GSA Denounces the Ford Government’s Adoption of the Anti-Palestinian IHRA-WDA

GSA Denounces the Ford Government’s Adoption of the Anti-Palestinian IHRA-WDA

The McMaster Graduate Students Association (GSA) denounces the Ford government’s recent adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WDA) due to its anti-Palestinianism, anti-democratic nature, and the serious threat it poses to academic freedom at McMaster University, and more broadly, in the province.

The IHRA-WDA conflates antisemitism with criticism of Israel, which is a settler-colonial and apartheid state. Israel has a well-documented history of violating the rights of the indigenous Palestinians, as by illegally denying the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands, detaining and torturing Palestinian children, arresting Palestinians without charge or trial, and illegally occupying Palestinian territories. To label the critique of Israel antisemitic is absurd, and as highlighted by Corey Balsam of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), is dangerously “‘undermining the battle against genuine antisemitism.’” Rather, the IHRA-WDA appropriates resistance against antisemitism to perpetuate oppression against the Palestinians without challenge.

GSA notes that the IHRA-WDA was adopted by the Ford government unilaterally, via an Order in Council, after it circumvented a scheduled third hearing and public debate on the associated Bill 168, evident of its anti-democratic nature. Indeed, according to a recent survey, 80% of Canadians reject the conflation of antisemitism and critique of Israel. Further, as noted by a recent article, this new definition not only poses a threat to scholarship and activism that is critical of Israel, but could ban “teaching influential Jewish scholars such as Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler, the post-colonial legend Edward Said, Black liberation scholar Angela Davis and a long list of other scholars because of their critical work on Israel.” This definition is particularly concerning for the McMaster community, as it prides itself for its diversity and critically-oriented scholarship. Many McMaster graduate students, especially those who are racialized, now face the threat of censorship, dismissal, unemployment, and more, sheerly due to their principled advocacy for Palestinian rights.

GSA joins a wide array of progressive organizations, such as CUPE 3906, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, IJV, and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, in viewing the Ford government’s adoption of IHRA-WDA as an attack on free speech, particularly academic freedom. It also reaffirms the right to critique all foreign states, including Israel. GSA urges the Ontario government to retract its adoption of the IHRA-WDA. In addition, we call on the McMaster University Board of Governors (BOG) to protect free speech on campus and the rights of Palestinians by unequivocally rejecting this flawed definition. Instead, we propose that the BOG adopt IJV’s progressive Working Definition of Antisemitism that links antisemitism to other forms of oppression, including white supremacy and Islamophobia, ruling out criticism of Israel as antisemitic.

This letter was put forward by a majority vote of the Student Issues Actions Committee (SIAC) with those present at the SIAC meeting on Wednesday, November 25th, 2020. This letter was then approved by a majority vote of the GSA Council with those present at the monthly Council meeting on Thursday, November 26th, 2020.