False accusations at University of British Columbia based on pernicious definition of anti-semitism

A long-standing tactic of the Zionists to undermine and criminalize support for the Palestinian people is to conflate opposition to Zionism — the chauvinist political ideology and its aim of genocide of the Palestinian people — with anti-Semitism, a prejudice against people of Jewish background.

Recently, this tactic has taken the form of an international campaign for governments to adopt a pernicious definition of anti-Semitism, known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

A recent case at the University of British Columbia illustrates how the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is being used to block opposition to Zionism and its genocidal project against the Palestinian people. Activists with Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), writing in The Talon, a student newspaper at the University of British Columbia, reported this February on the outcome of accusations of anti-Semitism made against university members in 2018.[1] They wrote:

“In 2018, six members of the UBC community were the subjects of an investigation based on allegations that they had engaged in antisemitic behaviour after they declared their opposition to holding the Geography Department’s year-end party at Hillel UBC.”

In the discussion within the Geography Department, it was decided to change the venue. As the IJV activists point out:

“There was never any evidence that either these comments or the Geography Students Association decision to change venues had been motivated by hatred of Jews, which is the standard definition of anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the local chapter of the pro-Israel group known as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) waded into the matter, responding to the decision to change the party venue by setting up a special website and launching a letter writing campaign targeting the UBC administration to take action against what they alleged to be a blatant instance of anti-Semitism at the University. It is no coincidence that CIJA is promoting a ‘new’ definition of anti-Semitism which targets activists who criticize or organize against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.”

Those accused were eventually vindicated after a six-month investigation, although the IJV activists note that “Although the 52-page report was completed in October 2018, UBC officials have refused to publicly acknowledge the fact that the case was dismissed. In addition, they have not released the investigator’s findings.”

The IJV activists point out that “Unfortunately, the situation that arose at UBC is far from unique. Internationally, pro-Israel campaigners are lobbying national, provincial and municipal governments as well as universities, school boards and police departments, to adopt CIJA’s ‘new’ definition of anti-Semitism. Known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, it includes a list of 11 examples of anti-Semitism. Seven of these relate to Israel and/or Zionism. The campaigners hope that the IHRA definition will focus the conversation on instances mislabeled as anti-Semitism in order to discourage criticism of Israel’s egregious behaviour.”[2]

The IJV activists note that: “Regrettably, Canada’s Liberal government chose to include the IHRA definition in its anti-racism strategy adopted this past year. But when the IHRA definition was brought before Vancouver’s city council in July 2019, the council referred the matter to the city’s Racial and Ethno-Cultural Equity Committee, asking the committee to make recommendations on how to oppose all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. Recently, the Calgary City Council was asked to simultaneously recognize January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day and adopt the IHRA definition, but the IHRA definition was deleted when the final version of the resolution was passed. […] And most recently, when the IHRA definition was brought to the Montreal City Council, it generated sufficient opposition that demands were made to give the matter further study. Instead, the motion’s sponsor withdrew it altogether.”

Canadians in the main have always stood by the heroic Palestinian people and their fight for their right to be and to return to their homeland. The examples at UBC and elsewhere of the failed attempts to impose the pernicious IHRA definition of anti-Semitism show that such chauvinism is against what ordinary Canadians stand for. Conversely, the federal Liberal government’s adoption of the IHRA definition highlights the ruling circles’ support for Zionism, a feature of its support for U.S. imperialism, and that it does not represent the stand of Canadians for peace and justice internationally. It shows need for working people in Canada to continue to stand with the Palestinian people and oppose attempts at all levels to criminalize support for their just cause.


1. “Academic Freedom at UBC Threatened by False Allegations of Anti-Semitism,” Paul Tetrault and Sid Shniad, The Talon, February 12, 2020.

2. To see the IHRA’s “Working Definition of Antisemitism” on its website, click here.

TML Weekly, No. 10, Supplement, March 28, 2020

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