The defining power

Although it has been accepted internationally, the movement to fully adopt the IHRA definition and use it as the foundation to combat anti-Semitism in the United States has not gained traction. Until now.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance logo. Source: IHRA.
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance logo. Source: IHRA.
David Gemunder. Credit: Courtesy.
David Gemunder
David Gemunder has served on the boards of several national organizations that combat antisemitism, including Hillel International, the Secure Community Network and the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation.

Imagine waking up one morning to see that The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal all published an identical editorial on the entirety of their front pages. Inconceivable? Well, something quite similar recently took place in Britain, when the country’s three most prominent Jewish periodicals ran a piece titled “United We Stand.”

The subject of this unprecedented editorial? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The Iranian nuclear program? The BDS movement?

No. The “existential threat to Jewish life in this country” that inspired their joint action was the failure of Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour Party to fully adopt a definition—more specifically, the Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The IHRA definition was born from the simple, but profound, realization that to effectively combat the scourge of anti-Semitism, it first must be properly defined. Since the definition’s adoption in 2016, it has become the world standard for that task, having been adopted or endorsed by more than 30 countries, as well as by international organizations, universities and sports leagues across the globe.

The effective power of the definition comes from a number of illustrative examples that accompany it. Without these integral examples, virulent and hateful attacks on the supporters of Israel (which often is viewed as a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism) would not be stigmatized. Or, as the British editorial put it, there would exist “a distinction between racial anti-Semitism targeting Jews (unacceptable) and political anti-Semitism targeting Israel (acceptable).”

The editorial achieved its goal: It inspired British Jews and their allies not to submit to political thuggery. They stood up to Corbyn and the notoriously anti-Semitic elements of his party, which had been trying to dilute the IHRA definition’s examples, and the Corbynites chose to reverse course and adopt the definition in its entirety.

Which brings us to a similar crisis in our country.

Although it has been accepted internationally, the movement to fully adopt the IHRA definition and use it as the foundation to combat anti-Semitism in the United States has not gained traction. Until now.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the central coordinating body of national Jewish institutions, has made the adoption of the IHRA Definition the cornerstone of its fight against anti-Semitism. Essentially, by pressing for this throughout all facets of civil society, it will permit America’s Jews to experience the benefits of social justice along with other oppressed communities in the country.

This clearly is a commonsense, and frankly, long overdue measure that would place the United States on the same footing as the rest of the civilized world. However, certain radical American Jewish groups—like their ideological counterparts overseas—are determined to prevent it from taking place. The Progressive Israel Network, which is comprised of entities including Americans for Peace Now, J Street and the New Israel Fund, has publicly opposed adoption of the IHRA definition. According to PIN, which ignores that Israel has been the Jewish ancestral homeland for millennia, stating that “the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is not anti-Semitic. Nor is requiring of Israel “a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

When assessing the validity of PIN’s claims, remember that its members are putting themselves to the left of Corbyn and the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, which adopted the IHRA definition in its entirety. Left of Corbyn, who publicly honored Palestinian terrorists and infamously claimed that British Jews (who have lived there for almost 1,000 years) weren’t truly English? That is a textbook definition of irrational radical extremism, which must be rejected utterly.

If you wish to fight anti-Semitism in this country, including the appalling rise in violent acts committed against Jews, there is no first step more important than adopting the IHRA definition. It will be the foundation on which we will build our efforts to achieve social justice for our people and continue in the never-ending quest to build a more perfect union.

David Gemunder is an attorney who has served on the board of governors of Hillel International and the board of directors of the Secure Community Network. He currently serves on the board of advisors of the Jewish Future Pledge and as chairman of Returning the Sparks.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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