Over 100 academics warn UN against adopting controversial IHRA anti-Semitism definition

Over 100 academics warn UN against adopting controversial IHRA anti-Semitism definition
128 scholars specialising in Jewish studies have called on the UN not to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, saying it could "silence legitimate criticism of Israel's policies".
2 min read
04 November, 2022
Opponents of the IHRA definition say it silences criticism of Israel [Getty]

Over 100 scholars specializing in Jewish history, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism have urged the United Nations not to adopt a controversial definition of anti-Semitism propagated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The statement, signed by 128 scholars, denounced the IHRA definition as "politicized" and said it could be used to "discredit and silence legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies".

The signatories included prominent Jewish and Israeli academics such as David Feldman, the Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, and Omer Bartov, a leading authority on genocide and the Holocaust.

"Human rights defenders and organisations challenging Israel's violations would be fully exposed to smear campaigns based on bad-faith allegations of antisemitism, harming their freedom of expression," the academics warned.

The current IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, adopted by the organisation in 2016, defines anti-Semitism not only as "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews" but goes on to say that 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" are examples of anti-Semitism.

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.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, has been leading efforts to get the world body to endorse it. The UN general assembly discussed the IHRA definition, with an EU representative speaking in favour of it, on October 31.

The current push at the United Nations coincides with the election of the most extreme right-wing government ever to come power in Israel, and fears that Israel's current deadly assault on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank could intensify.

Earlier this week the UN special rapporteur on racism, Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, spoke out against the IHRA definition in a report to a UN General Assembly committee, saying it had "divisive effects and negative human rights impacts".