By Aidan Jonah
New Democratic Party member of parliament Randall Garrison recently joined an unofficial task force which is lobbying Facebook and Twitter to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which considers any criticism of Israel or solidarity with Palestine anti-semitic. The NDP is Canada’s social-democratic political party.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather and Conservative MP Marty Morantz joined the taskforce alongside Garrison.
What’s the Task Force all about?
The task force is made up of parliamentarians from Israel, the United States, Australia, and the UK.
The taskforce’s first virtual meeting occurred in September and featured presentations from multiple pro-Israeli apartheid groups, which “regularly seek to suppress and even ban Palestine activism,” according to activist group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
During an interview with the Times of Israel, Israeli parliamentarian Michal Cotler-Wunsh, a member of the task force, stated that if a Twitter post is accused of violating the IHRA definition, Twitter should target those posts and label them as anti-semitic.
In a Facebook post, CJPME made the case that “In theory, this could apply to virtually any criticism of Israel, or to a call to boycott Israel, or comparisons of Israel to Apartheid South Africa.”
What’s the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism? How Was it Passed in Ontario?
It is the working definition of antisemitism and what constitutes as examples of antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) plenary on May 26, 2016
The IHRA definition of antisemitism, contained in Bill 168, was adopted by Ontario’s Conservative government on October 26, 2020, through an order-in-council.
CJPME noted that the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism conflates genuine anti-semitism with criticisms of Israel. Seven out of eleven examples from the IHRA mention Zionism and Israel. Despite Conservative MPP Kaleed Rasheed claiming otherwise, the Ford government has chosen to adopt the problematic examples in the order-in-council, according to a report from Canadian Jewish Record.
In a March meeting of the Ontario NDP Provincial Council, Sara Rans, riding president of London North Centre remarked that, “I, a Jew, would be called anti-semitic because I know Israel’s laws against Palestinians are oppressive and racist,” in relation to the IHRA bill.
Rans detailed the Independent Jewish Voices’ proposed definition of antisemitism would tackle the issue while not targeting Palestine solidarity activists:
“Antisemitism is hostility, prejudice, defamation or discrimination against Jews, individuals or as a collective, because they are Jews. It includes essentializing Jews by attributing to them characteristics or behaviors that are deemed negative and/or are harmful to non-Jews.”
At the time, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath claimed that the bill was a distraction tactic which the party would refuse to oppose under the assumption that the bill wouldn’t pass through the legislature. Despite this, Horwath did punish MPPs which opposed the party’s line on the issue.
Months later, despite the opposition of numerous leftist groups, including Independent Jewish Voices, the BC Civil Liberties Association, and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the bill passed. Horwath’s assurances that this wouldn’t happen proved to be foolhardy at best.
Why is an NDP MP Joining this Task Force? Who is He?
Randall Garrison has a long record of opposing the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, ever since becoming an MP. Garrison liked a tweet from a far-right Conservative senator which referred to BDS as anti-semitic. He’s also reposted an article which referred to BDS as “cowardly and shameful”.
Garrison is the vice-chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CAIL), a pro-Israel lobby group designed to promote “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the two countries’ parliaments.
CAIL works alongside the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) to host lobbying events on Parliament Hill. The group regularly meets the Israeli ambassador and other diplomats. Representatives of the Group also regularly visit Israel on sponsored propaganda trips.
In 2016, Garrison went on a trip to Israel organized by the CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), and was part of the delegation to the Israeli Knesset. Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher argues that these paid trips violate ethics rules, as they are designed to push MPs to support Israeli apartheid against Palestine. According to Conacher, “Federal ethics rules say it is illegal for lobbyists to do anything that puts an MP or government official in even an appearance of a conflict of interest, and paying for an MP’s trip that costs thousands of dollars definitely crosses that line.”
In May 2019, Garrison attended a World Jewish Congress meeting in Ottawa, where resolutions smearing Palestinian solidarity activists and backing Israeli apartheid against Palestine were endorsed.
This July, Garrison was one of only two NDP MPs to refuse to sign a CJPME pledge, where signees committed to oppose Israel’s plans to annex the Palestinian West Bank. At the time, Garrison was slammed by former NDP MP Svend Robinson and CJPME Vice-President Michael Bueckert.
Garrison perplexingly claims that he “opposes Israeli annexation of Palestinian land and “remain[s] committed to getting Canada to work toward a two state solution where both sides can live in peace & security.” Remarkably, Garrison equates genocide against the Palestinian people to minor acts of resistance by Palestinians.
Bueckert called out Garrison for this false equivalence, stating that “if you won’t support Canada taking concrete action to stop Israeli annexation, you don’t really oppose it.”
In October, Israel approved the first settler homes in the Palestinian West Bank since suspending annexations back in July. Annexation of the West Bank is set to proceed yet again.
Has Garrison opposed the restart of annexations? Not at all.
Instead, he joins a task force seeking to force social media giants to punish pro-Palestine speech on Twitter and Facebook.
What do Other NDP MPs Think of the IHRA Definition?
NDP MPs Matthew Green, Leah Gazan, and Don Davies have all opposed the IHRA definition on social media. ONDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown also opposed the definition.
Gazan stated that “Netanyahu violently violates the human rights of Palestinian children, women, men, and families & is trying to protect himself by widening the definition of antisemitism to mask his abuses.”
Davies indicated his support for Green’s statement, confirming that he “advocate[s] peaceful resolution of conflicts and democratic self-determination.”
Berns-McGown argued that “silencing Palestinian advocacy & allyship, as IHRA does, is just wrong.”
Yet, none of these four have stood up to condemn Randall Garrison for supporting the IHRA definition and joining a task force that hopes to force Twitter and Facebook to apply the definition on their platform. NDP leader Jaghmeet Singh has openly opposed BDS, and refused to stand up against the anti-Palestinian solidarity IHRA definition. The only prominent NDP figure willing to condemn Garrison has been former NDP MP Svend Robinson.
For the NDP to begin to regain its status as a truly internationalist and leftist party, it must begin by making the party line open opposition to the IHRA definition and definitive support for the BDS movement. While the pro-Israeli apartheid lobby is strong in Canada, by refusing to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, the NDP is driving itself further and further into irrelevance.
Aidan Jonah is the Editor-in-Chief of The Canada Files, a socialist, anti-imperialist news site founded in 2019. He has written about Canadian imperialism, federal politics, and left-wing resistance to colonialism across the world. He is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at Ryerson University, who was the Head of Communications and Community Engagement for Etobicoke North NDP Candidate Naiima Farah in the 2019 Federal Election. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.