Over 800 Jewish scholars urge Biden to not sign IHRA antisemitism bill

Over 800 Jewish scholars urge Biden to not sign IHRA antisemitism bill
Jewish academics have criticised an antisemitism bill on the grounds that it criminalises legitimate criticism of Israel.
3 min read
10 May, 2024
The bill would see the codification of the IHRA definition of antisemitism into US law [Getty]

More than 800 Jewish academics in the US have signed a letter calling on US President Joe Biden not to sign congressional legislation adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism into federal law.

The letter, which at the time of publication has 808 signatures, begins by stating that criticism of Israel, its government and policies, and Zionism, "is not – in and of itself – antisemitic."

"We accordingly urge our political leaders to reject any effort to codify into federal law a definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel," noting that IHRA has received widespread criticism for such equations.

This includes 100 Israeli and international civil society organisations that wrote to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in 2023 urging the UN not to adopt the definition.

The equation includes examples of antisemitism such as "claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor" and "applying double standards by requiring behavior of it [Israel] not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

The statement adds that the incorporation of the definition into federal law will "delegitimise and silence Jewish Americans – among others – who advocate for Palestinian human rights or otherwise criticise Israeli policies."

The letter from the scholars says the adoption of the bill "hardens the dangerous notion that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to every decision of Israel's government".

The statement concludes by advocating for the endorsement of alternative definitions of antisemitism, such as the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration, which were developed in response to the IHRA definition.

Controversy surrounding the bill

The bill at the centre of the criticism, named the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023, was passed in the House of Representatives in a vote on 29 April, with the bill now proceeding to the Senate.

The bill would codify the IHRA definition under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its advocates arguing the legislation would protect Jewish Americans from antisemitism, including on university campuses.

Its creation coincided with a rise in antisemitic incidents in the US and protests against Israel's war on Gaza across US college campuses, which supporters of Israel have accused of being antisemitic.

Such accusations on university campuses have been denied by pro-Palestinian protesters, many of whom are Jewish students.