In 1998, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)—a European-based organization that has the formal backing of a few dozen countries, including the U.S. and Israel—composed a “working definition of anti-Semitism,” so that Jews would have some formal standard to appeal to when faced with the various deflections and dodges employed by those who hate them. Recently, as the definition has gained the endorsements of government agencies, universities, and other institutions, it has become the subject of controversy. Gerald Steinberg looks at the forces behind the opposition to the IHRA definition:
Like so much of the discourse on Israel, the Jewish people. and anti-Semitism, the IHRA debate has become entangled in fierce ideological wars and the accompanying symbolic politics. Joining the campaign under the banner of “progressive values,” influential groups that frequently critique Israel—including J Street, the New Israel Fund, and American Friends of Peace Now—claim that the “codification of the IHRA working definition,” specifically its “contemporary examples,” create the potential for misuse to “suppress legitimate free speech,” and prevent “criticism of Israeli government actions.”
In reality, there is no such misuse—there is plenty of room to criticize Israeli policies without resorting to discriminatory boycotts, comparing the IDF to the Nazis, or labeling the Jewish state as inherently racist, [that is, without coming close to meeting the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism].
Amidst the mudslinging, the core issues of anti-Semitism and the escalating attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions are marginalized and even forgotten. . . . By politicizing and undermining this consensus, the counter-IHRA campaign is opening the door for even more violence targeting Israeli and Jewish institutions.
In the United States, it is important that Biden administration officials give serious attention to the fights against anti-Semitism and implement the IHRA working definition. Samantha Power, who has been designated by Biden to head the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and will preside over a massive increase in funding for NGOs, should follow the EU’s lead and ensure that any group that promotes anti-Semitism will be ineligible for American government funding.