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Conflict over 'Anti-Semitism' definition plagues NDP before Convention

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Conflict over anti-Semitism persists within the federal NDP in advance of next week’s policy convention.

A list of potential resolutions that could make it to the floor include calls for solidarity with Palestine or call for increased sanctions on Israel. Furthermore, over 40 NDP riding associations have endorsed a resolution that challenges the definition of anti-Semitism set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), arguing it is used to chill criticism of Israeli policy.

An non-partisan advocacy group known as the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute has supported the move, applauding these associations for resisting "efforts by anti-Palestinian lobby groups” to pressure the NDP leadership into suppressing debate around the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

By contrast, some party members have signed a letter sent to NDP riding presidents with another idea in mind altogether. “The NDP policy convention, where at least 99 per cent of attendees will not be Jewish, is neither the time nor the place to debate a resolution that condemns the definition of this pervasive hatred for the Jewish people. Debating this resolution at our upcoming convention would put the NDP — Canada’s party of social justice — in the position of violating our fundamental principles of the work of social justice.”

So what's the point of debate? It's not the IHRA’s 39-word definition itself, which describes anti-Semitism as an expression of hatred toward Jews, but rather the way some groups have applied it and the way in which it is contextualized.

The author of the IHRA statement, Kenneth Stern, has since disavowed its use, arguing that “right-wing Jewish groups” have “weaponize” the term. Former NDP MPs Svend Robinson and Libby Davies have joined with Stern in criticizing the existing definition.

Richard Marceau, general counsel for the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), contrastingly says that resistance to the definition comes from “activists” and 'fringe groups.' “I believe that there is a small and active and vocal group of NDPers that have a suspicious obsession with the state of Israel. And their obsession borders on the unhealthy,” he said Wednesday.

B’nai Brith Canada has called on the leadership to bar resolutions against the definition , arguing it serves as a “bedrock” in fights to mitigate anti-Semitism.

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