QUFA votes to oppose IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

Jewish student group responds with open letter

QUFA says vote doesn’t change the definition of anti-Semitism on campus.

This article includes descriptions of anti-Semitism and may be triggering for some readers. The Peer Support Centre offers drop-in services and empathetic peer-based support and is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Online services can be accessed here.

The Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA)—the main faculty union on campus—has voted to formally oppose the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism at their most recent general meeting. 

Union members voted on Apr. 21 after members of Queen's Hillel, a Jewish student group, spoke out against the motion.

The Queen’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) organization urged the QUFA to support the rejection of the IHRA definition in a social media post ahead of the meeting. 

The IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism was adopted in May 2016 by a group of 31 member nations—including Canada. According to the IHRA, the definition is non-legally binding, and guides the organization in its work. 

Faculty associations across the country have expressed concern over how they believe the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism impacts academic freedom on campuses. These groups believe the working definition makes it difficult to criticize the State of Israel without said criticism being labelled as anti-Semitic. 

Jordan Morelli, president of QUFA, told The Journal in an emailed statement there was a “fair bit of misunderstanding” when it came to the motion in question. Morelli said no steps were being taken to “alter the definition of anything.” 

“The University’s recently revised Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and Response policy currently defines antisemitism (as well as a number of other terms such as homophobia and islamophobia) in a manner consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code policies,” Morelli said. 

“Both the CAUT [Canadian Association of University Teachers] and OCUFA [Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations] have adopted positions of concern against the IHRA definition of antisemitism as have several tens of other faculty and academic associations.”

According to Morelli, based on this University policy, QUFA’s vote will have no practical effect. He said no efforts are being made at the University level to change the definition institution’s definition of ant-Semitism.

“The motion scheduled to come before the QUFA General Meeting does not in any way propose to alter the [university’s] definition of antisemitism [sic], more accurately it seeks to keep it exactly as it is currently defined, which is in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code policy,” Morelli said.

Morelli added QUFA doesn’t speak for Queen’s University—a vote by QUFA doesn’t signify a change in University policy. Morelli said he is not aware of any attempts to change the definition of anti-Semitism at an institutional level.

Morelli asserted that QUFA doesn’t tolerate any forms of hate or condone harassment and discrimination in any form.

“Antisemitism is a blight that must not be tolerated,” he said.

In a social media post made Thursday, Queen’s Hillel expressed their disappointment at the results of the QUFA vote. The post, consistent with Hillel’s ongoing campaign against the motion, included an open letter to QUFA signed by students—both Jewish and non-Jewish—alumni, faculty, and community members.

“We are deeply concerned with the motion’s ability to unilaterally undermine protections against Jewish oppression on campus, unfairly holding the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism to a standard it does not apply to a single other marginalized group,” Queen’s Hillel said in a statement to The Journal and wrote in the open letter. 

Hillel explained the “working” nature of the IHRA definition means it isn’t authoritative and doesn’t restrict academic discourse. 

“Most fears surrounding the definition are that it would restrict criticism of Israel, but a fair reading of the definition shows clearly that this is not the case, as there is no mention of Israel in the definition itself,” Hillel said. 

“Israel is only mentioned by the IHRA as an example of what may constitute antisemitism.” 

Hillel believes the IHRA definition works to preserve open dialogue and that it’s not the place of other organizations to define anti-Semitism. 

“The IHRA definition is designed to open up conversations around what ‘may or may not be’ considered antisemitic, and provides examples,” Hillel said. 

“It is not the place of any organization, external to our community, to comment, debate, or oppose any definition of antisemitism just as it is not for any group to comment, debate, or oppose the definition of any other marginalized group.”

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