IHRA “Working Definition” of Antisemitism

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Understanding Antisemitism

  • While there are multiple perspectives on how to understand antisemitism, there is general agreement that it:
    • Generalizes Jews as “others” or as a sinister, conspiratorial force seeking domination and control.
    • Includes negative beliefs and feelings about Jews, hostile behavior directed against Jews, and conditions that discriminate against Jews and impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic, or social life.
  • That consensus diminishes when antisemitism intersects with issues related to Israel.

Questions That Lead to Misunderstandings

  • Is it antisemitic to condemn Israel for its policies?
  • Does anti-Zionism = antisemitism?
  • What does it mean to have a double standard regarding Israel?
  • Is it antisemitic to boycott Israel?
  • The lack of clarity around these questions is fertile ground for politicizing antisemitism, creating problems around:
    • Freedom of expression issues.
    • The debate about U.S. policy on Israel.
    • Funding for human rights organizations.
    • How antisemitism affects diverse relationships in the U.S. (e.g., multi-racial, interreligious

The IHRA “Working Definition”

  • A “working definition” on antisemitism was developed by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in 2004. It was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016.
  • Because the definition was drafted with data collection in mind, it had examples regarding Israel.
  • Since 2010, it has been used by State Department to provide guidance in identifying instances of antisemitism overseas.
  • After successful lobbying from right-wing groups, IHRA was enshrined in Trump’s “Executive Order Combating Antisemitism” (12/11/19) as the definitive guide to rules and regulations regarding antisemitism.
  • There is a debate in the American Jewish community and among policymakers about how IHRA should be treated by the incoming Administration and Congress

Concerns

  • As legal instrument, IHRA is vulnerable to abuse around issues related to freedom of expression – by potentially prohibiting actions that should otherwise be considered protected under the First Amendment.
  • Some language conflates political criticism of Israel with antisemitism in a way that is ripe for abuse by bad actors.
  • Important aspects of contemporary antisemitism are insufficiently emphasized in IHRA, such as white supremacy and how antisemitism grows in a politically polarized environment.

 

Existing Laws and Opportunities

  • The necessary legal tools for fighting antisemitism already exist in current federal laws and regulations, including:
    • Federal hate crime and anti-discrimination laws;
    • Laws prohibiting desecration of religious property;
    • Title VI regulations prohibiting discrimination against Jews at universities that receive federal funding; and
    • The Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
  • Additional steps that can be taken by the Administration:
    • Use its bully pulpit and all available tools at its disposal as part of a comprehensive campaign against antisemitism.
    • Encourage collaboration among government agencies and in civil society to strengthen the fight against antisemitism, in concert with the fight against hate crimes and all forms of discrimination.

A Path Forward

  1. Advocate for robust use of existing federal laws for fighting antisemitism.
  2. Urge the administration to use its bully pulpit and all available tools at its disposal as part of a comprehensive campaign against antisemitism.
  3. Advocate the use of IHRA, along with other resources, as a tool for monitoring, education & training . . . and not codified in statute or regulation or used to penalize or limit speech.
  4. Encourage collaboration among government agencies and in civil society to strengthen the fight against antisemitism, in concert with the fight against hate crimes and all forms of discrimination.

 

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