U.S. State Dept. Doubles Down on Embrace of IHRA Antisemitism Definition

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
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People stand together during an interfaith Rally Against Anti-Semitism, in Miami Beach, Florida, earlier this month.
People stand together during an interfaith Rally Against Anti-Semitism, in Miami Beach, Florida, earlier this month.Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON - Months after several House Democrats urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to use the various definitions of antisemitism at his disposal to combat antisemitism, the State Department has doubled down on its embrace of the contentious International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism.

Several liberal Zionist organizations have previously cautioned that the definition, adopted by former President Donald Trump's administration in September 2018, conflates legitimate criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism.

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The lawmakers, led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, highlighted the Nexus Document and Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as two such tools that Blinken could use beyond the IHRA definition, though they did not explicitly reject the IHRA definition in their letter.

Both new definitions include references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and allow for free speech to discuss Israeli policies and actions, though they have been criticized by Jewish American establishment organizations that have embraced IHRA's definition.

The State Department's response to Schakowsky, obtained by Haaretz, does not once address the alternate definitions, but highlights the IHRA definition as "the gold standard."

"The Department agrees that it is crucial that governments and public are able to recognize anti-Semitism in its many forms, traditional and contemporary, so that we can call hate by its proper name and take effective action," wrote Acting Assistant Secretary Naz Durakoğlu from the Bureau of Legislative Affairs. 

"To those ends, like prior U.S. administrations of both political parties, the Biden Administration embraces and champions the IHRA nonlegally binding working definition of anti-Semitism in its entirety, including its examples, and the Administration continues to encourage other countries as well as international bodies to do the same." 

Durakoğlu noted that by embracing the IHRA definition, the U.S. "fully and always respects freedom of expression, opposes criminalizing speech, and protects the constitutional right of those in the United States to free speech. This, however, does not mean we let anti-Semitic speech and other forms of hate speech go unchallenged."

“We are glad the administration is reaffirming its commitment to taking the fight against antisemitism seriously, but serious advocates against antisemitism understand that the IHRA definition is overly broad and that some of its examples are problematic," Americans for Peace Now’s Director of Government Relations Madeleine Cereghino told Haaretz. "It’s disappointing that the administration chose not to address these concerns in its response.”

The State Department response to Schakowsky came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the German government signed a letter of intent to share information and strategies on advancing Holocaust education and combatting antisemitism.

The administration, meanwhile, faces growing pressure to name a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism – the highest-ranking public official in the country tasked with combating anti-Jewish prejudice. The role was elevated to an ambassadorial-level position last December, adding weight to its mission of combating antisemitism at a global level. The prospective envoy will have to be confirmed by the Senate prior to assuming the position.

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