February 22, 2018
TORONTO — A petition was read aloud in the Ontario legislature Tuesday February 20, 2018, urging the Anti-Semitism Sub-Committee of the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate (OARD) to extend invitations to two Jewish organizations that are openly critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian rights.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) and the United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO) had both requested inclusion on the Sub-Committee in the summer of 2017, but their requests were denied. IJV also sent in a substantive submission to the OARD in January 2017.
“The process by which committee members have been chosen has not been transparent, so it is unclear why we were not invited to join,” said Sheryl Nestel, spokesperson for the Toronto chapter of IJV. “Our hunch is that it has to do with the criticism our organizations have voiced regarding Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. If this is indeed the case, then the Ontario government–willingly or not–is reinforcing the marginalization groups like ours already face in the institutional Jewish community because of our human rights work.”
IJV and UJPO are concerned that the Sub-Committee, as it is currently constituted, may seek to conflate criticism of Israel’s government or policies with anti-Semitism, which the petition states “can have the adverse effect of silencing critical voices.”
“Underlying our desire to participate in the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate’s anti-Semitism Committee is deep concern, shared by a growing number of Jews, that accusations of anti-Semitism are being used to suppress criticism of Israel,” said Rachel Epstein, Executive Director of UJPO’s Winchevsky Centre.
An example of this occurred at a recent McGill University students union General Assembly in which a Jewish student, backed by several external Jewish organizations, claimed he had been the victim of anti-Semitism when he was voted off the student Board of Governors. A McGill report based on an inquiry into the incident concluded, however, that the student’s removal was not motivated by anti-Semitism, but rather by public positions he had taken pertaining to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The report recapped arguments made earlier by various Jewish academics, and IJV’s McGill student group.
“Jewish organizations in Canada have different views on what does and does not constitute anti-Semitism, and it’s important that the OARD takes a range of perspectives into account,” Epstein continued. “This is really a must if we are going to do justice to the fight against anti-Semitism in Ontario.”
The petition was presented by Teresa Armstrong, MPP for London-Fanshawe and the Ontario NDP’s critic responsible for the OARD. In just seven days, the petition was signed by over 200 Ontarians, and reads as follows:
WHEREAS: the United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO) and Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), both organizations that are critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian rights, requested in the summer of 2017 to sit on the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate’s (OARD) Anti-Semitism Committee and have yet to be offered a place on that committee,
WHEREAS: criticism of Israel’s government or policies is not inherently anti-Semitic,
WHEREAS: the conflation of criticism of Israel’s government or policies and anti-Semitism can have the adverse effect of silencing critical voices,
WHEREAS: all Jews are vulnerable to anti-Semitism, regardless of their political opinions,
Therefore, we the undersigned urge the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to invite the United Jewish People’s Order and Independent Jewish Voices to join the OARD’s Anti-Semitism Committee.
For more information, please contact:
Executive Director, Winchevsky Center
Spokesperson, Independent Jewish Voices-Toronto