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April 4, 2023 2:26 pm

‘Political Warfare Against Israel’: 60 NGOs Sign Letter Opposing UN Adoption of IHRA Antisemitism Definition


avatar by Andrew Bernard

The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palace of Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland. The room is the meeting place of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Photo: Ludovic Courtès via Wikimedia Commons.

60 human and civil rights organizations on Tuesday released a joint open letter urging the United Nations not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include the Palestinian NGOs al-Haq, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, and Defense for Children International – Palestine – groups that Israel banned in 2021 for their alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a designated terrorist organization in the US, the EU and elsewhere.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, the founder of NGO Monitor, a group that supports the adoption of the IHRA definition, told The Algemeiner that the letter, which was also signed by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and B’Tselem, is an act of “political warfare against Israel and against the right of the Jewish people for self-determination.”

“The purpose of the IHRA working definition was to prevent the illegitimate demonization of Israel, the singling out of Israel, and the antisemitic aspects of the attacks on Israel, which is exactly what these NGOs are doing,” Steinberg said. “There are no examples where the working definition was used to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel on any grounds just as any other country could be.”

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The letter was also signed by the University Network for Human Rights, whose founder, James Cavallaro, had his nomination for a human rights posting withdrawn by the Biden administration after an investigation by The Algemeiner revealed in February that Cavallaro had invoked language and imagery often associated with antisemitic claims of pro-Israeli political and financial control over US domestic politics.

“Bought. Purchased. Controlled,” Cavallaro wrote alongside a link to an article about the funds raised for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries by AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups. Cavallaro, like many of the signatories to Tuesday’s letter, also characterizes Israel as an “apartheid state.”

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism was adopted in 2016 as a non-binding effort to identify and combat antisemitism. It has since been endorsed or adopted by 39 countries, including the United States in 2019 in an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump.

Tuesday’s letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations Miguel Ángel Moratinos argues that the IHRA definition is used to “muzzle legitimate speech and activism” critical of Israel and advocating for Palestinian rights.

The signatories say they were prompted to act by the UN’s ongoing development of an action plan to combat antisemitism.

The letter cites the illustrative guiding examples that accompany the IHRA definition, including that it would be antisemitic to deny “the Jewish people their right to self-determination; e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

“The wording of the first example above on ‘racist endeavour’ opens the door to labeling as antisemitic criticisms that Israeli government policies and practices violate the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the findings of major Israeli, Palestinian and global human rights organizations that Israeli authorities are committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians,” the letter says.

In place of the IHRA definition, the letter proposes that the UN adopt the Jerusalem Declaration or the Nexus Document as alternative definitions of antisemitism.

These alternatives, however, have been criticized by Jewish groups as focusing largely on defending anti-Israel and anti-Zionist expression, not defining antisemitism, and in the case of the Jerusalem Declaration, of giving cover to antisemitism.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) told The Algemeiner in an email that adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism does not preclude being critical of Israel.

“The IHRA Working Definition affirms that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism,” they said. “However, it offers examples where that line may be crossed, such as denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Numerous countries that have delivered stinging criticism of the policies of the Jewish state have embraced the definition as a useful tool.”

The UN has long been accused by critics of having a systemic anti-Israel and antisemitic bias. In February, a bipartisan group of US congressmen wrote a letter to Guterres calling for him to fire the UN’s special rapporteur for Palestine, Francesca Albanese, and to disband the UN’s Commission of Inquiry into Israel for their antisemitic remarks. A previous congressional letter in January described the UN as having “a pattern of antisemitic behavior and rhetoric” and being “obsessively focused on the world’s only Jewish state.”

NGO Monitor’s Steinberg said that it’s troubling that the NGOs criticizing the IHRA definition continue to receive funding from European countries that have themselves adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

“This is completely inconsistent with the EU and European policies opposing antisemitism and endorsing the IHRA,” Steinberg said. “The European governments are paying the organizations which are working to undermine their own policies. That’s an absurdity.”

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