Major Jewish organizations expressed disappointment Tuesday when Montreal city council did not adopt an internationally recognized definition of anti-Semitism.
“We are deeply disappointed that Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante did not support the adoption of the most widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism,” Federation CJA and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Québec (CIJA-Québec) said in a joint statement after the opposing parties in council failed to reach agreement.
Ensemble Montréal Leader Lionel Perez withdrew the motion after Plante proposed to refer it to a committee, saying defining anti-Semitism was “far from a black and white issue.”
“We can’t deny the fact that this motion proposed by the leader of the official opposition creates discussions,” Plante said in council.
“Every word counts, and every comma counts also,” she said.
Plante said she was “absolutely not” rejecting the motion, but suggested sending it to the standing committee chaired by speaker Cathy Wong to devise a “Montreal model” for defining anti-Semitism.
Perez rejected the proposal outright. Sending the issue to the committee “would be counterproductive. It is not something that we have the expertise on and I think it would simply perpetuate the debate,” he said to reporters after the meeting.
The opposition leader accused Plante of caving in to pressure within her caucus and from Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV). Members of the group criticized the motion Monday night during the citizens’ question period.
“The mayor of Montreal did not show the political will. She sent the wrong signal to the Montreal Jewish community and it’s a lost opportunity to fight against all forms of hate,” he said.
Perez called the idea of crafting a made-in-Montreal definition of anti-Semitism ridiculous, and said that holding consultations on the issue would only provide a platform for critics of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
“I think it’s ludicrous to think that our commission will be able to review the work of an international body that has incredible standing and experts,” he said.
Perez said he was particularly disappointed because “It would have been so symbolic and appropriate to have this motion adopted the day following the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
Canada is among 20 countries that have adopted the definition, as has the city of London, England. However, Montreal is now the third Canadian city to reject it, after Calgary and Vancouver.
While most Jewish community organizations support the definition, IJV says it could be used to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.
The standing definition does not explicitly mention Israel, but its guidelines say “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” could be defined as anti-Semitism.
“However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” it adds.