On Oct. 27, the Ford government passed Bill 168. This bill will cement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism into law. This happened suddenly, without any consultation from members of the community despite outcry from both Jewish and Palestinian activists.
In particular, critics of the IHRA definition point out that it conflates any criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism. Indeed, seven of the eleven examples of antisemitism included in the definition relate to the state of Israel. As the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, an organization of Jewish activists, highlight: “The full definition’s examples conflate fundamental criticisms of Israel and/or Zionism with antisemitism—a position IJV strongly rejects. The adoption of the full IHRA definition of antisemitism, including its examples, would pose a serious threat to freedom of expression and academic freedom in Canada.”
As such, the adoption of the IHRA definition would not actually help fight antisemitism. Instead, it poses a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of protest, punitively targeting anyone committed to opposing Israeli imperialism. This is no doubt the intention of the Ford government who have always paid lip service to fighting antisemitism while doing nothing to help Jewish people, and in fact perpetuating it.
It was conservative MPP Will Bouma who first put forward Bill 168. The Conservative Party, however, is far from being a friend of the Jewish community. Ontario premier Doug Ford himself was seen posing for a picture with Faith Goldy, a known white supremacist and antisemite, in 2018. Faith Goldy was on the ground during the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2016 where she was seen marching alongside Neo-Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us.” She was also a guest on neo-nazi podcast The Daily Stormer, which is known to publish antisemitic and islamophobic propaganda. Faith Goldy made her bid for mayor in the 2018 mayoral race in Toronto, and openly stated she was a friend of Doug Ford and supported his policies. Moreover, Ford refused to denounce her endorsement or support despite her clearly antisemitic and xenophobic views.
But this isn’t only a provincial issue. As recently as this past August federal Conservative member of parliament Kerry-Lynne Findlay tweeted an antisemitic conspiracy theory which was re-tweeted by Conservative finance critic, Pierre Poilievre. Newly elected federal Conservative party leader, Erin O’Toole (who claims to want to make the Conservative party “inclusive”), did not issue a public statement on the matter.
Most telling is the connection between the Conservative Party and the right-wing nationalists of Ukraine, many of whom overlap with Nazi and Neo-Nazi organizations. In particular, Stephen Harper’s connection with the League of Ukrainian Canadians is most troubling. This organization is directly connected to several Neo-Nazi organizations in Ukraine, and glorify openly the historical head of Ukrainian fascism, Stepan Bandera. Stepan Bandera was an open antisemite, and his party of Ukrainian Nationalists were the Ukrainian arm of the Nazi party. They carried out the work of the Nazis in regard to the Holocaust.
This cozy relationship between Stephen Harper and the LUC culminated in a tour of a Ukrainian museum built in the infamous Lonsky Street Prison, where thousands of Jews were killed in violent pogroms during WWII. The museum has a reputation for underplaying the Holocaust, choosing instead to focus on anti-Soviet propaganda. It glorifies Stepan Bandera as well, claiming him as a national hero despite his connections to the Nazi Party.
The Conservative Party’s sympathy for and promotion of these Ukrainian Nationalists did not stop with its change of leadership. Erin O’Toole has met with Ukrainian Youth Leaders, who were in fact members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, the same organization that antisemitic leader Stepan Bandera led.
Of course, antisemitism is nothing new for the Conservative Party. Indeed, the Conservative Party’s progenitor and founder of confederation, John A. McDonald, was a known antisemite and xenophobe. Of course, the Conservatives are not the only ones with a history of blatant and grotesque antisemitism. Infamously, Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King turned away hundreds of fleeing Jewish refugees in 1939. Many of those same refugees were forced to return to Germany and ended up in Hitler’s concentration camps.
With both a legacy and a current problem of antisemitism, it is a cruel joke that the Conservatives are now pretending to oppose it. Paying lip service to the struggle against antisemitism while de facto endorsing it is standard Tory hypocricy. Antisemitism is and remains a real problem in Ontario. Jewish people are the number-one target of hate crimes in Toronto. Bill 168 does nothing at all to change this. Instead, its adoption would lead to numerous attacks on working class activists, many of whom are Jewish, for criticizing Israeli imperialism. It will give Ford, the most valued friend of antisemites like Faith Goldy, the power to curb freedom of protest and freedom of speech even further than he already has.
The NDP fails to fight
In the lead-up to the adoption of the bill, many on the left discussed how to fight and stop it. Most amazingly, despite popular outcry from activists and even various union locals, the ONDP voted in favour of the bill receiving a second reading. This is in spite of the fact that a majority of Canadians reject branding criticism of Israel as antisemetic.
This was done for “strategic reasons” as NDP MPP John Vanthoff stated, claiming that, despite criticisms of the bill being legitimate, it should only be seen as a “statement of shared commitment to fight antisemitism.” Not a single NDP member opposed the bill, all voting in favour. This is a mistake, and shows weakness in the face of the Conservatives. Instead of calling out the blatant hypocrisy of the Ford government, the NDP is encouraging their two-faced attempt to fight antisemitism.
It has to be repeatedly pointed out that it is the right wing that has been consistently, tacitly, and explicitly antisemetic. By continuously not pointing out this obvious fact, the NDP is allowing the Conservatives to weaponize spurious accusations of antisemitism against the left. Just recently, we have seen how the issue of antisemitism was used as a cover to attack leftwing Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Head of the Labour party at the time, Corbyn received endless abuse from the Tories during the most recent general election, claiming he was antisemitic for his support of Palestinian liberation and criticism of Israel. These accusations were clearly untrue, but instead of standing up to them, Corbyn took them in good faith. This eventually led to Corbyn’s recent removal from the Labour Party simply for stating what had already been established: that the accusations were overblown for political reasons. This mattered little to the new right-wing Labour leadership of Keir Starmer, which has weaponized accusations of antisemitism to attack the left in the party.
A similar phenomena occurred here, during the recent Green Party leadership race. The most left-wing candidates in the race were Dmitri Lascaris and Meryam Haddad, who ran as open eco-socialists. They was met with blatant hostility by the Green Party bureaucracy, who attempted to use accusations of antisemitism to disqualify both candidates. Luckily, they fought back and stayed in the race. However, all of this highlights that there has been a clear attempt in recent years by the right-wing both in and outside the labour movement to weaponize accusations of antisemitism against the left, by mischaracterizing opposition to Israeli imperialism. The NDP endorsement of Bill 168 allows the Conservatives to hide all their dirty laundry and pretend as if they are the champions of the Jewish community by giving the state of Israel unconditional support, all the while doing nothing to improve the lives of actual Jewish workers living in the province. It is and should be the job of the left to expose these hypocrites.
Antisemitism is a venom in our society. It is perpetuated by right-wing nationalists and neo-Nazis. These elements in our society must be expunged like venom with the only antidote possible: solidarity. As working class people, we must strive to unite and cut across any antisemitism within our community. The labour movement has a proud history of combating antisemitism and other forms of bigotry. This is the only way to truly rid our communities of antisemitism.