U.S. Jewish nonprofit says the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition is ‘already being abused to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies’
Americans for Peace Now, a nonprofit whose stated aim is to help find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is refusing a request from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
In a letter, which Haaretz obtained a copy of, the nonprofit’s leaders told the umbrella organization representing 51 national Jewish groups that while they support “joint action to confront antisemitism,” they “strongly believe that the IHRA Working Definition is the wrong vehicle for such action.”
When it comes to “labeling people and entities as antisemitic,” wrote APN president and CEO Hadar Susskind, and the group’s board chair, Jim Klutznick, to COP leaders, the Conference would be better served “using a scalpel rather than a bulldozer. The broad-brush approach that the IHRA Working Definition suggests does not serve well the cause of fighting antisemitism or the interest of the Conference of Presidents.”
In their letter, Susskind and Klutznick noted that their objections relate specifically to the “examples” within the IHRA document organization used to “illustrate” antisemitism, which led to their decision not to adopt the full version of the IHRA definition.
“We cannot accept the imprecise, overreaching wording of the definition’s examples,” the APN leaders wrote. “We can’t accept it because we are witnessing how it is already being abused, indeed weaponized, to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies by tarnishing individuals and organizations as antisemitic.”
These examples “cross the line into the realm of politics and are already being used to score political points in the United States, and to quash legitimate criticism of deplorable Israeli government policies,” they wrote.
“Proudly pro-Israel, we denounce Israeli government policies that we believe are detrimental to Israel’s future and well-being. We vociferously criticize these policies, and encourage American citizens – particularly fellow American Jews – to do the same. As Zionist American Jews, we criticize such policies because of our deep concern for Israel’s future,” they wrote.
Right now, they added, “We are witnessing our federal government, in the waning days of the Trump administration, waging a campaign that targets distinguished human rights organizations, falsely alleging that they advocate BDS [boycotts, divestment and sanctions] against Israel, and labeling them – or should we say libeling them – as antisemitic. We shall not lend our support to a document that serves as the anchor for such McCarthyite witch hunts.”
The two sentence working definition adopted by the IHRA plenary in Bucharest in 2016 is straightforward: “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.”
The problem APN and other critics have is that the full definition included in the IHRA document includes a long list of“examples” that the group cites as “illustrations” of manifesting antisemitism, particularly those related to attacks on Israel.
One example points to those who are “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
The APN letter points out that “most of the behaviors that Israel is criticized for are related to its occupation of the West Bank. Other democratic nations do not hold a disenfranchised civilian population under military occupation for 53 years, with no horizon of freedom and independence, while escalating the process of settlement construction in that occupied territory. Branding criticism of Israeli actions associated with the occupation as antisemitism on the grounds that they apply a double standard is unacceptable.”
Another unacceptable example included in the IHRA definition, according to APN, brands those who would “deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” as antisemitic.
While admitting that some anti-Zionism is rooted in antisemitism, APN leaders said that “to depict any and all anti-Zionist views as antisemitic is wrong and wrongheaded. While we strongly disagree with those who state that the pursuit of a national home for the Jews in historic Palestine is illegitimate or even racist, we also strongly disagree with depicting this attitude as antisemitic.”
In particular, they said, many Palestinians with “grievance-rooted attitudes, even if historically baseless, are not antisemitic. Typically, such attitudes do not stem from hatred of Jews but rather from a bitter conflict over a disputed piece of land.”
In a telephone interview, Susskind explained that the IHRA definition, and even the examples, may sound “perfectly reasonable” if one “lives in a black hole and doesn’t see how they are being used.
“But we don’t live in that black hole,” he said, and the current political “weaponization” of the IHRA document is “troubling,” he said.
“This definition is one of the key ingredients in how we are getting to absurd situations of Rudy Giuliani calling George Soros an antisemite,” Susskind said. He also pointed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s equating all boycotts against Israel with antisemitism – including those targeting the settlements – as being connected to the definition. On college campuses, he said, the IHRA document “is used to shut down groups or individuals who are presenting a Palestinian perspective.”
Susskind stressed that “if someone says Israel should not exist as a Jewish state, I disagree with them, as do Americans for Peace Now.” But in the case of a Palestinian asserting that opinion, “I don’t know if that is an antisemitic statement. It is problematic in lots of ways – and if you want to call it anti-Israel, sure.”
Susskind said his organization was “speaking up against this, even though it is not comfortable to be the only Conference of Presidents group” to do so.
“I have Israeli citizenship, I served in the IDF and I have spent a career working in the Jewish community,” he said. “And because I personally support the boycott of settlement goods – not BDS as it relates to Israel but as it relates to the settlements – I feel that this definition calls me an antisemite.”
When asked about the APN letter, Conference of Presidents CEO William C. Daroff responded: “The adoption of the IHRA definition, which has been adopted by over 30 countries, as well as hundreds of other governmental bodies, organizations and NGOs, reflects the broad support that exists for the definition, as well as the widespread view that in order to successfully combat antisemitism, it is critically important to define it.
“During last month’s general meeting of the Conference of Presidents, our member organizations approved a resolution calling for COP member organizations to officially adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism (with examples) as their official organizational definition of antisemitism,” he added. “No opposition was expressed at that meeting. It is our view that support for the IHRA definition (with examples) reflects the overwhelming consensus view of Conference members and of the American Jewish community. We certainly respect the right of an organization to disagree, and cherish the fact that COP members can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Go HERE to see the APN letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations referenced in this article.