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READ THE SUBMISSION OF PROF HASKEL GREENFIELD AGAINST THE MOTION PUSHED BY THE EXECUTIVE OF THE U OF M FACULTY ASSOCIATION TO REJECT THE IHRA DEFINITION OF ANTISEMITISM

by Distinguished Professor Haskel Greenfield, posted here March 25, 2021

[Editor's note: 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 opposed the use of  the  International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere.  The anti-IHRA motion indicated that the IHRA definition of  antisemitism was a threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression. 

An earlier draft of the motion 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.
 
It turned out that  a majority of the Board of representatives did not appove of the agenda for the meeting, and the meeting of March 25 was adjourned, such that the vote did not take place.]
 
Below is the full written submission against the motion that Distinguished Professor Haskel Greenfield sent to the UMFA Board of Representatives and Executive of UMFA on March 18. It was sent in response to the earlier draft motion put forth, prior to the updated motion :
 

Re: Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism, Racism, Colonialism & Censorship in Canada (ARC) Campaign motion

 

March 18, 2021

 

Dear Members of the Board of Representatives and Executive of UMFA,

 

At the March 25th University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) Board of Representatives meeting, a motion will be brought forward by those who are seeking to oppose the internationally endorsed definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliances (IHRA). This motion by the ARC campaign, I submit, is not in keeping with the spirit and intent of UMFA and its membership. If approved, this motion will in effect disallow the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism at the University of Manitoba and beyond.

 

As the IHRA working definition of antisemitism states, “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” [i]

 

Those bringing forward the motion want to say that other peoples are entitled to the right of self-determination, but Jews are not. This crosses the line into antisemitism.

 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) was established in 1998 and, today, consists of 34 member countries, each of whom recognise that international coordination is necessary to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial. In 2016, the IHRA member countries adopted by consensus a working definition of antisemitism, grounded in decades of collaborative research by global experts on antisemitism and Holocaust denial. With its illustrative examples, the working definition addresses a range of contemporary activities and rhetoric that amount to antisemitism.

 

The purpose of the IHRA definition is to help provide clarity on what constitutes antisemitism. It is a non-legally binding guideline. It has no disciplinary measures in it. The University of Manitoba already has established disciplinary processes to deal with racism and discrimination that this definition would not replace.[ii]

 

Today, the IHRA definition serves as a vital tool in the fight against antisemitism. In 2019, the Government of Canada adopted the IHRA definition as part of its Anti-Racism Strategy, and dozens of jurisdictions in Canada, including the Government of Ontario, have followed its lead[iii]. Other countries that have adopted the IHRA include the US, UK, United Nations, and European Union, in addition to a vast number organisations and institutions around the world.

 

Most Jewish organizations in Canada (community centres, synagogues, youth groups, social service providers, and educational institutions) believe that the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism is an important tool in the fight against rising antisemitism across the country. A rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism is tantamount to telling the Jewish community that we cannot define our own oppression.

 

In today's progressive society, the belief that individuals can define the nature of other's persecution and persecutors is the epitome of hypocrisy. This motion wants UMFA to become the arbiter of who will be the victim of antisemitism. We would not allow non-Queer individuals to define homophobia and transphobia on behalf of the LGBTQ2S+ community. No discussion about anti-Black racism should happen without the participation of the Black community. No discussion or reference about anti-Indigenous racism, including allegations of colonialism and threats to the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action, should take place without the involvement of the Indigenous peoples.

 

Likewise, we should not and cannot allow non-Jews to unilaterally define antisemitism. A broad range of members of the Jewish community, not simply the most fringe segment, would need to speak to the issue. It is not the place for an academic board to decide the issue without the full involvement of the major segments of the Jewish community or involvement of its UMFA membership.

 

I can tell you from personal experience, both in my life here at the University of Manitoba and in the larger world, of antisemitism’s corrosive effects on Jews and their partners in life. As the representative voice of the University of Manitoba’s diverse faculty, UMFA should work to empower and amplify, not silence, minority voices, such as that of Jews. To reject the IHRA definition without consulting Jewish faculty and other community stakeholders is disingenuous and dismisses the very real and growing concerns of antisemitism in our society.

 

Jews are a non-homogenous group who, for generations, have existed at the margins of the societies they've inhabited due to systemic barriers (verbally expressed or implied). When Jewish people are told they do not experience oppression and their marginalisation is questioned, there is erasure of both historical and contemporary antisemitism. Actions such as this motion discount our struggles to fit in and be part of the larger society – to be accepted.

 

This motion and any proposed amended version tell us as Jews that we are not wanted regardless of the nuances of the amendment. It is completely unacceptable for so-called progressive activists, who purport to stand up for all marginalised groups, to fail continuously to extend the same support and solidarity to the Jewish community, which is indeed a marginalised and long-persecuted group.

 

Within the preamble of this UMFA motion, it explicitly references that the University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU) formally endorses the IHRA definition of antisemitism as a guideline. It is unfathomable that this motion calls out UMSU for its courageous and well-considered decision to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. This motion will create tension between the organisations representing the professoriate (UMFA) and students (UMSU). Further, this motion will create an uncomfortable academic environment at the University of Manitoba for all UMSU student members who might fear retribution from their professors for their political views. Professors, in addition, will also be forced to abide by this motion if passed by UMFA, regardless of their political views.

 

If this motion passes, it will create an insecure academic environment for Jewish staff and students, particularly for those who are supporters of the State of Israel. Most Jews in Canada are supporters of the existence of the State of Israel, and many have family in Israel. This motion will create tension for Jewish staff and students who identify with Israel, and have formal and informal collegial relations. This motion will open the door to blatant abuse by professors in the name of academic freedom. It will create an environment of fear and hostility.

 

Academics around the world have spoken up about the usefulness of the IHRA definition in combating antisemitism. There are no legitimate examples of its infringement on academic freedom. Academic freedom is not absolute and can be restricted when academics espouse hate and/or violence against Jews.

 

While a vocal minority seeks to mischaracterise the IHRA definition as stifling debate about Israel, in fact the text of the definition states explicitly: “... criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”[iv] The reality is that the IHRA definition encourages freedom of expression.

 

Advocating for the disappearance of the State of Israel, or delegitimizing the Jewish community’s connections to it, crosses the line into antisemitism and is unacceptable. Academics should be able to criticize the Israeli government’s policies without resorting to comparisons with Nazism. Such comparisons are deeply offensive and cross the line into antisemitism. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from accountability. Even fundamental freedoms listed in The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedom of expression, are not considered absolute rights and are subject to reasonable restriction.

 

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a shocking and terrifying rise of Antisemitic attacks internationally and domestically. While Canada’s Jewish community represents only 1% of the national population, we represent almost 20% of the annual reported hate-crimes (Statistics Canada, 2018). South of the border, the rise of antisemitism entering the mainstream from both the far-right and from the far-left is frightening.

 

Unfortunately, this level and form of hate is here in Canada too, including within Canadian universities. Since 2018, there has been a notable spike in attacks against Jews in academic settings. In 2020, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union tried to deny its Jewish student members access to kosher food on campus because the Union deemed the local Hillel association that was sponsoring the kosher campaign “pro-Israel”. A violent protest broke out in response to an event being hosted by a Jewish club at York University. The Students Society of McGill University Legislative Council recently attempted to remove a Jewish student from her position on the Board of Directors if she travelled to Israel. Those who dismiss the Jewish community’s experience of antisemitism do not get to dictate the terms that conveniently protect their own bigoted attitudes from criticism.

 

All Canadians should be deeply concerned about the disturbing rise of antisemitism. History has shown that what starts with Jews never ends with Jews. Taking a stand against antisemitism helps to insulate all Canadians from the threat of hate and embedded in this motion is a hateful message.

 

Citing a few perceived negatives of IHRA in the motion, while ignoring the wealth of positives, is akin to using anecdotal evidence to make policy. Further in the proposed motion, there is not one cited case of a professor being fired through the use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in Canada. And claiming that IHRA is a serious threat to the Truth and Reconciliation process is patently false. In consequence, the motion is completely unbalanced and not borne of thoughtful, meaningful and sustainable ways.

 

In closing, UMFA should not veer down this path of choosing how – or how not – to define antisemitism for the Jewish people without broader consultation. I call on all rationale people and believers in a tolerant society to reject this motion. I, as member of the Faculty Association of the University of Manitoba, ask that you reject this UMFA motion and its misrepresentations of the IHRA definition.

 

This is a critical time in our negotiations with the university and we need to stand together. We all stand on the picket lines together, but passing this motion will divide and weaken us.

 

I look forward to discussing this issue in more detail prior to or at Thursday’s meeting.

 

Sincerest regards,

Haskel Greenfield, Distinguished Professor
University of Manitoba
Department of Anthropology
Coordinator for Judaic Studies
St. Paul’s College
Email: [email protected]

 

 

 
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