WASHINGTON – A U.S.-based coalition of 10 liberal Zionist organizations is urging the incoming Biden administration not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, citing a potential for misuse.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Progressive Israel Network – comprising Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, Hashomer Hatzair World Movement, Jewish Labor Committee, J Street, New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism and T’ruah – argues that the effort to enshrine the IHRA definition in U.S. law and policy threatens to conflate legitimate criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism.
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“The Biden administration and Congress should reject facile, oversimplified doctrines that can easily be abused,” the statement says. “They should refrain from legislating bans on constitutionally-protected speech and legitimate activism, which often wrongfully target those who harbor no hatred towards Jews, and which make it more difficult to identify and confront genuine instances of antisemitism.”
The working definition, adopted by the IHRA plenary in 2016, states: “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.”
In its statement, the Progressive Israel Network argues that adopting this definition, with its accompanying “contemporary examples” at the state, federal and university level and in corporate governance “has the potential to undermine core freedoms, and in some cases already has.”
According to the coalition, the contemporary examples attached to the working definition enabled the State Department or Secretary Michael Pompeo to declare – in what it calls “a harmful overreach” – that anti-Zionism as well as the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel are antisemitism.
The statement calls out two of what the IHRA calls contemporary examples of antisemitism: “The examples regard as antisemitic the claim that ‘the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor’ and the application of ‘double standards’ to Israel ‘by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’”
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The contemporary examples cited in the definition also include Holocaust denial, theories about global Jewish conspiracies and holding Jews collectively responsible for Israeli actions.
“We are advocates for a future of equality, dignity and safety for all Israelis and all Palestinians. As such, we insist that activists, academics and all citizens must have the right to express a wide range of political opinions without fear of being suppressed or smeared by the government. This includes critiques of the legitimacy of Israel’s founding or the nature of its laws and system of government.”
In December Americans for Peace Now, a member of the Progressive Israel Network, refused a request by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to adopt the working definition, saying the umbrella organization of 51 groups would be better served “using a scalpel rather than a bulldozer.”
The organization Democratic Majority for Israel, however, urged Biden to adopt the definition. CEO Mark Mellman called the definition "a critical tool that serves as a guide for understanding and fighting antisemitism," adding that critics are "simply wrong on the facts."