Canada adopts Israel lobby’s contested definition of anti-Semitism

A protester waves a Palestinian flag over the gate of the Canadian embassy in Ramallah.

Canada could make it easier to criminalize supporters of Palestinian rights.

Issam Rimawi APA images

Canada has announced that it will formally adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that could characterize Palestinian rights campaigning as anti-Jewish bigotry.

The definition is contained in the Canadian government’s new strategy to “combat racism and discrimination in its various forms.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association says the definition is “is extremely vague, open to misinterpretation” and a “threat to freedom of expression.”

Israel lobby groups hope however that by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition” in full, it will be easier for Canadian authorities to demonize and crack down on campaigners who call for Israel to respect Palestinian rights or who oppose Israel’s state ideology, Zionism.

Israel lobby groups – which have pressured Canada and other governments and institutions around the world to adopt the IHRA definition – celebrated the news.
B’nai Brith Canada claimed that the IHRA definition is “universally accepted” and “enjoys unprecedented consensus” – but human rights and civil liberties advocates in Canada, the UK, the US and elsewhere have long challenged IHRA’s conflation of Zionism and Judaism in order to suppress speech critical of Israel.
Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former justice minister and a high-profile figure in the country’s Israel lobby, attended the launch of the government strategy that includes adopting the IHRA definition.

Cotler was the focus of a recent protest over his adamant refusal to condemn Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Israel lobby group CIJA lauded the Canadian government for adopting IHRA, and claimed that the definition “definitively and explicitly recognizes that anti-Zionism is a clear and unequivocal expression of antisemitism.”

That claim goes far beyond what the IHRA definition actually states, however CIJA’s assertion is a clear indication of the extreme way Israel lobby groups hope the definition will be interpreted – effectively to shut down criticism of Israel’s state ideology under which Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homeland solely because they are not Jewish.

The equation by Israel lobby groups of anti-Jewish bigotry with anti-Zionism has been denounced by many international Jewish organizations.

Suppressing support for Palestinian rights

Activists with Independent Jewish Voices Canada warned earlier this month that the adoption of IHRA “is a threat to free speech, academic freedom, and freedom of dissent.”

The primary goal “is to ban or criminalize deep criticism of Israel and Zionism, and suppress support for Palestinian rights,” IJV stated, adding that their members and supporters “know that being Jewish and supporting Israel are two separate things.”

A petition sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices has gathered more than 600 signatures urging the parliament to reject the definition and support initiatives to “defeat white supremacy, anti-Semitism and all forms of racism” and to “uphold the equality and human rights of all people in Canada, in Israel-Palestine and around the world.”




Thanks for letting us know of this disgraceful decision. Just signed the petition linked at the end, and I urge others to make their voices heard. Canadians and friends around the world, it's time to speak up.


Israel and the Israel lobby claim that any criticism of Israel amounts to antisemitism. This means that criticism of murder and deliberate maiming of unarmed protesters, the destruction and takeover Palestinian lands, the the torture and imprisonment of men, women and children is considered antisemitic. The logical conclusion of this stance is that murder, and torture
are Jewish values which is obviously absurd. To equate Jewishness with human rights violations is the obvious conclusion of this argument.. something that is a discredit to Jews and gentiles. Oh Canada! Where have you come? Trudeau's sharing the bed of the war criminal, Netanyahu, is a huge concern. When will one of our political parties have the integrity to speak up for Palestinians. Israel continues to carry out a systematic genocide of the Palestinian people and we are supposed to witness this and say nothing.


You've summarised the warped logic of these smears in clear and cogent terms. Canadians continue to reject this mendacity and to stand for their own rights as well as those of Palestinians.


"Mandela's lawyer" again....(Sigh.): his fingerprints all over this disgusting and irrational policy.

Will no one rid of of this Israeli government stooge?


Irwin Cotler has long been known as Canada's Dershowitz, an alleged human rights lawyer who in fact supports Israel's crimes. To this Cotler has recently added a new moniker: he's Canada's Elliott Abrams, the point man for the subservient Canadian government's campaign to overthrow the government of Venezuela.

NOTE: In case it still isn't clear, Canada is not a nice country.


Zionism is racism. We already have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (except Quebec - ). Will the Liberal Party defend white supremacism? The Canadian Supreme Court must strike this reckless "law" as the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the reckless anti-BDS "law".


It is unacceptable to most canadians and will cost Liberals in coming election. We should be able to criticize or favour any country without being labeled as hate crime. JT is going to lose my vote and millions of Canadians who care for freedom of speech.


I’m It’s either the Liberals or Conservatives. Those are the 2. Conservatives far more Pro Israel. Liberals defend now and then but their record is far less Pro Israel at times. Any other Canadian party stands little chance. So if you vote against JT in a General you might as well vote the Conservatives. Either way, the race is going to be between the two biggest parties. The minority parties odds of winning aren’t very good. It’s just fact.


Why we are protecting Israel from criticism? Israel is not only Jewish but also has substantial Muslim, Christian and religion's population therefore criticizing the country is not criticism of anti-semitism.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).