The US and the UN are about to unveil much-anticipated plans to combat antisemitism.
We have distinctly more confidence in America’s commitment to combating antisemitism than we do in the UN’s – given that the latter is positively infected with Jew-hatred, which courses through its various bodies and manifests itself in countless areas of the organization’s work – we applaud both efforts in principle. Nevertheless, fighting hatred of Jews, and of any group, is always a worthy endeavor.
The two plans are likely to differ in any number of ways, but they already have something notable in common: they are both at the center of fervent debates over the applicability of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA definition is the gold standard when it comes to defining contemporary Jew-hatred. Drafted by experts on antisemitism in concert with Jewish communities, it has been adopted by more than 40 governments and multilateral organizations, including the EU and the Organization of American States. It is being utilized by local governments, universities, businesses and communities around the world in their efforts to combat antisemitism. There is no definition that comes close to its broad adoption by those committed to this fight.
Why do people oppose the IHRA definition of antisemitism?
Opponents of the IHRA definition charge that it seeks to stifle criticism of Israeli policy, utilizing the cloak of antisemitism to shield the Jewish state from condemnation.
That is untrue.
At issue are 11 examples of antisemitism that accompany the definition and are viewed as an integral part thereof. Several of the examples pertain to Israel, including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” It is these examples that are used by opponents who claim that the entire definition exists solely to conflate criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews and should thus be discarded.
But the definition itself addresses this very issue: “Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” it says explicitly.
If this is so, then the definition can only apply to criticism of Israel that is dissimilar to that leveled against any other country. The examples seek to delineate what those might be.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination – the basic principle of anti-Zionism – is manifestly antisemitic. To argue that only the Jewish people do not have a right accorded all the other nations is to discriminate against them. That is the textbook definition of antisemitism.
But don’t take our word for it: recent polls indicate that overwhelming majorities of both Jews and non-Jews in the US believe rejecting Israel’s right to exist – and, by extension, denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination – is a form of antisemitism.
Opponents of the IHRA definition seek to limit what is considered antisemitic in order to exclude views regarded by the overwhelming majority of Jews – and non-Jews – as antisemitic. That should tell policymakers everything they need to know about the opponents’ motives. Contemporary antisemitism comes in many forms.
While far-right antisemitism – of the sort represented by white supremacists opening fire in suburban synagogues and bellowing “Jews will not replace us” on college campuses – remains of grave concern, we must not ignore the antisemitism of the hard left.
The exclusion of Jews from progressive spaces due to their attachment to the Jewish homeland, graffiti reading “Free Palestine” daubed on the walls of Jewish institutions and calls to “globalize the intifada” in city streets are all expressions of a form of antisemitism that targets Israel as the Jewish state and threatens Jews for their identification therewith. Any effort to combat antisemitism that fails to take this modern manifestation of Jew hatred into account cannot be taken seriously.
Both the US administration and the UN secretariat are coming under heavy pressure to reject or minimize the IHRA definition in their upcoming action plans. If they are serious about combating antisemitism, they should stand firm against that pressure, which seeks only to muddy the waters, confuse the conversation about contemporary Jew-hatred and stymie efforts to fight it.