’s Faculty Association (UMFA) executive to abandon a motion opposing “the adoption and/or use of the IHRA definition at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere.” The motion is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, March 25.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition offers a comprehensive description of anti-Semitism in its various forms, including hatred and discrimination against Jews, Holocaust denial and, sometimes controversially, the way anti-Semitism relates to the ways criticism of Israel is expressed.

The IHRA definition has been adopted by a host of countries, including Albania, Germany, Britain, Austria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, France, Cyprus and Argentina.

The government of Canada formally adopted IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy.

The Canadian province of Ontario adopted the IHRA definition this past October, becoming the first Canadian province to do so.

B’nai Brith Canada noted that anti-Israel activists and other ideological opponents of the definition have made concerted efforts to spread misinformation about the definition, as well as thwart its adoption by academic institutions, governments and others.

The UMFA motion is a particularly disturbing instance of this effort, it said, in that it opposes not only the adoption of the IHRA definition at the university for any purpose, but also undertakes to oppose the use of the definition by anyone anywhere, including by faculty and students at the University of Manitoba.

“It is a legitimate responsibility for academics to balance appreciation and support for anti-discrimination measures with a careful and fair consideration of whether and how in various contexts they might impact academic freedom and freedom of expression,” said Bryan Schwartz, Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba.

“UMFA’s approach with respect to all such initiatives should be principled and consistent. I am not aware of any other context where UMFA has simply proposed the sweeping suppression of an initiative aimed to identify and prevent hate and discrimination. That UMFA has done so in the context of an initiative on antisemitism should be profoundly disturbing to everyone,” he added.

B’nai Brith Canada noted that contrary to the frequent mischaracterization by its opponents, the IHRA definition does not stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. In fact, it states: “Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Similarly, and also contrary to the claim of many of its critics, the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism does not infringe on free speech in any way. Rather, as a carefully crafted guideline, it plays an important role in combating hateful speech.

“Canada's federal government has accepted the IHRA Definition as a key part of its anti-racism strategy,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B'nai Brith Canada. “Therefore, according to this motion, the Faculty Association would be 'opposed' to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking about antisemitism on any university campus anywhere in Canada.”

“It is manifestly undemocratic for faculty associations to presume to suppress the expressed will of their students – in this case, a previous endorsement of IHRA at the undergraduate student level. One would expect better of faculty at a publicly-funded institution of higher education than to attempt to dictate the opinions of students and of the general Canadian population,” he added.