Faisal Bhabha: “Zionism isn’t about self-determination, it’s about Jewish supremacy”

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Faisal Bhabha Photo: YouTube Centre for Free Expression

On Wednesday June 10, 2020 the Centre for Free Expression (CFE) held a virtual forum titled “Fighting Anti-Semitism Or Silencing Critics Of Israel: What’s Behind The Push For Governments To Adopt The IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] Definition Of Anti-Semitism.”

Here is CFE’s statement:

CFE Virtual Forum Series: Around the world, governments are being encouraged to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association, with its controversial list of examples. Supported by Canada’s Prime Minister and by a bill before the Ontario Legislature, the definition has been the focus of bitter debate. It has been championed by influential groups inside and outside the Jewish community and opposed by civil liberties and Palestinian support organizations. With the global resurgence of anti-Semitism, what should be done? Join our diverse group of panelists in a discussion of this difficult issue. Zoom link to event: https://ryerson.zoom.us/j/92055805209


Faisal Bhabha, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University and Former Vice-chair, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario [Faisal Bhabha is also the legal adviser of the National Council and Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the chair of the NCCM National Security Policy Committee]

Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Mosaic Institute, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Paloma Foundation

Richard Marceau, Vice President, External Affairs and General Counsel, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

Sheryl Nestel, Independent Jewish Voices


Bernie Lucht, Executive Producer of CBC Radio’s Ideas from 1984-2012. Currently, Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto.

Co-sponsor: Canadian Civil Liberties Association

This is a free event and no registration is required.

Opening statement by Faisal Bhabha: IHRA definition of antisemitism “promotes racism”

My view is that the IHRA definition is actually dangerous because while it’s dressed up with good intentions it poses risks of harm that are far greater than any good that it may actually accomplish or claim to accomplish. I personally believe that it’s always a good thing to combat racism. I think it’s important to do that. And it is possible that the IHRA definition could contribute some good in the battle against racism, but that’s a very remote possibility, while what I think is a certainty is that it will do harm, and that that harm is far worse than any good that it might do. And in fact one of the harms that the IHRA definition actually does is that it promotes racism and for that reason alone I think it ought to be opposed. To be to be clear the definition itself is rather unobjectionable. So the distinction that Bernie [Farber] has just made that concern apparently made between the definition and the examples is one that I can agree with, but the problem is that the two are always lumped together, including in the proposed legislation in Ontario Bill 168. There’s an emphasis on linking the examples to the definition such that I would suggest that you can’t separate the definition from the examples. The definition itself without the examples is vague, imprecise, reflects nothing objectionable, reflects barely anything at all. It reflects things that are well known and well accepted by everybody. Perhaps save a few extreme, few, it encapsulates the hatred of Jews, a perception of Jews that is based on discriminatory factors, the association of Jews with negative and untrue stereotypes. None of that is objectionable, none of that is the problem. It’s the examples. They cast the net far too wide. They moved from protecting Jewish people living as minorities and the precariousness that comes with that, to trying to protect a state, a state that is well-armed, that is militaristic in nature and that is that should be held to the standards that every other state is held to. Via the idea of a double standard certainly applies but in the reverse direction that Richard [Marceau] and his group [CIJA] suggests. Seven of the eleven examples, as Bernie [Farber] mentioned, focus on Israel. The effect of this is to cast the net too wide and to bring in a whole bunch of people who are not antisemitic and tar them with that smear, and these people include Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and their allies. And to put them quite offensively into the same tent as white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Nothing constructive can come from this. For example, the example that Cheryl [Nestel] gave, that she quite radically espoused the claim that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor. Certainly many credible people have made this argument, just as many people today in Canada have made the argument that the history of Canada is a racist endeavor. In fact, today if you do not recognize that Canadian history is steeped in racism you’re viewed as part of the problem. I teach Canadian constitutional law and this is an essential element of that course. The fact that one can’t make the same argument with respect to Israel under this definition [IHRA] is precisely the problem. It does chill not only the expression generally, but it chills expression very particularly of vulnerable members of vulnerable communities. For that reason I think it ought to be opposed.

Faisal Bhabha: “[Zionism] is about Jewish supremacy. It insists upon Jewish supremacy”

Faisal Bhabha: I would just answer the question that was put to me. Look the question about self-determination and Zionism. I mean Zionism is not actually or accurately about self-determination. It’s about Jewish supremacy. It insists upon Jewish supremacy in the Holy Land and for that reason it is racist, and it’s incompatible with a vision of Palestine. It’s incompatible with the vision of Palestinian human rights. It’s incompatible with Palestinian self-determination. So you can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth.

Richard Marceau: So you don’t believe that there should be a Palestinian state living side by side besides the nation state of Jewish people?

Faisal Bhabha: I’m not saying that. I’m not declaring a support for any kind of state. I’m describing what I understand Zionism to be as an idea and as a practice, which is the suppression of Palestinian human rights for the purpose of ensuring Jewish supremacy. And it’s exactly what is being protested against in the United States today against white supremacy systemic racism.

Richard Marceau: So you are equating white supremacy with Zionism?

Faisal Bhabha: I’m equating white supremacy with Jewish supremacy. I think both are equally morally repugnant and deserve to be called out and spoken against, and the reason why I opposed the [IHRA] definition is because it chills that form of expression. It turns me into an antisemite for expressing statements of solidarity with currently colonized people in the world. This is my problem. This is the issue that at this time of heightened racial awareness it has to be said that the IHRA definition is anti black and anti brown, because it casts those who support Palestinians into the same camp as white supremacists.

IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism

In the spirit of the Stockholm Declaration that states: “With humanity still scarred by …antisemitism and xenophobia the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils” the committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial called the IHRA Plenary in Budapest 2015 to adopt the following working definition of antisemitism.

On 26 May 2016, the Plenary in Bucharest decided to:

Adopt the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.