Defining Hate to Stop It
Dawson Voices on the Importance of Montreal Accepting the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism
By Talia Kliot
According to Statistics Canada, 19% of hate crimes targeted the Jewish community in 2018. Many organizations are rightfully trying to combat anti-semitism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is one of the aforementioned organizations that strives to make change through their working definition of modern anti-semitism. They define it as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Along with the illustrations provided on the IHRA website, this proves a comprehensive explanation of this term.
Following the example of The Government of Canada, London, UK, and Vaughan, Ontario, the leader of the opposition, Lionel Perez, proposed a motion at city council that Montreal adopt this definition. However, on Wednesday, January 28th, due to the lack of bi-partisan support, the motion was withdrawn before the vote. The very existence of a debate as to whether accepting this definition would be beneficial to a multicultural city such as Montreal is deeply troubling to the Jewish community, but shouldn’t just stop there, as Dawson students remind us.
Sam MacIver, a social science student, says “that there was probably resistance to [this motion passing] or a lack of drive to get it pushed through because a lot of people just want to ignore it.” Characterizing this as “an unwillingness to see the uglier parts of society,” MacIver, though non-Jewish, understands the frustration felt by this community. He goes on to state that this is a “human rights [issue], more or less. Everyone has the right to be safe and not to be attacked for who they are.”
When asked why accepting this definition is important, Hannah Kalin, the President of Dawson Hillel, explains that a lot of people “don’t necessarily know what anti-semitism is. It isn’t as universal as xenophobia or racism, so I think that by adopting this definition it would be easier for people to realize that it is something real.”
This is illustrated by the words of Pegah, a health science student, who says that “until [this interview], [she] didn’t know that this was something people fought for and were affected by.” However, that’s not to say that she doesn’t believe that anti-semitism is a real problem or that this definition shouldn’t be accepted. Instead, she says this of the Montreal and Dawson Jewish community: “I think that it’s very important to support the people who are part of our lives.”
The very existence of a debate as to whether accepting this definition would be beneficial to a multicultural city such as Montreal is deeply troubling to the Jewish community, but shouldn’t just stop there, as Dawson students remind us.
While it may seem niche, it is crucial to consider the positive effects that accepting this definition could have for other communities as well. Zac Rehany, the vice president of Hillel, argues that “it’s important to create a precedent for other cultural groups that are going through the same thing.” If this definition gains traction, it could lead to Montreal adopting others that protect its multicultural citizens.
Kalin goes on to highlight the positive change that this definition could spark at Dawson. While she assures that “Dawson’s been really good with responding to [instances of anti-semitism],” one of the reasons that Hillel had to relocate their club space this semester was that “another club would say things that, while they may not have realized they were being anti-semitic, were still very insulting and demeaning towards Jews.” Just as Dawson has implemented a policy that club executives must attend a workshop on preventing and dealing with sexual assault and harassment, similar actions could stem from the passing of this motion in relation to anti-semitism. Kalin says that she “would love to see topics like anti-semitism, racism, and xenophobia to be included in these sessions.” Her hope might not be so far off, seeing as the municipality of Westmount adopted the IHRA definition on February 3.
In addition, since the motion wasn’t yet brought to vote, there is still a chance that Montreal will adopt the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. CIJA, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, issued a call to action in the shape of an email-sending campaign to Valerie Plante, asking her to reconsider and support the passing of this motion. Using the link at the bottom of this article, you can choose the message that speaks to you and send it in a matter of minutes. Defining hate is the first step in stopping it, and I urge you to use your voice to do so.
Link to the campaign: http://bit.ly/3891qjL