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David Matas

David Matas Comments on the One Sided Motion Pushed by the Executive of the U of M Faculty Association to Reject the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

by David Matas, March 25, 2021

[Editor's note:The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) executive had put forth a one sided motion that opposes the use of  the  International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism  at the University of Manitoba or elsewhere. It turned out that a majority of  UMFA's Board of Repsentatives decided not to approve the agenda of the meeting of March 25, such that the meeting was adjourned without any vote on the motion taking place. Prior to March 25, Professor Michael Eskin sent in a submission to the UMFA Board of Representatives written by noted human rights lawyer David Matas against the the motion. Eskin wrote that he endorsed Matas's comments.  Below is David Matas's 400 word written response against the motion]

There is very little that is accurate in the draft UMFA resolution. Nonetheless, simply listing its errors will not, I believe, get us very far in appreciating what antisemitism is and how best to counter it.


The vocabulary of antisemitism over time has shifted. The result is always the same - discrimination against, hatred of and attacks against Jews. But the reason for this behaviour is constantly shifting.


Because the wrongs for which Jews are blamed is constantly changing, it is difficult to impossible to give a permanent list of examples of what antisemitism means. Today for instance Jews, as well as several other minorities, are blamed for COVID, an example we do not find in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ( IHRA) working definition of antisemitism for obvious reasons.


The purpose of the examples is to give an insight into the meaning of the general definition. The examples allow the general statement to be interpreted purposively, to show how the definition can be made to work in different contexts - not just the contexts listed, but in any context.


Antisemitism, which has taken so many forms for so many millenia, was bound to focus on the Jewish state. Moreover, antisemitism as a day to day lived experience that Jews everywhere now experience often assumes an anti-Israel shape.


There are a few principles relevant to antisemitism in an anti-Israel form worth bearing in mind.


1) The right to self-determination of peoples applies to all peoples, including the Jewish people.


2) Opposition to the right to self-determination of the Jewish people is a form of discrimination against Jews.


3) Israel is the expression of the right to self determination of the Jewish people.


4) An attack on the existence of Israel is an attack on the right to self determination of the Jewish people.


5) Anti-Zionism is an ideology opposed to the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Anti-Zionism is opposed to the existence of Israel as the expression of the right to self determination of the Jewish people. Because of its focus on the denial of a general human right to Jews in particular, anti-Zionism is a form of discrmination against Jews.


6) Israel has been under armed attack through a sequence of invasions - in 1948, 1967 and 1973 - which failed. Anti-Zionism has shifted to terrorism and delegitimization through demonization as its preferred tactics to attack the existence of the State of Israel.


7) Delegitimization through demonization of the Jewish state does not just affect Israel and Israelis. It affects Jews world wide as actual or presumed supporters of this supposedly demon state.


8) Anti-Zionism harms Palestinians as well as Jews. When anti-Zionists incite Palestinians to engage in terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews and the Jews defend themselves, both Palestinians and Jews suffer. Palestinians are victims, but their victimizers are not Israelis nor Jews. Their victimizers are the anti-Zionists whose first priority is not the Palestinians, but rather anti-Zionism.


9) It is easy enough to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from demonization. One test is reality. If the criticism is harsh and does not have even an air of reality to it, then it is demonization. A second test is purpose. If the purpose is to demonstrate that the State of Israel should not exist, then the criticism is not legitimate.


10) The IHRA definition says explicitly that "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic". If the IHRA definition is used to stifle criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country the fault does not lie with the definition. The fault lies with the misuse of the definition.


The IHRA definition is not meant to be legally binding. It is meant to be a working definition. The work can not be done by the definition itself. The work has to be done by those who use the definition.   Rather than reject the definition, those concerned with combating antisemitism should do what the definition itself indicates should be done, work with it to give it a substantive meaning consistent with its intent.




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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.