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University of Manitoba Shuts Down Absurd Motion to Ban IHRA Definition

An image of the University of Manitoba (Facebook)

WINNIPEG – B’nai Brith Canada is pleased that a motion opposing the IHRA definition of antisemitism was defeated yesterday, on procedural grounds, at a meeting of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA).

On March 24, B’nai Brith called on the UMFA executive to reject the motion that was egregious in not only opposing the adoption of the IHRA definition at the university for any purpose, but also in opposing the use of the definition by anyone anywhere, including by faculty and students at the University of Manitoba.

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.

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.

Just prior to yesterday’s attempt to table the motion, Bryan Schwartz, Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba, said “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.”

Following yesterday’s vote that adjourned the meeting, Haskel Greenfield, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, who attended, cautioned: “We defeated the motion procedurally, but we should not rest on our laurels. The blatant antisemitism that is at the heart of this motion still needs to be called out.”

Emily Kalo, a student at the U of M and president of the local Students Supporting Israel club remarked: “March 21st to 27th, 2021 marks the first ever Anti-Racism Week in the City of Winnipeg. This campaign aims to identify and eliminate systemic racism and increase cultural competency. To be informed, as a Jewish student at the University of Manitoba, that the Faculty Association planned to put forward a motion denouncing IHRA, without consultation from U of M’s Jewish community, during a week meant to make our city a more equitable and safe place, was shocking. This was especially disturbing given that the definition had previously been adopted unanimously by the University of Manitoba Student Union in December of 2020.

“For the University of Manitoba Faculty Association to put forward a motion denouncing the IHRA definition, and doing so based on the notion that it stifles conversation and potential criticism of Israel – even though the definition does no such thing — is the ultimate proof of why this definition is critical.”

Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, reflected on the implications of this and related developments on campuses across Canada: “While it’s encouraging that yesterday’s motion at the UMFA did not succeed, we must remain vigilant and determined because efforts to defeat the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism while maligning it will continue. That’s why it’s so important to see Jewish students and faculty on campuses across Canada standing up, perhaps as never before, in defence of truth and justice.

“Earlier this week, a unique Town Hall was held involving students and faculty discussing the problem of antisemitism at the University of Toronto and the need to adopt the IHRA definition at the school. But we know, as in the case of the U of M, the University of Ottawa, and indeed in institutions of higher learning across this nation, the scourge of antisemitism has no unique locus, and must be confronted wherever it manifests itself.”

David Matas, renowned human rights lawyer and Senior Legal Counsel of B’nai Brith Canada, said: “The active effort to restrict opposition to antisemitism is worrisome. There have been no comparable efforts to restrict opposition to other forms of incitement to discrimination affecting other minorities. The singling out of efforts to oppose victimization of the Jewish community is a reprehensible double standard.”