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Letter to Premier Eby and AG Sharma


Letter to Premier Eby and AG Sharma from Jewish Faculty at UBC

Dear Premier Eby and Attorney General Sharma,

We write as Jewish faculty from the University of British Columbia. We are deeply disturbed to learn of a renewed effort to push the controversial and widely discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism on the provincial government. We commend your commitment to fighting antisemitism within the framework of your new Anti-Racism Act, which is correctly positioned as a province-wide battle against all forms of racism in every institution of society.

As part of that commitment, we strongly urge you to reject any pressure to integrate the IHRA definition of antisemitism into the new Anti-Racism Act.

As we have seen over and over again, the IHRA definition actually exacerbates anti-Jewish bigotry by tying Jewish identity to actions of the State of Israel, and is not an effective tool in the fight against antisemitism.

Our organization, the Jewish Faculty Network (JFN), is committed to addressing all forms of racism and discrimination, including antisemitism. The JFN was founded out of widespread collective opposition to the IHRA definition by over 200 Jewish scholars across Canada, including in BC. As JFN members expressed in a prominent public statement from 2021:

“The IHRA working definition has come under extensive criticism. Not only does it essentialize Jewish identity, culture, and theology, it also equates Jewishness and Judaism with the State of Israel – effectively erasing generations of debate within Jewish communities…. The IHRA working definition distracts from experiences of anti-Jewish racism, and threatens to silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s grave violations of international law and denial of Palestinian human and political rights.”

In the post-October 7 context, it is all the more important to avoid conflating Jewish identity with the actions of the state of Israel. To be clear: the attacks of October 7 on Israeli civilians were horrific and should be investigated and prosecuted as war crimes. But organizations that defend Israel’s war crimes – the subsequent mass killing, destruction, starvation and dispossession in Gaza – overreach. In fact, they may well put Jewish people at further risk by claiming to act on behalf of all Jews while defending the indefensible.  Moreover, these voices are increasingly out of step with the growing number of Jews who are appalled by Israel’s onslaught.

This was the case long before October 7.  As early as 2018, a poll showed that half of Canadian Jews believed that accusations of antisemitism are “often used to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies”.  A March 2023 EKOS survey of Canadian Jews indicated that nearly 60% of Canadian Jews believed that the Israeli government was moving in the “wrong direction.” When respondents were asked about “mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations in Canada” and their position on Israel, 32% approved and 31% felt they should be more critical.

Organizations like CIJA, B’nai Brith, Hillel, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, and representatives of Vancouver’s various synagogues are entitled to their vociferous pro-Israel, pro-war positions. But this should not be confused with a singular majority position within the Jewish community.

This government is attempting to put in place concrete policies that root out systemic racism in public institutions and hold perpetrators accountable. For Indigenous communities and racialized British Columbians, this is welcome and long overdue. There is no need for a special definition of racism that applies exclusively to Jewish people in British Columbia. In our view as Jewish scholars, antisemitism can and must be fought within a universal anti-racist framework.