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What Nexus gets wrong and IHRA gets right with anti-Semitism

Nations of the world are seemingly being given the green light and a free pass to disparage and punish Israel if the Jews step out of line.

Defining anti-Semitism. Credit: Lobroart/Shutterstock.
Defining anti-Semitism. Credit: Lobroart/Shutterstock.
Lea Speyer
Lea Speyer

A new working definition of anti-Semitism was unveiled last week by the Nexus Task Force, a project of the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the University of South California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The definition, drafted by a group of Jewish liberal scholars, is meant to challenge what some critics say is the narrow scope of the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, particularly as it relates to criticism of Israel.

While the Nexus and IHRA definitions do overlap on the important aspects of defining what are physical, criminal, psychological and other acts of Jew-hatred, the largest difference is the conclusion that “paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of antisemitism.”

“There are numerous reasons for devoting special attention to Israel and treating Israel differently, e.g., some people care about Israel more; others may pay more attention because Israel has a special relationship with the United States and receives $4 billion in American aid,” the Nexus definition states.

To put it simply, holding Israel to a double standard is not in itself an act of anti-Semitism. This is where Nexus gets it wrong.

Before IHRA and before Nexus, the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism released in 2010 its own working definition of anti-Semitism, including acts relative to Israel. What was conceptualized in 2003 by Israeli politician and famed refusenik Natan Sharansky and now known as the “3 D’s”—demonizing, delegitimizing and holding Israel to a double standard—is defined as anti-Semitic.

Legitimate criticism of Israel or its policies are not inherently anti-Semitic. On this, we are agreed. However, holding Israel—and only Israel—to a higher moral, behavioral and political standard not required by any other nation in the world is plain wrong.

Why is it OK for the only Jewish country to be disproportionally singled out and vilified for its actions? How is it not anti-Semitic to tell Jews to act differently than any other peoples because the world is watching their every move?

There are unfortunately hundreds, if not thousands, of real-world examples of Israel being held to a double standard. The most egregious and notorious comes from the U.N. Human Rights Council. According to watchdog group UN Watch, since 2015 Israel has been the subject of 112 condemnatory resolutions, compared to Iran’s five, North Korea’s six and Russia’s 12.

Is the UNHRC disproportionally targeting Israel because it “cares more,” or because it is safeguarding the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel? I imagine the answer is a hard no. Nations of the world are seemingly being given the green light and a free pass by the Nexus definition to disparage and punish Israel if the Jews step out of line.

If history has taught us one thing, it’s that giving others the authority to tell Jews how to think and behave has never ended well. The Nexus definition sets a dangerous precedent and presents a risk humanity should not be willing to take.

Lea Speyer is the Midwest director for the Maccabee Task Force and former senior campus correspondent for “The Algemeiner’s” Campus Bureau. You can follow her on Twitter @LeaRSpeyer.

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