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April 20, 2021 11:35 am

The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism and the Meaning of Zionism

avatar by Ben Stone


Crouse College at Syracuse University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Syracuse University’s Student Association (SA) claims that it is “false” and “dangerous” to associate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. This is simply untrue, because support for Zionism is support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determine in their ancestral homeland.

Nevertheless, in a recent legislative session, the Syracuse SA tabled a resolution to pass the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism for fear that it might harm Palestinian rights and impair free speech on campus.

Although the SA did later pass a bill that condemns antisemitism and endorses certain tenets of the IHRA definition, the bill removed a clause from the earlier tabled version that denounced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement — which targets the state of Israel  — on the grounds that it “could be seen as discriminatory toward Palestinian Students,” according to the Daily Orange student newspaper.

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has documented, however, BDS leaders seek Israel’s dissolution as a Jewish state. Accordingly, the SA’s revised resolution on antisemitism is troubling for various reasons; first, overlooking BDS’ discriminatory goals while campaigning against “all acts of racism” clearly holds Jews to a double standard. Second, it is a distortion of the truth and facts, which is a slippery slope that a student association supposedly fighting antisemitism shouldn’t go down.

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Here’s the IHRA definition’s background: Following the 2016 Stockholm Declaration stating that “With humanity still scarred by…antisemitism and xenophobia the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils,” the IHRA decided to adopt its Working Definition of Antisemitism. Some of its tenets include the “targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” but also — importantly — a clarification that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Every country’s policies and government are fair game for legitimate criticism, but these critiques should not hold only the Jewish State to a different standard than every other country. When Israel is targeted disproportionately and demonized, a line is crossed into antisemitism.

The IHRA definition also argues that denying the right of the Jewish people to self-determine in their ancestral homeland — by claiming that the “existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” — is antisemitic. This is a perfectly reasonable presumption; self-determination is a human right, and denying this only to the Jewish people is antisemitic.

When the original resolution was tabled, the SA president Justine Hastings said that the “wording used by the IHRA and its implications on limiting academic freedom” can harm Palestinians and Palestinian human rights.

The definition aims to protect Jews’ human rights and safety, yet Hastings seems to set that aside. Instead, she turns the tables on the Jews, accusing the IHRA of stifling Palestinians’ academic freedom and rights. This claim insinuates that Jews, as a minority, shouldn’t be able to decide what constitutes antisemitism — a standard to which no other minority group is held.

There is no inherent connection between Jewish self-determination and harm to Palestinians; it’s simply a fallacy conjured by those who do not wish to see Israel exist in any borders. BDS leader Omar Barghouti himself has said, “No Palestinian — rational Palestinian, not a sellout Palestinian — will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

The BDS movement has proven ties to US State Department-designated terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It is impossible for such a destructive movement, whose goal is to dismantle Israel, to be a positive force in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Nevertheless, some SA members were reportedly “concerned” about denouncing the BDS movement.

The proponents of BDS should focus their energy on positive solutions; they should not sow doubt about certain tenets of widely-accepted definitions of antisemitism, and attempt to normalize anti-Jewish hatred. Sadly, the faulty arguments employed by the Syracuse SA are endemic to campuses around the world. As CAMERA on Campus’s Georgia Leigha Leatherdale Gilholy and Zac Schildcrout put it, “…the widespread campaign against the IHRA definition is merely the latest development in the ideological war against [Israel’s] right to exist.”

The author is a CAMERA on Campus Fellow at Duke University.

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