The IHRA definition has led defenders of the Jewish people down a blind alley
By Melanie Phillips
(JUNE 2, 2023 / ARUTZ SHEVA) What’s the use of the definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance?
The Biden administration’s U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, which was published last week, has drawn outrage from those Jewish groups and commentators who unequivocally back Israel and defend the Jewish people against its enemies.
Their central charge against this strategy is that it has watered down the widely adopted IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
Examples suggested under this definition include denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming that the State of Israel is a “racist endeavor”; applying double standards by requiring of Israel behavior not expected or demanded of any other nation; comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; and “holding Jews collectively responsible” for Israel’s actions.
The left opposes this definition because it encompasses the demonization of Israel, a key plank of leftist discourse.
Rather than upholding the IHRA as the gold standard, the Biden strategy document says it is one of several definitions of antisemitism. Others are the Jerusalem Definition and the Nexus document produced by the University of California, which the Biden initiative “welcomes and includes.”
These alternative definitions, however, were drafted to counter the IHRA by protecting those who demonize Zionism and Israel. They therefore don’t resist antisemitism but instead enable it. By endorsing them, the Biden administration is doing the same thing.
The IHRA definition, which has itself been criticized for being inadequate, is nevertheless assumed by many to be better than nothing in the struggle against epidemic Jew-hatred. Yet it has led defenders of the Jewish people down a blind alley.
The suggestion that if it were adopted it would stop the vilification of Israel misses the point. The problem of antisemitism doesn’t lie with a hitherto unclear and contested definition. The problem lies with those who bait Jews and demonize Israel. Those who refuse to sign up to the IHRA do so precisely because they want to continue to demonize Israel and bait Jews.
Even signing it doesn’t inoculate against this. The IHRA definition is actually endorsed by the U.S. State Department. Yet State is riddled by anti-Israel double standards, persistently holding Israel’s feet to the fire while sanitizing and even incentivizing Palestinian Arab incitement and terrorism.
The Biden administration cannot tackle the problem of antisemitism because the administration, its Democratic Party bosses and the progressive world to which they belong are themselves the problem.
The overwhelming bulk of contemporary Jew-hatred comes from Muslims, radical black activists and the left. The Democrats and the progressive world refuse to acknowledge this, insisting that antisemitism is overwhelmingly caused by the far-right and white supremacists.
The Biden strategy accordingly makes no mention of Muslim or black antisemitism, merely listing Muslims and black activists as fellow victims of white supremacist bigotry. While they are indeed such victims, they also make common cause with white supremacists when it comes to bigotry against Jews.
Instead of noting the unique features of antisemitism, the Biden document waters it down by lumping it together with other forms of bigotry. It includes in this “Islamophobia,” the label falsely applied to anyone who calls out the Muslim community for its Jew-hatred or any other misdeeds.
Thus siding with the Muslim enemies of the Jewish people and the West, the strategy’s authors even consulted the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a body that promotes anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel, and was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2009 Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial.
In 2021, CAIR’s San Francisco director Zahra Billoo told American Muslims for Palestine that “Zionist organizations,” “Zionist synagogues” and Hillel student groups were “your enemies” who “would sell you down the line of they could and very often do behind your back.”
So instead of standing up against antisemitism, the Biden administration is helping empower antisemites.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018.
This op-ed was previously published in Arutz Sheva and can be viewed here.