To defeat antisemitism, we must define it

The worldwide haters of Jews and Israel tell us: “Don’t be here and don’t be there. Don’t be.”

IHRA logo
IHRA logo
Yuval David
Yuval David

Antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred, takes many forms. White, black, Christian and Muslim supremacists, as well as radicals on both the left and the right, push various forms of antisemitism. It can come in the form of a delegitimizing statement about Israel, a Holocaust joke or a Jewish stereotype on TV or film. It can start with hate speech and end with violence.

To fight antisemitism, this wicked idea must be named and defined, which is why it’s critical to advocate for the wider adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition states, “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.”

This definition extends to anti-Zionism, citing such things as “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. … Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor. … Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Thirty-five countries have adopted the IHRA definition, among them the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Argentina. It has also been adopted by numerous cities, such as Paris and Los Angeles, and by over 450 global organizations.

At the moment, there are ongoing efforts to have the IHRA definition adopted by state legislatures in New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia, Arizona, Indiana, South Carolina, Arkansas and Maine. It’s critical that if you live in one of those states, you get in touch with your state legislator immediately and urge them to support adopting the definition.

Now, you may be wondering: Why am I so passionate about this?

I am a first-generation American. My parents are Israeli, and they both fought in the IDF. My grandmother and grandfather on one side were Holocaust survivors. On the other side, my grandfather was a farmer born in what is now Israel, which at the time was an unnamed region under Ottoman rule before the British Mandate took over.

All of them were Jews who struggled and persevered to create beautiful lives for themselves, their children and their communities. They faced challenges and experienced unthinkable tragedies simply because they were Jewish.

When my grandparents continued their lives in Israel, and when my parents continued their lives in Israel and America, they expected something different from what they and our family experienced in Europe. And for years, they lived in peace. Most Jews lived in peace. The world still remembered the Holocaust and said “never again.” It supported Israel, the underdog, as it fought for its independence and safety.

Somewhere along the line, sadly, antisemitism came back in full force again. I’ve seen it firsthand.

As a pro-Israel digital activist, I receive death threats and people constantly troll me. They say antisemitic things to me and when I or my followers push back, they claim that it’s just “free speech.” They say they aren’t antisemitic, they’re just anti-Israel. As if there’s a difference.

The truth is that before we had a state and after we got our state, people have always been antisemitic. Changing times have brought new ways of hating us and redefining that hate.

Let’s take a moment for a history lesson. Classical antisemitism, as expressed by both Adolf Hitler and the Inquisition-era Church, identified Jewish statelessness as proof of our ultimate evil. We were a people without a land and, for that, we deserved to be tortured and killed.

When it comes to the Jews, there has always been a catch-22. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Some of us tried to assimilate into European culture, into German culture, and the Nazis murdered us. We try to live in our own state, to express our Jewish identities freely, and we’re still hated.

The famous Israeli author Amos Oz wrote that he was haunted by his father’s observation that before the Holocaust, European graffiti read “JEWS TO PALESTINE.” In our time, it has transformed into “JEWS OUT OF PALESTINE.” The message to Jews, noted Oz, was “Don’t be here and don’t be there. That is, don’t be.”

Oz’s message is ringing loud and clear.

Mohammed El-Kurd, a darling of anti-Israel college activists, is famous for his “poetry” that accuses Jews of drinking the Palestinians’ blood and stealing their internal organs. But Students for Justice in Palestine chapters still love to pay him generous fees to speak on their campuses because he’s just #sobrave when it comes to “combating Zionism.”

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas—whose 1982 dissertation asserted that Jews helped the Nazis perpetrate the Holocaust in order to manufacture an independent Israel—has accused Israel of perpetrating “50 Holocausts” against the Palestinians. Holocaust denial is rampant in the Palestinian community.

And who can forget Bella Hadid and Rashida Tlaib, or the multitude of celebrities and politicians like them, who say they’re just anti-Zionist while they shout, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”?

The anti-Israel front group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is just as vile and anything but peaceful, with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) determining that it has “espoused blatant antisemitic tropes, including modern manifestations of the blood libel and allegations of Jewish dual loyalty to the countries in which they live.”

If the Jewish state ceased to be, the surviving Jews would once again be a minority in a foreign country, where immense pressure to assimilate would be matched by a cyclical rejection of the Jewish “alien.” This is the pattern of history.

In the same generation that the world has seen an astonishing resurgence of all forms of antisemitism, can we really trust those who say they only want to destroy the Jewish nation, not the Jewish people, even though this would leave the Jewish people to the tender mercies of new conquerors?

Those who hate us are trying to control our narrative, re-brand who we are, revise history, change the definition of words used to describe the hate they have for us and ultimately justify this hate.

It is time to fight back, starting with pushing for the IHRA definition to be made universal once and for all.

Yuval David is an Emmy-Award-winning actor, director and filmmaker. He is an active leader in the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities, working with several prestigious organizations including the EndJewHatred movement. He is active on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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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