There is an international campaign underway to get governments, universities, and other institutions to adopt the IHRA definition. This definition has negatively impacted scholars and students in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, to name a few. In recent years, some of the world’s leading scholars and influential academics have been unfairly labelled as antisemitic because of their critique of Israel and its oppression of Palestinians. Among them, Black feminist scholar Angela Davis, American-based queer theorist Jasbir K. Puar, and prominent Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism is the product of a growing “new antisemitism movement” that seeks to redefine antisemitism to include any criticism of the Israeli state. While challenging antisemitism is vital, Canadian critics of the IHRA definition argue that the new language could “chill political expressions of criticism of Israel as well as support for Palestinian rights.”
The IHRA definition is vague. It fails to connect antisemitism to other forms of racism. The IHRA definition is being used to censor and undermine the important anti-racist and decolonial initiatives currently underway at universities across Canada.
If governments and universities adopt this definition, it will represent a direct attack on academic freedom, endangering our ability to engage in scholarship and teaching that explores facts and perspectives that are critical of the state of Israel.
For example, in 2020, two Ontario universities have been the site of false and destructive charges of antisemitism against respected international human rights scholars. In response, CAUT has initiated a process of censuring the University of Toronto. These attacks are but a small sample of documented cases, and they are deeply troubling for us as scholars and teachers.
BIRT CUPE 3907 unequivocally supports the academic freedom of its members. This freedom includes the right to pursue research and open inquiry in an honest search for knowledge that is free from institutional censorship, including that of the government. While CUPE 3907 opposes antisemitism and all forms of racism and hatred, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism poses a serious threat to academic freedom in our university. The IHRA definition of antisemitism misconstrues antisemitism to include a broad range of criticism of the State of Israel. The IHRA definition thus undermines important anti-racist and decolonial initiatives in Canadian educational institutions. It can also be used to censor political speech and restrict the academic freedom of teachers and researchers who have developed critical perspectives on the policies and practices of the State of Israel. Such targeted attacks will have a chilling effect on the academic freedom of our members in the classroom, in their research, and in campus politics more broadly.
For further information, please visit the website for the campaign opposing the IHRA definition of antisemitism in Canadian Universities and Colleges: https://www.noihra.ca/academic-campaign