The Incoming President Should Take a Stand against Anti-Semitism Wrapped in the Banner of Human Rights

November 19, 2020 | Ben Cohen
About the author: Ben Cohen, a New York-based writer, has contributed essays on anti-Semitism and related issues to Mosaic and other publications.

Reportedly, the State Department is considering a process of designating organizations as anti-Semitic if they engage in extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, using as a standard the parameters laid out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which have been endorsed by various organizations and governments in Europe and elsewhere. Ben Cohen examines the consequences of such a policy:

Quite how far an organization would have to go to earn an anti-Semitism designation is not specified, but it’s probably safe to assume that the kinds of statements and actions undertaken by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam during the 2014 [the Israel-Hamas war]—false accusations of Israeli war crimes, counting Hamas terrorists as “civilian” war deaths, analogizing Gaza’s predicament with the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Warsaw—would be sufficient.

In practical terms, [however], to announce such a policy during the twilight of the Trump administration is perhaps condemning it to an undeserved fate. Undeserved, because the basic idea underlying the policy is a sound one—that trafficking in anti-Semitic canards should not be permitted to hide behind noble labels such as [human rights].

Can this principle be incorporated into a Democratic administration’s policy on countering anti-Semitism? At some point, it will need such a policy, if only because combating hatred and discrimination against Jews is part of the State Department’s mission, and it is one moreover that has bipartisan support.

In that same bipartisan spirit, the incoming administration should resist the temptation to sweep away everything undertaken by its predecessor. An official designation can be a vital tool in holding to account civic, academic, and humanitarian organizations that receive public funds in the event they spread anti-Semitic canards.

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