University of Manitoba Faculty Association’s proposed motion opposing adoption of IHRA definition of antisemitism leads to furor within some groups in Jewish community

By BERNIE BELLAN In what became a somewhat confusing sequence of events, after much consternation expressed by various parties representing different sections of the Jewish community, a motion that had been introduced by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association to “oppose the adoption or use of the IHRA definition at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere” has apparently been put on hold for the time being.

 

Here is an overview of what transpired:
In an email sent to various individuals by Haskell Greenfield, head of Judaic Studies at the University of Manitoba, on March 16, Haskell wrote: “Hi. I would like to ensure that you are aware of this motion (opposing the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism) that is coming before UMFA on Thursday afternoon (March 18) at 2:30. Only Board Representatives can vote, but all UMFA members are allowed to attend the meeting and speak.”
Subsequently, the (online) meeting of the UMFA board that was to have been convened March 18 to consider the motion opposing the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was put off until March 25.
According to Haskell, the motion opposing the “adoption or use of the IHRA definition at the University of Manitoba” had already been passed by the UMFA Executive Council (which consists of 12 members).

Upon receiving Haskell’s email I attempted to contact Greg Flemming, who is executive director of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, to inquire as to the origin of this motion. (Apparently, according to a notice issued by UMFA, the wording of the motion came from something called AASUA - The Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta.)
In the header to the actual motion, the name “Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism, Racism, Colonialism & Censorship in Canada (ARC) Campaign” was also given.
It appears, therefore, that the move to oppose the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism had been spearheaded by certain academic groups. However, when I asked Greg Flemming whether there was a particular individual in UMFA who had brought the motion forward here he did not respond.

In our last issue (March 17) we published a lengthy article by Simone Cohen Scott about the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. In it, Simone listed the 11 examples that the definition uses to illustrate what should be considered anti-Semitic. While five of the 11 examples have not aroused any particular controversy, the six examples mentioning Israel have led to a certain amount of organized opposition to the definition, especially within academic groups.
As Jewish Telegraphic Agency writer Ben Sales noted in an article reporting on the heated debate that has been taking place with regard to the IHRA definition, especially on some university campuses, “its provisions on rhetoric around Israel have sparked contentious debate, which was heightened last year when President Donald Trump signed an executive order essentially adopting the working definition as a reference for adjudicating civil rights complaints on campus. This debate has continued even as the IHRA has emphasized that the definition is not legally binding.”
Sales’ article listed the six examples having to do with Israel:
• Accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel or to a global Jewish agenda than to their home countries.
• Denying Jews the right to self-determination or calling Israel a “racist endeavor.”
• Applying a double standard to Israel that isn’t applied to other countries.
• Applying classic antisemitic smears, like the blood libel, to Israel.
• Comparing Israel to the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.
As Sales notes in his article, “The definition’s opponents say its clauses on Israel will have a chilling effect on debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They worry that in condemning some forms of anti-Israel speech, the definition will serve to label all critics of Israel, or pro-Palestinian activists, as antisemites.”

In December 2020 the University of Manitoba Students’ Union passed a resolution endorsing the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
What has happened, as Sales noted, is that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has sparked a heated debate, especially among academics. Subsequently, that debate has led to certain Jewish groups labeling opposition to the IHRA definition itself as anti-Semitic.
Thus, when UMFA announced to its members that a vote was to take place March 25 on a motion opposing the use or adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, certain organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, began lobbying to have the motion dropped from UMFA’s agenda.

B’nai Brith Canada, however, was more strident in condemning UMFA for having brought the motion forward. In a press release dated March 24, which was titled “B’nai Brith Condemns Absurd Motion by University of Manitoba Faculty Association”, B’nai Brith Canada urged “the University of Manitoba’s Faculty Association (UMFA) executive to abandon a motion opposing “the adoption and/or use of the IHRA definition at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere.”
Certain individuals who are not part of UMFA, however, were invited to address members of the UMFA board, including Belle Jarniewski, who had played an instrumental role in developing the IHRA definition.
Apparently though, when the meeting of the UMFA board was convened at 2:30 on Thursday, March 25, according to Belle, “A majority of people voted in opposition to the agenda, including those from the equity and diversity committee, and so the meeting was adjourned without moving forward.”

It is not clear, therefore, where the motion by UMFA to oppose the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism now lies.
In a statement issued by the Jewish Federation following the March 25 meeting of the UMFA board, Federation spokesperson Elaine Goldstine and Joel Lazer wrote that “We are pleased to advise that today, the majority of the board of representatives of UMFA did not approve the agenda, and the meeting was adjourned. A number of concerns were raised about insufficient information and lack of consultation with broader UMFA membership on the issue.”
B’nai Brith Canada, however, took a more strident approach in condemning UMFA. In a press release issued March 26, the B’nai Brith press release was headlined: “University of Manitoba Shuts Down Absurd Motion to Ban IHRA Definition”.
The press release went on to say that “B’nai Brith Canada is pleased that a motion opposing the IHRA definition of antisemitism was defeated yesterday, on procedural grounds, at a meeting of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA).”
Apparently though, saying the motion was defeated is incorrect, since the motion was not actually brought to a vote as members of the board did not approve the agenda for the day’s meeting.

I asked Greg Flemming though, what might lie next for UMFA insofar as the motion opposing the adoption of the IHRA definition is concerned.
He responded to me, following the March 25 meeting, saying: “No statement will be released tonight as the meeting has again been delayed.” It would seem, therefore, that there is a possibility the motion will be brought before the board again at a later date.
It should be noted that a similar motion to the one that had been brought before the UMFA board had previously been adopted by the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) who, in announcing the move against the IHRA definition to its members, cited “academic freedom” as its motivation.