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Dr. Bryan Schwartz

U of M Faculty Association Executive Pushed Motion Attacking IHRA definition of Antisemitism--Federation Request to Speak Not Granted-Invitation to Cotler denied- Full comments by Dr. Bryan Schwartz

Scroll down to read Dr Bryan Schwartz's March 24 letter to the U of M Faculty Association's Executive and Board of Representatives

by Rhonda Spivak, March 25, 2021

-Distinguished Prof. Haskel Greenfield: “The motion against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism  advanced by the U of M Faculty Association Executive infringes on the academic freedom of those professors and students who want to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism in their research work and in the classroom.”

The Board of Representatives of The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) was set to vote on the afternoon of Thursday March 25 on a motion  put forth by the UMFA Executive that opposes the use of  the  International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere. 
An earlier draft of the motion, which indicated it was being put forth by the Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism, Racism, Colonialism & Censorship in Canada (ARC) Campaign, specifically made reference to the State of Israel, and  stated “ The IHRA definition of antisemitism misconstrues antisemitism to include a broad range of criticism of the State of Israel. The IHRA definition thus undermines important anti-racist and decolonial initiatives in Canadian educational institutions. "
The new updated motion did not specifically reference the State of Israel in its preamble, but Israel is referenced in the links to its preamble. The updated motion notes in its preamble that "in the Fall of 2020 the University of Manitoba Students Association (UMSU) endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism," and indicates that the IHRA definition of  is a threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression. 
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism  has a  39-word definition,  which describes antisemitism as expressions of hatred toward Jews, and it has an appended list of examples that contextualize it. One example used in the the IHRA definition indicates that "Denying the Jewish people the right to self determination", by saying the very existence of Israel is a "racist endeavour" is an example of antisemitic speech. Another example given of antisemitic speech is "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." Another example is applying double standards by requiring of Israel  "a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other nation.” 
The IHRA definition has an important qualifier that says "criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” Proponents of the IHRA definition point to this qualifier to say that freedom of speech is not unduly limited by the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
Prior to the motion, UMFA’ s Executive appended to it a stack of lengthy one sided materials all against the use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It did not distribute any materials in favour of the definition, showing that it was not interested in a balanced, fair debate. Dr. Bryan Schwartz, Professor Haskel Greenfield, and Professor Michael Eskin all have sent in written submissions to the UMFA  Board of Representatives against the motion to reject the IRHA definition of antisemitism.  B’nai Brith Canada has condemned the motion as manifestly undemocratic and absurd.
Belle Jarniewski, a member of  Canada’s delegation to the IHRA, was invited by UMFA to speak against the motion for 5-7 minutes. Dr. Larry Haiven, who is affiliated with Independent Jewish Voices , and is a Professor Emeritus, Dept of Management, Saint Mary’s University was invited to speak to the motion for 5-7 minutes. He is a fierce critic of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. James Turk , Director, Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University also has been invited to speak for 5-7 minutes. Turk has already signed an open letter against the IHRA definition of  antisemitism.
 The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, as the official representative body of the Jewish community of Winnipeg, asked to be present for the meeting and to speak to the motion but their request was not granted. This was the case notwithstanding  that a member of  Independent Jewish Voices, a far more marginal group in the Jewish community, was invited to speak to the motion. 
Prof Michael Eskin asked the Executive Director of UMFA to invite the Honourable Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, who is the head of Canada’s Delegation to IHRA, to speak at the meeting, but this request was refused. Cotler is a former Canadian Minister of Justice, and the Canadian Federal government has adopted the IHRA definition. 
Thus, the UMFA Executive invited two speakers to speak in favour of the motion to reject the IHRA definition of antisemitism, but only invited one speaker, Belle Jarniewski, to speak against the proposed motion. As Prof Michael Eskin noted, “If  the anti-IHRA motion has merit, it would withstand scrutiny and a balanced debate so that people could make fully informed assessments.”
Dr. Schwartz said he would not be attending a meeting he believes to be illegitimate.
It turns out that the majority of the board of representatives of UMFA did not approve the agenda, and the meeting was adjourned, without the vote taking place. But it is possible that at a later stage the executive might bring forth the motion or a revised motion for consideration.  
Distinguished Prof. Haskel Greenfield said that “The anti-IHRA motion infringes on the academic freedom of professors and students who want to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism in their research and in the classroom. The implication of the motion  is that a U of M scholar or student who agrees with the IHRA definition, would be bound by the decision of UMFA, and could not use the IHRA definition in the exercise of their own academic freedom and freedom of expression.”
Greenfield added that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complex, and UMFA has no expertise in the area and thus ought not pronounce its own view on it. UMFA certainly ought not to adopt the stance of one faction –  a stance that many others would regard as simplistic, one-sided, and steeped in enmity rather than a search for genuine understanding.”
Below is the letter to sent to the UMFA Board of Representatives and the UMFA Executive By Dr. Bryan Schwartz, Faculty of Law :
1. The Executive of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) continues to invite its Board, as an urgent matter, to adopt the executive’s motion. It says “UMFA will oppose the adoption and/or use of the IHRA definition at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere."
2. The language is plain and categorical. UMFA will oppose the use of the IHRA working definition by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose – including by a professor or student at this University in a classroom, in a scholarly article or in making a public statement to protest against antisemitism. This itself is a profound threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression.
3. Support for the IHRA working definition has followed from the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Parliament and Commission, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Dozens of democratic states have adopted it, including Canada. The Biden administration in the United States has enthusiastically embraced it.
4. The Global Imams Council has adopted the IHRA working definition and states on its website that “The global campaign for the adoption of the IHRA definition has become a cornerstone effort in the battle against Jew-hatred.”
5. Other faith-based organizations have joined in support of the IHRA working definition, including the vast majority of Jewish organizations in Canada.
6. A group of the actual drafters of the final version of the IHRA working definition have published their explanation and continued affirmation of the value of their work.
7. The University of Manitoba Students Association has adopted the IHRA working definition as part of its stated opposition to antisemitism. A student who advanced it reported that the experience of basically all the Jewish students with whom she had spoken was the same: experiencing antisemitism in Winnipeg and specifically on campus at the University of Manitoba.
8. The UMFA Executive did not begin, it appears, by respectfully acknowledging the students’ concerns at this campus and by forthrightly acknowledging the rise of antisemitism throughout the world. It did not first widely consult with its own members on whether and how the IHRA definition might be a useful educational tool in combatting “the oldest hatred”. Instead, the UMFA Executive began by copying the anti-IHRA position of an outside faction. The Executive has now repeatedly sent out a set of accompanying materials that are one-sided. It appears that it has now lined up a small set of guest speakers – most of whom are already on public record as opposing the IHRA working definition and who have not characterized fairly what the IHRA working definition actually says or does.
9. It is a legitimate responsibility for academics to balance appreciation and support for antidiscrimination measures with a careful and fair consideration of whether and how in various contexts they might impact academic freedom and freedom of expression. UMFA’s approach in respect of all such initiatives should be principled and consistent.
10. I am not aware of any other context where UMFA has instead 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.
11. The rise of antisemitic hatred and violence worldwide is widely acknowledged – including in the September 26, 2018 speech of Secretary General of the United Nations, where he calls out its evolving forms and adoption of new guises. There are more and more Jewish people —both faculty and students—who feel that academia in North America is becoming such a hostile environment that they want to get out.
12. It is not the proper business of UMFA to instead threaten its own members with its “opposition” to their exercise of their own personal and academic freedom to adopt or use the IHRA working definition.
13. Given the powers that UMFA has, including exclusive representation of all faculty, whether members of UMFA or not, any threat by UMFA to the academic freedom and freedom of expression of faculty is especially concerning. The power position that professors have in the classroom with respect to students similarly intensifies the risks of having a faculty union set out to “oppose” the use of the IHRA working definition by anyone at this University. Imagine, if the motion is passed, being a student in a classroom discussion or writing a term paper who is thinking of using the IHRA working definition, or even referencing it.
14. The preamble to the UMFA motion does not diffuse the threat, it reinforces it. The preamble quotes an allegation that the use of IHRA is somehow a threat to academic freedom. In that stated context, no one can count on the blunt meaning of the resolution being mitigated by UMFA’s general duty to defend academic freedom.
15. A discussion framed in such divisive and demoralizing terms cannot be expected to produce a reasoned and constructive outcome. UMFA’s Executive should withdraw its resolution altogether and immediately. If instead it presses ahead, Board members in any doubt about the process or outcome can vote by a simple majority to postpone the motion indefinitely. Any further discussion of the general issues here should wait until they can be fairly defined, presented and debated.
Dr. Bryan Schwartz
Asper Professor of International Business and Trade law Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba March 24, 2021
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.