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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

Alert: Disappointment in Canadian Petition by Jewish Faculty

03/29/21: In a disappointing development, a new website lists over 150 Jewish faculty across Canada who are said to have signed a petition "against the adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism".

The petition incorrectly charges that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition "threatens to silence legitimate criticism of Israel". In truth, the IHRA definition addresses this possibility by explaining that "criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic".

There is nothing in the definition that criminalizes dissent or critique of the State of Israel. In fact, Israel is a free and democratic nation. Some of its staunches critics are Israelis themselves.

Some believe this statement could lead to a legitimization of the BDS campaign in Canada - despite the fact that Canadian officials have continuously described it as antisemitic. In 2016, Canada's parliament overwhelmingly voted 229-51 to condemn BDS.

But even while the petition denounces antisemitism and states that not all the faculty endorse BDS, it says the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions "movement is a legitimate, non-violent form of protest".

It may be a legitimate form of non-violent protest when taken out of context. However, on university campuses, Israel is usually the sole country that is targeted for boycott. Israel is the proverbial Jew among the nations that continues to be marginalized, sidelined and called out. Boycotts have been commonplace against Jewish people throughout history, including the Nazi boycott of Jewish owned businesses in the 1930s.

The double standard against Israel has long been argued especially as we witness a genocide in Syria, human rights abuse by Iran and the persecution of the Uyghur by China. No international boycott movements have been commenced against these nations.

Over the years, I have met with countless university students who have felt victimized by antisemitism on campus; who have had to wipe away tears as they witnessed the so-called "Israeli apartheid weeks" at their own universities; and who have (ironically) had to censor their own work and speech in order to "comply" with the sentiment on campus.

While the IHRA definition is imperfect, it is currently the best tool available against campus antisemitism. The definition has been adopted by numerous universities across Europe, including Oxford. It has also been accepted by well over thirty nations, a substantial number of cities and even independent institutions.

Over the last two decades, Canadian universities and Jewish communities have struggled against campus antisemitism. Much of it has been violent. Now that we finally have a definition that is becoming internationally acceptable as a tool to confront this pernicious hate, it is disappointing to see faculty strongly opposed to this very definition.

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Avi Abraham Benlolo has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights. He has dedicated nearly three decades in executive capacities in the Jewish community and as a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree, Ph.D. coursework and nearly three decades of professional work has focused on these arenas in addition to peace and security in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles in these areas. In recognition of his national and international leadership in this area, he has received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from a prestigious Israeli university for his work in Holocaust studies and combating antisemitism; an Order of Vaughan for his distinguished contribution to anti-racism, equity and diversity; the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for his contributions to Canada and a race relations award for best practice, based on distinguished service in promoting human rights.

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