New Israel Fund changes course on IHRA definition

New Israel Fund

The New Israel Fund of Canada has changed its mind about Ontario’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Almost a year ago, the organization wrote to Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horvath voicing its support for a bill incorporating the IHRA wording on anti-Semitism.

Ontario adopted Bill 168, the “Combating Antisemitism Act,” last autumn via an Order in Council, bypassing public hearings. It became the first province to approve the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.

But now, the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC) has withdrawn its support because it, like other progressive groups, says there is “worrying” evidence that the IHRA definition will be used to suppress free speech by equating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Last February, Ben Murane, executive director of NIF Canada, and then board president Amy Block, wrote Horvath saying their group “knows the importance of maintaining the right to criticize the government of Israel, and of distinguishing legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism. At the same time, we see and deplore the resurgence of anti-Semitism along with white nationalism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia of all kinds.“

After reviewing the Ontario legislation with these considerations heavily in mind, we write to you in support of Bill 168.”

The organization pointed out it does not support any efforts to define anti-Semitism—“or other virulent ‘isms’—in ways that would limit free speech or academic freedom, nor would we support efforts to suppress opposing political views.”

It noted that its branch in the United States “vocally” opposed the use of the IRHA definition of anti-Semitism by President Donald Trump in an executive order that had “severe implications for academic freedom.”

But after nearly a year since that letter, NIF Canada now says it has seen “worrying evidence in Canada that at least some actors in the Jewish community believe they can use Ontario’s policy to suppress free speech or otherwise curtail academic freedom in order to suppress criticism of Israel by characterizing it as antisemitic. That is against NIFC’s values and NIF’s values,” Murane said in a statement emailed to The CJN.

“For this reason, we’ve been re-examining this and join the mounting consensus of other like-minded North American Jewish organizations and want to clarify that NIFC does not support the codification of the IHRA working definition in legislation.”

The CJN sought to identify which “actors” in Canada’s Jewish community—as phrased in Murane’s statement—believe they can use the IHRA definition to quash free speech and academic freedom, but he replied that “we don’t have anything more to add to our statement.”

The current NIFC president, Linda Hershkovitz, did not return a message.

The progressive Jewish group JSpaceCanada supported Ontario’s adoption of the IHRA definition. Gabriella Goliger, national chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now, said her organization has taken no public position on the IHRA definition.

Bill 168 requires the government of Ontario to be “guided” by the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism and its list of “illustrative examples” of it. Some groups have argued that it is those examples which are problematic because they define criticism of Israel and Zionism as anti-Semitic.

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