We’ve been hearing for weeks how the Biden administration has been preparing a strategy to combat antisemitism. Thank God. Finally, someone is going to solve the problem.
The effort may be pointless, however, if progressives and antisemites (sometimes, they’re the same) succeed in preventing the use of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. Without the IHRA guidance, all but the most blatant forms of antisemitism will be ignored, and antisemites will define the threat to exclude themselves.
The IHRA definition is straightforward, similar to most dictionary definitions:
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.
What drives critics to apoplexy are the examples of modern manifestations of antisemitism, which “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”
Given that the United States already uses the definition, which has been adopted by 36 other countries, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe and 26 individual U.S. states, it would be a cowardly abandonment of principle to the progressive mob if the IHRA is not central to the administration’s strategy.
For decades, antisemites have gotten a pass by simply replacing the word “Jew” with “Israel(i)” or “Zionist.” The IHRA called their bluff by stripping away the fig leaf. It was not a Jew but a progressive icon, Martin Luther King Jr., who saw through the masquerade decades ago and responded unequivocally to a student who attacked Zionism: “When people criticize Zionists,” he declared, “they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.”
Some critics of adopting the IHRA want the administration to adopt some alternative that a relative handful of Jews support and whose sole purpose is to define antisemitism to exclude anything they might say or do. Non-Jewish demonizers of Israel find these liberal Jewish attempts to appease them equally unacceptable.
The biggest red herring of the antisemites and their ACLU enablers is that adopting the IHRA will unconstitutionally deny people their right to free speech by prohibiting or chilling criticism of Israel.
Are there any sentient beings unaware of criticism of Israel? Have you ever noticed that the people who complain the loudest about being silenced are the ones who regularly demonize Israel with impunity? If you want to read criticism of Israel, read The New York Times for a week. Two of Israel’s most vitriolic detractors—Thomas Friedman and Peter Beinart—have regular columns in the Times. Go to one of the 200-plus campuses where Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has a presence, and you can hear about “sh**ty Zionist classes” and threats to “fight Zionists … with their ‘Israel is a democracy bulsh*t.’ ” Read statements signed by thousands of professors condemning Israel and calling for the only Jewish state to be boycotted even as they happily ignore or engage with the world’s worst human-rights abusers, like China and Russia.
When Miami University’s Student Government introduced a resolution calling for the university to adopt the IHRA definition, SJP and the Muslim Students Association immediately attacked the proposal, speciously claiming the definition “attempts to malign and politically gaslight the Palestinian struggle.”
The word “Palestinian” does not appear in the IHRA or its examples.
How do the incessant attacks on Israel persist, given the widespread adoption of the IHRA? The main reason is that even those who have adopted it do not take it seriously enough to call out the antisemites in their midst. More fundamentally, the IHRA explicitly states that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. Furthermore, it does not suggest punishment for those whose words or deeds are antisemitic.
Still, opponents of the definition don’t want to be called out for their bigotry or stigmatized as antisemites.
Sarcasm and cynicism aside, it’s nice to see our government take the issue of antisemitism in America seriously enough to invest some time and hopefully meaningful money into taking steps to address the issue. It is also nice to see the initiative coming from a Democratic president, given that his party has significantly normalized antisemitism. Of course, if the party does not act against the antisemites in its midst, like Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, it will not only fail but be rightly ridiculed for hypocrisy.
The effort can make a contribution if it impels colleges to take the issue seriously, adopt the IHRA definition and end the anomaly of being the only institution in America where antisemitism is tolerated.
The inclusion of the IHRA is necessary but not sufficient. The definition and examples were formulated in 2015. Antisemites have become more sophisticated in disguising their behavior and malign intent. We now see Jew-hatred manifested in ways not covered by its examples.
Even more concerning is how social media has exponentially increased the opportunities to spread bigotry, and jellyfish like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk refuse to prevent their platforms from giving the seemingly infinite number of Goebbels imitators a megaphone to spread their bile. Failure to address online hate will also neuter President Joe Biden’s efforts.
Mr. President, listen to your State Department, which said in 2022 the IHRA definition of antisemitism is “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 antisemitism. Bipartisan U.S. administrations have embraced and used the IHRA working definition of Antisemitism, inclusive of its examples, as a policy tool.”
Without this shared understanding of antisemitism, even the most well-meaning strategy is doomed to failure.