Sixty Israeli and Palestinian NGOs call on UN to avoid IHRA definition of antisemitism

Sixty Israeli and Palestinian NGOs call on UN to avoid IHRA definition of antisemitism
Rights groups say that the IHRA definition is misused to label legitimate criticism of Israeli government actions as antisemitic.
2 min read
04 April, 2023
Palestinians and their supporters have long opposed the IHRA definition of antisemitism [Getty]

Sixty rights groups have urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres not to adopt the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which they say has been used to "suppress non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel".

The organisations include Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and grassroots rights groups in Palestine.

The current definition of antisemitism adopted by the IHRA in 2016 states that it is not just "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews" but also accusing "the State of Israel of being a racist endeavour" and "requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation" as examples. 

The definition has been adopted by 38 states worldwide - including the US, the UK and Germany - but has been criticised for being too broad and vague and conflating opposition to Israel and its policies with hatred of Jews.

The UN is currently developing an action plan "towards a coordinated and enhanced response to antisemitism rooted in human rights" and is seeking a working definition of antisemitism for UN policymaking. 

"Antisemitism, like any form of racism and prejudice, is despicable – but adopting the IHRA definition will not help defeating it," said Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem as the letter was published. 

"We ask the UN to refrain from falsely labelling criticism of Israeli policies as antisemitic."

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Rights groups allege that the IHRA definition is misused to silence Palestinian activism in the face of apartheid-like policies. 

The main drafter of the IHRA definition, Ken Stern, has even raised his own concerns over the repeated use of the definition by governments, saying it was "a blunt instrument to label anyone an antisemite".

In February 2023, the American Bar Association rejected the inclusion of the IHRA definition in its resolution opposing antisemitism - noting that "any embrace" of the terms "would undermine fundamental rights of free speech". 

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and the Nexus Document are both cited as less susceptible to exploitation to silence legitimate criticism of Israel. 

Both definitions make specific reference to different types of criticism levelled at the actions of the Israeli state - unlike the IHRA.