Jewish Voice for Peace unequivocally opposes the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

Statement
February 8, 2021
Media Contact: Sonya E Meyerson-Knox | sonya@jvp.org | 929.290.0317

“Only bold action will build real safety for all of our communities. Instead, our elected representatives are considering the controversial IHRA definition. Make no mistake: Legislating the IHRA definition is not about Jewish safety. The only thing it secures is impunity for decades of violating international law and trampling on Palestinian human rights.”

New York City, NY: Antisemitism is part of the machinery of division and fear politicians and pundits use to hold onto or expand their power — the same machinery that is used to target people of color, Muslims, Palestinians, and other minority communities. At a time when the dangers of white nationalism, including racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia, are all too apparent, the need to build safety for all people has never been greater.

However, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) controversial working definition of antisemitism is fundamentally not the answer. The IHRA definition was originally drafted as a possible way for European governmental bodies to monitor antisemitism in Europe; as one of its authors points out, it was never intended for use in policy or legislation.

As a definition, it does nothing to make Jewish people safer. It fails to capture or identify the true nature of antisemitism or its root causes, and is of no use in identifying the different forms that racism and antisemitism often take. In essence, it is not fit for purpose. Moreover, when applied in policy or legislation, it violates our Constitutional right to free speech.

The controversial IHRA definition poses a direct censorship threat to Palestinians and Palestinian rights advocates. It can easily be used as a censorship tool that falsely conflates attempts to hold the Israeli government accountable with antisemitism. Indeed, the definition has already been used to silence human rights activists and academics, and many of its most vocal proponents openly praise how it targets Palestinian rights advocacy. 

Moreover, seven of the 11 examples of antisemitism listed in the IHRA definition involve shielding the state of Israel from accountability. In doing so, the definition falsely claims that all Jewish people, anywhere, hold unanimous opinions about the Israeli government and Zionism. Such a presumption is blatantly untrue, and in and of itself treads dangerously close to propagating antisemitic tropes. After all, the core of any bigotry lies in assigning one belief or one stereotype to an entire people. Moreover, conflating Zionists and Jewish people also perpetuates the antisemitic trope that Jewish people are more “loyal” to the government of Israel than to their home nations and neighbors.

Furthermore, the definition fails to address that the source of the most tangible threats to Jewish lives comes from the violent antisemitism of right-wing movements. Despite the numerous reports and governments confirming the role of the right-wing extremists and white nationalists, many of whom are ardently Zionist, in perpetuating violence against Jewish people, the IHRA definition focuses on maintaining the impunity of the Israeli government.

We know that freedom and safety for any of us relies on freedom and safety for all of us. As part of a commitment to truly dismantling antisemitism alongside all forms of oppression, we urge all governments, institutions and organizations to reject the IHRA definition of antisemitism and advance policies that are designed to keep Jewish people safe – not shield Israel from accountability.  

Stefanie Fox, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace: 

“At a time when violent white nationalism poses a grave threat to Jewish people, Muslim people, Black people and all people of color, we require bold action to build real safety for all of our communities. Instead, our elected representatives are considering the controversial IHRA definition, which shields the Israeli government from accountability by censoring Palestinians and advocates for Palestinian rights. Make no mistake: Legislating the IHRA definition is not about Jewish safety. The only thing it secures is impunity for decades of violating international law and trampling on Palestinian human rights.”  

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Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 500,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters and 15 student chapters, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.

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