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Biden reiterates support for IHRA definition of anti-Semitism after academics warn UN against using it

25th Nov 2022
Biden reiterates support for IHRA definition of anti-Semitism after academics warn UN against using it

US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price briefs reporters in Washington, D.C.
(Credit: Freddie Everett/ State Dept CC)

Harun Nasrullah

The Biden Administration has reiterated the US’s support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, a day after more than 100 scholars, many of whom Jewish academics, urged the UN not to adopt the controversial definition due to its “divisive and polarising” effect.

In a statement published on November 3, the 128 scholars, including leading Jewish academics at Israeli, European, UK, and US universities, said the definition had been “hijacked” to protect the Israeli government from international criticism. They also called on the UN to instead rely on universal human rights instruments and different resources, such as the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism.

“Let us be clear: We wholeheartedly welcome the commitment of the UN to fight anti-Semitism and commend the UN for its vital efforts in this regard,” the statement said.

“What we object to and strongly warn against is that the UN would jeopardise this essential fight and harm its universal mission to promote human rights by endorsing a politicised definition that is instrumentalised to deter free speech and to shield the Israeli government from accountability for its actions.”

According to the IHRA’s working definition, “anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions, and religious facilities.”

The US Department of State spokesperson, Ned Price, said the us views the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism as integral to the fight to eliminate this scourge. It is widely accepted and used throughout the world by governments, international organizations, religious and sports entities, and other civil society organizations, which sends a powerful message of solidarity against anti-Semitism. Bipartisan US administrations have embraced and used the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, inclusive of its examples, as a policy tool.”

“A recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism misrepresented the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, urging suspension of the broadly endorsed definition. In an era of rapidly rising global anti-Semitism, now is not the time to discard one of the most fundamental and critical tools in the arsenal to combat it. We call on other countries and organisations to embrace the IHRA Working Definition, as we work together to counter this global threat,” he added.

In 2020, the man who took the lead in drafting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, Kenneth Stern, warned the Biden administration against adopting it. In a sensational article in the Times of Israel, Stern claimed that pro-Israel lobby groups have weaponised the definition in an attempt to silence critics of Zionism.

“Jewish groups have used the definition as a weapon to say anti-Zionist expressions are inherently anti-Semitic and must be suppressed,” wrote Stern, director of the Bard Centre for the Study of Hate, who is also an attorney.

“Reasonable people can have different opinions about when anti-Semitism is reflected in anti-Zionism,” continued Stern. “But is this – having the government label anti-Zionism [as] anti-Semitism—the number one way we want to ask the new administration to fight the problem?”

 

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