First formulated in 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism—really a list of guidelines for determining what is and isn’t anti-Semitic—has become a useful tool in defending Jews from their detractors in the West. It has also been the target of much specious criticism, especially from those who wish to disseminate calumnies against Israel with impunity. But, argues Ben Cohen, the bad faith of the definition’s opponents doesn’t mean it is perfect. He suggests some improvements:
To begin with, there’s the opening sentence: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” This is far too vague and quite confusing for the uninitiated, particularly when the primary audience is studying the definition for its practical usage. More accurate and efficient would be a declarative formulation, for example: “Anti-Semitism is the negative, hostile, or hateful perception of the Jewish people as a collective, expressed through a range of rhetorical, violent, and discriminatory measures targeting Jews, or those perceived to be Jews, as well as their property and their communal institutions.”
Then there’s the proverbial elephant in the room: the complete absence of the word “Zionism” from the definition. This omission undermines the contention that contemporary anti-Zionism is a specific form of anti-Semitism that shares many of the same fixations over Jewish wealth and influence as do its other forms. It also dilutes the historic centrality of the Zionist movement over the last century as a focus for Jewish identity and as an instrument for the rejuvenation of the Jews in the wake of the Holocaust.
Hence, the sentence in the definition that identifies as anti-Semitic “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor” might be rewritten to say, “depicting Zionism, the Jewish national movement, as inherently racist and the state of Israel as an illegitimate entity . . . ”.