UN Secretary General António Guterres and the United Nations point-man on antisemitism Miguel Moratinos, the UN High-Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, have been under pressure from conservative US Jewish leaders and the Israeli government to endorse a definition of antisemitism which APN – among others – finds problematic. APN’s President and CEO and the organization’s Chair of the Board sent the following letter to Mr. Moratinos and SG Guterres, urging them not to adopt the IHRA definition as the UN’s official definition of antisemitism.
Dear Mr. Moratinos,
We are writing to express concern following press reports that you have reached agreement with Israel’s ambassador to the UN and to the United States, Gilad Erdan, to jointly push for the United Nations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition.
We are writing to urge you not to adopt this definition, which we believe is inadequate and counterproductive to your efforts to fight antisemitism.
Before we explain our concerns, we wish to emphasize that we appreciate the United Nation’s efforts to address the recent rise in antisemitic incidents and antisemitic speech worldwide. We too are alarmed at the horrifying trend of violent antisemitic acts by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other right-wing extremists around the globe, including in the United States.
While we strongly support the UN’s efforts to counter antisemitism, we believe as strongly that the IHRA definition is the wrong instrument for advancing such efforts.
The two core sentences constituting the IHRA definition lack clarity and demarcation. The main problem, however, follows from the examples attached to the IHRA definition, which are framed and treated as an integral part of it. Most of these examples relate to Israel. Some of them go beyond what can reasonably be regarded as antisemitism, crossing the line into the realm of politics. These examples are already being codified into law to quash free speech.
One of IHRA’s “examples” regards as antisemitic “applying double standards” to Israel or requiring of Israel “behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
We cannot accept such a formulation as a definition of antisemitism. It uses a broad brush to paint legitimate criticism of Israel and Israeli government policies as antisemitic. Who is to decide what is a double standard and what is not, and what behavior is expected or demanded of other democratic nations?
More importantly, 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, dignity and independence, while escalating the process of settlement construction and de facto annexation in that occupied territory. Branding criticism of Israeli actions linked to the occupation as antisemitism, on the grounds that it represents a double standard, is unacceptable to us and should not be a guiding principle for the United Nations.
We also cannot agree with another example, which categorically asserts that “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” is antisemitic.
We do believe that some anti-Zionists are motivated by antisemitism. But to depict any and all anti-Zionist views as antisemitic is factually wrong, politically misleading and ethically misguided. 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 those who depict this attitude as antisemitic. This attitude is shared by millions of Palestinians – many of them loyal citizens of the State of Israel – who paid a heavy price for the creation of the Jewish state. Their grievance-rooted attitudes, even if historically baseless, are not antisemitic. Typically, such attitudes do not stem from hatred of Jews, but rather from a profound and long-lasting experience of injustice.
We cannot accept such imprecise, overreaching wording in the examples attached to the IHRA definition. In addition, we are deeply concerned as we witness how the IHRA definition is already being abused, indeed weaponized, to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies by tarnishing individuals and organizations as antisemitic.
We hope that you share these concerns and will withstand the coordinated pressure on you and the UN to adopt the IHRA definition. Apart from the harm the definition does to freedom of speech, we believe it would turn into a dangerous trap for the UN, if adopted – including for your urgent mission of combatting antisemitism.
As you know, other definitions of antisemitism have recently been launched by leading scholars. While all definitions can and should be relied upon for reflection and reference, the UN should adopt none of them.
We write the above as a pro-Israel organization. We care deeply about Israel’s wellbeing and are dedicated to securing Israel’s future as a vibrant democracy that is the national homeland of the Jewish people. Proudly pro-Israel, we reject Israeli government policies that are detrimental to Israel’s future and wellbeing. And we reject efforts to instrumentalize the fight against antisemitism to shield and sustain such policies. That is why we urge the UN to not adopt the IHRA definition.
We would be more than happy to discuss this matter with you in greater detail.
President and CEO
Americans for Peace Now
Chair of the Board
Americans for Peace Now