- The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of Antisemitism (IHRA Definition)
2. Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA)
3. Endorsement of JDA by The Nation
4. The Nexus Document on the IHRA Definition
5. Straub Comparison of the Three Definitions
6. Martin Raffael Introduction to the Three Definitions
7. Fathom E-book in Defence of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
8. Cary Nelson Defence of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
9. Palestinian Statement Criticizing the IHRA Definition
10. Michael Walzer Defence of his Endorsement of the JDA Definition
11. Derek Penslar Defence of his Endorsement of the JDA Definition
12. Cary Nelson Response to Pensler and Walzer
1. About the IHRA working definition of antisemitism
The IHRA is the only intergovernmental organization mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues, so with evidence that the scourge of antisemitism is once again on the rise, we resolved to take a leading role in combatting it. IHRA experts determined that in order to begin to address the problem of antisemitism, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is.
The IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial worked to build international consensus around a non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism, which was subsequently adopted by the Plenary. By doing so, the IHRA set an example of responsible conduct for other international fora and provided an important tool with practical applicability for its Member Countries. This is just one illustration of how the IHRA has equipped policymakers to address this rise in hate and discrimination at their national level.
The working definition of antisemitism
In the spirit of the Stockholm Declaration that states: “With humanity still scarred by …antisemitism and xenophobia the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils” the committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial called the IHRA Plenary in Budapest 2015 to adopt the following working definition of antisemitism.
On 26 May 2016, the Plenary in Bucharest decided to:
Adopt the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:
“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.”
To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- 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.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).
Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.
Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.
Information on adoption and endorsement
The following UN member states have adopted or endorsed the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. Beyond the countries listed below, a wide range of other political entities, including a large number of regional/state and local governments, have done so as well.
Albania (22 October 2020)
Argentina (4 June 2020)
Austria (25 April 2017)
Belgium (14 December 2018)
Bulgaria (18 October 2017)
Canada (27 June 2019)
Cyprus (18 December 2019)
Czech Republic (25 January 2019)
France (3 December 2019)
Germany (20 September 2017)
Greece (8 November 2019)
Guatemala (27 January 2021)
Hungary (18 February 2019)
Israel (22 January 2017)
Italy (17 January 2020)
Lithuania (24 January 2018)
Luxembourg (10 July 2019)
Moldova (18 January 2019)
Netherlands (27 November 2018)
North Macedonia (6 March 2018)
Romania (25 May 2017)
Serbia (26 February 2020)
Slovakia (28 November 2018)
Slovenia (20 December 2018)
Spain (22 July 2020)
Sweden (21 January 2020)
United Kingdom (12 December 2016)
United States (11 December 2019)
Uruguay (27 January 2020)
The following international organizations have expressed support for the working definition of antisemitism:
- Secretary General Antonio Guterres
- Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed
Council of Europe
- The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism
The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism is a tool to identify, confront and raise awareness about antisemitism as it manifests in countries around the world today. It includes a preamble, definition, and a set of 15 guidelines that provide detailed guidance for those seeking to recognize antisemitism in order to craft responses. It was developed by a group of scholars in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, and Middle East studies to meet what has become a growing challenge: providing clear guidance to identify and fight antisemitism while protecting free expression. It has over 200 signatories.
We, the undersigned, present the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, the product of an initiative that originated in Jerusalem. We include in our number international scholars working in Antisemitism Studies and related fields, including Jewish, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine, and Middle East Studies. The text of the Declaration has benefited from consultation with legal scholars and members of civil society.
Inspired by the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the 1969 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, and the 2005 United Nations Resolution on Holocaust Remembrance, we hold that while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination.
Conscious of the historical persecution of Jews throughout history and of the universal lessons of the Holocaust, and viewing with alarm the reassertion of antisemitism by groups that mobilize hatred and violence in politics, society, and on the internet, we seek to provide a usable, concise, and historically-informed core definition of antisemitism with a set of guidelines.
The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism responds to “the IHRA Definition,” the document that was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. Because the IHRA Definition is unclear in key respects and widely open to different interpretations, it has caused confusion and generated controversy, hence weakening the fight against antisemitism. Noting that it calls itself “a working definition,” we have sought to improve on it by offering (a) a clearer core definition and (b) a coherent set of guidelines. We hope this will be helpful for monitoring and combating antisemitism, as well as for educational purposes. We propose our non-legally binding Declaration as an alternative to the IHRA Definition. Institutions that have already adopted the IHRA Definition can use our text as a tool for interpreting it.
The IHRA Definition includes 11 “examples” of antisemitism, 7 of which focus on the State of Israel. While this puts undue emphasis on one arena, there is a widely-felt need for clarity on the limits of legitimate political speech and action concerning Zionism, Israel, and Palestine. Our aim is twofold: (1) to strengthen the fight against antisemitism by clarifying what it is and how it is manifested, (2) to protect a space for an open debate about the vexed question of the future of Israel/Palestine. We do not all share the same political views and we are not seeking to promote a partisan political agenda. Determining that a controversial view or action is not antisemitic implies neither that we endorse it nor that we do not.
The guidelines that focus on Israel-Palestine (numbers 6 to 15) should be taken together. In general, when applying the guidelines each should be read in the light of the others and always with a view to context. Context can include the intention behind an utterance, or a pattern of speech over time, or even the identity of the speaker, especially when the subject is Israel or Zionism. So, for example, hostility to Israel could be an expression of an antisemitic animus, or it could be a reaction to a human rights violation, or it could be the emotion that a Palestinian person feels on account of their experience at the hands of the State. In short, judgement and sensitivity are needed in applying these guidelines to concrete situations.
Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).
- It is racist to essentialize (treat a character trait as inherent) or to make sweeping negative generalizations about a given population. What is true of racism in general is true of antisemitism in particular.
- What is particular in classic antisemitism is the idea that Jews are linked to the forces of evil. This stands at the core of many anti-Jewish fantasies, such as the idea of a Jewish conspiracy in which “the Jews” possess hidden power that they use to promote their own collective agenda at the expense of other people. This linkage between Jews and evil continues in the present: in the fantasy that “the Jews” control governments with a “hidden hand,” that they own the banks, control the media, act as “a state within a state,” and are responsible for spreading disease (such as Covid-19). All these features can be instrumentalized by different (and even antagonistic) political causes.
- Antisemitism can be manifested in words, visual images, and deeds. Examples of antisemitic words include utterances that all Jews are wealthy, inherently stingy, or unpatriotic. In antisemitic caricatures, Jews are often depicted as grotesque, with big noses and associated with wealth. Examples of antisemitic deeds are: assaulting someone because she or he is Jewish, attacking a synagogue, daubing swastikas on Jewish graves, or refusing to hire or promote people because they are Jewish.
- Antisemitism can be direct or indirect, explicit or coded. For example, “The Rothschilds control the world” is a coded statement about the alleged power of “the Jews” over banks and international finance. Similarly, portraying Israel as the ultimate evil or grossly exaggerating its actual influence can be a coded way of racializing and stigmatizing Jews. In many cases, identifying coded speech is a matter of context and judgement, taking account of these guidelines.
- Denying or minimizing the Holocaust by claiming that the deliberate Nazi genocide of the Jews did not take place, or that there were no extermination camps or gas chambers, or that the number of victims was a fraction of the actual total, is antisemitic.
B. Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are antisemitic
- Applying the symbols, images and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism (see guidelines 2 and 3) to the State of Israel.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating Jews, simply because they are Jewish, as agents of Israel.
- Requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, at a political meeting).
- Assuming that non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.
- Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.
C. Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic
(whether or not one approves of the view or action)
- Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.
- Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.
- Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, the role Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a state, it influences events in the world. It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination. In general, the same norms of debate that apply to other states and to other conflicts over national self-determination apply in the case of Israel and Palestine. Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.
- Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.
- Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.
3. The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism
Why the oldest hatred needs a new definition.
By Brian Klug
APRIL 1, 2021
Confronted with the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA), published on March 25, 2021, it is tempting—especially for Jews at this time of year—to ask: Why is this definition of anti-Semitism different from all other definitions?
Actually, the question to ask is more specific. In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental body, produced its “working definition of antisemitism.” The IHRA definition has been endorsed by the secretary general of the United Nations and adopted by governments, political parties, public agencies, universities, and other bodies (including numerous Jewish organizations) in countries around the world. The European Parliament has called upon all member states to adopt the definition. The JDA is written, in large part, as a response to the IHRA text. So, a better question might be: How is the JDA different and why does the difference matter? In short: Why the JDA?
For several years, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. The IHRA definition was presented as a tool for fighting this scourge, but it has generated widespread confusion and bitter controversy—especially regarding its emphasis on speech about Zionism and Israel/Palestine. The IHRA definition tends to divert attention away from the threat that Jews face from the far right and populist movements, divide the forces opposing racism (and other forms of bigotry), and muddy the waters over the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. This, in turn, places unacceptable constraints on political debate about the future for Israel/Palestine and on protest by Palestinians and their allies (including many Jews).
The IHRA website says: “In order to combat antisemitism effectively, it is important to have clarity about what antisemitism is and how it may manifest itself.” But clarity is precisely what the IHRA text lacks, starting with its core definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” Apart from the problematic focus on “hatred,” this has been aptly described by professor David Feldman, director of the Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (Birkbeck, University of London), as “bewilderingly imprecise.” The definition goes on to say that “manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property…” Stop there. A definition is a form of words that clarifies the meaning of a concept. The phrase “Jewish or non-Jewish,” without any explanation being given, is the opposite of clarifying: It is plain weird.
In contrast, the definition in the JDA is simple and clear: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).” The FAQ accompanying the JDA explains what the IHRA definition mangles: Anti-Semitism can, by extension, apply to non-Jews in cases of mistaken identity or, as it were, guilt by association.
The principal source of controversy with the IHRA text lies in the set of 11 “examples” it gives, seven of which are about Israel/Palestine. These “examples” are widely understood to be integral to the definition. (This reading is confirmed by a separate, authoritative statement emanating from the ranks of the IHRA: “Any ‘modified’ version of the IHRA definition that does not include all of its 11 examples is no longer the IHRA definition.”) But the set does not make sense as a set. An umbrella clause says they “could, taking into account the overall context” be examples of anti-Semitism. In fact, the most vivid examples, such as the blood libel, Holocaust denial, and the myth of a world Jewish conspiracy, do not depend on context. Since the IHRA text puts all 11 examples on the same level, the umbrella clause tends to slip from people’s minds. Most people—whether they support the IHRA definition or oppose it—take it to be saying that all 11 examples are anti-Semitic per se. This includes a number of problematic cases, such as applying double standards to Israel or questioning the Zionist conception of the state. On this basis, people invoke the IHRA definition to claim that applying the term “apartheid” to Israel and supporting BDS are intrinsically anti-Semitic. But they are not.
The effect of this confusion has been disastrous for the public debate over Zionism and Israel/Palestine. People of goodwill look to the IHRA definition for guidance concerning a key question: When should political speech about Israel or Zionism be protected—and when does it cross the line into anti-Semitism? What they need is clarity. What they get is a matzah pudding. The IHRA definition should have separated out the fight against anti-Semitism from the political battle over Israel/Palestine. It became, instead, a site where the battle is fought. People on one side of the political divide tend to support the definition, while their adversaries tend to oppose it. Whatever the IHRA authors intended, this polarization is a fatal indictment of their definition.
The JDA, in contrast, seeks to separate out the fight against anti-Semitism from partisan political argument. It has no political agenda regarding Zionism or the conflict over Israel/Palestine, about which there is a wide range of views among the signatories. What unites them are certain universal principles that are set out in the Preamble. Unlike the IHRA definition, the JDA explicitly connects the fight against anti-Semitism with a wider front opposing racism and bigotry in general. Its guidelines make a clear distinction between cases that depend on context and cases that do not. Because it sets out to rectify the flaws in the IHRA definition, special attention—more than some of us would like—is paid to speech about Israel/Palestine. One helpful feature is that it gives examples which, on the face of it, are not anti-Semitic. (They include the problematic cases mentioned above.) Not that the JDA endorses the views in question; some signatories strongly oppose one or more of them. But it is one thing to think that a political view is wrong, another to brand it anti-Semitic.
To sum up: The IHRA definition is unclear, confusing and misleading. It is divisive among Jews and does not help forge a broad anti-racist alliance. It tends to encourage conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and to inhibit legitimate political speech about Israel/Palestine. In all these respects, the JDA, though far from perfect, offers a better alternative.
- The JDA Nexus Statement on Antisemitism
Liberal Jewish scholars present anti-Semitism definition that allows more freedom for Israel criticism
- Ron Kampeas
- Posted Mar 16, 2021
(JTA) — A group of liberal Jewish scholars is offering a definition of anti-Semitism that grants more leeway to Israel criticism than the one that Jewish groups are pressing governments to adopt.
The key difference in the definitions posted Tuesday by the Nexus Task Force, a project of the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, and the 2016 definition developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is in applying double standards to Israel criticism.
The IHRA definition includes as an example of anti-Semitic Israel criticism “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” A number of mainstream Jewish advocacy groups are pressing U.S. state governments and governments overseas to adopt the IHRA definition.
Critics have said the definition is too broad. The Nexus Task Force, formed in 2019 to address what it describes as a “disturbing trend to politicize and exploit antisemitism and Israel is growing in conservative and right-wing political circles” describes circumstances under which applying a double standard to Israel is not anti-Semitic.
“Paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of anti-Semitism,” the Nexus definition says. “There are numerous reasons for devoting special attention to Israel and treating Israel differently, e.g., some people care about Israel more; others may pay more attention because Israel has a special relationship with the United States and receives $4 billion in American aid.”
The Nexus definition describes ways in which anti-Israel bias can manifest as anti-Semitism.
“It is anti-Semitic to treat Israel in a negative manner based off of a claim that Jews alone should be denied the right to define themselves as a people and to exercise any form of self-determination,” it says.
Authors of the Nexus document include Dov Waxman, a professor of Israel studies at UCLA; Tema Smith, the one-time coordinator of Canada’s National Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research; David Schraub, a lecturer at the Berkeley Law School and senior research fellow at the California Constitution Center; Matt Nosanchuk, the liaison to the Jewish community for the Obama White House; and Jonathan Jacoby, the director of the Nexus Task Force.
5. The Schraub Comparison of the Three Definitions
War of the words: The conflict between definitions of antisemitism
“We need to first define and identify that which we are trying to defeat, in order to defeat it.”
APRIL 22, 2021 22:15
The fight against antisemitism has historically been difficult, but in March the term itself became a battlefield with the drafting of a third international definition of antisemitism.
The Jerusalem Definition of Antisemitism (JDA) was marched out in opposition to the popular International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition and the recent but lesser-known Nexus definition.
Factions championing different definitions have since been firing off tweets, enlisting signatories and launching campaigns.
For outsiders to the conflict, it’s hard to understand what the fight is about. The IHRA, JDA, and Nexus definitions have many similarities and overlaps. It is in the distinctions, views on double standards, self-determination and legitimate criticism, that counter-antisemitism activists and political activists clash.
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism was the first to take the field. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance was created with the backing of 34 countries to “promote education, remembrance and research about the Holocaust.” However, there was no international standard of antisemitism that the multinational effort could use for education and research. To this end, IHRA adopted a working definition of antisemitism in 2016.
It was based on a previous research project on antisemitism, “initially designed as an aid for data collection regarding antisemitic incidents in Europe,” David Schraub, one of the developers of the Nexus definition and assistant professor of law at the Lewis & Clark Law School, explained to the Magazine. “When it was drafted, it was never envisioned as some sort of overarching framework that could capture all forms of antisemitism in all places.” Yet due to rising levels of antisemitism, the IHRA definition was pressed into service.
The IHRA definition has a main definition and 11 guidelines to serve as examples of how antisemitism may manifest. According to IHRA, “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.”
Of the guidelines, four were for classic antisemitism, and the remaining seven on antisemitism involving Israel. The inclusion of examples with Israel would later become contested, but for counter-antisemitism activists it was necessary to combat a rising trend of “new antisemitism” involving the Jewish state.
The last half of the decade saw a surge of antisemitism in the US. According to FBI religious hate crime statistics, in 2016 Jews represented 53% of all victims, which rose by 10% in 2019. That year, Jews were the targets of a series of street and shooting attacks.
During the pandemic, Jew-hatred shifted online with COVID-19 conspiracies and rants by celebrities, which often touched on Israel.
On American campuses, while “classical” manifestations of antisemitism were dropping, incidents that involved Israel rose by 300% in 2019, according to the AMCHA initiative. This coincided with a steady rise in US campus Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activity. American Jews were experiencing multiple forms of antisemitism that academic institutions, social media platforms and authorities didn’t understand, and therefore didn’t know how to address.
“Today, we are seeing not only a resurgence in ‘classical’ antisemitism directed towards Jews as individuals, but also a manifestation of antisemitism directed against the Jewish state, which takes on false claims and malicious distortions of truth dangerously disguised as acceptable criticism of Zionism and Israel,” Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum (ILF), told the Magazine.
Antisemitism is identifiable to most when it mirrors racism, but many are unfamiliar with classic antisemitic imagery or tropes, or how “Jew” can simply be substituted with “Zionist.” Activists were frustrated that authorities couldn’t hear the dog whistles.
“Jewish students support IHRA because they recognize they are being targeted under the context of anti-Zionism,” Daniel Koren, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, told the Magazine. “They see that administrators do not have the tools or guidelines to understand the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel as opposed to the outright hatred of Jewish people.”
With lack of a shared understanding of antisemitism, definition became vital.
“We need to first define and identify that which we are trying to defeat, in order to defeat it,” Ostrovsky stressed. “We need to be very clear when… statements or actions morph from legitimate criticism of Israel into antisemitism, and the IHRA definition provides the best, clearest and most objective tool for enabling that.”
With such a multitude of ways antisemitism could manifest, a comprehensive definition of antisemitism was needed and IHRA, while imperfect to some, was there.
“When we started to need an authoritative framework for assessing antisemitism to account for cases where there was live controversy, IHRA got pressed into service less because it was the right tool for the job but rather because it was the only tool available,” said Schraub.
Since its deployment, IHRA has gained immense institutional support.
“The IHRA definition is the most widely endorsed definition of antisemitism in the world, having been adopted by over 30 countries, a host of leading multilateral institutions and civil society,” Ostrovsky explained.
HOWEVER, THE biggest campaigner for IHRA on campuses was then-president Donald Trump, who in 2019 signed an executive order to have the Justice and Education departments use the IHRA definition. Trump’s involvement deepened battle lines that developed as IHRA grew in popularity.
Like all things in the current hyper-partisan environment, the definition of antisemitism quickly became political, a strategic hill to be conquered. Both right- and left-wing political activists have their agendas, and defining antisemitism presents obstacles and boons in their pursuit. For the partisan Left, Trump’s involvement with IHRA tainted it, as with his supporters it sanctified it.
Both poles of the political spectrum have an interest in the problem of antisemitism being laid at the feet of the other, so as to dissuade or enlist voters. Some on the Left see IHRA as a problem because it does not focus on white supremacy, a product of the radical Right. For some on the Right, antisemitism comes from the Left, where BDS largely resides, and IHRA holds BDS objectives and tactics as antisemitic. David Schraub)
Of course, the most dug-in sides on the definition of antisemitism are pro-Israel and anti-Zionist activists. IHRA is unacceptable to the latter not only because it casts denial of Jewish self-determination, double standards and certain rhetoric as antisemitic, but it also supposes that antisemitism exists among anti-Zionists at all, a premise that must be rejected altogether for legitimacy’s sake.
“People want a definition of antisemitism to indict what they dislike and to protect what they like,” Schraub explained of the divisions. “If you back BDS, you want to be damn sure that a publicly accepted definition of antisemitism doesn’t include BDS. If you back Trump, you want to be damn sure that the definition doesn’t capture anything Trump says [that may be antisemitic].”
Those who felt the definition of antisemitism was not favorable needed to provide another. Meanwhile, some counter-antisemitism activists had concerns that IHRA wasn’t clear or comprehensive enough. Consequently, new powers rose to challenge IHRA’s terminological hegemony.
THE NEXUS Task Force was established in 2019 to “examine the issues at the intersection of antisemitism and Israel in American politics.”
According to Schraub, the Nexus definition came about because “there were many people who were very concerned about antisemitism, who very much wanted to avoid doing antisemitic things, but who did not see IHRA as providing sufficient guidance to let them know what was okay and what was problematic…. Our purpose was to provide greater clarity and fine-tuning so we wouldn’t see people of goodwill accidentally blunder into an antisemitic hot spot.”
According to the Nexus definition, “Antisemitism consists of anti-Jewish beliefs, attitudes, actions or systemic conditions. It includes negative beliefs and feelings about Jews, hostile behavior directed against Jews (because they are Jews), and conditions that discriminate against Jews and significantly impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic or social life.
As an embodiment of collective Jewish organization and action, Israel can be a target of antisemitism and antisemitic behavior. Thus, it is important for Jews and their allies to understand what is and what is not antisemitic in relation to Israel.”
Nexus includes nine guidelines to what animus toward Israel is antisemitic, and another four about what is not. In comparison to IHRA’s examples, Nexus also includes “conditions which impede the full equality of Jews as a form of antisemitism,” “dismissal of Jewish claims about antisemitism,” and the Jewishness of Jews being “denied or denigrated,” as forms of antisemitism.
The Jerusalem Definition of Antisemitism began development in 2020 under the auspices of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and was deployed on March 25, 2021. The JDA was introduced with an academic phalanx of over 200 signatories from disciplines “of Holocaust history, Jewish studies and Middle East studies.”
The JDA has a much cleaner definition of antisemitism than IHRA or Nexus: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).”
It has 15 guidelines in total, five on general antisemitism, five Israel examples that are antisemitic and another five that are not. It also has an extensive FAQ and a preamble that explains the reasoning behind the JDA.
In contrast to IHRA, it notes that BDS is not inherently antisemitic, the fight against antisemitism falls under the broader fight against racism, and it removes double standards, denial of Jewish self-determination in Israel and comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany, as antisemitic.
The JDA’s introduction garnered mixed reactions. It was clearly developed as a counter to IHRA, with the JDA outright stating that it “responds to ‘the IHRA Definition.’” This motive drew supporters, but also delegitimized it in the eyes of many others.
“The Jerusalem Definition, in my view, is an obvious political attempt to legitimize antisemitism,” said Koren. “It is an insult to the students fighting for change.”
Ostrovsky expressed a similar sentiment: “The recent spate of alternate definitions is a blatant attempt to water down and undermine the fight against antisemitism, and specifically the IHRA definition, by seeking to extricate Israel from the equation and get BDS, pernicious vilification of the Jewish state and opposition to Zionism through the back door, with some veneer of legitimacy.”
Organizations like IfNotNow (INN) have embraced the JDA.
“We welcome the JDA, as a viable alternative to the controversial and unhelpful IHRA definition,” INN said in an official statement, noting that IHRA was part of a campaign to “shield the Israeli government from accountability” and that it muddied the waters about “real antisemitism” and misused “Jewish communal resources.”
INN also emphasized the JDA’s promotion of fighting antisemitism as “inseparable from fighting other forms of discrimination.”
Interestingly, the BDS movement has been highly critical of the JDA. BDS denies there is antisemitism in anti-Israel circles, and claims that everything from JDA’s name to its focus reinforces this premise. BDS was angered that the definition “excludes representative Palestinian perspectives,” and also did not strongly enough reject double standards, denial of Jewish self-determination and certain imagery as being antisemitic.
SINCE THE definitions were established, their proponents have clashed on three main fronts: double standards, self-determination and legitimate criticism.
Some feel that Israel is subjected to discriminatory standards only because it is a Jewish state. On the other side, commentators fear their focus could make them appear antisemitic under some interpretations. While the JDA claims that a double standard is not, in and of itself, antisemitic, IHRA and Nexus assert that in certain situations it is.
Schraub explains that the problem with maximalist positions of double standards is that, on “one hand, the double standard is perhaps the closest thing we have to the most intuitive core case of discrimination: treating likes unalike.” However, “people are allowed to have areas of focus and concentration without it being a ‘double standard.’”
Many activists are pursuing their best interests on the role of double standards, either avoiding being called antisemitic or seeking to wield it against violators.
This rush of conflicting interests occurs with the matter of denial of self-determination as well.
For Zionists, self-determination is a fundamental national right, and to deny Jews a right enshrined by other nation-states is inequality and discrimination.
For those who seek Israel’s dismantling or for it to cease being a Jewish state, a definition could make their objectives explicitly antisemitic, and push their camp out of polite society.
The JDA doesn’t see denial of self-determination as inequality or as a double standard. Both Nexus and IHRA support the right of self-determination, though Schraub does offer some caution on this issue. “The JDA, I think, is less clear on this point, and that, to me, is a weakness…. But critics of the JDA who don’t actually accept the idea that there is a general right to self-determination that applies to Palestinians, only a Jewish right of self-determination,” are applying a double standard themselves.
The introduction of a tool in which some anti-Israel speech could be measured as antisemitic created a limitation on BDS and anti-Zionist operations. Suddenly, Jewish Voice for Peace’s campaign to blame Israel for US police brutality and George Floyd’s death was institutionally unacceptable. Comparing Israelis to the coronavirus was measured against classic comparisons of Jews to pests.
This required a shift in tactics, and BDS activists, once doctrinally seeking to limit free speech on campuses, shifted to castigating definitions of antisemitism as a campaign to stifle Palestinian voices and criticism of Israel. Proponents of IHRA dismiss this as disingenuous.
“The IHRA definition does not stifle any speech in support of Palestinian rights,” said Koren. “It very clearly stipulates that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, but demonization or dehumanization of Israel (or the Jews as a people) is antisemitic.”
“Those who say the IHRA definition “stifles” pro-Palestinian speech are being willfully misleading,” said Ostrovsky. “On the contrary, IHRA is very explicit that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.’”
Some anti-Zionist groups have accepted the JDA as not limiting speech; yet BDS still sees all available definitions as operational impediments. Consequently, out of this third front of conflict, a new definition may be developed to suit BDS political needs.
A final front may develop later, based on the JDA assertions on racism. The JDA contends that antisemitism is not unique, simply another form of racism, and can therefore be properly fought only together with other forms of racism. This may result in antisemitism being ignored in situations inconvenient to left-wing racial narratives.
For all the conflict with new definitions, IHRA’s momentum has not slowed. In Ontario, not long after the Canadian province adopted IHRA, a student initiative matched the JDA’s signatures with 210 in support of the older definition. Academics for IHRA, a project in which ILF is deeply involved, launched just after JDA’s release, and eclipsed its signatures with over 350 scholars signing an open letter of its own. On April 11, SSI hosted a massive summit on IHRA involving 50 organizations from 11 countries, with the goal of building bipartisan and pan-religious support.
Despite the controversy, there has not yet been any significant adoption of the JDA, and the Nexus definition has been largely ignored.
Ultimately, the points of contention in defining antisemitism may be insurmountable for some groups. Each definition will likely secure its own institutional territory and political following.
However, there remains the possibility of armistice through the imperfection of the definitions. One thing that IHRA, JDA and Nexus agree on is that none of the definitions are exhaustive or final.
As Schraub notes, there will be no definition “free of controversy” or safe from being used in “bad-faith ways by abusive actors.”
Acknowledgment of the imperfection and fallibility of the definitions may allow them to coexist, if not peaceably, in a cold war.
The writer is a desk manager at The Jerusalem Post. An IDF veteran with experience in the security and public diplomacy fields, he has a BA in government and MA in counter-terrorism and national security from IDC Herzliya. On Twitter: @Starrlord89
6. Martin Raffael Introduction to the Three Definitions
Anti-Semitism, by Definition
April 22, 2021
By Martin J. Raffel
In recent weeks, a robust debate has surfaced yet again around the definition of anti-Semitism, particularly as it relates to Israel and Zionism.
A clear definition can guide government bodies, universities and other civil society institutions in determining whether discourse is acceptable or beyond the pale.
Most major Jewish organizations strongly encourage use of the working definition of anti-Semitism developed through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which has become the authoritative formulation widely accepted around the world. (It is worth noting that one of the definition’s principal authors, Kenneth Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, insists that the IHRA definition was never intended to guide policymakers, but simply to be used as a vehicle to assist in data collection.)
The IHRA and two new definitions grapple with the same questions. Where is the line between criticism of Israel because of its policies and efforts to delegitimize Israel as the Jewish state? Is it anti-Semitic to hold Israel to a higher standard of conduct than other nations? The following is a brief comparative analysis:
IHRA: This definition holds that it is anti-Semitic to “target” the state of Israel, “conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” which simply means one cannot oppose Israel simply because it is the nation state of the Jewish people. This language is further clarified when the IHRA provides examples of anti-Semitic rhetoric, such as “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.” By that definition, the infamous 1975 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism, which was subsequently revoked, would be regarded by the IHRA as anti-Semitic.
Another IHRA example of anti-Semitism is applying a double standard to Israel, i.e., by “requiring of Israel behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Nexus: This definition, a project of the Knight Program on Media and Religion at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at USC, uses different language, but it reaches the same conclusion, that it is anti-Semitic to delegitimize Israel not by what it does, but rather by what it is — a state that fulfills the Jewish people’s right of national self-determination.
Unlike the IHRA, Nexus carves out two useful exceptions to this principle: If one opposes the right of all peoples to national self-determination, as a matter of principle, then opposition to Israel as a Jewish state would not be considered anti-Semitic. Nor would it be anti-Semitic, referring implicitly to the Palestinians, if your “personal or national experience may have been adversely affected” by the creation of Israel. Giving the Palestinians a pass, in my judgment, is appropriate — even as I hope that, over time, they will come to accept Jewish nationalism as not inconsistent with Palestinian self-determination and statehood.
Applying a higher standard of conduct to Israel, according to Nexus, would not “prima facie” be proof of anti-Semitism. As Nexus correctly observes, some people, American Jews for example, may simply care more about Israel than they do other countries, and expect more, as well. So, they hold the Jewish state to a higher standard not out of malice, but rather to advocate for policies that align with their aspirations and values.
Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism: This definition, proposed by more than 200 American, Israeli and international scholars, takes a significantly different — and unhelpful — approach with respect to Jewish national self-determination (i.e., Zionism).
While JDA affirms equal rights for Jews in Israel/Palestine, it does not consider criticism or opposition to Zionism “as a form of nationalism” anti-Semitic. Nor would it be anti-Semitic to support “two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state or any other constitutional form in the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.” Some of these “forms” inevitably would result in the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state.
Conversely, JDA seems more generous when it comes to Palestinian nationalism by supporting the “Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, as encapsulated in international law.”
However, there are some positive aspects to the JDA definition. For example, it reminds us that boycotts can be legitimate nonviolent forms of political protest. While unfair and counterproductive when used against Israel, they are, nevertheless, not anti-Semitic in and of themselves.
That said, the JDA does not address whether the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement founded by Omar Barghouti should be considered anti-Semitic. I am of the opinion that it should, because the BDS movement’s aim — sometimes implicit and other times explicit — is the end of Israel as the Jewish state. Yet I agree with JDA’s observation that “excessive or contentious” criticism is not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic.
A fear expressed by proponents of the IHRA, which I share, is that multiple definitions may confuse government and civil society decision-makers. This potential problem can be mitigated, somewhat, if the IHRA is framed as the consensus definition, which remains subject to enhancement with supplemental material.
Defining anti-Semitism is important. Yet, we ought not lose sight of an even more urgent task, namely, the development of effective measures to attack its most virulent manifestations, especially the rising tide of violent right-wing extremism. That is the greatest threat today to the security of American Jews. l
Martin J. Raffel, a resident of Langhorne, is former senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
7. FEBRUARY 2021 > FATHOM EBOOK | IN DEFENCE OF THE IHRA WORKING DEFINITION OF ANTISEMITISM, ed. Alan Johnson
In Defence of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism features Andrew Baker, Deidre Berger, Eve Garrard, Bernard Harrison, David Hirsh, Alan Johnson, Lesley Klaff, Dave Rich, Derek Spitz and Michael Whine.
Andrew Baker, Deidre Berger and Michael Whine put the record straight about the origins and authorship of the IHRA definition. In this crystal clear presentation, the authors explain the origins of the definition after a rise in global antisemitism and an evolution in its form, and describe the process by which the working definition and its accompanying examples came to be written.
Dave Rich, Head of Policy at the Community Security Trust (CST) replies to a letter published in The Guardian on 7 January 2021 from eight lawyers who claimed that the IHRA definition of antisemitism undermines free expression. The signatories also claimed that examples included in the IHRA definition have been ‘widely used to suppress or avoid criticism of the state of Israel.’ Rich argues that the letter rests on a ‘misrepresentation of what the definition says and does’, ‘unevidenced claims’ about its impact, and confusions about its legal status and power.
David Hirsh, senior lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, replies to 40 UK-based Israeli academics, broadly from the anti-Zionist left, who issued a ‘call to reject’ the IHRA definition. ‘The IHRA highlights the possibility of antisemitism which is related to hostility to Israel’ he contends, ‘because that is a significant part of the antisemitism to which actual Jewish people are subjected in the material world, as it exists’. Calls to reject the definition, he argues, are ‘not concerned with the constructive work of describing and opposing antisemitism,’ but only with ‘the purely negative work of rejecting efforts to do so’.
Bernard Harrison, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, and Lesley Klaff, senior lecturer in law at Sheffield Hallam University and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, show that critics of the Definition tend to think that a subjective, intentional ‘hostility towards Jews as Jews’ is all that the term antisemitism can mean. This, they argue, is an impoverished and ahistorical reduction of the phenomena of antisemitism, a reduction that the Definition precisely, and to its credit, avoids.
Lesley Klaff and Derek Spitz, a barrister at One Essex Court Chambers, explain why the 2010 Equality Act does not render adoption of the IHRA definition redundant, as is sometimes claimed. In fact, the two are complementary. They argue that as the 2010 Equality Act offers no guidance as to what constitutes antisemitism, it is necessary to look for guidance outside it. The same consideration applies to university anti-harassment codes.
Eve Garrard examines the complaint that the IHRA does not give us a water-tight definition able to tell us definitively which people, language, acts and practices are antisemitic in every single instance. With some help from Wittgenstein, Garrard explains why this demand is misconceived, mistaking how definitions work in general and how the IHRA definition is supposed to work in particular.
David Hirsh responds forcefully to David Feldman, a prominent opponent of the IHRA definition, who argued in The Guardian that the adoption of the IHRA’s clear and specific protections against antisemitism by a university would ‘privilege one group over others’. Later, a group of UK-based Israeli academics agreed with Feldman, suggesting the IHRA should be opposed because it ‘singles out the persecution of the Jews’.
Alan Johnson notes that criticism of Israel, as of any nation-state, is explicitly accepted as legitimate by the IHRA definition, a fact so important, yet so routinely ignored by the critics of the definition as to suggest a deliberate repression on their part. But Johnson also observes that antisemitism has taken on radically different forms throughout history, with endless variations on a core demonology. Today, there is a new antisemitism focused on a demonology of the Jewish state and those who support its right to exist, ‘the Zionists’ or ‘Zios’. He explains why the Nazi analogy – the claim that the Jewish State is equivalent to Hitler’s Third Reich – is one of the most malevolent expressions of this new antisemitism. The IHRA examples, he contends, help us to grasp the nature of this new antisemitism and so to take steps to combat it.
8. APRIL / 2021
Fathom Long Read | Accommodating the New Antisemitism: a Critique of ‘The Jerusalem Declaration’
by Cary Nelson
In this comprehensive critique Cary Nelson argues that the recent ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ on Antisemitism should be rejected because it accommodates, rather than challenges, what has been called ‘the new antisemitism’. After reviewing the debate (and the falsehoods) about the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, to which the Jerusalem Declaration presents itself as an alternative, Nelson rejects the Declaration for several reasons: for defining antisemitism in an excessively narrow way, uncomprehending of the ideological versions of antisemitism that are now so influential; for dissolving antisemitism into antiracism, discrediting and obliterating Jewish identity; for employing rhetorical strategies that repeatedly draw empty or banal distinctions to disclaim antisemitic content; for naively absolving the anti-Zionist industry of any probable freight of hatred; and for being marred by a conceptual confusion about, and an impoverished history of, antisemitism. Nelson also reviews, and more positively, the ‘Nexus Declaration’ on antisemitism, described by its authors at the University of Southern California as complementing and clarifying IHRA. We invite the signatories of the Jerusalem Declaration and the Nexus Declaration to respond to Nelson’s essay in Fathom.
Controversy is swirling anew around the Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016 and subsequently endorsed by a wide range of nations, agencies, and organisations. The Definition opens with a brief summary definition of antisemitism and then lists eleven major forms or examples of contemporary antisemitism, such as ‘accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust’ and ‘using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.’ [I use ‘Definition’ in initial caps to refer to the entire document, not just the brief definition at its outset]. The Definition includes numerous warnings that these examples should not be applied without analysis that takes their contexts into account. Nor does the Definition claim the list of examples is exhaustive; it does, however, enumerate much of the antisemitism encountered in contemporary writing and daily life, including the antisemitism now focused on the State of Israel and the antisemitism that proliferates on the internet and through social media.
The history of the Definition dates to 2005, when the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) issued the first version of a Working Definition. From the outset, it provoked warnings that it could inhibit free speech or even be used to sanction it. Indeed, in 2011 I coauthored an open letter (distributed by the AAUP) stating that the EUMC Working Definition should not be used ‘to censor what a professor, student or speaker can say.’ But debates about that potential intensified after IHRA issued a version of the Working Definition that began to be both endorsed and officially adopted worldwide. Widespread commitment to free speech, academic freedom, and the IHRA Definition’s own guidelines have prevented the fears of pervasive restrictions on speech from ever materialising, though a growing chorus of dire warnings and unfounded complaints about the IHRA Definition persists nonetheless. The mounting number of attacks on the Definition suggest frustration at its increasing legitimacy.
Lara Friedman, who runs a left-wing organisation called the Foundation for Middle East Peace, has been among the Definition’s leading critics. Her annotated list of ‘Challenges to the IHRA Definition’ has 21 entries for 2018, 23 for 2019, 41 for 2020, and 55 for the first three months of 2021.The 2021 increase is due in part to the publication of two new formal definitions of antisemitism, both adapting the structure of the Working Definition. Like the IHRA Definition, they begin with a revised definition and general comments, and then follow with examples. Instead of just listing examples of antisemitism as the Definition does, however, they each offer two lists—with examples differentiated between those the authors consider antisemitic and those they think are not. The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism criticises IHRA and aims to replace it. The Nexus Document has been described by its authors as complementing and clarifying IHRA, effectively a friendly amendment. But these new lists have generated a further round of critical debate and multiplied the confusion over what IHRA does and doesn’t say or do. After giving an overview of the current state of competing views about the IHRA’s Working Definition, I will discuss the Jerusalem Declaration in detail, followed by comments on the Nexus Document.
1. THE IHRA
It’s now been more than fifteen years since 2005 and five years since 2016, and the debate about the IHRA Definition has only intensified. But it is also possible now to document the ways the IHRA Definition has actually been used. The need for a contemporary definition was triggered by a recognised pattern of increasing instances of antisemitism in Europe and the need to document them. As three of the original definition’s authors have testified, moreover, it was also understood from the outset to be considerably more than an aid to bureaucratic record-keeping. Its intended purpose was educational: to educate people worldwide about the nature of contemporary antisemitism in the service of combatting it (Baker et al). Making antisemitic practices visible, the thinking went, would make people better able to reject them. There have been some demands that both the EUMC and the IHRA versions be restricted to the record-keeping purpose, but the Definition’s transformative effects cannot be halted. Even the authors of a text cannot control the meanings or uses it will acquire over time.
No one could have known in 2016 how widely the IHRA version would be adopted nor the speed with which it acquired symbolic and canonical status. More than 30 countries and several hundred local authorities and organisations have adopted it. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris of Birkbeck College writes that it ‘has taken on such totemic significance’ that ‘its adoption or non-adoption has become an existential question for institutions and individuals.’ In January 2021 the European Commission and the IHRA published their Handbook for the practical use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which includes a substantial list of good practices and examples of how the definition is being employed. It recommends the Definition’s continued use as a guiding reference at educational institutions, including inclusion in curricula, use by administrations for preventive and reactive purposes, guidance in evaluating educational materials, and a basis for support of academic research. It suggests it be used in police, state attorney, and judicial training and in manuals for addressing antisemitic hate crimes. Among some on the left, the fact that a document is used by the police often makes it suspect or automatically worthy of condemnation. But these officials otherwise often lack any detailed knowledge about antisemitism, knowledge they require in their jobs. The Definition can also help agencies avoid unintentionally funding antisemitic groups and projects. It is useful, the Handbook suggests, in providing ‘support services for victims of antisemitism, including legal and psychological counseling or intervening when expertise is needed’ (33). The Definition is no longer just a text to be debated in the abstract; it has a growing track record of applications.
Specific examples from the Handbook indicate the variety of these practical applications. European football clubs have offered it ‘as a specific reference point for employees, stewards and fans on what antisemitism is’ (34). The Church of England’s ‘interfaith team and national advisors use the Definition as the benchmark in their work and ministry’ (35). UNESCO incorporates the Definition in a set of four framework curricula for teacher trainers (29). The American Jewish Committee’s guide to the Working Definition adds its own list of applications, among them ‘The United Kingdom Judicial College included the Working Definition in its 2018 guidance to judges,’ ‘The NGO CEJI—A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe holds an annual training for EU officials on antisemitism using the Working Definition,’ and ‘The Mauthausen Memorial in Austria (at the site of the former concentration camp) uses the Working Definition in its police training’ (4). I have not yet seen opponents of the Definition systematically address the range of verifiable applications already in place, its critics apparently preferring hypothetical concerns or unsubstantiated anecdotes.
2. MISPLACED FEARS, MYTHS (AND UNTRUTHS) ABOUT ‘IHRA SILENCING’
If opponents bothered to engage actual Definition-inspired practices, they might recognise that the brief opening preamble definition, much criticised as being vague and unusable, is not in fact being used. It is not really meant to be used. It provides a general cultural context for what follows, while reminding us that the eleven examples cannot actually cover all varieties of antisemitism. It is the eleven examples of antisemitism that are being taught and applied—and with the discretion and attention to context that the definition explicitly calls for. It is expected that the examples will help us recognise antisemitic statements; we can test what we encounter against them. We are not encouraged to test events against the opening definition.
The protests against the Definition proceed at the same time as its widening adoption, though the two tracks rarely meet. Although there is a serious debate about the Definition, some of the clamor about it belongs primarily to the general cultural and political project of demonising and discrediting Zionism. Some anti-Zionist complaints focused on the Definition draw on a larger political phenomenon — false claims of victimhood from ‘silenced’ members of both the political left and right. The most absurd versions of this trend have no relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they come from politicians with outsized megaphones who bellow ‘I will not be silenced!’ whenever they face criticism. They equate being criticised with being silenced. It is a convenient way of avoiding serious debate. As an official BDS statement declares hyperbolically, ‘an ominous climate of bullying and repression has resulted from the proliferation of the so-called IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism that conflates legitimate opposition to Israel’s regime of apartheid, colonialism and illegal occupation with antisemitism.’ Jonathan Shamir adds an unwarranted element of conspiracism: ‘A network of government-funded NGOs are pushing the definition in an effort to redefine antisemitism and quash Palestinian dissent.’
My friend Kenneth Stern, who coordinated some of the drafting process for the original EUMC version of the Definition, has repeatedly warned of a potential widespread chilling effect from its adoption, but criticism of Israeli policy and demonisation of the Jewish state continue unabated. His fear that there will be a chilling effect on anti-Zionist speech on North American, British, and European campuses has not been borne out by reality; the fear has no real world merit. In a December 2020 piece in The Times of Israel, he expanded his claim: ‘for the past decade, Jewish groups have used the definition as a weapon to say anti-Zionist expressions are inherently anti-Semitic and must be suppressed.’ Demands like this are not part of the Definition, and there is no evidence it can or will be used successfully in such a campaign. Although some Jewish groups have called for the suppression of certain forms of anti-Zionist speech that they consider antisemitic, they have not prevailed. Similarly, NGOs of many stripes routinely call on universities to censure or fire faculty for remarks of all kinds, but universities routinely dismiss those demands, except for part time or contingent faculty, who are much more vulnerable. Rebecca Ruth Gould, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Birmingham, claims that university administrators or legal counsel generally will grant the Definition a form of quasi-legal status and use it to suppress expression that matches the eleven examples, an argument others have echoed. A given university administrator or legal counsel could misinterpret the Definition, ignoring the fact, as Gould acknowledges, that it is ‘suffused with tentative language and caveats’ (17), and try to limit expression in line with one of the eleven examples. Gould worries such actions could become standard practice, but I consider that highly unlikely.
In a search for cases of ‘silencing’ to cite, some critics of the IHRA point to disciplinary action taken against faculty members who violate professional standards in the service of their anti-Zionism. Thus Jasmine Zine, a journalist and sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, falsely claims that University of Michigan American Studies professor John Cheney-Lippold was punished for criticising Israel, when in fact he was punished for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student applying to study at Tel Aviv University, a student he regarded as well qualified. Zine also tells us that universities have ‘cancelled events’ that would have criticised Israel. As proof, she links only to an article about the scheduled November 2018 national conference of Students for Justice in Palestine, which did indeed meet with complaints beforehand. But the conference was held at UCLA as planned, two years before Zine published her piece and thus within plenty of time for her to have found out what happened. As if these inaccurate examples were not enough to discredit a source, she adds that anti-Zionist students have been ‘expelled’ from universities, certainly an extremely serious accusation. Her evidence is a link to a story reporting that Neal Sher, a former Justice Department official responsible from 1983-1994 for hunting former Nazis, told a reporter in 2018 that UC Berkeley students who equated the Pittsburgh synagogue murders with Israeli action in Gaza should be expelled, an intemperate statement that merits condemnation. But Sher was a private citizen whose government responsibilities had ended more than thirty years earlier. Indeed, he had been disbarred in the interim. Unsurprisingly, the students were not in fact expelled. Zine appears to have copied these citations, unacknowledged, from an article by Acadia University’s Jeffrey Sachs.
Zine’s irresponsible reproduction of these falsehoods was not the last step in their circulation. Two faculty members with long histories of anti-Zionism, Neve Gordon, a political scientist at Queen Mary University, and Mark LeVine, a historian from the University of California at Irvine, then cite Zine in an Inside Higher Education essay as evidence of Zionist political aggression. They were either too lazy or overwhelmed by confirmation bias to check her sources. Distressed by the widening adoption of the Definition, Gordon and LeVine warn absurdly that Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt could be judged anti-Semites by its criteria. They also wildly extend the Definition’s silencing effects to claim it ‘is being wielded as a weapon to suppress a variety of progressive causes’: ‘it allows conservative and even moderate political forces to discipline, silence and marginalise progressive voices against racism, poverty, the climate crisis, war and predatory capitalism.’ Inside Higher Education should have demanded evidence in support of these claims before publishing the essay. IHE might even have gone the extra mile and followed the links they supplied.
It is notable in this context that even a typically articulate NGO can get confused when talking about Israel. For a number of years, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been a leader in defending academic freedom. When I was president of the American Association of University Professors from 2006-2012, I reversed an existing AAUP staff policy against collaborating with FIRE, and we worked closely together on several occasions. When my campus administration attempted to impose rules in violation of the First Amendment, FIRE’s lawyers were essential in getting them to back down. But FIRE is among the groups condemning the IHRA Definition, guided, I suspect, by the prevailing left bias against Israel.
FIRE’s repeated criticism of the IHRA Definition falls dramatically short of its usual standards, though it does follow a pattern regarding Israel. One of the IHRA examples of antisemitism is ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’ In response, FIRE tells us ‘There is not — and there should not be — a law requiring those people to spend their time criticising other regimes equally or else risk violating anti-discrimination laws.’ Who would disagree? The IHRA Definition does not make any such recommendation. It simply alerts us to a pattern of people and groups demanding that Israel honor principles and adopt practices that pretty much no one asks of other democratic countries. It is absurd to suppose a ‘law’ requiring anyone to criticise multiple regimes when they criticise one could pass muster in any democratic country. FIRE adds that ‘the Constitution affords people the freedom to be hypocritical in their analysis of other countries’ policies.’ True again. But the First Amendment to the US Constitution also permits us to recognise hypocrisy and condemn it. That’s part of what the IHRA Definition helps us do. It does not propose a law against hypocrisy. What other than a predisposition against Israel could lead FIRE’s lawyers to advance this ludicrous argument?
One common complaint against the Definition, put forward in numerous articles excerpted by Lara Friedman, is that it treats all criticism of Israel as antisemitic and aims to suppress it. This complaint has been endlessly debunked, often by citing this passage from the Working Definition itself: ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.’ The Definition stipulates explicitly that criticising Israeli government policy, something Israelis themselves do nonstop, does not constitute antisemitism. I have criticised Israeli policy on many fronts, and no one has declared me an anti-Semite. As Bernard Harrison of the University of Sussex and Lesley Klaff of Sheffield Hallam University write, ‘The ‘examples’ section of the Definition in no way restricts critical political debate concerning Israel; it merely discourages, by characterising them correctly as antisemitic, certain lines of mendacious defamation, primarily of Israel, and secondarily of its supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish’ (31). The IHRA Definition helps individuals, universities, NGOs, and governments take positions opposing contemporary examples of antisemitism, while preserving their right to make those same anti-Semitic claims. While one may hope the Definition might discourage some hate speech, there is little reason to hope it can have a major impact on Israel’s opponents. People can still say ‘Israel is the new Nazi Germany,’ a claim addressed below and by an IHRA example. No one will be ‘silenced.’
Joshua Shanes from the College of Charleston and Dov Waxman of UCLA take a different approach, turning the IHRA’s conditional wording, a feature others consider a strength, into a weakness, making its examples inadvertent weapons:
This weaponisation of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has been facilitated by its ambiguity. Although it does not simply equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, or label all criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic — as some opponents of the definition assert — its vague, conditional wording is open to misinterpretations and misuse. Its conditional phrasing — that criticism ‘could, taking into account the overall context’ cross the line to anti-Semitism — is too often forgotten, or even purposefully ignored. Some of its examples relating to Israel are particularly prone to such problems.
As they acknowledge, some will inevitably misapply the examples in this or any other definition of antisemitism (or any other definition of a controversial concept). They find the Jerusalem Declaration, which I will discuss next, an improvement. I do not. Either way, they are surely wrong in thinking the Jerusalem Declaration, which also enumerates categories of anti-Semitic criticism of Israel, will be less susceptible to misapplication. The Working Definition has been and will continue to be misused, often prominently by politicians like former Trump administration officials Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and presidential adviser Jared Kushner. Abuses of the Working Definition need to be called out and condemned so as to preserve the document’s core value.
Some Definition proponents and opponents, we will see, do engage their opposition substantively, important examples being Alan Johnson’s Fathom eBook In Defense of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, and two March 2021 statements, the ‘Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism’ developed at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem and signed by 200 academics worldwide, and ‘The Nexus Document’ issued by a group at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. David Schraub provides a helpful chart comparing the IHRA Definition with the Nexus document and the Jerusalem Declaration.
The November 2020 Statement of 122 Palestinian and Arab Intellectuals
Still greater concern is warranted by a November 2020 statement issued by a group of 122 Palestinian and Arab intellectuals entitled ‘Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism.’ This document, comprising seven numbered objections to IHRA, seeks the elimination of any Jewish state in the Levant in defining what its authors consider ‘self-determination’ to mean for both Israelis and Palestinians. It claims that ‘the self-determination of a Jewish population in Palestine/Israel has been implemented in the form of an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state,’ thus casting Israel itself as illegitimate. To emphasise the point, it adds that ‘no right to self-determination should include the right to uproot another people and prevent them from returning to their land, or any other means of securing a demographic majority within the state.’ These principles, if realised, would terminate not only the occupation of the West Bank but also the 1948 founding of Israel.
The Palestinian / Arab statement of November 2020 goes on to say ‘The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination,’ which is simply untrue; IHRA does not prohibit anything. Yet the Palestinian statement concludes that ‘The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety’ and thus that it ‘contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.’ The authors will be aware that ‘supremacy’ evokes white supremacy and thus racialises the conflict. The use of ‘privilege’ is no doubt meant to suggest analogies with the au courant concept of ‘white privilege.’ As writers seek to make an impression amid proliferating testimonies against the Working Definition and in support of the Declaration, rhetoric escalates. Leiden University’s Sai Englert writes that the Working Definition aims ‘to repress the historical facts of Palestinian dispossession, displacement and oppression’ and thus decries ‘the repressive atmosphere’ it creates. Comparably uncompromising condemnations of the IHRA Definition underlie the Jerusalem Declaration as well. Neither the statement by Arab intellectuals nor the Declaration anticipates either reconciliation or a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Would the IHRA Definition lead us to judge ‘Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism’ an antisemitic text? I believe so. Some IHRA Definition opponents treat condemnation of calls to eliminate Israel in effect as violations of human rights, disguising existential challenges to Israel’s existence as ‘valid criticisms’ or repudiations of ‘Jewish exceptionalism.’ For Barry Trachtenberg, a historian at Wake Forest University and another Declaration endorser, it is time to push back ‘against the misguided belief’ that antisemitism ‘is a unique and unparalleled form of hatred.’ Writing in Tikkun, a community psychologist named Donna Nevel presses the same point more bluntly: ‘We must not reinforce the notion that there is anything about criticism of Israel that requires “special” attention.’ With a wave of her hand, two thousand years of history are swept away, as if the Jews never existed. She too feels ‘the IHRA definition goes full speed in conflating criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian justice with antisemitism.’ Nevel and Trachtenberg both praise the Declaration for pushing back. Trachtenberg then surprisingly tells us that ‘the IHRA definition has been used almost exclusively to silence Palestinians discussing their daily experiences of humiliation, violence, and dispossession under Israeli law.’
3. THE JERUSALEM DECLARATION ON ANTISEMITISM
The text of the Jerusalem Declaration begins with a preamble that makes it clear that it was issued in explicit opposition to the IHRA Definition. But before then it offers a definition of antisemitism that serves as an epigraph: ‘Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).’ That definition — which operates like an extension of the minimalist dictionary definition ‘Antisemitism is hatred of Jews’ — has the virtue of clarity, but it is inadequate because it is excessively narrow and altogether blind to the ideological versions of antisemitism that are now so influential. (One can produce a concise history of antisemitism, but it is not so easy to combine a Medieval claim that the Jews killed Jesus, Nazi racism, and a 1950s country club’s refusal to accept Jewish members into one definition.) The Declaration proceeds to three sections: A, B, and C. The first is devoted to general observations about antisemitism; then come two contrasting sections devoted to Israel and Palestine.
The preamble includes one binding principle that some of the Declaration’s supporters have found irresistible: ‘we hold that while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination.’ The prime concept here in the context of US debates is antiracism. As a matter of both principle and tactics, it is important that Jews join antiracist coalitions—so long as anti-Zionism is not the price of admission. But as David Hirsh and Dave Rich have shown, anti-Zionism is increasingly definitional in left antiracism. One cannot escape noticing, moreover, that the opening concession — ‘while antisemitism has certain distinctive features’ — is more than slightly condescending and dismissive, an impoverished gesture toward nearly two thousand years of Jewish history since Christianity coalesced. That history underlies not only our understanding of contemporary antisemitism but also the identities of living Jews. The controlling force of the Declaration’s principle dissolves antisemitism into antiracism, discrediting and obliterating Jewish identity. Compare it with several equally unacceptable alternatives warranted by the Declaration’s own list: ‘while anti-Black racism has certain distinctive features’; ‘while contempt toward Native Americans has certain distinctive features’; ‘while opposition to women’s rights has certain distinctive features,’ and so forth. The movements opposing these prejudices need dedicated historical awareness to make them meaningful and effective. Hatred and a belief in inferiority have been fundamental to many such histories. ‘Certain distinctive features’ will not suffice to reference those histories with their defining traumas and triumphs; neither does it adequately characterise the history of the longest hatred.
Conceptual problems multiply as the Declaration proceeds. The Declaration’s Section A makes an oversimplified generalisation that ‘what is particular in classic antisemitism is the idea that Jews are linked to the forces of evil.’ That is unquestionably integral to much Christian antisemitism, but it does not apply to all earlier antisemitic conspiracism, to political antisemitism, to the Third Reich’s racial theories, or to other versions of Jew hatred. Even for Christian antisemitism, notably, accusations of Jewish evil are not always relevant. Christian supersessionism, for example, now commonly argues that God’s covenant with the Jews has been ‘fulfilled’ by the new covenant with the Church, rather than voided by Jewish evil (Nelson and Gizzi). Section B lists examples that ‘on the face of it, are antisemitic,’ whereas Section C covers ‘examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic.’ This dichotomy appears to make a concession that even the IHRA Definition resists, since the IHRA insists on considering context when evaluating all potential antisemitic statements. Indeed, as University of Manchester philosopher Eve Garrard shows, the IHRA Definition ‘is peppered with conditional verbs’ (47) that limit its automatic application.
Section C of the Jerusalem Declaration resorts to rhetorical strategies that repeatedly draw empty or banal distinctions to disclaim antisemitic content. Notable among these is the thrice-repeated statement that certain claims, ‘even if contentious,’ ‘are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.’ What the IHRA Definition makes clear instead is that there are categories of statements that have a substantial established history of being precisely antisemitic. They are probable indicators, not dispositive litmus tests. The Declaration wants to absolve the anti-Zionist industry of any probable freight of hatred. The Declaration does that in part by seeming to defend a principle of free speech that discourages us from assuming antisemitic intent or effect when confronted by instances of what has been called ‘the new antisemitism.’
Thus it stipulates that ‘Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.’ The issue is not whether any and all boycott efforts are antisemitic ‘in and of themselves.’ Israelis commonly boycott West Bank products, a political choice that they have the freedom to make. The issue is whether the BDS movement is substantially antisemitic, given that its leaders advocate eliminating the Jewish state. By fudging the difference, the Declaration demolishes a straw man and confuses the issue.
Item 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration concludes ‘Thus even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.’ Of course such comparisons carry largely inescapable political implications. Declaring Israel a settler-colonialist state sends a message that Israel in toto is occupied territory, established to exploit Palestinians and deprive them of their rights. It makes Israel a vestige of nineteenth-century imperialism and suggests that the inexorable movement of history has rendered the nation obsolete. One can deduce that Israel’s eventual elimination is inevitable. Comparisons between South African apartheid and the policies in force on the West Bank, while eliding the fundamental political and social differences between the two systems and misrepresenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a racial one, can at least highlight the dangers inherent in formal annexation. Accusations that Israel within its pre-1967 boundaries is an apartheid state are both false and invidious. They are wielded to add a stronger moral imperative to an eliminationist motive: Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is a morally abhorrent entity that must be dissolved.
Yet the language of Item 13 is so general that it can include comparisons between Israel and South African apartheid that are manifestly untrue. The item opens by citing ‘evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state,’ suggesting this is all about sensible academic debate. In fact denunciations of Israel as apartheid are largely neither reasoned nor evidence-based. When UCLA’s Saree Makdisi in his essay ‘Apartheid / Apartheid / [ ]’ declares that Israel’s ‘apartheid regime’ is actually worse than South Africa’s, he indulges in pure invective, offering no proof. And when he falsely asserts that none of Israel’s Basic Laws guarantee equality of citizenship, that there are no High Court rulings upholding equality as a right, and that ‘every major South African apartheid law has a direct equivalent in Israel and the occupied territories today’ (“Apartheid / Apartheid / [ ],” 310), his indifference to offering supportive evidence can be documented and his claims disproven, as I do at length in Israel Denial (161-174).
The confusions in the Declaration multiply when we get to the opening of Item 15: ‘Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected . . . .’ People engaged in intemperate political speech should not be sanctioned, though autocratic regimes certainly do so. But intemperate political speech is not and should not be protected from criticism and condemnation. Unstated, but implied, is the familiar complaint that anti-Zionist advocacy is being silenced when it is simply being condemned.
The bland language referencing ‘other historical cases,’ moreover, obfuscates the signal omission here, an omission that is definitional for the Jerusalem Declaration. For the historical case that is really at issue, despite its absence from the Declaration, is Nazi Germany, a fact that should be obvious to any reasonably knowledgeable reader and thus certainly to every one of the 200 people who endorsed the document. The IHRA Definition cites ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ as one of its key examples of antisemitism. Indeed, such comparisons are really statements of equivalence. Some, like journalist Anthony Lawson, as Makdisi does with the South Africa analogy, insist that ‘Israel’s policies are worse than Nazi Germany’s ever were’ (quoted in Harrison 150).
The rhetoric escalates, and it can have consequences, among them a belief that ‘large numbers of Jews must be as much enemies of humankind as were the Nazis, since they support, and are therefore presumably accessory to, the commission of these putatively equally egregious crimes’ (Harrison 460). As Alan Johnson writes, ‘treating Israelis or Jews or Zionists as “Nazis” is obscene; it verges on the demonic in its cruelty as it implicitly demands, as a matter of ethical obligation no less — and this after the rupture in world history that was the Shoah — the destruction of the Jewish homeland as a unique evil in the world, no better than the Third Reich, the perpetrator of the Shoah’ (54). The Declaration opens its second general observation by stating ‘What is particular in classic antisemitism is the idea that Jews are linked to the forces of evil.’ And yet the foremost contemporary manifestation of that association, the identification of the Jewish state with the Third Reich, is one the Declaration never acknowledges as antisemitic.
Why? The omission is certainly deliberate. Among the signatories are Holocaust scholars Omer Bartov, Wolfgang Benz, Doris Bergen, Micha Brumlik, Amos Goldberg, Atina Grossmann, Wolfgang Gruner, Marianne Hirsch, Marion Kaplan, Dominick LaCapra, Mark Roseman, Michael Rothberg, and Raz Segal, along with many scholars of antisemitism and Jewish history who will have noted the omission. Perhaps it was thought impolitic to ask assent to the statement that calling Israelis and their Zionist supporters worldwide ‘Nazis’ is not ‘on the face of it’ antisemitic. Perhaps it was thought impolitic to ask those of the signatories who themselves have indulged in the Israel/Nazism comparison — indeed who insist on, highlight, and endorse that comparison —t o classify their own work as antisemitic.
The phenomenon of a group of Holocaust scholars being alienated from and hostile to Israel, I should emphasise, is not new. It dates back at least a generation. The revival of antisemitism across the bloodlands of Eastern Europe, however reminiscent of the sorrows of the Shoah, has not, so far as I know, caused any of them to change their positions — even though the need for a Jewish homeland outside Europe seems urgent again. My former colleague Michael Rothberg has long been philosophically and politically opposed to the very concept of a Jewish state. Some Holocaust scholars have signed BDS petitions. Yet I believe harboring anti-Zionist convictions requires Holocaust scholars to manage inner contradictions of a special character; their emotions are not quite the same as those the average Jewish Voice for Peace member experiences.
Perhaps such inner conflicts underlie Brown University’s Omer Bartov’s overwrought accusation about the Working Definition: ‘this definition and the kind of thinking it has come to embody enable Israel to justify its support for oppressive regimes that persecute minorities, suppress the opposition and even engage in antisemitic demagoguery, provided they don’t criticise Israel’s occupation policy.’ It is neither responsible nor rational to lay Israel’s sometimes ill-advised foreign policy at the feet of the Working Definition, let alone a vague ‘kind of thinking.’ Whatever kind of thinking is responsible did not originate with the Definition. Like other Holocaust scholars, Bartov seems enraged that the Working Definition is associated with a Holocaust Remembrance association, So he adds without offering any evidence that the kind of thinking at issue ‘diverts attention from the tendency toward Holocaust denial or distortion of Holocaust remembrance on the national level as in Hungary and Poland.’ My own sense is that attention to those phenomena is increasing, not decreasing, partly as a result of attention given to the Working Definition. Anti-Zionist HoIocaust scholars can engage in their own odd version of Holocaust denial. I had one conversation with an internationally known Holocaust scholar who vehemently insisted the Holocaust itself had nothing to do with the founding of the Jewish state.
The full list of those signing the Declaration includes fierce and uncompromising anti-Zionists who cross a line into antisemitism, among them Richard Falk, along with a number of Jewish faculty who have grown disenchanted with Israel and now endorse the BDS movement but who may not yet be ready to demand Israel’s dissolution. As David Schraub writes in a piece about the Jerusalem Declaration (JDA), ‘Richard Falk is a signatory, even though he’s endorsed materials which seem to cleanly fall under categories the JDA deems antisemitic. Jackie Walker praised the JDA too even though her antisemitism likewise would be covered by the JDA.’ It is important to add that Falk has done far more than endorse other anti-Semites. In a report for the UN that Falk coauthored with Virginia Tilley, Israel is faulted for its ‘apparent annexationist, colonialist, and ethnic-cleansing goals.”’ In ‘Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust,’ he writes, ‘Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.’ In an interview with C. Gouridasan Nair, after rejecting the terrorist tactic of killing civilians, he allowed that ‘The armed settlers are an ambiguous category.’ These are but a few of a great many such interventions. Sergio Luzzato, a University of Connecticut historian who signed, has endorsed the despicable effort to revive the belief that Medieval myths of Jews carrying out ritual murders of Christian children to obtain their blood for use in Passover preparations were true, most notoriously in his sympathetic review of Ariel Toaff’s Pasque di sangue (Bloody Passovers), where he claimed that some Jews carried out human sacrifices several times (Loriga). Luzzato insisted that Jewish ‘confessions’ obtained through torture should not be routinely discounted. As a colleague suggested, Luzatto may well be the main person responsible for the revival of blood libel in the 21st century. Exactly what would lead such people to sign a statement and thereby carry out a self-condemnation? Obviously rationalisation and self-deception may play a role in the decision, but they cannot be decisive for everyone. Like others who signed, they seem less interested in defining and countering antisemitism than in normalising anti-Zionism.
One collective motive seems comprehensible. Item 12 seeks to find a space ostensibly critical of antisemitism that can accommodate both established anti-Semites and less virulent anti-Zionists and in that way pardon them all:
Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants ‘between the river and the sea,’ whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.
Setting aside the obvious and repeated allusion to anti-Zionism’s favorite slogan, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ we are left with a principled-sounding ‘arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements’ that happen to contradict the constitution of the Jewish state. Such options would only be ‘constitutional’ in Israel if the current constitution were scrapped. ‘Arguing for’ is not simply a debating proposition; in reality it occurs as a political demand that one of a series of non-Jewish options be imposed on Israeli citizens. No provision is made for their right to decide their own political future. This sleight of hand may have bamboozled some inattentive faculty into endorsing the Declaration. Others may have been drawn to join people they respect: ‘Michael Walzer signed; it must be OK.’ The IHRA includes ‘denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination’ among its examples of antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration adopts that very antisemitic strategy of denying the right to self-determination under the cover of offering multiple options. That is the Declaration’s main political intervention. And, ‘on the face of it,’ it presents a problem. It is not for a group of international academics to make that decision; it is for Israelis. Long time anti-Zionist and one of the authors of the Declaration, Brian Klug of Oxford University is among those falsely assuring us that, unlike the Working Definition, the Declaration ‘seeks to separate out the fight against anti-Semitism from partisan political argument. It has no political agenda regarding Zionism or the conflict over Israel/Palestine.’
The Declaration offers modest criticism of antisemitism as a cover for endorsing the most antisemitic of all relevant political projects, eliminating the Jewish state. The blogger Elder of Ziyon describes it as ‘an effort to carve out a space for anti-Zionists to advocate for the elimination of the Jewish state without being accused of anti-Semitism.’ In what is surely its most disingenuous declaration, it tells us it is antisemitic to deny ‘the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality,’ a right that no realistic observer believes a Jewish minority in Palestine would enjoy. That is of course the universal fantasy, disingenuous or self-deluded, in which one-state enthusiasts invest their hopes. Few Israelis share their confidence. Perhaps some uneasiness about that imagined future is warranted by the Palestinian BDS National Committee’s response to that passage in the Declaration:
some may abuse this to imply equal political rights for the colonizers and the colonized collectives in a settler-colonial reality, or for the dominant and the dominated collectives in an apartheid reality, thus perpetuating oppression . . . . Moreover, should Palestinian refugees be denied their UN-stipulated right to return home in order not to disturb some assumed ‘collective Jewish right’ to demographic supremacy? What about justice, repatriation and reparations in accordance with international law and how they may impact certain assumed ‘rights’ of Jewish-Israelis occupying Palestinian homes or lands?
4. THE NEXUS DOCUMENT
Throughout the ten-year development and revision of the IHRA Definition it has been identified as a ‘Working’ Document. The continuing assaults on its meaning and purpose may have discouraged some from attempting to clarify and amplify it. Instead, its supporters have defended it and promoted its adoption. Meanwhile, despite the controversy, people in state agencies, NGOs, educational, and religious institutions have gained a better and more grounded understanding of how antisemitism is manifested in the contemporary world. And the controversy has, as always in such cases, drawn more attention to the Definition.
But it is time for the Definition to acquire its own body of explanatory literature. Despite what some have said, that is not a weakness of the Definition. It is inherent to the genre of statements of principle or manifestos that seek wide, even international, endorsement. Too much detail and people raise objections. All the statements reviewed here are concise. In fact it is remarkable that the IHRA has won the level of support it has. The Fathom collection cited earlier is an important development in that process of elaboration. I consider the March 2021 Nexus Document to be a largely friendly if problematic amendment to the original, even though it was not explicitly drafted as a point-by-point response. It was drafted by a working group, the Nexus Task Force, as a project of the Knight Program on Media and Religion at the Annenberg School of Communication there. Unlike the Jerusalem Declaration as well, the USC working group did not seek outside endorsers and signatories.
The Nexus Document’s opening definition of antisemitism is quite clear and avoids the problems of the Working Definition’s version, though it should at least add ‘theories’ to its first sentence:
Antisemitism consists of anti-Jewish beliefs, attitudes, actions or systemic conditions. It includes negative beliefs and feelings about Jews, hostile behavior directed against Jews (because they are Jews), and conditions that discriminate against Jews and significantly impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic, or social life.
Bernard Harrison would find this definition embodies social antisemitism but not political or ideological antisemitism. ‘One is indeed an emotional disposition: one consisting in hostility to individual Jews as Jews. The other is a body of explanatory pseudo-explanatory theory concerning the Jewish community considered as a supposedly coherently organised and unified political force’ (422). Social antisemitism ‘is not a theory of any kind but rather a state of mind’ (423). The opening sentence of the Working Definition’s definition — ’Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred of Jews’ — gives the same traditional emphasis to social antisemitism.
The Nexus definition thus fails to account for the way contemporary antisemitism serves as a body of theory that claims to explain the world. Thereafter Nexus offers two lists, ‘What is Antisemitic’ and ‘What is Not Antisemitic.’ Both lists concentrate on Israel, as it is the major disputed context for defining contemporary antisemitism. But like the Jerusalem Declaration, the aim is not simply to address the area of maximum controversy. Both documents want to open a space for tolerable forms of anti-Zionism. But as Kahn-Harris observes, ‘It is difficult to judge something as “just” offensive and objectionable rather than antisemitic.’
Writing as a Nexus contributor, David Schraub provides an informative gloss on one of the items in the first list:
while the nexus between Israel and antisemitism often focuses predominantly on ‘left’ critiques, it was important for us to articulate practices on the right with relation to Israel which have subjected many Jews to antisemitic abuse or harassment. It is antisemitic, we said, to ‘Denigrat[e] or deny the Jewish identity of certain Jews because they are perceived as holding the ‘wrong’ position (whether too critical or too favorable) on Israel.’ This is something that many liberal Jews (and in particular many Jews of color) have experienced, sometimes from other Jews, often from non-Jews, and it absolutely should be viewed as a form of antisemitism.
Nexus makes a special effort in the second list to define what kinds of anti-Israel commentary are not necessarily antisemitic, allowing that they may sometimes be. That effort is generally consistent with the IHRA insistence on considering the full context when evaluating statements. But the Nexus attempt to provide more nuanced guidelines for determining what is and is not antisemitic inevitably raises complications. Nexus tells us that ‘Even contentious, strident, or harsh criticism of Israel for its policies and actions, including those that led to the creation of Israel, is not per se illegitimate or antisemitic.’ Journalist Ben Cohen points out that the authors give no examples of strident criticism that they find acceptable or unacceptable, making this abstracted principle difficult to accept. They apparently did consider examples in the drafting process, but they are not cited, and the author I consulted could not recall them. In the real world, especially on social media, stridency gains attention for hate speech and anti-Zionism. It can make antisemitism more influential, amplifying its impact. Contrary to what the Nexus authors seem to believe, stridency is not easily separable from content. In evaluating a statement or a publication for its antisemitic character, stridency is not an independent variable, but it can be powerful evidence. The Nexus authors chose not to say so.
Other questions arise from this Nexus claim: ‘Opposition to Zionism and/or Israel does not necessarily reflect specific anti-Jewish animus nor purposefully lead to antisemitic behaviors and conditions. (For example, someone might oppose the principle of nationalism or ethnonationalist ideology. Similarly, someone’s personal or national experience may have been adversely affected by the creation of the State of Israel. These motivations or attitudes towards Israel and/or Zionism do not necessarily constitute antisemitic behavior.)’ Critics of the Jewish state who want to see it dissolved, among them Judith Butler, sometimes announce that the era of the nation state has run its course, that nations will soon disappear from the earth. In reality, pernicious forms of nationalism are thriving. But surely it is significant that Butler and other anti-Zionists do not call for the elimination of the US, Britain, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or other nations, among them some whose establishment might be linked with ethnic nationalism; they just want the forces of history to eliminate Israel. I am thus taking issue with those who only deny Jewish self-determination; their declarations do not represent the consistent application of the political theory they claim to advocate. It is hard, for example, to imagine a dedicated anarchist calling for the dissolution of Israel alone.
It is true, as the Nexus point implies, that personal experience of discrimination or injustice can trigger hostility to Zionism, but that does not eliminate a given statement’s antisemitic meaning or effects. It helps explain a person’s motivations, not necessarily the statement’s content. Indeed, motivation is often irrelevant. That is especially clear in the case of brief anti-Zionist or antisemitic statements on social media; like other brief comments, they can circulate in thoroughly impersonal and decontextualised forms. But even an anti-Zionist book need not arrive trailing its author’s personal or family history. The case an argument makes needs to be evaluated on its own terms, not excused because of what its author may have felt. Of course sometimes an argument is inflected in ways only personal experience can explain, but Nexus is aiming for a general reason to excuse antisemitic anti-Zionism.
The concluding claim from the second list is ‘Paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of antisemitism.’ Given the prima facie modifier, that statement is fair. But it does not take a great deal of reflection to realise that the UN’s hostile and exclusive obsession with Israel represents a form of antisemitism. That Nexus statement may be combined with one from the previous Nexus list: ‘It is antisemitic to advocate a political solution that denies Jews the right to define themselves as a people, thereby denying them — because they are Jews — the right to self-determination.’ Although the authors had not seen the Jerusalem Declaration, the Nexus entry demolishes the approval the Declaration grants for the denial of Jewish self-determination. And the IHRA argument that ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’ remains an essential qualification. One conclusion we can draw from this limited comment on The Nexus Document is that there are benefits to be gleaned from putting the three texts in dialogue with one another.
It is a good thing overall to have people thinking about the nature of antisemitism, what forms it takes, what its boundaries are. But the definition of antisemitism is now an enhanced arena of cultural struggle. Indeed, as a result of such critiques as those this essay has documented, the meaning of the IHRA examples of antisemitic views about Israel has been complicated. Some people will be confused by the debate. Others will find their existing positions reinforced and hardened. Nor is this just an abstract debate about rhetorical options and definitions. The objections to the Working Definition are often fundamentally efforts to validate political and material assaults on the Jewish State itself. Those who care about antisemitism and Israel will have to engage in the conversation.
Other challenges and amplifications will follow, but the IHRA Definition will continue to hold its own and sustain the struggle against antisemitism. Meanwhile, we should also remain aware of the things the Working Definition cannot do. By classifying current examples of antisemitism, it can help identify the inspiration for antisemitic acts, including violent ones, but it does not attempt to unpack all the individual motivations behind them. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University has expressed her wish that ‘If I call someone an antisemite, it should have the sting of a thousand cuts’ (Ziri), an effect that is one of the legacies of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the internet and social media have produced a certain normalising of classic antisemitic tropes, and they have enabled anti-Semites to make contact with one another and replace isolation with a pernicious form of community. Neither trend can simply be laid at Israel’s doorstep. It is not easy to see how we can recover the wider consensus that made the stigmatising of antisemitism possible.
Indeed, the debate may yet intensify. At an April 6th webinar, ‘Weaponizing Anti-Semitism: IHRA and Ending the Palestine Exception’ organised by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Heike Schotten of the University of Massachusetts Boston read a collective position paper that offered a stark conclusion: ‘The dangers of IHRA cannot be overestimated.’ Among the misguided assumptions she identified as guiding the Working Definition are these: ‘that Jews comprise a unified “people”; that an apartheid political structure can also, simultaneously, be a democratic national entity.’ Cornel West, who preceded Richard Falk as a speaker, had his own spin on the latter claim: ‘Whatever you call it, apartheid, neo-apartheid, crypto-apartheid, quasi-apartheid, it’s a crime against humanity.’
Contextualising potentially antisemitic statements and documents, as the IHRA Definition insists we do, can also involve substantial investigation and analysis, neither of which is facilitated by the hyperbolic warnings the Definition’s opponents have voiced. The attacks on the Definition also obscure the need to promote justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. There are no grand resolutions to the conflict in sight; instead, we can turn to reasoned advocacy and practical improvements in the material conditions of daily life. Being able to reject some arguments as antisemitic makes it possible to rule them inadmissible and establish a social and discursive space in which mutual respect can be promoted.
My thanks to David Greenburg and Paula Treichler for detailed readings of earlier drafts and Stan Nadel and Jeff Weintraub for specific suggestions.
American Jewish Committee (AJC), ‘The Working Definition of Antisemitism: What Does It Mean, Why Is It Important, and What Should We Do With It?’ (2020), https://www.ajc.org/the-working-definition-of-antisemitism.
Baker, Rabbi Andrew, and Diedre Berger and Michael Whine, ‘The Origins of the Working Definition.’ In Alan Johnson, ed. In Defense of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, pp. 8-11.
Bartov, Omer, ‘Criticism of Israel and its policies isn’t antisemitism, Haaretz (March 30, 2021).
Cohen, Ben, ‘Anti-Semitic or Just “Strident?”’ Jewish News Syndicate (March 19, 2921), https://www.jns.org/opinion/anti-semitic-or-just-strident/.
Elder of Ziyon, ‘ The problems with the “Jerusalem Declaration” definition of antisemitism’ (March 26, 2012), http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-problem-with-jerusalem-declaration.html.
_____, ‘Yet another attempt to sanitize anti-Zionism’ (March 29, 2021), http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2021/03/0329-links-as-passover-begins-jews-feel.html.
Englert, Sai, ‘Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism: We cannot define our way out of this impasse,’ Middle East Eye (April 1, 2021), https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/jerusalem-declaration-antisemitism-we-cannot-define-our-way-out-impasse.
European Commission/ IHRA. Handbook for the practical use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. Luxembourg: European Union, January 2021, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d3006107-519b-11eb-b59f-01aa75ed71a1/language-en.
Faulk, Richard, ‘Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust,’ TFF (The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research) (June 29, 2007), http://www.oldsite.transnational.org/Area_MiddleEast/2007/Falk_PalestineGenocide.html.
Faulk, Richard, and Virginia Tilley, ‘Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,’ United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (2017), https://web.archive.org/web/20170316054753/https://www.unescwa.org/sites/www.unescwa.org/files/publications/files/israeli-practices-palestinian-people-apartheid-occupation-english.pdf.
Friedman, Lara, ‘Challenging the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism,’ Foundation for Middle East Peace (March 31, 2021), https://fmep.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/Challenging-the-IHRA-Definition-of-Antisemitism.pdf.
Garrard, Eve, ‘The IHRA Definition, Institutional Antisemitism, and Wittgenstein.’ In Alan Johnson, ed. In Defense of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, pp.46-50.
Gordon, Neve, and Mark LeVine, ‘Was Einstein an Anti-Semite?’ Inside Higher Education (March 26, 2021), https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2021/03/26/problems-increasingly-dominant-definition-anti-semitism-opinion.
Gould, Rebecca Ruth, ‘Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy: The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism as a Case Study in Censored Speech,’ Law, Culture and the Humanities (forthcoming), 1-34.
Harrison, Bernard. Blaming the Jews: Politics and Delusion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020.
Harrison, Bernard, and Lesley Klaff, ‘In Defence of the IHRA Definition.’ In Alan Johnson, ed. In Defense of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, pp. 27-33.
Hirsh, David. Contemporary Left Antisemitism. London: Routledge, 2017.
‘Jerusalem Declaration On Antisemitism, The,’ https://jerusalemdeclaration.org/.
Johnson, Alan, ‘The IHRA Definition helps us understand and combat the new antisemitism.’ In Alan Johnson, ed. In Defense of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. London: Fathom eBook, 2021, pp. 5157.
Kahn-Harris, Keith, ‘Defining antisemitism—again, and again,’ JewThink (March 25, 2021), https://www.jewthink.org/2021/03/25/defining-antisemitism-again-and-again/.
Klug, Brian, ‘The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism,’ The Nation (April 1, 2021), https://www.thenation.com/article/society/jerusalem-declaration-antisemitism-ihra/.
Loriga, Sabina, ‘The Controversies Over the Publication of Ariel Toaff’s “Bloody Passovers,”’ Journal of the Historical Society 8:4 (December 2008), 469-502.
Makdisi, Saree, ‘Apartheid / Apartheid / [ ],’ Critical Inquiry (December 2017) 304-330.
Nair, C. Gouridasan, ‘Full Text of the Interview With Richard Falk,’ The Hindu (September 24, 2010), https://www.thehindu.com/news/resources/Full-text-of-the-interview-with-Richard-Falk-U.N.-Rapporteur-on-Human-Rights-in-the-Israeli-Occupied-Territories-of-Palestine/article16046050.ece.
Nelson, Cary. Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State. Bloomington: Academic Engagement Network/Indiana University Press, 2019.
Nelson, Cary, and Kenneth Stern, ‘Open Letter on Campus Antisemitism,’ American Association of University Professors (April 20, 2011), https://www.aaup.org/news/cary-nelson-and-kenneth-stern-pen-open-letter-campus-antisemitism#.YGInVC2cbUY.
Nelson, Cary, and Michael C. Gizzi, eds. Peace and Faith: Christian Churches and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Philadelphia and Boston: Presbyterians for Middle East Peace/ Academic Studies Press, forthcoming 2021.
Nevel, Donna, ‘Challenging Antisemitism: Why Criticism of Israel Shouldn’t be Singled Out & Our Interconnected Struggles for Justice,’ Tikkun (March 31, 2021), https://www.tikkun.org/why-criticism-of-israel-should-not-be-singled-out-in-antisemitism/.
Nexus Task Force, ‘The Nexus Document,’ Knight Program in Media & Religion, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, https://israelandantisemitism.com/the-nexus-document/.
Palestinian BDS National Committee, ‘We Will Not Be Silenced’ (December 2, 2020), https://bdsmovement.net/news/we-will-not-be-silenced.
_____, ‘A Palestinian civil society critique of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism’ (March 25, 2021), https://bdsmovement.net/A-Palestinian-Civil-Society-Critique-JDA.
‘Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism,’ The Guardian (November 29, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/nov/29/palestinian-rights-and-the-ihra-definition-of-antisemitism.
Rich, Dave. The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism. London: Biteback Publishing, 2018.
Sachs, Jeffrey, ‘Canada’s new definition of anti-Semitism is a threat to campus free speech,’ University Affairs / Affaires universitaires (September 10, 2019), https://www.universityaffairs.ca/opinion/in-my-opinion/canadas-new-definition-of-anti-semitism-is-a-threat-to-campus-free-speech/.
Schraub, David, ‘The Nexus in the Shadow of IHRA,’ The Debate Link (March 17, 2021), http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-nexus-in-shadow-of-ihra.html.
_____, ‘A New Challenger Approaches!: Evaluating the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism,’ The Debate Link (March 26, 2021), http://dsadevil.blogspot.com.
_____, ‘Three Definitions of Antisemitism: A Comparison,’ The Third Narrative (March 25, 2021), https://thirdnarrative.org/anti-zionism-antisemitism/three-definitions-of-antisemitism-a-comparison/.
Shamir, Jonathan, ‘Israel is using the IHRA to silence its critics,’ Vashti Media (December 18, 2020), https://vashtimedia.com/2020/12/18/israel-ihra-antisemitism-definition-to-silence-palestinians/.
Shanes, Joshua, and Dov Waxman, ‘We Need a Better Definition of Anti-Semitism,’ Slate (March 26, 2021), https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/03/anti-semitism-better-definition-ihra.html.
Stern, Kenneth S., ‘Steering the Biden administration wrong on anti-Semitism,’ Times of Israel (December 10, 2020), https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/steering-the-biden-administration-wrong-on-anti-semitism/.
Trachtenberg, Barry, ‘Why I Signed the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism,’ Jewish Currents (March 26, 2021), https://jewishcurrents.org/why-i-signed-the-jerusalem-declaration-on-antisemitism/.
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, ‘Weaponizing Anti-Semitism: IHRA and Ending the Palestine Exception,’ https://usacbi.org/2021/04/video-weaponizing-anti-semitism-ihra-and-the-end-of-the-palestine-exception-usacbi-webinar/.
Zine, Jasmin, ‘Criticizing Israel is not antisemitic—It’s academic freedom,’ The Conversation (November 15, 2020), https://theconversation.com/criticizing-israel-is-not-antisemitic-its-academic-freedom-148864.
Ziri, Danielle, ‘U.S. Jewish Groups Want to Fight Antisemitism, but Struggle to Agree What It Is,’ Haaretz (February 21, 2021).
9. Palestinian rights and the IHRA definition of antisemitism
A group of 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals express their concerns about the IHRA definition
We, the undersigned Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals are hereby stating our views regarding the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and the way this definition has been applied, interpreted and deployed in several countries of Europe and North America.
In recent years, the fight against antisemitism has been increasingly instrumentalised by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights. Diverting the necessary struggle against antisemitism to serve such an agenda threatens to debase this struggle and hence to discredit and weaken it.
Antisemitism must be debunked and combated. Regardless of pretence, no expression of hatred for Jews as Jews should be tolerated anywhere in the world. Antisemitism manifests itself in sweeping generalisations and stereotypes about Jews, regarding power and money in particular, along with conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. We regard as legitimate and necessary the fight against such attitudes. We also believe that the lessons of the Holocaust as well as those of other genocides of modern times must be part of the education of new generations against all forms of racial prejudice and hatred.
The fight against antisemitism must, however, be approached in a principled manner, lest it defeat its purpose. Through “examples” that it provides, the IHRA definition conflates Judaism with Zionism in assuming that all Jews are Zionists, and that the state of Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews. We profoundly disagree with this. The fight against antisemitism should not be turned into a stratagem to delegitimise the fight against the oppression of the Palestinians, the denial of their rights and the continued occupation of their land. We regard the following principles as crucial in that regard:
1. The fight against antisemitism must be deployed within the frame of international law and human rights. It should be part and parcel of the fight against all forms of racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism. The aim of this struggle is to guarantee freedom and emancipation for all oppressed groups. It is deeply distorted when geared towards the defence of an oppressive and predatory state.
2. There is a huge difference between a condition where Jews are singled out, oppressed and suppressed as a minority by antisemitic regimes or groups, and a condition where the self-determination of a Jewish population in Palestine/Israel has been implemented in the form of an ethnic exclusivist and territorially expansionist state. As it currently exists, the state of Israel is based on uprooting the vast majority of the natives – what Palestinians and Arabs refer to as the Nakba – and on subjugating those natives who still live on the territory of historical Palestine as either second-class citizens or people under occupation, denying them their right to self-determination.
3. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and the related legal measures adopted in several countries have been deployed mostly against leftwing and human rights groups supporting Palestinian rights and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, sidelining the very real threat to Jews coming from rightwing white nationalist movements in Europe and the US. The portrayal of the BDS campaign as antisemitic is a gross distortion of what is fundamentally a legitimate non-violent means of struggle for Palestinian rights.
4. The IHRA definition’s statement that an example of antisemitism is “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” is quite odd. It does not bother to recognise that under international law, the current state of Israel has been an occupying power for over half a century, as recognised by the governments of countries where the IHRA definition is being upheld. It does not bother to consider whether this right includes the right to create a Jewish majority by way of ethnic cleansing and whether it should be balanced against the rights of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, the IHRA definition potentially discards as antisemitic all non-Zionist visions of the future of the Israeli state, such as the advocacy of a binational state or a secular democratic one that represents all its citizens equally. Genuine support for the principle of a people’s right to self-determination cannot exclude the Palestinian nation, nor any other.
5. We believe that no right to self-determination should include the right to uproot another people and prevent them from returning to their land, or any other means of securing a demographic majority within the state. The demand by Palestinians for their right of return to the land from which they themselves, their parents and grandparents were expelled cannot be construed as antisemitic. The fact that such a demand creates anxieties among Israelis does not prove that it is unjust, nor that it is antisemitic. It is a right recognised by international law as represented in United Nations general assembly resolution 194 of 1948.
6. To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.
7. We believe that justice requires the full support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, including the demand to end the internationally acknowledged occupation of their territories and the statelessness and deprivation of Palestinian refugees. The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.
Filmmaker, Paris, France
Nadia Abu El-Haj
Ann Olin Whitney Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA
Joseph L Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science, Columbia University, USA
Reader in Postcolonial Literature, University of Kent, UK
Professor of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK
Nadia Leila Aissaoui
Sociologist and Writer on feminist issues, Paris, France
Board of Trustees, Birzeit University, Palestine
Writer and novelist, Oman
Writer and Architect, Ramallah, Palestine
Associate Professor, New York University, Iraq-US
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Center, CUNY, USA
Former Professor of Comparative Literature, Birzeit University, Palestine
University Professor Emeritus, Central European University, Vienna, Austria
Academic and Researcher in Gulf studies, Oman
Professor of History, Central European University, Vienna
Writer, Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine
Edith Porada Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, USA
Assistant Professor of History, Birzeit University, Palestine
Associate Professor of Political Theory, Open University of Israel, Raanana, State of Israel
Artist-Painter, Gaza, Palestine and Paris, France
Tahar Ben Jelloun
Writer, Paris, France
Poet, Mohammedia, Morocco
Writer and Literary Critic, Rabat, Morocco
Writer and Curator, New York, USA
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Tufts University, USA
Musician and Composer, Tunisia
Professor, Arabic Studies Department, INALCO, Paris, France
Writer, London, UK
Professor of Communications Engineering, University College London, UK
Associate Professor, Coventry University, UK
Mahmoud Darwish Professor of Palestinian Studies and of History, Brown University, USA
Associate Professor of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza, Palestine
Professor of Comparative Literature, King’s College London, UK
Assistant Professor, Africana Studies and Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, USA
Associate Professor of Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, USA
FBA, Professor of Modern Arabic Studies, University of Cambridge, UK
Academic and writer, Bahrain
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Western University, Canada
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, Tel-Aviv University, State of Israel
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Sorbonne 3, Paris, France
Professor of Political science, Haifa University, State of Israel
General Director of the Palestinian forum for Israeli Studies Madar, Ramallah, Palestine
Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Birzeit University, Palestine
Professor, Institute of Community and Public Health, Birzeit University, Palestine
Professor of Gender Studies, Tunisian University, Tunis
Literary Critic, Syria-France
Professor of Anthropology and Social theory, University of Melbourne, Australia
Emeritus Professor of History, CSI/Graduate Center, CUNY, USA
Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
Associate Professor of Arab History, Université de Montréal, Canada
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Birzeit University, Palestine
Professor of Sociology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK
Kadhim Jihad Hassan
Writer and translator, Professor at INALCO-Sorbonne, Paris, France
Author and human rights advocate, London, UK
Writer, Ramallah, Palestine
Cultural Activist, Jordan-Palestine
Academic, novelist and writer, Morocco
Professor in Residence of Middle Eastern Studies, Northwestern University, Qatar
Writer, Paris, France
Paris School of International Affairs, Institut d’Etudes Politiques, France
Associate Professor of Political Science, Birzeit University, Palestine
Visual Artist and Filmaker, Beirut, Lebanon
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Birzeit University, Palestine
Former Professor of Physics and Former President, Birzeit University, Palestine
Muhammad Ali Khalidi
Presidential Professor of Philosophy, CUNY Graduate Center, USA
Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University, USA
Writer, Beirut, Lebanon
Associate Professor of International Studies, Lillehammer University College, Norway
Artist-Painter, Paris, France
Director General, The Palestinian Museum, Palestine
Professor of History, Oran University, Algeria
Associate Professor of Political Science, The American University in Cairo, Egypt
Associate Professor of Middle East Studies and IR, American University of Paris, France
Artist, Berlin, Germany
Farouk Mardam Bey
Publisher, Paris, France
Palestinian filmmaker, Lebanon
Senior Lecturer in Law, City University of London, UK
Reader in Political Communication and Arab Media, SOAS, University of London, UK
Writer, Professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, USA
Poet, William Wilhartz Professor of English Literature, University of Michigan, USA
Professor of Politics and IR, University of Oxford, UK
Emeritus Professor of Political science, Cairo University, Egypt
Professor, Deptartment of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
Professor, Illinois State University, USA
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Al-Quds University, Palestine
Emeritus Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University, USA
Filmmaker, Chair of The Palestinian Museum & the A.M.Qattan Foundation, UK
Nadim N Rouhana
Professor of International Affairs, The Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA
Professor, Haifa, State of Israel
Independent Curator, Writer, Researcher of Art and Film, Germany-Lebanon
Writer, Paris, France
Professor of Philosophy and Literary Critic, Beirut, Lebanon
Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Associate Professor, A, ME & SA Languages & Literatures, Rutgers University, USA
Writer, Beirut, Lebanon
Lawrence D Biele Chair in Law, Hebrew University, State of Israel
Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Senior Lecturer, Architecture and Cities, University of Westminster, UK
Writer, London, UK
Lawyer and Writer, Ramallah, Palestine
Writer, Paris, France
Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, King’s College London, UK
Reader in Public Law, SOAS, University of London, UK
Architect and Writer, Beirut, Lebanon
Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University, Palestine
Writer, Contemporary Art Producer, Algeria
Writer, Beirut Lebanon
Historian and Journalist, Palestine-France
Emeritus Associate Professor of Philosophy, Al-Quds University, Palestine
Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East, SOAS, University of London, UK
Minerva Humanities Centre, Tel-Aviv University, State of Israel
Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University, Canada
10. APRIL / 2021
The Jerusalem Declaration: A Response to Cary Nelson
by Michael Walzer
Michael Walzer is Professor Emeritus of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University. For many years he was the co-editor of Dissent magazine. He responds here to Cary Nelson’s essay ‘Accommodating the New Antisemitism: A Critique of the Jerusalem Declaration’ published last week in Fathom. Michael was a signatory of the Declaration. For the reply to Nelson of another signatory, Derek Penslar, see here.
Cary Nelson knows a lot more about antisemitism and about its various definitions than I do; many of the arguments I have made in print and in talks derive from his incisive critical work Israel Denial. But I hope he is wrong to suggest that some people have signed on to the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) because I did. As he says, JDA, like IHRA, can be misinterpreted. The couple of antisemitic signatories that he lists are our mis-interpreters; the organisers in Jerusalem should have rejected their signatures. But the rest of us, I assume, were working from our own experience and not from anyone else’s.
Different experiences will produce different views on the three (not entirely different) definitions. We owe each other explanations for our own views; mutual engagement after that would be fine, but I hope that we can save our fiercer fire for the ongoing fights against Israel denial in universities, corporations, unions, and political parties here and abroad.
I thought that JDA offered to create a little distance, nothing more, between antisemitism and the Israel/Palestine battles. I know that the two often overlap, and I am ready to call out attacks on Zionism and Israel that are substantively antisemitic. Alan Johnson’s indictment of Labor Party antisemitism illustrated the overlap, and nothing in JDA would prevent me from recognising it. But antisemitism and Israel/Palestine don’t always overlap, and there are strategic reasons for keeping a little distance between them.
My activism is limited these days, but I have been involved in opposing BDS on several American university campuses and in one of the academic associations. I have found that very few of my opponents in these battles were antisemites — and calling them that was not a winning strategy. Addressing their arguments, defending the Zionist project: that was the way to win.
Consider the argument for ‘one state for all its citizens’. That means the end of the Jewish state — an antisemitic position, right? But on the campuses I know, it isn’t that. It is supported by a growing number of Jewishly committed students, responding to the sharp right turn of Israeli politics. And for American kids, ‘a state for all its citizens’ is exactly what America is supposed to be. So the right question isn’t ‘Are we dealing with antisemites here?’ but rather, ‘Why doesn’t this argument apply to Israel/Palestine?’ It seems to me that the IHRA definition, for all its qualifications and conditional verbs, pushes us toward the wrong question.
Some anti-Zionists may have signed on to the JDA because of their experience of being called antisemitic when they are sure that the label doesn’t accurately describe their views. They have every right to contest the label, which is sometimes applied with due care and sometimes not. At the same time, the JDA leaves me plenty of room to condemn their anti-Zionism as the wrongheaded politics it often is, without looking too deeply into their motives or their feelings. As the first Queen Elizabeth wrote, ‘I would not make a window into men’s souls, to pinch them there.’
Denying the Jewish right to political self-determination is an old Jewish position, defended within historical memory by Orthodox and Reform Jews. There are today Jewish defenders of the Diaspora, who believe that the centuries of statelessness have been a kind of moral education — and that we are now a post-Westphalian people, too good to manage the brutalities that sovereignty requires (or certain to manage them badly). We should therefore settle for something less than sovereignty in the Middle East, which would actually be, from a moral standpoint, something better. I know some non-Jews who have adopted this position, perhaps not entirely in good faith — but who knows? So far as I know, none of these positions has found a place in the debates about the meaning of antisemitism — which they would surely complicate. I think that ‘diasporism’ derives from a radical misunderstanding of Jewish history. Talking about antisemitism or its Jewish version, self-hate, wouldn’t be helpful.
The current debate also hasn’t focused on forms of antisemitism that have nothing to do with Israel/Palestine. In the US today, the greatest threat to Jewish life and limb comes from the advocates of ‘replacement theory’ — which holds that the Jews, through the agency of HIAS, are bringing Mexicans and Muslims into the country in order to replace, or displace, White Christian Americans. This ‘theory’ inspired the Charlestown marchers and the murderous attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue, and it now has a foothold in the Republican Party. We would all agree that this is antisemitism, but because we are so focused on the arguments about when and whether anti-Zionism crosses the line, it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.
So, a little distance would help.
Note: For more of an argument along these lines, please see my article ‘Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism’ in Fathom.
11. Why I Signed the Jerusalem Declaration: A Response to Cary Nelson
by Derek Penslar
Derek Penslar is William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard Universityand Resident Faculty at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. He responds here to Cary Nelson’s essay ‘Accommodating the New Antisemitism: A Critique of the ‘Jerusalem Declaration,’ published last week in Fathom. We invite further contributions to this discussion.
I share Cary Nelson’s concerns about rising antisemitism and about how hostility to Jews and Israel can be intertwined. It is precisely because of these concerns that I support the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA). In recent years, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism has been enshrined in policy and law by universities, civic organisations, and governments. This is bizarre, as the IHRA definition was developed for the purpose of data collection, not policy making, and its authors acknowledged its protean status. (It was called a ‘working’ definition.) Nonetheless, this definition has been invoked in efforts to restrict the free and open exchange of ideas beyond the necessity to protect public safety and prohibit discrimination and harassment. The most recent and absurd such attempt has occurred just now, at Temple University in Philadelphia and Stockton University in New Jersey, where a co-sponsored Zoom event on the misuse of the IHRA has encountered protest that such an event is itself antisemitic, ‘abhorrent,’ and an ‘abomination.’
I have long had reservations about the IHRA definition. Its sections on the nature of antisemitism lack clarity, and its judgment of critical discourse about Israel assumes guilt rather than innocence. There are a great many people in the world who bear no animus against Jews but who are troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and want it to change. Such critics include Jews who are deeply attached to Zionism as an ideal and Israel as the fulfillment of that ideal.
Of particular concern is the IHRA’s association of antisemitism with a ‘double standard’ towards Israel. Of course there are countries that behave worse than Israel, but are we only allowed to criticise the most heinous regimes in the world? Don’t humans have a right to choose the communities and causes that matter to them most? And, given Israel’s location in territory sacred to more than half of humanity, does it not stand to reason that Israel’s actions will be highly visible, and hence particularly subject to scrutiny?
The IHRA definition’s limitations have been made clear to me in work I have done in Canada as an expert witness in prosecutions for ‘willful promotion of hate,’ which is a criminal offense. The antisemitic discourse I have been asked to assess invariably contains references to Israel. I have found it difficult to invoke the IHRA definition because of its strong implication that highly critical but factually accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic. A clear distinction between conspiratorial fantasy and demonstrable reality, between unhinged and fact-based (even if intemperate) language about Israel, would make it easier for me to demonstrate the presence of the former, which is actionable, and to set aside the latter, which is not.
In this respect, the JDA has many advantages over the IHRA definition. It combines a clear definition of antisemitism with a discussion of forms of speech about Zionism and Israel that may be presumed to be antisemitic. It then moves on to speech about Israel that may be presumed to not be antisemitic. (About two-thirds of the document is about what antisemitism is, and the final third is about what it is not.)
The document’s final section is of far more than forensic value. It also makes an important contribution to the promotion of free speech within broad limits. The section asserts that support for forms of boycott against Israel, proposals for alternative political scenarios for the future of Israel and the Palestinians, and evidence-based criticism of Israel’s past or present actions are not, on the face of it, antisemitic.
I oppose the BDS movement for many reasons, but inherent antisemitism is not one of them.
A person who chooses not to buy Turkish figs, encourages their friends not to do so, and starts a campaign against the purchase of Turkish figs may be assumed to oppose the Turkish government but not to hate the Turkish people. Why, then, would we assume that someone who favours a boycott of Israeli goods hates Israeli Jews, not to mention Jews as a whole?
As to the alleged antisemitic valence of one-state or confederal approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, throughout the 140 year-long history of Zionism and Israel, actors within the Zionist movement and the international community have proposed many different forms of Jewish collective life within Eretz Israel. Borders and political arrangements between Jews and Arabs have been under constant discussion. Israel and the Palestinian territories are a welter of ill-fitting political elements – statehood and occupation, autonomy and settlement enclaves – that perpetuate oppression, resistance, and hatred. It is not inherently antisemitic to propose alternatives to the status quo.
I find it particularly strange that a well-grounded, evidence-based argument regarding Israel would be construed as antisemitic. Legitimate scholarship has demonstrated that Israel bears its share of responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem in 1948 and for subsequent Arab-Israeli wars. Claiming that IDF soldiers harvest Palestinian organs is antisemitic; claiming that Israel denies West Bank Palestinians basic human rights is not.
For all of the reasons laid out above, I find the JDA to be an essential contribution to contemporary political debate. Its purpose is to decenter, not replace, the IHRA definition. The JDA is a thinking tool, not a policy instrument. Combating antisemitism should be part of a university’s or government’s general commitment to protect civil liberties and act against racism . Antisemitism today is deeply alarming, and Jews, like anyone else, must be protected from violence, abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Drawing clearer distinctions between factually-grounded critique of Israel and baleful fantasy about Jews will better equip us to take part in the common struggle against baseless hatred.
12.Cary Nelson Response to Pensler and Walzer
Once Again on the Jerusalem Declaration: A Rejoinder to Derek Penslar and Michael Walzer
by Cary Nelson
Cary Nelson’s responds to replies by Derek Penslar and Michael Walzer to his Fathom article ‘Accommodating the New Antisemitism: A Critique of the Jerusalem Declaration’.
I am very pleased to have a response to my Fathom essay on the IHRA Working Definition on Antisemitism and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism from Derek Penslar and Michael Walzer, two scholars whom I respect and have talked with in the past. I will address their comments sequentially as their responses are quite different.
I should begin by trying to put to rest an argument that does not originate with Penslar but with Kenneth Stern. Penslar repeats Stern’s claim — that the Working Definition ‘was developed for the purpose of data collection, not policy making.’ I need to be more blunt that I was before. This is a remarkably absurd position. It treats ‘data collection’ in the case of antisemitism as if it were a neutral mathematical calculation, an accumulative list, something an accountant might handle. If it had been obvious what all the varieties of contemporary antisemitism were — how to identify them, categorise and classify them, and potentially how to respond to them — then we wouldn’t have needed the Working Definition. Data collection ordinarily precedes policy formulation. Otherwise we should count and list examples of anti-Black, anti-Muslim, or anti-Asian racism; the incidents of rape or murder; or any other social problems, etc., and take no further action. The Working Definition had to begin by educating all of us; data collection could not otherwise proceed intelligibly or competently. If the data collection proved the problem was substantial and helped make it comprehensible, then we could act to discourage antisemitism. By the way, no one has suggested such data, of great public concern, should be kept secret. By Ken’s choice, we should heed this call: ‘Stop. The data has been collected. Stop thinking! Say no more.’ That train has already left the station. The motivations for regretting its departure are not innocent.
In some cases, Penslar raises again issues I sought to resolve in Fathom. Penslar writes ‘Why, then, would we assume that someone who favours a boycott of Israeli goods hates Israeli Jews?’ Indeed, why would we? In Fathom I write ‘The issue is not whether any and all boycott efforts are antisemitic ‘in and of themselves.’ Israelis commonly boycott West Bank products, a political choice that they have the freedom to make. The main issue is whether the BDS movement is substantially antisemitic, given that its leaders advocate eliminating the Jewish state. By fudging the difference, the Declaration demolishes a straw man and confuses the issue.’ I would add that singling out Israel for a boycott of its universities violates a professional standard the AAUP has sought to apply universally. Israeli universities are guilty of no crime or injustice that would set them apart from universities throughout the West. Indeed, they are models of academic freedom. Boycotts limited to Israeli universities implicate antisemitism and undermine academic freedom for students and faculty everywhere.
Similarly, Penslar complains that IHRA was cited in an effort to ‘silence’ a forum cosponsored by Temple and Stockton Universities in which the Definition would be attacked by two of its opponents. There was no effort to cancel the program, though Moshe Phillips did write an op-ed suggesting that Temple’s program in Jewish history might have been better served by an event contrasting different views, rather than two speakers enamored of each other, Joyce Ajouny and Kenneth Stern and moderated by a third IHRA opponent, Lila Corwin Berman. As it happened, both speakers expressed sympathy with one of contemporary antisemitism’s worst trends, the demand that Zionists be excluded from all progressive organizations and campaigns. Penslar also questions whether donors should help fund one-sided, politically biased events, a not unreasonable challenge for donors to issue. Penslar surely understands, as I argued in Fathom, that dissent does not constitute an effort to silence. By the way, although I could gather quite a few crude examples of character assassination publicly directed at me by faculty members, I don’t complain about being ‘silenced.’ I just persist.
But the Zionist students and faculty who have been victims of group aggression haven’t all been so lucky. Some, like USC student Rose Ritch, were driven to resign their positions; others, like Connecticut College professor Andrew Pessin, took leaves of absence. Of course, they cannot be considered silenced. The concept of silencing doesn’t apply. Those ‘Zios’ are the leading edge of vast unknown invisible Jewish powers. Penslar feels it would be handy to have ‘a clear distinction between conspiratorial fantasy and demonstrable reality.’ Well there are no verifiable Zionist conspiracies in reality. That is the point of the Working Definition.
Penslar acknowledges that ‘there are countries that behave worse than Israel,’ but then asks a clear question: ‘are we only allowed to criticize the most heinous regimes in the world?’ Of course not. That’s not what the Working Definition suggests. As he points out, ‘given Israel’s location in territory sacred to more than half of humanity,’ its policies understandably attract scrutiny disproportionate to the nation’s tiny size. But all who praise or criticise the Jewish state do so with knowledge of other nation states. None are interplanetary visitors who land there ignorant of all the other nations of the earth. Whether they make direct comparisons with other nations or not, comparative contexts obtain. Thus, as the Working Definition puts it, ‘Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’ does not necessarily prove antisemitism, but it alerts us to the real possibility. Moreover, the huge number of United Nation resolutions critiquing Israel, dwarfing the total number of resolutions condemning other nations, cannot be attributed to religious devotion to the Holy Land.
Penslar argues that ‘claiming that Israel denies West Bank Palestinians’ basic human rights is not’ antisemitic. Certainly Palestinians lack fundamental political rights, though they have repeatedly refused agreements that would have provided them. The more serious accusation about human rights requires more discussion than I can provide here. But the comprehensive claim is false. At the most basic level, Palestinians on the West Bank do not lack water to drink or food to eat. They have a variety of educational opportunities, though the Palestinian Authority severely compromises their right to political self-expression. Some are economically secure; most are not. The destructive Israeli policy of house demolitions denies a right and must be condemned. Palestinian farmers need much greater protection, including from settler aggression. ‘They are denied their human rights’ is a recurrent BDS motto, but its comprehensive character serves an anti-Zionist and antisemitic aim. Some of Israel’s opponents are not interested in further details. Those who just bellow the slogan actually have nothing to offer Palestinians. Rights need to be specified, differentiated, and addressed by political critique and action.
I quite agree with Penslar that ‘There are a great many people in the world who bear no animus against Jews but who are troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and want it to change.’ I count myself among those who want the treatment of Palestinians to change, as my publications testify. I have issued many very specific imperatives for change. My co-editor and I add still more in Peace and Faith: Christian Churches and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, due out in a few weeks. I do not feel condemned by anything the Working Definition says. Penslar adds ‘it is not inherently antisemitic to propose alternatives to the status quo.’ Again, many of us have been doing that for years. But some alternatives, however blissfully naïve and well-intentioned, aim to eliminate the Jewish state; that is an antisemitic goal whether or not advocates understand that. That is part of what the Working Definition alerts us to. Penslar says it ‘assumes guilt rather than innocence.’ I don’t think so; it’s about the inherent character of statements and actions, not about intent.
Penslar says the Jerusalem Declaration’s aim is ‘to displace, not replace, the IHRA Definition.’ For some, the two verbs are synonyms, but I take him to mean that IHRA does not disappear; it remains in view as an object of critique and condemnation. That’s true; the Declaration is reactive, corrective. Its full effect of validating some versions of antisemitism only works if its rejected other stays in place.
Walzer on the other hand is engaged in an entirely fraternal dialogue with the Working Definition. Although a number of the signatories have penned ‘Why I signed’ op-eds, his stands out for both its tone and its substance. I say that not because of his very kind gesture toward me at the outset of his piece, but rather because of what he goes on to say about both the Working Definition and the debates represented in Fathom and elsewhere. His tone here will remind others of who he is and helps explain why some were reassured to find his name appended to the Declaration. Yet he does not quail before sterner statements. To cite the most obvious marker of the difference he establishes: he is the only signatory so far to admit that several verifiable anti-Semites are among the Declaration’s signatories and suggest they should not have been permitted to sign. Like him, I believe personal accusations of antisemitism, as opposed to characterisations of published positions, must be very sparing and based on substantial evidence. Often, ‘they know not what they do’ is a better judgment.
There is a palpable and convincing sadness in Walzer’s ‘hope that we can save our fiercer fire for the ongoing fights against Israel denial in universities, corporations, unions, and political parties here and abroad.’ Even more so in his hope the Declaration could ‘create a little distance, nothing more, between antisemitism and the Israeli/Palestine battles.’ The two wishes, however, overlap, meaning that the distance in reality is most often a hostile one, a fate already evident in other defenses of either the Definition or the Declaration, including my own. But that fate reflects a fact of contemporary life: the fate of the Jews is entangled with that of Israel whether all Jews wish it were so or not. There are some who simply cannot accept that fact, a fact that means definitions of contemporary antisemitism are inevitably preoccupied with the Jewish state. When the distance Walzer dreams of results either in calls for ‘Palestine free from the river to the sea’ or fantasies of the lion lying down with the lamb in one state where ‘we all get along,’ the IHRA’s examples highlight the real world consequences. The Levant is no stranger to consequential utopianism, but, if anything, that should give utopia’s new avatars greater pause.
Walzer is certainly correct that ‘denying the Jewish right to political self-determination is an old Jewish position.’ Indeed, some felt it was better for Jews to pursue assimilation in the countries where they lived. That dream died with the Holocaust. I find that opponents of the Jewish state who invoke that pre-state history now, to buttress their anti-Zionism, are either being disingenuous or markedly self-serving. The world crossed a line in 1948. There is no nonviolent way of turning back, though a two-state solution would drain much of the venom from debates. Walzer links his own sadness to a wider sorrow as we engage ‘the brutalities that sovereignty requires’ of all states, including Israel. The fact that there is no absolute escape from that reality is the anguish that ripples through love for the Jewish state. Even a two-state solution would not turn Iran into a peacemaker. The Abraham Accords have not eliminated widespread antisemitism among Arab populations. Israel’s strength has ameliorated some of its existential concerns, but not all of them.
There are some, Jews among them, including Judith Butler, who believe ‘centuries of statelessness have been a kind of moral education’ teaching us to disavow all nationalisms. But then it turns out the only nationalism we are actually urged to abandon is Jewish nationalism. The Working Definition rejects that deceptive reform. Idealists willing to overlook the piles of Jewish and Palestinian bodies likely to result might deserve a different kind of sorrow but not finally our respect.
Yet there is neither time nor space to muster sorrow for the far right antisemitic conspiracists that Walzer warns us of in his conclusion. The spread of hate speech on social media and on unfamiliar websites presents us with greater challenges to our free speech commitments than the overt antisemitism that flourishes in the daylight. We cannot all deal with those dual challenges, but both require focused attention.
Walzer’s warning about far right antisemitism also makes it clear that the Working Definition did not ‘politicise’ or trivialise a battle with antisemitism that was previously focused on pure forms of hatred that could meet with more universal condemnation, an argument Declaration coauthor Eva Illouz makes in Haaretz. From the time when the Roman Empire embraced Christianity and allied it with state power, antisemitism has been politicised. And so it was through centuries of Christianity. Nazism later politicised a racialised antisemitism. And politicised antisemitism persists among Israel’s neighboring populations. A useable definition of antisemitism has to confront both explicitly political conflicts and the broader sense in which politics animates the beliefs and institutions that structure social life. That is the complex challenge of the Working Definition, one that the Jerusalem Declaration cannot put to rest.