Left-Wing Jewish Groups’ Rejection of Holocaust Alliance Antisemitism Definition Meets Criticism

Part of an exhibit on the Holocaust supported by the IHRA. Photo: courtesy of IHRA.

A statement from a coalition of progressive Jewish groups rejecting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism because it included anti-Zionism among its examples encountered criticism on social media on Tuesday.

The statement from the Progressive Israel Network, which includes the left-wing lobby group J Street, argued that the definition — which has been adopted by dozens of governments, NGOs, sporting organizations and other civic institutions around the world — stifles “legitimate free speech, criticism of Israeli government actions, and advocacy for Palestinian rights.”

The statement acknowledged that there “can be no doubt that some anti-Zionists and critics of Israeli policy can sometimes cross the line into antisemitism.” However, it went on to describe as “harmful overreach” the US State Department’s “unambiguous declarations that  ‘anti-Zionism is antisemitism’ and that ‘the Global BDS Campaign [is] a manifestation of antisemitism.’”

The statement echoed similar objections to the IHRA definition expressed by pro-Palestinian groups.

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The words “Zionism” and “anti-Zionism” do not appear in the actual definition, which emphasizes that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

In an article this week for the British journal Fathom, Dave Rich — director of policy for the Community Security Trust (CST) of the UK Jewish community — pointed out that IHRA definition’s examples mentioning both Jews and Israel include: “‘Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust’; ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’; ‘Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis’; or ‘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.’”

Of the definitions critics, Rich wrote, “Do [they] really intend to claim that these examples suppress legitimate, non-antisemitic criticism of the State of Israel? If that is the case, let them try. They will struggle to persuade many people of their argument.”

Mainstream Jewish groups in the US support the IHRA definition in full. Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on Twitter on Monday that the definition “is a useful tool in fighting #antisemitism & does not restrict legitimate criticism of Israel.”

Continued Greenblatt: “To be clear, antisemitism referencing Israel still is antisemitism.”


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