When human rights organizations indulge in antisemitism

More organizations need to adopt and abide by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism.

Battling antisemitism with 21st century technology (photo credit: Courtesy)
Battling antisemitism with 21st century technology
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The widespread increase in antisemitism around the world is closely linked to the demonization of Israel, including long-running campaigns falsely accusing the Jewish state of “war crimes,” “apartheid,” and “ethnic cleansing.” The groups leading these efforts, including some that use the facade of human rights, often draw an odious parallel between Israeli responses to terrorism and the behavior of the Nazis in the Holocaust. Many antisemitic attacks and acts of vandalism, particularly in Europe, are inspired by these noxious campaigns.
In an effort to counter this virus, the countries and governments that make up the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a “working definition of antisemitism” in May 2016. This document, like previous European and US State Department working definitions, lists a number of criteria generally associated with what is referred to as the “new antisemitism.” These include using double standards to single out Israel, “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,” or comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.
In addition, the IHRA working definition notes the use of symbols “associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.”
Among a growing number of states, these criteria have been adopted and endorsed, including by the European Parliament in an advisory (non-binding) resolution.
But much of the self-styled human rights community has studiously ignored the IHRA framework.
Groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Paris- based FIDH (the International Federation of Human Rights) and dozens of others that frequently stray into antisemitic territory remain outside this process.
Given the power and influence of these groups, the challenge of expanding the radius of the IHRA process to include NGOs is imperative.
This is neither an easy nor a trivial task.
NGOs that are closely linked to politicized church groups have been among the worst offenders, going back decades. The World Council of Churches runs a pseudo-human rights organization known as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which brings international activists to the West Bank through the abuse of Israeli tourist visas. These activists get an intense propaganda dose, spend three months immersed in the Palestinian narrative, and then return home to spread the same contents in their local communities and churches.
For instance, while speaking in London in 2016, one EAPPI activist blamed the perceived lack of American Evangelical support for Palestinians on the “Jewish lobby.” The WCC’s own general secretary, Dr.
Olav Fyske Tveit, stated at a June 2017 event that “I heard about the occupation of my country during the five years of World War II as the story of my parents. Now I see and hear the stories of 50 years of occupation....”
If the WCC, EAPPI and other such groups adopted the IHRA definition, such statements would be marked as antisemitic and considered out of bounds.
The problem is not confined to Europe. A number of Amnesty International’s advocates from its various national branches were members of a virulently antisemitic Facebook group, known as “Palestine Live.”
Participants who posted articles “questioning” the Holocaust were told they “should be allowed to discuss this rather than being silenced,” even if not in this particular group.
Unsurprisingly, in 2015, Amnesty-UK refused to take action to oppose rising antisemitism in the UK.
In the United States, the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) released a video alleging that organizations such as the ADL are responsible for police abuse against minorities in the US because they encourage cooperation between American and Israeli law enforcement agencies. Could the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which generously gives JVP $70,000 annually, continue support if the trustees adopted the IHRA definition? These examples are a small selection of the vast number of statements and publications made by self-proclaimed human rights NGOs that amount to antisemitism, according to the IHRA definition.
What concrete measures can be taken to encourage NGOs and their funders to adopt IHRA’s framework? A first step is building on government guidelines for funding NGOs, such as those adopted by the Swiss parliament in 2017 and as included with renewed Canadian funding for UNRWA. Organizations already active in combating antisemitism – the ADL, Wallenberg Centre, CRIF, to name a few – can be important early adopters to enhance efforts to combat antisemitism locally and internationally. Public events and conferences can likewise bring much needed attention to this issue.
Likewise, in a landmark December 2017 publication, the EU proclaimed its own guidelines preventing support for “EU-supported civil society organisations... engaged in activities inciting to hatred and/or violence.”
These are important, if belated, foundations in expanding IHRA-type frameworks to the NGO community.
Much work needs to be done, but the process has begun.