Lufthansa adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism - opinion

The decision to adopt the Working Definition of Antisemitism of the IHRA was made after accusations of discrimination and antisemitism were leveled four months ago against the airline.

Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt (photo credit: REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH)
Air planes of German carrier Lufthansa are parked at the airport in Frankfurt
(photo credit: REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH)

On Thursday, German airline Lufthansa officially adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The announcement took place at a special event that Lufthansa hosted in Washington.

The decision to adopt the Working Definition of Antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – an intergovernmental organization founded in 1998 – was made after accusations of discrimination and antisemitism were leveled four months ago against the airline.

The accusations were made after a large group of Orthodox Jewish passengers were barred from boarding a flight in May from Frankfurt to Budapest because some of them had not worn masks and committed other flight violations, such as gathering in the aisles.

The incident outraged Jews in the United States and Europe, some of whom alleged that the crew had discriminated against all visibly Jewish passengers, even those who had complied with the rules. An independent investigation commissioned by the airline said there was no evidence of institutional antisemitism behind the incident, which the company’s CEO nevertheless called “categorically inappropriate.”

What got them to make the decision?

A crowd protests anti-Semitism in New York City, Oct. 15, 2020. (credit: TAYFUN COSKUN/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)A crowd protests anti-Semitism in New York City, Oct. 15, 2020. (credit: TAYFUN COSKUN/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Lufthansa’s decision to adopt IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is a welcome and important milestone for the airline and for the global battle against Jewish hate. We applaud it for being the first in the world to do so.

Lufthansa could have decided to simply apologize for the May incident but it decided to do much more. It appointed an antisemitism manager within the company’s executive leadership, adopted IHRA and it signed an agreement with the American Jewish Committee to train employees to identify and respond to antisemitism.

“Fundamental to standing against antisemitism is understanding what it is and how it manifests, both in overt forms and through unconscious bias. The IHRA definition recognizes all of this – that is its distinct strength,” said Lufthansa Group Executive Board Member Christina Foerster, who was in Washington, meeting with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism; Felix Klein, federal government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against antisemitism; Emily Haber, German ambassador to the US; and Michael Herzog, Ambassador to the US.

Klein applauded the decision and said that he hoped other companies would follow suit.

“For a long time, I have been campaigning for as many businesses, associations, sports clubs and other groups as possible to take this definition seriously and to use it as an orientation in their activities. Not only has Lufthansa done this, but it has also installed an antisemitism officer and has introduced special training courses on antisemitism and discrimination for its staff,” he said.

“I believe these measures provide an appropriate and effective basis for preventing and combating antisemitism. I would be very glad if other German companies would follow Lufthansa’s example.”

The Working Definition of Antisemitism (also called the IHRA definition) is a non-legally binding statement on what antisemitism is, which was adopted by the IHRA Plenary with representatives from 31 countries.

The statement reads: “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.” Among the 11 examples of antisemitism that accompany the definition, seven relate to Israel.

Decisions like Lufthansa’s, to adopt IHRA, are important, especially at a time when antisemitism is on the rise across the globe and particularly in the United States.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 2,717 antisemitic incidents in 2021, representing an increase of 34% over 2020 and the highest on record since the New York-based Jewish civil rights group started tracking such cases in 1979.

What Lufthansa did was similar to Chelsea FC’s decision to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, becoming the first sports team in the world to do so.

Getting the definition adopted by nongovernmental organizations is important for stopping this wave of hate from spreading. Lufthansa took an important step in this battle. We urge other airlines to follow suit.