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A Message from the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg: Supporting the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

March 26, 2021

Dear Community Members, 

As we near the time of our seders this year, we would like to wish you and your families a Passover rich with meaning, peace, and good health. May you and your families remain safe and well.

As we prepare for this special time, we would like you to be aware that Federation has been working on an advocacy matter since learning of it on March 15. The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) had a motion planned to oppose the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, citing their belief that it infringes on academic freedom and any forms of criticism of Israel.

The IHRA definition was developed by consensus by a diverse intergovernmental group to cover the broadest range of issues facing Jewish people today and is a critical component in the ongoing fight against antisemitism:

“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.”

Eleven examples accompany the definition, serving as illustrations of how antisemitism manifests itself through anti-Jewish tropes dating back thousands of years, Holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, and more. The examples clearly note that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. They illustrate that criticism can cross the line into antisemitism, such as the application of double standards that would not be expected or demanded of any other democratic nation or that deny Jewish self-determination.

Clearly defining antisemitism is one of the first steps in combatting it. The IHRA definition of antisemitism has been adopted by 30 countries around the world and by many Jewish organizations throughout Canada. In 2019, the Government of Canada endorsed the definition as an important element of its overall federal anti-racism strategy and dozens of jurisdictions in Canada, including the Government of Ontario, have followed the federal government’s lead.

Jewish Federation of Winnipeg is an adopter and supporter of this definition and as such, UMFA’s actions have been deeply concerning to us. Not only is UMFA bringing this motion forward after the University of Manitoba’s Students Union adopted the definition unanimously, but it is doing so during Winnipeg’s first ever Anti-Racism Week.

Since learning of UMFA’s motion, we brought together advocates and allies throughout the community, inside and outside the University to oppose this motion, pointing out that it is UMFA’s responsibility as proponents of academic truth to examine the definition in an unbiased and objective way.

We are pleased to advise that today, the majority of the board of representatives of UMFA did not approve the agenda, and the meeting was adjourned. A number of concerns were raised about insufficient information and lack of consultation with broader UMFA membership on the issue.

We commend Candice Tenenbein, Adam Levy, the Federation’s Public Affairs and Advocacy Committee, and all who diligently advocated on this issue. We would also like to thank Belle Jarniewski, who was the only external speaker invited to present opposition to the motion as a member of Canada’s delegation to the IHRA.

If you wish to read more about the IHRA definition of antisemitism and what it entails, please click here. In addition, the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada is also hosting an event on Sunday, April 25 titled Defining Antisemitism: The IHRA Definition, which will feature a panel of international experts discussing the importance of the definition. Registration for this program opens on April 1 here

On behalf of the board and staff of the Federation, we wish you and your families peace and good health this Passover.

Sincerely,

        

Joel Lazer
President

        Elaine Goldstine
        Chief Executive Officer

Events

Save the date for these upcoming events!

Community Virtual Second Seder
March 28

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos
April 6

Jewish Business Network: Creating Company-Wide Engagement and Wealth
April 7

Zoom Café Series: Gardening Tips, Diversity & more
April 7 & 14

Annual Public Holocaust Commemoration 
April 9

March of the Living & Congregation Etz Chayim Annual Holocaust Memorial Service
April 11

Yom Hazikaron Ceremony
April 14

GrowWinnipeg Grow: Gardening Event
April 14

Yom Ha'atzmaut Fun & Games
April 15

Yom Ha'atzmaut Winnipeggers Singing Israeli Music
April 15

Yom Ha'atzmaut Israeli Cooking Demo with Chef Hunny
April 15

Build Your Own Rocketship with PJ Library, PJ Our Way & Mad Science
April 25

PJ Library & PJ Our Way Lag Ba'Omer Challenge
Open until April 29

Careers

Check out this job opportunity at Federation!

Donor Relations and Programs Manager

 
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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.