Kenneth Stern, who helped write what’s now known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, naturally has every right to oppose President Donald Trump’s executive order last week requiring universities to consider IHRA when assessing if, per Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Jewish students’ rights have been violated.
However, Stern, who was the anti-Semitism expert for the American Jewish Committee for 25 years, does not have the right to dishonestly frame support for Trump’s order as exclusively coming from the Jewish “right,” as he did in a Guardian op-ed published on Dec. 13 titled, “I drafted the definition of antisemitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.”
“Starting in 2010,” Stern writes, “rightwing Jewish groups took the ‘working definition’, which had some examples about Israel (such as holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel, and denying Jews the right to self-determination), and decided to weaponize it with title VI cases.”
He goes on to state that “As proponents of the executive order like the Zionist Organization of America make clear, they see the application of the definition as ‘cover[ing] many of the anti-Jewish outrages … frequently led by … Students for Justice in Palestine, including … calls for “intifada” [and] demonizing Israel.’ As much as I disagree with SJP, it has the right to make ‘calls.’ That’s called free speech.”
Anti-Zionists, wrote Stern, have the right to free expression, especially on campus.
“I’m a Zionist. But on a college campus, where the purpose is to explore ideas, anti-Zionists have a right to free expression.”
Stern’s message is clear: The ones “weaponizing anti-Semitism” are right-wing Jews, such as Kushner, and right-wing Jewish groups, like ZOA.
However, he fails to mention that Trump’s executive order was enthusiastically embraced by American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest Jewish advocacy groups in the country, and an organization that nobody with any knowledge of the U.S. Jewish communal landscape would describe as “right wing”—and where, as we noted, Stern himself worked from 1989 to 2014.
In response to Trump’s executive order, the AJC issued a press release, in which AJC CEO David Harris stated that the “American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomes President Trump’s Executive Order to strengthen efforts to combat antisemitism on college and university campuses. We trust that a careful application of this directive will enable university administrators to avoid running afoul of free speech protections as they seek to root out antisemitism on their campuses.”
The situation of Jewish students at America’s universities, writes Harris, is “most worrisome.” Citing a recent AJC survey on antisemitism in the U.S., Harris notes that “nearly half of those between the ages of 18 and 29 have been victims of antisemitic acts over the past five years, compared to just over a third of American Jews overall. More than a third of Jewish young people said they either had experienced antisemitism on an American college campus themselves or know someone who has.”
With regard to the issue of free speech, Harris states explicitly that the AJC does not view Trump’s order as designed to suppress criticism of Israel:
“AJC does not consider the [executive order], or longstanding Department of Education guidance, to be designed to suppress rational criticism of Israel or its policies, and we will speak out against any attempt to do so. AJC also recognizes that there will be hard cases where it will be necessary to decide whether the speech in question is constitutionally protected or not.
“To date, though, responses to antisemitism on many campuses have often fallen short, leaving Jewish students vulnerable. Existing federal policy has not been fully enforced and today’s order merely gives Jews what other groups have long enjoyed—the right not to be subject to a hostile environment on campus. There is nothing inconsistent with protecting freedom of expression and providing Jews the same protections accorded other minorities.”
Another U.S. Jewish group which can’t possibly be described as “right wing”—and that in fact is frequently quite outspoken in its opposition to Donald Trump—and that supported the executive order is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the largest and arguably most influential Jewish group in the country.
Here’s the passage of ADL’s press release which specifically refers to IHRA:
“Today’s announcement that the U.S. will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism is an important step acknowledging the growing concern about anti-Semitism on American college campuses.”
Support for the order also came from American Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (the umbrella group comprising 51 U.S. Jewish organizations).
Moreover, if anything is routinely “weaponized” it’s the term “right wing,” which is often cynically used—by the Guardian, among others—to discredit arguments about Jews and Israel that aren’t approved of by the left. As even Nicholas Watt, the Guardian’s former chief political correspondent, once acknowledged: “Quite often on the left the term right-wing is just used to mean ‘bad.’”
Adam Levick has served as managing editor of UK Media Watch, a CAMERA affiliate, since 2010.