What Is the IHRA Definition?
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism is:
“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.
Why do we at APN find the IHRA definition inadequate and unhelpful?
IHRA’s definition is both inadequate and counterproductive in the effort to fight antisemitism.
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. Seven 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.
Can you elaborate?
Absolutely. One of the “examples” regards as antisemitic “applying double standards” to Israel, or requiring of Israel “behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” It uses a broad brush to paint legitimate criticism of Israel and Israeli government policies as antisemitic. Who gets to decide what is a double standard and what is not, and what behavior is expected or demanded of other democratic nations?
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, also crosses into a purely anti-Zionist discussion. While it is true that some anti-Zionists are motivated by antisemitism, to depict any and all anti-Zionist views as antisemitic is factually wrong, politically misleading and ethically misguided.
These examples are already being codified into law to quash free speech and legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies by tarnishing individuals and organizations as antisemitic.
Virginia’s Legislature recently passed HB1606, a law that officially
adopts IHRA’s antisemitism definition (in VA’s state government) and will therefore allow criticism of Israel to be
criminalized in an otherwise well-meaning effort to combat antisemitism. Similar efforts to politically weaponize
IHRA have been made throughout the United States on the state and local level.
Is the IHRA definition the only game in town?
No. Since 2021, at least two alternative definitions have been put forward: the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism by hundreds of scholars of antisemitism, Holocaust studies, Jewish studies and Middle East studies, as well as the Nexus Document by a task force affiliated with Bard College and the University of Southern California. While acknowledging that criticism of Israel can be antisemitic, these alternative definitions set out more clearly what constitutes antisemitism and provide guidance surrounding the contours of legitimate speech and action around Israel and Palestine.
Why does APN oppose the IHRA working definition of antisemitism?
Because 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.