A life preserver to Jews who hold fast to it

Photo by Beny Shlevich/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

By Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

If any one thing has united Jews throughout the ages, it is anti-Semitism. Yet in this era of increased polarization and division, it seems we cannot even agree anymore on what constitutes anti-Semitism.

The 500-word International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition agreed upon by the Obama State Department, after consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders when Ira Forman was the special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, has been adopted by dozens of nations, organizations and universities.

Despite the obvious need for such a document as a useful tool and its widespread acceptance, a number of Jewish groups recently came out with a statement opposing its adoption. Because of their objection to the examples cited in the document meant to help clarify what constitutes anti-Semitic acts or speech, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, the New Israel Fund, T’ruah and other progressive groups recently issued a statement objecting to it becoming official policy of the United States and oppose it being codified into U.S. law.

It would be as if someone drowning in the ocean were thrown a life preserver, and the person would refuse to use it because they object to the wording on the inside of the life preserver.

Although the definition clearly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” these groups worry that criticism of Israel would be suppressed and that adoption of the doctrine would undermine core freedoms. They even go so far as to say that questioning the legitimacy of the founding of the State of Israel should not be deemed objectionable.

I cannot help but wonder if those who are so concerned about free speech and academic freedom have objected when anti-Israel agitators have stifled and shouted down and shut down presentations by representatives of the State of Israel or pro-Israel speakers on college campuses.

We know all too well that too often efforts to demonize, delegitimize and subject the State of Israel to double standards is just camouflage for antipathy toward Jews and the Jewish people. Singling out of the Jewish state for criticisms not leveled at other nations is a convenient way to dodge the charge of anti-Semitism.

Israel does not lack for critics. A robust democracy, unlike the Arab states that surround it, or the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, it has a free and rancorous press.

The last thing we Jews need to worry about is that debate about Israel’s policies will be stifled or that there isn’t enough criticism of Israel.

I wish these progressive groups who claim to “care deeply about the State of Israel” would worry more about protecting Israel than its critics.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt leads CongregationB’nai Tzedek in Potomac and chairs the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition.


The working definition of antisemitism

In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted this non-legally binding working definition of anti-Semitism. It has since been adopted by 30 countries, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, and others. The Biden administration “embraces and champions” the definition:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Examples include:

• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.


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