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Barnard College Anti-Zionists Urge Cancellation of Talks With Author of IHRA Antisemitism Definition

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avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Barnard Hall at Barnard College, New York. Photo: BrillLyle / Wikimedia Commons

Charging school officials with “legitimizing apartheid,” the Barnard College chapter of the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) circulated a petition this week demanding the cancellation of upcoming events featuring an author of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Announced Monday on Instagram, the petition said Kenneth Stern, who is scheduled to speak at events sponsored by the Barnard College Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board on Wednesday and Friday — Antisemitism Through a Hate Studies Lens and Difficult Conversations and Academic Freedom — has been “instrumental in cementing the erroneous conflation of Judaism and Zionism.”

“The fact is, Zionism is a distinct, ethno-nationalist political ideology that many Jews of all kinds — from Orthodox Jews to secular socialist Jews — have opposed since its inception,” JVP said. “As Jewish students, it is deeply painful to see our Judaism, an incredibly meaningful part of our identities, be weaponized to fuel a violent, settler-colonial project that has resulted in the displacement, subjugation, and genocide of millions of Palestinians.”

“We appreciate that the DEI Cabinet wants to address antisemitism, but you are having the entirely wrong conversation,” the group added. “Placing the blame for antisemitism onto Palestinians is a harmful distraction, both from the urgency of the Palestinian liberation struggle and from the real root of antisemitism — white nationalism.”

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Stern — who serves as director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate — was the lead drafter of the IHRA working definition, which has been adopted by hundreds of universities and dozens of governments around the world.

According to the IHRA standard, “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.”

The document elaborates that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” while acknowledging that manifestations of antisemitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Stern himself has voiced criticism of the definition’s adoption by colleges and other institutions, writing in The Guardian in 2019 that “it was never intended to be a campus hate speech code.”

Appearing on a podcast produced by the University of California, Los Angeles Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel in February, he argued, “I maintain, it’s still perfectly reasonable, seeing a correlation with some anti-Zionist speech and seeing that as correlated with the temperature that you want to take about antisemitism. But to say that anti-Zionism, even of itself is antisemitism, to me is offensive.”

The Barnard College Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board did not immediately return The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

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