It’s one thing when an antisemite makes an ugly speech on a street corner or an antisemitic conspiracy theorist spouts his hate in some dark corner of the Internet. But what happens when the head of a government makes anti-Jewish speeches and promotes anti-Jewish conspiracy theories?
That’s what happened this week—and in front of the entire U.N. General Assembly, no less.
Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, said Israel has no right to exist. (“Why Palestine? Give them another island somewhere else.”) He compared Israelis to the Nazis. (“They lie and lie just like Goebbels.”) He said Jews have no connection or right to the Western Wall or the Temple Mount. (“The ownership of al-Buraq Wall and al-Haram al-Sharif belongs exclusively and only to the Islamic Waqf alone.”) And he claimed that today’s Palestinian Arabs are the descendants of the biblical Canaanites, according to “religious scriptures, including the Torah.”
How do we know that such statements are antisemitic and not just criticism of Israeli government policies or dissenting views on historical issues?
Because the U.S. government and its allies have an official definition of antisemitism that was agreed upon after years of study and discussion.
In 2010, the Obama administration adopted a working definition of antisemitism that had been crafted by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia. Six years later, all 31 countries belonging to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted the same definition.
It begins with the simple and obvious examples of “expressing hatred toward Jews” or engaging in “physical manifestations” of hatred against “Jewish individuals, and/or their property” or “Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Then it lists “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism,” including “accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust” (something the P.A. does constantly) and “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations” (something for which Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are known).
The definition has a section called “What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?” It states, correctly, that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” But then it gives examples of attacks on Israel which do qualify as antisemitism. Two are “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “denying Israel the right to exist.”
“They lie and lie just like Goebbels” obviously qualifies as “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” “Why Palestine? Give them another island somewhere else” clearly is “denying Israel the right to exist.”
Which makes Mahmoud Abbas an antisemite.
I would add that denying or distorting indisputable facts about Jewish history and lying about the contents of Jewish Holy Scriptures would fit the most reasonable definitions of antisemitism, too. Saying that the Jews have no historical connection to the Western Wall or Temple Mount, or that the Torah says today’s Palestinian Arabs are the descendants of the biblical Canaanites, are blatant, vicious falsehoods on a level with Holocaust denial.
What should be done about Abbas’s antisemitic speech? This is where Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, comes in.
Her position was created precisely for situations such as this—for shining a spotlight on antisemites around the world in the belief that exposing their hatred helps combat it.
Attending international conferences or decrying the toppling of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Prague is the easy parts of her job. The more complicated task is speaking out when it is politically inconvenient to do so.
The policy of the Biden administration is to improve relations with the P.A., protect Abbas from criticism, shower the Palestinian Arabs with funds ($940 million in the past two years alone) and try to pave the way for the creation of a Palestinian state.
But the job of Lipstadt—a Jewish historian and professor who has written books on antisemitism and Holocaust denial—is to speak truth to power and denounce all anti-Semites. And not just the kind who hurl insults or daub swastikas, but the most dangerous ones: the government leaders whose flaming words incite the masses to hate and kill Jews.
Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”