David Mivasair: Open letter to Mayor Kennedy Stewart and councillors about motion on antisemitism
Hello Mayor and Council,
I am a rabbi with over thirty years experience serving the Jewish community, including sixteen years leading synagogues in Vancouver. I have lived in Israel for four years and visit there often. My son served in the Israel Defense Forces. I know the politics of establishment Jewish organizations from the inside; I have dealt with them for fifty years.
The primary goal of the definition of antisemitism proposed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is to suppress discussion about Israel's pervasive violation of human rights in Palestine. It is not to establish a workable definition of antisemitism, which is not an urgent issue requiring the attention of parliaments and city councils around the world. Rather, its goal is to create legal mechanisms by which frank, open, honest discussion of Israel's impact on the lives of millions of Palestinian people can be silenced by being labelled antisemitic hate speech and thereby banned and legally punished. This is what motivates those who propose it and this is precisely how it has been deployed in many situations elsewhere.
The definition is insidious. Among other false assertions, it claims that that advocating for one democratic state in the land called both Israel and Palestine denies the Jewish people's right of self-determination and therefore is inherently antisemitic. That is neither true nor relevant to any reasonable definition of antisemitism or the safety of Jewish people in Vancouver. The concept of self-determination itself must be interrogated. Not all peoples in this world are organized in their own ethnically-based nation-state. We in British Columbia certainly know that. There are many, many nations and ethnic groups which do not have their own nation-state. We can look all over Africa, Asia and the Americas—even in Europe—and see that many peoples and nations do not have their own state. To argue against the continuation of Jewish ethnic domination over Palestinians and advocate for a single, democratic state with equality, freedom and justice for all who live there is certainly not antisemitic. Yet, it is defined as such by this intentionally misleading definition.
In the interest of brevity I will not now go into other specific examples of why the proposed definition is dangerous and should be rejected. If you are interested, I urge you to learn more. You can read several clear examples in this article in the Guardian in the U.K. from when Israel's agents there tried this same tactic. Or, you can go to the Independent Jewish Voices Canada page at www.noihra.ca.
If you have any questions or concerns, I would be honoured to have an opportunity to speak with you by phone or correspond by email.
I wish you the very best in discerning what is truly in the interests of the people of Vancouver in this regard as in every other issue you take up on our behalf.
David Mivasair, Rabbi Emeritus
Ahavat Olam Synagogue, Vancouver
Member, Rabbinic Council, Independent Jewish Voices Canada