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Why voters should ensure candidates adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

In an era of rising anti-Semitism and violence, the need for American Jews to have a safe haven in the world is more important than ever.

Dr. Arati Kreibich. Source:
Dr. Arati Kreibich. Source:
Elizabeth Kratz

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), founded in 1998 by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, is an organization that has done a singular and exemplary service to today’s Jewish community. It has created a working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the United States and scores of other countries by which individuals and organizations can recognize the differences between criticism of Israel and criticism of Jews themselves.

Reading the definition and its examples can definitively identify candidates for public office who can make a pre-election statement supporting the Jewish community. Of course, on the flip side, they can ultimately use it to support an anti-Semitic agenda.

A report released by the United Nations last September titled “Combating Antisemitism to Eliminate Discrimination and Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief,” issued by the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed, defines anti-Semitism as a global phenomenon—not one largely confined to the United States and Europe, as has been the case in many previous U.N. reports. The office of the special rapporteur recognized that “the sources of anti-Semitism are varied, coming from the far right, from members of radical Islamist groups and from the political left.”

Enter Dr. Arati Kreibich, a progressive Democrat who challenged Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) in this year’s primary election for New Jersey’s fifth congressional district. Kreibich was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). While reporter Debra Rubin made every effort to contact her for an article that ultimately appeared on the cover of The Jewish Link, Kreibich did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Kreibich’s supporters in the Jewish community—primarily her neighbors in Glen Rock, N.J., where the neuroscientist sits on the town council—were unhappy with Rubin’s characterization of her views, particularly about whether or not she supports the BDS movement, and so directed editors to her updated web page, which includes a lengthy statement on “Israel & Palestine,” with BDS directly addressed. Kreibich’s supporters, many of whom signed a letter objecting to the article, said they were satisfied with her views and demanded a retraction, correction or clarification.

Later, editors noted that Kreibich’s campaign website’s statement on “Israel & Palestine” was updated to include the statement on BDS on or after July 1, 2020, at 10:49 a.m., the same day as Rubin’s deadline and the day before the article was published. While Kreibich did not respond via email or phone to Rubin’s request, the update of the website without informing Rubin of the new information is telling; it allowed Kreibich’s supporters to defend her and act as though Rubin had knowingly ignored her viewpoint all along.

Gas-lighting aside, a clarification was indeed requested. So let’s clarify.

Kreibich’s statement begins with the following, which is virtually identical to J Street-issued language about supporting Israel and then criticizing its actions in the next moment: “I respect the history of allyship between the United States and Israel. Because of our special relationship with Israel, the United States has a responsibility to draw attention to actions of the Israeli government when they are not in line with our countries’ shared democratic values; we must call on the Israeli government to uphold the values that align our two nations,” she writes.

Note the need for only an Israeli, not Palestinian, state to uphold the values that “align our two nations,” which is problematic in terms of the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, by subjecting Israel to a double standard while not requiring the same of other nations.

There are two other concerning statements Kreibich makes, the first of which contains a similar piece of double-talk like the above issue.

That is: “I do not support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement. I also oppose efforts to criminalize any form of free speech.”

Jonathan Tobin, editor-in-chief of JNS, has also written quite often of the erroneous conflation of BDS with free speech. “Political speech is broadly defined in American law, and the courts have chosen to include activity like flag-burning or paying for political advertisements under that rubric. But it has never been defined as granting impunity to those who wish to discriminate against religious or racial groups in the course of conducting business,” he wrote in a Dec. 18, 2018 column titled “Discrimination against the Jewish state isn’t free speech.”

The other concerning statement in Kreibich’s position is: “Advocate for the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank through settlements.” While the word “occupation” should have signaled concern to Kreibich’s Jewish neighbors, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. This statement shows that the candidate does not believe that Israel has the right to self-determination.

The territories to which Kreibich apparently refers are certainly disputed, but they have been part of Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. It must then be assumed that she means the disputed territories must all be returned to the pre-1967 lines, regardless of Israel’s self-determination through armed conflict. That is a position supported by Sanders and was a position supported by former President Barack Obama in the final months of his term, though not by current Democratic leadership and not even by the current leading Democratic candidate for president, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The IHRA definition includes as anti-Semitic “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”

Saying that she will “advocate for the end of Israeli occupation” means that to Kreibich, Jews do not have the right to self-determination. According to the IHRA, this is inherently anti-Semitic and provides ammunition to those who would demonize Israel and its right to exist.

In this day and age, editors and reporters at The Jewish Link have learned that it is no longer enough to go to Washington once or twice a year with NORPAC or AIPAC to advocate as a group for America to support Israel. Israel must be accepted as the only democracy in the Middle East and America’s loyal ally since 1948, the establishment of the modern-day nation. Americans should know that Israel has a right to defend its borders and live in peace like any other country. In an era of rising anti-Semitism, xenophobia and violence, the need for American Jews to have a safe haven in the world is more important than ever.

It is incumbent upon every community member who cares about Israel and the survival of the Jewish people to read statements made by would-be elected leaders. This is not a time for complacency or quiet. If Jewish constituents care about the topic, then they must ask for representation from their elected leaders as well as explain, with specificity, why they cannot be supported with views like these.

The IHRA definition is a great place to start.

Elizabeth Kratz is associate publisher and editor of “The Jewish Link,” a weekly print and online newspaper highlighting Jewish communities in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. 

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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