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“All this is going to do is create hostility - and fear - between the student body and the professors”

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Anthropology professor Haskel Greenfield of the University of Manitoba said faculty association members were originally given three days notice about an anti-IHRA motion being rammed through by the executive, and were granted only an extra week to prepare to fight it. (Photo: umanitoba.ca)

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A leading academic has warned the Jewish community in Winnipeg that a last-minute attack on the legitimacy of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) was warded off only by a procedural challenge, and to be prepared to get their hands dirty in an anticipated upcoming fight.

As described by Professor Haskell Greenfield, “The anti-IHRA motion infringes on the academic freedom of professors and students who want to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism in their research and in the classroom. The implication of the motion is that a U of M scholar or student who agrees with the IHRA definition, would be bound by the decision of UMFA, and could not use the IHRA definition in the exercise of their own academic freedom and freedom of expression.”

Professor Greenfield, who has been working at the University for 31 years, told TheJ.ca, “They’ve been trying to introduce these kinds of things for, I remember at least 20 years ago something similar was tried with BDS, so we’ve had these people who’ve tried to introduce (things), make the union very political instead of taking care of the needs – they’ve done a crappy job of taking care of the needs of the professors, by comparison, you know.”  

“It was close. I tell people we can’t sit back on our laurels, this will probably come back to haunt us in another way and we have to be prepared.”

Although to an outsider, the procedural issues made it seem like a mere skirmish, “these are battles, in a long standing war. That’s how I think of it,” Greenfield advised. “This coming and going goes back and forth every generation if not sooner…”

 “If I was them, I would look at this and say, ok, what’s the next step – the fact it was defeated by only two votes… This is not going to go away.”

Noting the motion was essentially a retaliatory strike against pro-Israel students on the campus, he sounded a dire warning: 

“People thinks this is bad for only Jews. It’s bad for EVERY minority to get stuff like this coming in. It’s not going to be in anyone’s’ benefit to allow anyone to be persecuted.”

The motion was first passed by the ten member executive of the full time faculty union, and was headed to the broader Board of Representatives (basically the faculty units). The concept was initiated by the far-left Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism, Racism, Colonialism & Censorship in Canada (ARC) Campaign, which declared: “The IHRA definition of antisemitism misconstrues antisemitism to include a broad range of criticism of the State of Israel. The IHRA definition thus undermines important anti-racist and decolonial initiatives in Canadian educational institutions.”

On the way to the next level of approval, the mentioning of Israel was stripped out, although hyperlinks to material critical of the Jewish State remained. Decrying the IHRA definition as “a threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression,” the revised motion was then essentially hidden in a regular meeting agenda.

“None of us were aware of it until the motion came down to the Board of Representatives and then I found about it,” Greenfield explained, saying he immediately contacted the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. “Some individuals on the executive have a history (where) their left wing politics merge into anti-Israel, anti-Jewish – even though some of them are actually Jewish,” he noted.

“Basically originally we had like 3 days, initially, and it was coming down in a more general meeting. Before the general meeting, so many people were objecting to it, they pulled it out and made a special meeting about it.”

“One week, it only bought one week.”

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ehind the scenes research from Jewish organizations helped the opposition formulate their arguments, with Greenfield, Prof. Michael Eskin, and law professor Dr. Bryan Schwartz all filing written submissions with the Board. In particular Greenfield mentioned that “Rhonda Spivak of the Winnipeg Jewish Review was a great help- it was a community effort, in that sense.” 

Dr. Schwartz took specific aim at the statement in the motion, “UMFA will oppose the adoption and/or use of the IHRA definition at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere.”

The language is plain and categorical. UMFA will oppose the use of the IHRA working definition by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose – including by a professor or student at this University in a classroom, in a scholarly article or in making a public statement to protest against antisemitism. This itself is a profound threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression.”

In his intervention, Greenfield did not mince words:

Those bringing forward the motion want to say that other peoples are entitled to the right of self-determination, but Jews are not. This crosses the line into antisemitism A rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism is tantamount to telling the Jewish community that we cannot define our own oppression.”

The motion aside, the agenda procedure itself was also derided as being slanted, as only one delegation opposed was to be heard: Belle Jarniewski, Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, who was a member of the Canadian delegation to IHRA. The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg was denied standing to address the meeting.

Yet, two proponents of the proposal were scheduled: Dr. Larry Haiven, who is affiliated with the profoundly antagonistic Independent Jewish Voices (Professor Emeritus, Department of Management, Saint Mary’s University) was invited to speak to the motion, as was James Turk, the Director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University in Toronto. 

B’nai Brith Canada described the proponents as “Anti-Israel activists and other ideological opponents of the definition (who) have made concerted efforts to spread misinformation about the definition, as well as thwart its adoption by academic institutions, governments and others.”

In the end, Greenfield explained, it never even got near the point of the Zoom meeting, which at one point had over 65 participants, hearing from the delegations.

UMFA member Bryan Schwartz shredded an executive maneuver trying to effectively ban anyone affiliated with the University of Manitoba from using, relying on, or defending the IHRA definition of antisemitism. (Photo: Pitblado.com)

At the meeting on March 25, the motion was introduced by faculty union president Michael Shaw, and “it came up for discussion, but one of the members said, this is procedurally incorrect,” recounted Greenfield.

“First of all they hadn’t consulted with a larger membership if it’s even something they want to be involved in, and also it didn’t go through the appropriate levels of committees- for example the diversity and discrimination committee- this is very clearly in their purview – it wasn’t submitted to that committee for vetting. They got upset, other people (too). I and several others got up (virtually) and expressed how much we disagreed.” The agenda was thereafter not approved by a vote of the Board members and the meeting was adjourned.

A lot of the credit, Greenfield said, was due to Schwartz for outlining in his submission “how this was procedurally incorrect and they had no authority to bring such a motion even down – we didn’t get a chance to talk about antisemitism and other aspects that this bill actually reflected because it was defeated procedurally, in a half hour the meeting was done, basically.”

Schwartz, who is Asper Chair of International Business and Trade Law, had specifically mentioned the ‘other aspects’ alluded to by Greenfield to the Board: “There are more and more Jewish people —both faculty and students—who feel that academia in North America is becoming such a hostile environment that they want to get out.”

The preamble of the motion was an ample illustration of that intimidation: it specifically cited that “in the Fall of 2020 the University of Manitoba Students Association (UMSU) endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.” UMSU did so after a concerted effort by the campus Students Supporting Israel club.

SSI chapter president Emily Kalo told the WJR, “For the University of Manitoba Faculty Association to put forward a motion denouncing the IHRA definition, and doing so based on the notion that it stifles conversation and potential criticism of Israel – even though the definition does no such thing — is the ultimate proof of why this definition is critical.”

Returning to his call for ongoing community vigilance, Greenfield spoke of how it is especially the students, as well as faculty members, who can be affected by any future anti-IHRA campaigns at the U of M.

“These are faculty members that want to create a hostile environment between faculty and students. Students have taken the lead and demonstrated courage approving the IHRA definition and you have faculty that want to disabuse them of that notion.

“And all this is going to do is create hostility – and fear – between the student body and the professors if something like the ARC motion had passed.” 

Marty Gold is the Editor-in -Chief of TheJ.ca. Known for investigative reporting, he has specialized in covering municipal and provincial politics, and a wide range of sports and entertainment, in newspapers, magazines, online, and on his first love, radio. His business and consulting experience includes live events and sales, workplace safety, documentary productions, PR, and telecommunications in Vancouver, Los Angeles and across Canada, and as a contestant on CBC-TV Dragons Den.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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