Canadian governments embrace IHRA “Working Definition of antisemitism”

Canadian governments embrace IHRA “Working Definition of antisemitism”

Censoring free speech by falsely collating legitimate criticism of Israel’s territorial expansion and mistreatment of Palestinians with real antisemitism

As published by the Hampton Institute: June 22, 2022

The Canadian government’s current enthusiasm for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism” is troubling, given the Canadian government’s traditional indifference to Israel’s illegal occupation of conquered Palestinian territory and ongoing defiance of International Law. By offering uncritical support for this “working definition”, the government encourages the false notion that even accurate criticism of Israel state policy is a form of antisemitism.

According to Allan C. Brownfeld in the 2022 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), “It is a sleight of hand. The trick is to enforce a set of boundaries around criticism of Israel without investigating whether these boundaries bear any relation to boundaries on the ground.”

While this “working definition” has not entered the Criminal Code of Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Act or provincial human rights codes, Canadian government rhetoric strongly suggests the possibility it might.

According to a 2022 WRMEA article by Michael Beuckbert, former “...Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau declared that Canada ‘categorically’ rejects the “apartheid label,” following the 2021 release of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports which both concluded that Israeli officials are committing the crimes against humanity of “apartheid” and “persecution” against the Palestinian people.”

Before its 2016 adoption by the IHRA, this little-known “working definition” was a favourite cause of the former Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) whose membership included Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, a man with strong ties to the IHRA. Prior to its 2011 disbandment, the CPCCA’s lobbying created a lasting chill among Canadians who publicly criticise Israeli misconduct and Canadian government complicity.

The IHRA “working definition” is a product of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration. Aside from its indifference to the Israeli government’s illegal actions and mistreatment of Palestinians, this Declaration seems a well-intentioned and necessary tool to combat actual antisemitism, especially Holocaust denial.

“The IHRA…was initiated in 1998 by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson.” In 2000 the IHRA adopted the, “…Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (or “Stockholm Declaration”) as the founding document of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance…The declaration was the outcome of the International Forum convened in Stockholm between 27-29 January 2000 by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. The Forum was attended by the representatives of 46 governments…” Canada recently reaffirmed its past commitment to the Declaration.
As well, the Declaration is currently supported by the following organizations: United Nations, UNESCO,OSCE/ODIHR, European Agency for Fundamental Rights, European Union, Council of Europe and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.

The 2015 Budapest IHRA Plenary developed the current “working definition.” subsequently, in 2016, the Bucharest Plenary convention of the IHRA adopted the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Examining the Definition
This article’s main focus is “working definition” points concerning the Israeli state. These points appear italicised in their entirety and are followed by critical commentary revealing both the irony and hypocrisy of Israeli state exceptionalism. In this author’s opinion, the definition’s points on generalized antisemitism are valid and necessary tools to reduce hate.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

While Israel has a right to exist, its official behaviour is often racist, violent and contrary to UN Resolutions and the Geneva Convention. Since 1947, the Israel state has ignored over 70 UN resolutions, invaded and conquered parts of Jordan, Syria and Egypt and imposed permanent martial law on over 2.9 million Palestinians in the occupied territories. As well, over 1.8 million Gaza Palestinians endure an Israeli-blockaded existence of violence, poverty and environmental pollution.

Unfortunately, the Israeli state openly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and has often denied the existence of a Palestinian people. Oddly, the IHRA authors refer to “a” State of Israel” rather than “the” state, which is suggests Zionist support for an ever-expanding Biblical Israel.

Israel’s right to “self-defence” is loudly proclaimed by Israeli and Canadian officials. Conversely, when Palestinians in the occupied territories exercise their lawful right to resist martial law, their violence is routinely-condemned as terrorism.

Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

The Canadian government’s response to Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine and past annexation of Crimea differs radically from its response to the Israeli government’s many violations of the Geneva Convention and its defacto annexations of Palestinian territory. According to a recent report by the organization, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East,
“...just days after the invasion (of Ukraine), Canada imposed significant sanctions on Russia, targeting both the country itself and specific Russian-occupied or annexed territories. In contrast, Canada has implemented free trade with Israel, including its illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.”

Rather than apply high ethical standards to its dealing with Israel, the Canadian government refuses to challenge its belligerent ally or take concrete action to discourage Israeli government misconduct.

Among those who benefit from this stance are Canadian government-sponsored organizations like the Canada-Israel Industrial Research & Development Foundation (CIIRDF) who provide administrative support and channel public funds to businesses operating in one or both countries. As well, government bodies like Defence Research and Development and Canada and Export Development Canada are deeply involved in facilitating business ties between Israel and Canada.

As this author wrote in the 2020 Peace and Environment News (PEN),
“Operation Proteus is the Canadian military mission in the West Bank, part of the U.S. Security Coordinator Office in Jerusalem and aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Behind the façade of peace enhancement, Canada is committed to supporting and training the security forces of the PA, a collaborationist administration whose governance of the Palestinian areas of the West Bank primarily serves the interests of local elites and the Israeli state.”
Over 2.6 million Palestinians under military occupation are forbidden from voting although they pay Israeli taxes. In spite of its official opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation, Canada respects Israeli tax law in the West Bank, a de facto acknowledgement of sovereignty.

Occasional PA disputes with the Israeli government do not alter the fact that Israeli intelligence and border services depend on PA security forces to crush both violent and peaceful resistance by Palestinian democracy advocates. This includes imprisonment, torture and transfer of prisoners to indefinite detention in Israel.

Again, from this author’s 2021 PEN article, “Nizar Binat’s June 24 death at the hands of PA security forces is a harsh reminder of the PA’s attitude toward Palestinians who dare to criticize their authoritarian policies and security cooperation with Israel. Binat had been a candidate in the PA’s overdue parliamentary elections recently cancelled by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas over "uncertainty if Israel would allow the election to proceed in Jerusalem."

Canada’s government should not support any nation inflicting martial law on conquered people. Aside from the 1947 UN Resolution that created it, the State of Israel has ignored nearly 70 UN Resolutions, mostly pertaining to its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and mistreatment of Palestinians both within Israel and the occupied territories.

According to Human Rights Watch, “At least five categories of major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law characterize the occupation: unlawful killings, forced displacement, abusive detention, the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement, and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.”

Writing in the 2021 WRMEA, Allan C. Brownfeld included these paraphrased remarks by the late Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of apartheid South Africa, “What Tutu found ‘not so understandable’ was what Israel did to another people to guarantee its existence. ‘I’ve been very deeply distressed in my [2008] visit to the Holy Land. It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, suffering like us…”

As this author also wrote in 2021, “Nineteen [now 20] years ago the Israeli state chose to keep the conquered territories of Gaza, Golan and the West Bank rather than accept the Arab League Peace Initiative. This proposal from the major Arab states offered the ‘…establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for the…full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338…’”

Real peace was possible but Israeli government chose a policy of permanent militarism and illegal territorial expansion facilitated largely by U.S. military, economic and diplomatic support.
Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

Conversely, Israel contains many radical Hebrew religionists, including West Bank settlers and clergy, who are also, “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming” of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.” Rather than prosecution or even sanction, these groups enjoy military protection and financial support from the Israeli State.

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Approximately 70 Canadian-Israeli dual citizens currently serve as unpaid volunteers in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). According to a 2019 CBC article, “Neither Global Affairs Canada nor the Department of National Defence nor Public Safety Canada currently keeps track of the Canadians serving in the Israeli military.” Worse still is the fact Canadian taxpayers are unwittingly subsidizing this “Canadian Foreign Legion.”

As the author wrote in the spring 2015 Leveller,
“Revenue Canada offers charitable status benefits to organizations that provide financial and moral support to active duty IDF soldiers. These include Disabled Veterans of Israel or Beit Halochem…and the Israeli-based Lone Soldier Center.

Additionally, elite Canadian business figures like Gerry Schwartz and Heather Riesman provide up to $3 million yearly in post-military scholarships to Canadian IDF volunteers.”

While Canada and Israel are formal allies, that situation could change and create conflicts of interest for Canadian-Israeli dual nationals who might reasonably be expected to choose a side during hostilities. Such a choice would reasonably apply to the dual nationals of any state.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

The Israeli state’s policies of illegal expansion, cynical use of PA collaborators and its violent marginalization of a subject population are reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa to anyone with even a casual knowledge of history. However, highlighting these Israeli offenses is often presented as a graver matter than the offenses themselves.

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Israeli mistreatment of its Palestinian citizens and occupied subjects has gradually weakened international support for Zionism. This includes Jews and younger evangelical Christians, formerly a bloc of faithful Zionists. Also, by falsely claiming to represent all Jews, the Israeli government may pretend that any persecution of Jews outside Israel is automatically linked to Israel.


Supporters of the Canadian government’s uncritical enthusiasm for the IHRA “non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism” are by, extension excusing censorship and exceptionalism.

Effective opposition to Canada’s role in Israeli misdeeds is hampered by corporate media coverage that routinely portrays Palestinians a, terrorists. The Israeli state is presented as a model democracy whose noble intentions sometimes go awry, in Gaza and the occupied territories.

A more comprehensive understanding of the lingering Israeli-Palestinian divide may be derived from alternative press reporting, social justice organizations, and a wide reading of Middle East history. The resultant knowledge will empower those who oppose the Canadian government’s cynical support for Israel and other nations who trample human rights.


Beuckbert, M. “Amnesty report on Israeli apartheid demands debate on Canada’s role” Canadian Dimension: February 2, 2022.
Bobnaruk, C. ``Pushback to Canada’s Contract with Elbit.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: January/February 2022.
Brownfeld, A.C. “Unravelling of American Zionism Sharply Divides American Jews.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: January/February 2022.
Chakrborti, K. ``Prisoners of Occupation.” New Internationalist: January/February 2022.
Duchesney, M. “Palestinian Nakba and Israel’s Creation Deserve Equal Recognition.” Canadian Dimension: 2020.
Duchesney, M. “Harper’s Israeli Foreign Legion.” the Leveller: Spring 2015
Engler, Y. Building Apartheid – Canada and Israel: 2010.
Pappe, I. A History of Modern Palestine 2nd Edition: 2006.

Author Bio: Morgan Duchesney is a Canadian writer and Karate teacher whose work has appeared in Humanist Perspectives, Adbusters, Briarpatch, Canadian Dimension, Shintani Harmonizer, Victoria Standard and the Ottawa Citizen. In addition to political writing, Morgan has published martial arts work and short fiction.
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