Spearheaded by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a coalition of 31 organizations sent a detailed letter to the leaders of approximately 350 colleges and universities across the U.S., urging them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition includes a core description of antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” Importantly, it also includes contemporary examples of antisemitism, including examples of when anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism may be masking antisemitism.
Adoption of this excellent, widely-embraced definition is crucial, the ZOA’s coalition letter explains, given historically high levels of antisemitism in the past several years, and the alarming surge of hatred and violence against Jews triggered by Israel’s recent defensive operations against the U.S-designated terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.
The letter describes recent studies illustrating the importance of having a guide for understanding and identifying antisemitism. A recent survey released last October, revealed “a disturbing lack of awareness among the general public about the severity of antisemitism in the United States.” The survey revealed that almost half of all Americans say that they have either never heard the term “antisemitism” (21%) or they are familiar with the term but are not sure what it means (25%). Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas, shockingly suggests that Americans with college and graduate degrees are more likely to be antisemitic than less educated Americans. “That is why the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is such a crucial tool, even for well-educated college administrators, professors, staff, students and others,” the ZOA’s coalition letter explains.
The IHRA definition is gaining wide acceptance in the U.S. and around the world as noted in the letter. While critics claim that using the definition will stifle free speech, “there is nothing in the definition that restricts speech,” the letter makes clear. The definition is simply a tool for understanding how antisemitism can be expressed today, which is “the first step to fighting this ugly problem.”
In a special message to college and university leaders across the nation, ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “The 30 groups that joined the ZOA in sending this letter are diverse in their political views. But we all strongly support the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, we appreciate its value, and we stand united in urging your colleges and universities to adopt it.
“The definition will be a critical resource to your schools for understanding how antisemitism is expressed today, particularly on American college campuses. By adopting the definition, you will be supporting our country’s fight against Jew-hatred in all its forms, including when it relates to Israel. You will also be taking a major step toward ensuring a safe and tolerant learning environment for Jewish students on your campuses, which is what every student deserves.
“We thank the following groups for joining with the ZOA in this important initiative: Alpha Epsilon Pi, American Values, Americans for Peace and Tolerance, B’nai B’rith International, Christians and Jews United for Israel, Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, Club Z, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), Endowment for Middle East Truth, Fuel For Truth, Gross Family Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Hillel at Florida International University, Institute of Black Solidarity with Israel, Israel365, Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Jewish National Fund-USA, Latino Coalition for Israel, Lawfare Project, Louis D. Brandeis Center For Human Rights Under Law, National Council of Young Israel, National Jewish Advocacy Center, Northeastern University Hillel, Orthodox Union, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, Rutgers Hillel, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, StandWithUs, StopAntisemitism.org, and Students Supporting Israel.”