Calgary rejects Israel lobby’s biased anti-Semitism definition

Two men sit in front of flags

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris in November 2015.

Amos Ben Gershom

A major Canadian city has rejected an attempt by Israel lobby groups to brand criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, Israel advocates are slamming a vote by the Canadian government in support of Palestinian self-determination at the United Nations.

On Monday, the Calgary city council voted to amend a motion on fighting anti-Semitism that included language that could characterize Palestinian rights campaigning as anti-Jewish bigotry.

Calgary is now the second Canadian city to effectively dissent from the Trudeau government’s announcement in June that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism would be formally adopted as part of its strategy to “combat racism and discrimination.”

In July, Vancouver’s city council postponed a vote on a motion to adopt the definition.

“This is a major victory for all who oppose anti-Semitism and support Palestinian human rights,” said Miriam Meir of Independent Jewish Voices in Calgary.

“The IHRA re-definition is being used to shut down legitimate criticism of Israel, and thankfully, our city councillors saw that.”

B’nai Brith Canada, an Israel lobby group, had urged the city council to adopt the definition and repeated smears against the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for Palestinian rights.

In an op-ed in the Calgary Herald before the vote, the group’s CEO Michael Mostyn claimed that the IHRA definition would be a useful tool “in explaining the threat” that the BDS campaign “poses to Jewish Canadians.”

“Sadly, the IHRA and its supporters are using society’s legitimate concern about anti-Semitism to suppress criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights,” said Corey Balsam of Independent Jewish Voices.

“In doing so, they are actually undermining the battle against genuine anti-Semitism, which is on the rise,” Balsam added.

In June, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association called the announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government that it would adopt the IHRA definition a “threat to freedom of expression.”

“Simply not controversial”

Israel lobby groups are incensed that Canada voted this week to support a United Nations resolution affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Aligning with the country’s own foreign policy accurately defining East Jerusalem as occupied territory, the Canadian government broke a 14-year streak by voting in opposition to the US and Israel.

Researcher Michael Bueckert called the resolution “simply not controversial,” adding that Canada would be in the minority had it voted against it – joining only Israel, the US, Nauru, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

By contrast, last week, Canada was one of only seven countries to abstain in a vote on a UN resolution extending the mandate of UNRWA, the agency that provides basic health and education for millions of Palestinian refugees.

The resolution received overwhelming support, with only Israel and the United States voting against it.

During the same General Assembly session, Canada voted with the US and Israel against a similar resolution to support the UN agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

That resolution includes a condemnation of Israel’s “killing, wounding and detention contrary to international law of refugee children and women,” and calls for accountability.

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As a Canadian ,I am proud to say that Calgary did the right thing .Obfuscating the term of antisemitism with criticism of Israel is a further attempt to shut down any criticism whatsoever of the crimes of the Israeli government ,their IDF in order to shield their wrongdoing and oppression of the Palestinians .
Proud of Independent Jewish Voice of Canada for making sure that the clarity of the statement in question is not further obfuscated .Ezra Levant can go pound sand or better yet move to Israel .

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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).