New 'Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism' definition unneeded - opinion

The controversy over the IHRA definition arose after several fringe Jewish groups launched a campaign against IHRA, falsely claiming it “censors” free speech and “silences” Palestinian advocacy.

DEMONSTRATORS IN Paris’s Ilan Halimi square protest antisemitism and racism in February. (photo credit: CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS)
DEMONSTRATORS IN Paris’s Ilan Halimi square protest antisemitism and racism in February.
 In recent weeks, a new definition of antisemitism has popped up, titled the “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism,” aimed at undermining the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition. But at a time of rising antisemitic incidents around the world, in particular those in the name of “anti-Zionism not antisemitism,” we don’t need another definition of antisemitism, and certainly not by some of the same groups who are making antisemitism a political issue like the fringe groups IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace.
The new definition, signed onto by 200 academics, criticizes the IHRA definition by claiming it is overly broad not in the definition itself, but “in its use.” The IHRA definition is used as a tool for the US government, the EU and 30 other nations to help them define and recognize antisemitic incidents. It is also widely accepted by numerous academic institutions, sports teams and even private companies. It is unique in that it outlines specific examples of what antisemitism looks like today – from classical antisemitic tropes, to comparing the Jewish state to Nazis, to demanding Jews abroad answer for the policies of Israel, to using “Zionism” as a replacement word for Jews. Naturally, this concerns not only classical antisemites, but also modern ones who have made it a priority to demonize and defame Zionists.
The controversy over the IHRA definition has arisen as a result of several fringe Jewish groups launching a campaign against IHRA, falsely claiming it “censors” free speech and that it “silences” Palestinian advocacy. This is not only untrue, but tremendously offensive to pro-Palestinian activists in claiming they cannot advocate for Palestinians without being antisemitic. Additionally, IHRA does not advocate any form of censorship. If it is used as such, that’s not a problem of the definition but the person or institution misapplying it.
Scholars of antisemitism and advocates for the JDA – Joshua Shanes and Dov Waxman – wrote in Slate, “the IHRA definition – specifically some of its examples pertaining to Israel – has been misused to target pro-Palestinian advocacy,” meaning that even advocates and signatories to the JDA admit that the IHRA definition itself does not, in fact, advocate censorship or unfair targeting. Yet at a time when one in four American Jews have experienced antisemitism, these scholars choose to throw their weight behind dividing the community over a new definition of antisemitism that lends credence to extremist groups?
It should also be noted that among the signatories of the JDA are Peter Beinart, who routinely uses his platform to demonize both Israel and Zionists; Naomi Chazan, the former president of the left-wing New Israel Fund and Richard Falk, who served as the UN special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.” Falk, a conspiracy theorist who believes 9/11 was an inside job, has been widely criticized for his comments on both Israel and Jews, including but not limited to: claiming that Israel was planning a Holocaust of the Palestinians, claiming the US government and Jews were conspiring to take Palestinian land and publishing antisemitic cartoons on his blog, where he defended outrageous antisemitic authors, including those supporting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 
After the Boston Marathon bombing, Falk wrote an article that even the UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki Moon condemned. Canadian foreign minister John Baird said Falk’s response to the bombing “spewed more mean-spirited, antisemitic rhetoric, this time blaming the attacks in Boston on [then-US] president [Barack] Obama and the State of Israel.” Does that sound like someone who has any business defining antisemitism today?
While the JDA is very similar to the IHRA definition, and it too addresses many forms of modern antisemitism, it also states that many manifestations of anti-Israel activity, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, are not antisemitic “in and of themselves.” Yet as scholar of antisemitism David Hirsh points out, they do not manifest “in and of themselves,” they manifest in BDS resolutions targeting Jewish students on Jewish holidays, on campus events in which Jewish students are asked to answer for Israel’s “apartheid” or “Nazi” policies and many other horrific and real-world incidents of antisemitism. 
In another absurd example, the JDA argues that “it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.” But again, such comparisons are not done “in and of themselves,” but rather occur in the context of demonization of one specific state, of one specific people and, most often, targeting and harassing people of one specific faith. This section of the JDA specifically notes that “evidence based” criticism of Israel is what is acceptable, but Israel is neither apartheid nor a settler-colonial project in both past or present; as such the entire clause is bogus.
Hirsh explains the JDA is simply a political response of academics to external populist pressure, despite the fact that IHRA explicitly states criticism of Israel is completely legitimate. “The Jerusalem Declaration is not a scientific document about antisemitism, it’s a political document which stakes out the boundaries of the community of the good,” he wrote. 
While the IHRA definition seeks to identify and educate governments, organizations and individuals on what antisemitism is, the JDA is a group of academics walking on eggshells to try to define what antisemitism is not in order to appease a more extreme group that has become increasingly and aggressively more antisemitic on the far Left. It is the exact opposite of what’s needed today in the fight against antisemitism.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.