March 24, 2021
WINNIPEG – B’nai Brith Canada is calling 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 March 25. The “IHRA definition” refers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism – the most widely accepted expert definition of antisemitism. This definition has been broadly accepted by more than 30 countries around the world, including Canada. It is also a consensus issue within the mainstream Jewish community, and gives Jews the freedom to describe their experiences on their own terms.
Nevertheless, 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 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.”
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 antisemitic.”
Similarly, and also contrary to the claim of many of its critics, the IHRA definition of antisemitism 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.”
Dealing with antisemitism on Canadian campuses is an ongoing concern for this country’s Jewish community. Just yesterday, B’nai Brith drew attention to efforts by professors at the University of Ottawa to push back against an anti-IHRA campaign on their campus.
Also just yesterday, B’nai Brith and more than 30 communal organizations co-sponsored a special town hall event discussing the persistence of antisemitism at the University of Toronto. To watch the full video of that event, CLICK HERE.