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Jewish faculty in Canada against the adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism

Canadian PoliticsMiddle EastEducationHuman Rights

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism equates Jewishness and Judaism with the State of Israel—effectively erasing generations of debate within Jewish communities. Image from iStock.

We write as Jewish faculty from across Canadian universities and colleges with deep concern regarding recent interventions on our campuses relating to Israel and Palestine. Addressing all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, is imperative at this historical moment. Among the signatories, many share family histories profoundly and intimately shaped by the Holocaust. We write out of a strong commitment to justice, which for some of us is vital to an ethical Jewish life.

We add our voices to a growing international movement of Jewish scholars to insist that university policies to combat anti-Semitism are not used to stifle legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state, or the right to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. We recognize that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a legitimate, non-violent form of protest. While not all of us endorse the BDS movement we oppose equating its support with anti-Semitism. We also are deeply disturbed by the upsurge of anti-Semitic acts in recent years which display painfully familiar forms of anti-Semitism.

We are specifically concerned with recent lobbying on our campuses for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism. This definition offers a vague and worrisome framing of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” and that may be “directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property.” The most serious problem however is that the definition is tied to a series of examples of which many are criticisms of the Israeli state. For this reason, the IHRA working definition has come under extensive criticism. Not only does it essentialize Jewish identity, culture, and theology, it also equates Jewishness and Judaism with the State of Israel—effectively erasing generations of debate within Jewish communities. The issue is particularly pressing as the IHRA working definition has been invoked by those seeking to interfere with collegial governance and student life at Canadian universities. The IHRA working definition distracts from experiences of anti-Jewish racism, and threatens to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s grave violations of international law and denial of Palestinian human and political rights.

On campuses where this definition has been adopted it has been used to intimidate and silence the work of unions, student groups, academic departments and faculty associations that are committed to freedom, equality and justice for Palestinians. A range of international Jewish institutions have recognized this problem; for example, the New Israel Fund of Canada has recently retracted their support for the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. Furthermore, the University College London (UCL) has seen its Academic Board advise that the university seek an alternative definition of anti-Semitism and reverse adoption of the IHRA model. The UCL Academic Board joins a growing chorus of voices, including over 500 Canadian academics and multiple statements by Jewish and Israeli academics, British academics who are Israeli citizens, and specialists in Jewish and Holocaust history, opposing the adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.

We know that there is serious and occasionally fractious disagreement on our campuses about anti-Semitism and its relationship to criticism of the State of Israel. These disputes cannot and will not be resolved by definitional fiat. If the goal of adopting the IHRA definition is to quell further conflict around the legitimate scope of criticism of Israel, it will surely fail. This is already evident at many academic institutions.

Adopting a seriously flawed framework to confront anti-Semitism is antithetical to the broader pursuit of justice and tolerance at the core of the mission statement of many universities. Freedom to criticize the policies and practices of any state without exception, including the State of Israel, is central to accountable scholarship, learning and education. We believe it is also central to building a more just academy.

Signed:

Howard Tzvi Adelman, History and Jewish Studies, Queen’s University
Jonathan Alschech, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Northern British Columbia
Vered Amit, Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University
Meir Amor, Associate Professor, Concordia University
Shira Avni, Associate Professor, Concordia University
Abigail B. Bakan, Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto
Joel Bakan, Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Lisa Barg, McGill University
Bruce Baum, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia
Daniel Bender, History and Food Studies, Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto
Joseph Berkovitz, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto
Rachel Berger, Associate Professor, History, Concordia University
Jody Berland, Professor, Department of Humanities, York University
Bruce J. Berman, Queen’s University
Rachel Berman, Associate Professor, Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University
Lauren Bialystok, Associate Professor, Department of Social Justice Education, OISE, University of Toronto
Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Professor of Critical Development Studies & Global Health University of Toronto
Gary Bloch, Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Michael Blum, Professor, École des arts visuels et médiatiques, Université du Québec à Montréal
Shamma Boyarin, English Department/Religion Culture and Society Program, University of Victoria
Lara Braitstein, Associate Professor, School of Religious Studies, McGill University
Elise K. Burton, Assistant Professor, History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto
Nadya Burton, Associate Professor, Midwifery Education Program, Ryerson University
Shelley Ruth Butler, Lecturer, McGill University
Nergis Canefe, Associate Professor of Politics, Public Policy and Law, York University
Eric Cazdyn, Professor, University of Toronto
Claudia Chaufan, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Health Policy and Management, York University
Rebecca Comay, Professor, Philosophy and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto
Jonah Corne, Associate Professor, Department of English, Theatre, Film and Media, University of Manitoba
Deborah Cowen, Professor, Geography and Planning, University of Toronto
Leah Decter, Canada Research Chair in Creative Technologies, Division of Media Arts, NSCAD University
Sheila Delany, Emerita, Simon Fraser University
James Deutsch MD, PhD, Dept. of Psychiatry, University of Toronto
Mark Etkin, MD, FRCPC, Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba
Aaron Ettinger, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Carleton University
Alvin Finkel, Retired Professor of History, Athabasca University
Elle Flanders, Lecturer, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto
John Fox, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, McMaster University
Sid Frankel, Associate Professor, University of Manitoba
Gavin Fridell, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s University
Harriet Friedmann, Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of Toronto
Lara Rosenoff Gauvin, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
Stella Gaon, Professor, Department of Political Science, Saint Mary’s University
Judith A. Garber, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Roni Gechtman, Associate Professor, Department of History, Mount Saint Vincent University
Mimi Gellman, Associate Professor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design
Amanda Glasbeek, Associate Professor, Department of Social Science, York University
Harry Glasbeek, Professor Emeritus, York University
Luin Goldring, Professor of Sociology, York University
Tara Goldstein, Professor, Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, OISE, University of Toronto
Cy Gonick, Founder Canadian Dimension magazine, retired economics professor University of Manitoba
Rachel Gorman, Associate Professor, Critical Disability Studies, York University
Barbara Graves, Professor, Faculté d’éducation, University of Ottawa
Jonathan Greene, Associate Professor, Political Studies, Trent University
Jesse Greener, Professor of Chemistry, Université Laval
Ricardo Grinspun, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, York University
Kevin A. Gould, Associate Professor, Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University
Gal Gvili, McGill University
Jasmin Habib, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo
Chaya Halberstam, King’s University College at Western University
Judy Haiven, PhD. Retired Professor, Saint Mary’s University
Larry Haiven, PhD. Professor Emeritus, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Max Haiven, Associate Professor, CRC in Culture, Media and Social Justice, Lakehead University
Orit Halpern, Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University
Rick Halpern, Professor, History, University of Toronto
Monica Heller, Professor, University of Toronto
Judith Adler Hellman, Senior Scholar and Professor Emerita, Politics and Social Science, York University
Stephen M. Hellman, Senior Scholar and Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics, York University
Sivane Hirsch, Professor, Education Department, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Risa Horowitz, Associate Professor, Visual Arts, University of Regina
Penelope Ironstone, Department of Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
Dan Jacobson, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Calgary
JoAnn Jaffe, Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina
David Kahane, Professor of Political Science, University of Alberta
Ivan Kalmar, Professor, University of Toronto
Ilan Kapoor, Professor, York University
David Kattenburg, University of Manitoba
Albert Katz, Professor Emeritus , Dept of Psychology, University of Western Ontario
Ariel Katz, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Ryan M. Katz-Rosene, Assistant Professor, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa
W. Reuben Kaufman, Professor Emeritus, Dept. Biological Sciences, University of Alberta
Robert Kirchner, PhD. University of Alberta Linguistics Dept., Associate Professor (retired)
Martin Klein, Professor (Emeritus), University of Toronto
Peter Klein, Professor, University of British Columbia
Natalie Kouri-Towe, Assistant Professor, Concordia University
Jeffrey Kugler, Executive Director (retired), Centre for Urban Schooling, OISE, University of Toronto
Michael Lambek, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto
Robert Latham, Department of Politics, York University
Gordon Laxer, Professor Emeritus, Political Economy, University of Alberta
Michael A. Lebowitz, Professor Emeritus, Economics, Simon Fraser University
Barbara Leckie, Professor, Department of English and Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art, and Culture, Carleton University
Josh Lepawsky, Memorial University
Richard Borshay Lee, University Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
Erica Lehrer, Professor, Concordia University
Melissa Levin, Assistant Professor: Teaching Stream, New College, University of Toronto
Charmain Levy, Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Université du Québec en Outaouais
Joel Lexchin, Professor Emeritus, School of Health Policy and Management, Faculty of Health, York University
Felice Lifshitz, Professor, University of Alberta
Andrew P. Lyons, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Wilfrid Laurier University
Harriet Lyons, Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, University of Waterloo
Shoshana Magnet, Professor, Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa
Sara Matthews, Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University
Don Mazer, Associate Professor of Psychology (retired), University of Prince Edward Island
Marguerite Mendell, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Concordia University, Montreal
Jeffrey B. Meyers, TRU, Law
Dorit Naaman, Full Professor, Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Queen’s University
Joanne Naiman, Professor Emerita, Ryerson University, Toronto
Neil Naiman, Senior Scholar, York University
Sheryl Nestel, PhD, Lecturer (retired), Ontario institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto
Jesse Salah Ovadia, Associate Professor Department of Political Science, University of Windsor
Shiri Pasternak, Assistant Professor, Criminology, Ryerson University
Alejandro I. Paz, Associate Professor, University of Toronto Scarborough
Karen Pearlston, Professor of Law, University of New Brunswick
Shayna Plaut, Adjunct Professor Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Manitoba
Natasha Pravaz, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Cultural Analysis and Social Theory, Wilfrid Laurier University
Janna Promislow, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
Yakov M. Rabkin, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Montreal
Dennis Raphael, Professor of Health Policy and Management, York University
Ester Reiter, Professor Emeritus, York University
Shelley Zipora Reuter, Professor, Concordia University
Jillian Rogin, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Richard Roman, University of Toronto
Reuben Rose-Redwood, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Victoria
Daniel Rosenblatt, Associate Professor, Carleton University
Reuben Roth, Associate Professor, School of Northern and Community Studies, Laurentian University
Natalie Rothman, Associate Professor, University of Toronto Scarborough
Alan Rutkowski, Librarian (retired), University of Alberta
Deborah Rutman, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
Ariel Salzmann, Queen’s University
Itay Sapir, Associate Professor, Art History, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
Rebecca Schein, Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University
Alan Sears, Professor, Department of Sociology, Ryerson University
Naomi Seidman, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto
Devin Zane Shaw, Regular Faculty, Department of Philosophy and Humanities, Douglas College
Lincoln Z. Shlensky, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Victoria
Jonathan Sterne, Professor, McGill University
Jeremy Stolow, Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University
Mira Sucharov, Professor, Political Science and University Chair of Teaching Innovation, Carleton University
Gail Super, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology (UTM), University of Toronto
Mark Sussman, Concordia University, Theatre Department/Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society & Culture
Donald Swartz, Professor, Carleton University (retired)
Vannina Sztainbok, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, University of Toronto
Judith Taylor, Associate Professor, Sociology and WGSI, University of Toronto
Eliot Tretter, Associate Professor, Geography and the Urban Studies Program, University of Calgary
Eric Tucker, Professor Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Brenda Vellino, Department of English/Human Rights, Carleton University
Richard Wellen, Associate Professor, Department of Social Science, York University
Abraham Weizfeld PhD, former Course Director York University, Departments of Political Science & Social & Political Thought
Joel Westheimer, University Research Chair in Democracy & Education, University of Ottawa
Daphne Winland, Department of Anthropology, York University
Yves Winter, Associate Professor, Political Science, McGill University
Lesley Wood, Associate Professor, Sociology, York University
b.h. Yael, Professor, Faculty of Art, OCAD University
Maya A. Yampolsky, Assistant Professor, Université Laval
Anna Zalik, Associate Professor, York University
Keren Zaiontz, Assistant Professor, Department of Film and Media, Queen’s University
Natalie Zemon Davis, Professor of History (retired), University of Toronto
Marvin Zuker, OISE, University of Toronto

This letter originally appeared on JewishFaculty.ca.

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