New definition of anti-Semitism challenges pro-Israel narratives

New definition of anti-Semitism challenges pro-Israel narratives
The new 'Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism' says boycotts of Israel are not anti-Semitic, in contrast to the controversial IHRA definition.
2 min read
26 March, 2021
Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement [Getty]
A group of over 200 international scholars has come up with a definition of anti-Semitism that excludes efforts to boycott Israel, in the latest pushback against attempts by pro-Israel groups to give the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement an anti-Semitic connotation.

The “Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism,” released on Thursday, goes further than previous definitions in explicitly saying that the movement to boycott Israel is not anti-Semitic in nature.

“Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states,” the declaration, which was signed by scholars in the fields of anti-Semitism, said. “In the Israeli case, they are not, in and of themselves, anti-Semitic." 

The new definition comes on the heels of a separate statement issued by a liberal group of Jewish scholars, which said that boycott measures applied to Israel were not necessarily anti-Semitic.

Read also: Free speech, Israel-Palestine and the battle to define anti-Semitism at British universities

Both statements sought to push back against pro-Israel groups, who are trying to push for national governments to adopt a 2016 definition crafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The IHRA definition of defines as anti-Semitic the application of “double standards” against Israel by “requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Read more: The IHRA definition of antisemitism is an attack on free speech

The “Jerusalem Declaration”, so called because the group of scholars met in 2020 at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, seeks to cast itself as an alternative to the IHRA definition.

“Because the IHRA Definition is unclear in key respects and widely open to different interpretations, it has caused confusion and generated controversy, hence weakening the fight against antisemitism,” the Jerusalem declaration states.

Among the declaration’s lead drafters are anti-Semitism scholars in the United States, Israel, Germany and Britain, including Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania and the chairwoman of the Jewish studies program at Dartmouth, Susannah Heschel.

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