Montreal city council to consider motion on IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

Lionel Perez (Janice Arnold photo)

The official opposition at Montreal City Hall is scheduled to table a motion calling on the city to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

The Ensemble Montréal’s motion, to be presented at the city council meeting on Jan. 27, has “the goal of combating racism and hatred towards Jews.”

It was authored by the party’s leader, Lionel Perez, who is Jewish.

Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The motion reads: “The adoption of a definition assures a common understanding of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in order to fight against this social evil.”

Perez said he believes the city should take this position because of the increase in hate crimes against Jews and other anti-Semitic incidents in Canada and internationally in recent years.

The IHRA’s non-legally binding definition, drawn up by its member countries in 2016, states that, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The IHRA, a non-governmental organization founded in 1998, has 34 member states. Canada joined in 2009, and, last June, the government officially adopted the definition as part of its “anti-racism strategy,” without a vote in the House of Commons.

Critics of the definition claim it conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the State of Israel and advocacy for the Palestinian cause.

Perez said the definition makes clear that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism.

While the definition does state “manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” it clarifies that criticism of Israel “similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The line is crossed, for example, if Jews are accused of being more loyal to Israel than their own country, Israel is called racist or subjected to “double standards,” or is denounced using classic anti-Semitic tropes or comparisons to the Nazis.

No Canadian city has adopted the IHRA definition, but last year it was put before two municipal councils, which, ultimately, decided against proceeding in the face of public opposition.

In Calgary, a councillor proposed exploring adoption of the definition as part of a motion recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A modified motion was passed in November without reference to the IHRA.

In July, Vancouver city council shelved a councillor’s motion in favour of the definition, instead voting to have the matter further studied in committee.

Both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada are urging the adoption of the IHRA definition by governments at all levels, as well as educational, law enforcement and other institutions.

“CIJA  fully endorses use of the IHRA definition as the best tool to identify anti-Semitism in all its forms,” said Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko.

“In adopting IHRA, Montreal would join a host of other jurisdictions, countries and international organizations that have officially endorsed this common sensible definition. To say that the IHRA definition is a means to deflect legitimate criticism of the State of Israel is pure fantasy and nonsense.”

In December, a private member’s bill was introduced in the Ontario legislature calling on the province to adopt the legislation. Debate is scheduled to begin in February.

Over the past year, Independent Jewish Voices has been conducting a campaign against the definition’s adoption dubbed #noIHRA. It charges the definition is “designed to silence criticism of Israel and of Zionism by equating this criticism anti-Semitism” and “the wrong approach” to countering anti-Semitism.

“The primary goal of those promoting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is to ban or criminalize criticism of Israel and of Zionism, and silence support for Palestinian rights,” its online petition reads. It has recorded over 1,600 signers towards a goal of 3,200.