Independent Jewish Voices calls on BC government to reject IHRA definition of antisemitism

They challenge the conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism

a sign is held up in the middle of a protest, reading “our voices will never be silenced” with an image of the Palestinian flag.
PHOTO: Şeyma D. / Pexels

By: Yashita Dhillon, News Writer and Olivia Sherman, News Editor

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is urging the BC government to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in its updated anti-racism legislation. IJV is an organization that describes itself as working to reaffirm human rights, who “oppose any attempt by the Israeli government to impose its own solutions on the Palestinians” and “amplify the voices of Canadian Jews in support of justice.” The Peak spoke with Sid Shniad, a founding member of IJV and an executive member of its Vancouver chapter.

The new legislation, which was tabled on April 11, aims to “hold public bodies accountable for addressing systemic racism in policy and programs.” In an open letter, IJV noted the necessity of fighting against antisemitism. However, IJV opposed the inclusion of  IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, specifically its inclusion of Israel. On their website, IJV notes “the fight against antisemitism is undermined when principled opposition to unjust Israeli government policies and practices including those that contravene international law are branded as antisemitic.”

On April 30, the Gaza Ministry reported that over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, the highest rate of death in any conflict in the 21ˢᵗ century. Despite numerous calls for a easing of violence and the release of the Israeli civilians still held hostage, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a ceasefire, which the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations consider a genocide of the Palestinian people. 

Despite Netanyahu’s denial of intentional starvation of the Palestinians, shipments of aid have been fractional and nationalists have been caught damaging and destroying aid to Gaza. 

The IHRA gives examples of antisemitism such as, charging “Jews with conspiring to harm humanity” and “calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.” Other examples include Holocaust denial and the usage of conspiracy theories, such as the world Jewish conspiracy that assumes Jewish people control the media, politics, and the economy.  

While IJV “does not object to resisting antisemitism,” IHRA definition of antisemitism includes 11 examples of statements that could be seen as antisemitic, with six of them relating to Israel. Shniad explained how this “emphasizes the issue of Israel, and support for Israel, and shield[s] Israel from criticism.” He said, “It’s a thinly disguised form of defending Israel rather than addressing antisemitism,” Shnaid said. 

“If you want to be a refuge for people, you have to be a refuge for all people.” — Sid Shniad, founding member of IJV

Kenneth Stern, one of the original drafters of the IHRA definition, has also criticized its current use. “Stern has warned explicitly that right-wing Jews who are supporting Israel have weaponized the issue of antisemitism in support of Israel, and he urges governments and institutions not to adopt it for that reason,” Shniad said.

“It’s important to understand the difference between criticism of Israel and criticism of Zionism and antisemitism,” said Shniad. Zionism is a nationalist movement aimed to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Both historically and currently, this involves the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes, pushing them further into the allocated areas for Palestinians: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The largest expulsion was after the creation of Israel in 1948, an event referred to as the Nakba, which is Arabic for “catastrophe.” 

“Israel and its supporters want to make sure they make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to criticize or organize opposition to Israel and what it’s doing and that’s what the IHRA definition is all about,” Shniad said. “I want to feel free to criticize Israel the same way I criticize any other state.” Other definitions, such as the The Jerusalem Declaration On Antisemitism note that “evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state” are not antisemitic.

Agencies like the ICC have condemned Israel’s actions, citing collective punishment of civilians for the actions of the militant group Hamas, and the intention to erase any cultural markings of Palestinian heritage. Shniad added, “Jews have certain legal rights in Israel that Palestinians who are born there do not.

“If you want to be a refuge for people, you have to be a refuge for all people” he said, as Israel is considered an apartheid state by many human rights organizations. 

By challenging the IHRA definition, IJV aims to ensure that the struggle for Palestinian justice is not hindered by mislabeling it as antisemitism. 

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