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July 18, 2022 10:39 am

Why a Definition of Antisemitism Matters on College Campuses

avatar by Joelle Scheinin


Baker Hall at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

With antisemitism on the rise, the need to adopt a universal definition of antisemitism is more crucial than ever.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism has been adopted by 34 countries, various world bodies such as European Union’s Parliament, and numerous universities such as Cambridge University. British Minister for Education and Higher Education, Michelle Donelan, had this to say about the IHRA definition: ‘The horrors of the Holocaust are a stark reminder that we must do all we can to root out antisemitism wherever we find it. That requires a common understanding of what antisemitism is and the forms it takes in modern society.”

On May 8, pro-Israel students at Reichmann University hosted in collaboration with CAMERA on Campus an in-person event with Israeli activist Emily Schrader. She made a compelling case for the widespread adoption of the IHRA definition on college campuses, and how it can help Jewish students like myself.

Today, many antisemites hide behind the cloak of being “anti-Israel,” but as the IHRA definition makes clear, there are firm lines of when criticism of Israel crosses into antisemitism.

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For example, self-determination is a right exercised by many groups of people around the world. Yet many “anti-Israel” activists claim the Jewish state is illegitimate or isn’t needed.

Those who exclusively argue against the right for Jews to do what any other people can are exhibiting a clear double standard. And as the IHRA definition makes clear, applying a double standard to Jews is a clear definition of antisemitism, even if it’s disguised as mere “anti-Israel activism.”

A prime example of an anti-Zionist group that meets the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is Within Our Lifetime (WOL). On their website, under their “Points of Unity,” WOL demands the “abolition of Zionism.” These kind of groups should not be allowed on university campuses, and the IHRA definition makes clear that they are hate groups, and nothing less.

Even universities in Israel are not exempt from rampant displays of antisemitism. In May 2022, Palestinian students at Ben-Gurion University protested the commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day by parading with the Palestinian flag across the campus, this coming just after Palestinian terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Elad orchestrated by terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian leadership. Is this disregard for Jewish life and Israeli sovereignty acceptable? Clearly not by the standards of the IHRA definition, which deems “justifying the killing of Jews” and “denying Jews self-determination” as forms of antisemitism.

At the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter held a vigil in May 2021, where the group venerated several Palestinian terrorists responsible for planning and carrying out attacks that resulted in numerous Israeli civilian casualties. Despite receiving a letter explaining how the incident was antisemitic, administrators at UMass Amherst failed to condemn this event or hold SJP at UMass accountable.

This is a symptom of the university’s resistance to adopting the IHRA definition and failure to enact policies that protect Jewish students from discrimination.

One crucial takeaway from the event at our campus is not to shy away from addressing antisemitism online. Furthermore, we must push for adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism by social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, and Instagram. The companies behind each platform must train their algorithms to adequately identify and address online antisemitism. This will only happen if the Jewish community and organizations, including CAMERA, remain vocal about online antisemitism and continue to advocate for change.

Of course, adopting the IHRA definition cannot entirely eradicate antisemitism, but that isn’t the point. The adoption of the IHRA definition simply means that antisemites cannot hide behind a veneer of “social justice” or the defense of “human rights” to advance their hateful agenda.

Instead, they are placed onto a limited playground, one with rules that will have clear red lines that they cannot cross, lest they openly embrace their contempt for the Jewish people.

The author is a CAMERA Fellow at Reichmann University.

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