Linda Sarsour’s Problematic Views on Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Petra Marquardt Bigman : March 15, 2017 1:04 pm : Anti-Israelism, Anti-Semitism

As a co-chair of the Women’s March protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration, Linda Sarsour – who is usually identified as a Palestinian-American progressive political activist – has recently attracted much sympathetic media attention, but also some criticism. Among the issues that critics of Sarsour brought up early on was her open support for BDS, i.e. the movement that singles out Israel as a target for boycott, divestment and sanction, and her stated preference for “a one-state solution that, experts agree, will not be a Jewish state because the larger population will be Palestinian.” While her Wikipedia page currently claims that Sarsour “supports Israel’s right to exist,” she quite obviously does not support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed, Sarsour once asserted []: “Nothing is creepier than Zionism;” she also suggested that Zionism is racism.

Sarsour Zionism creepy

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” is of course listed as an example for contemporary anti-Semitism in the US State Department definition of anti-Semitism.

However, Sarsour has insisted that she is only “a critic of the State of Israel” and that she firmly opposes anti-Semitism. But given Sarsour’s declared revulsion against Zionism and her openly acknowledged preference for a so-called “one-state solution” that would transform the world’s only Jewish state into yet another Arab-Muslim majority state, it would clearly be more accurate to describe her not as a “critic,” but rather as an outright opponent of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that Sarsour does not accept common definitions of anti-Semitism: she is listed (#73) among the people who signed on to the truly Orwellian definition of anti-Semitism that veteran anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah published in fall 2012 on the basis of his preposterous view that Zionism is “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today” and that support for Zionism “is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.” more »

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Maryland and Texas BDS Legislation

Edward Kunz : March 10, 2017 4:47 pm : Anti-Israelism, Freedom of Speech

The Maryland State House

The Maryland State House

Earlier this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called in his budget for laws which will stop state support for businesses that endorse or adhere to boycotts of Israel. Seventeen states have currently enacted anti-BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction) legislation, with states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio having done so in just the last few months. The Texas law address state pension plans. In a news brief released by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Abbott is quoted as stating that “[w]hile Texas pension plans have the goal of maximizing returns…this mission should not come at the expense of our principles.” Abbott elaborated further, saying that “Texas funds…should be prohibited from making investments that directly fund our nation’s enemies or those…with stated anti-Israel policies.” Texas, like many other states, currently bans state pensions and retirement funds from investing in Iran. Abbott met with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, last year. During his time with the ambassador, as reported by The Algemeiner, Abbott stated that both Iran and the BDS movement against Israel “actively engage” in attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Texas is no stranger to BDS and BDS-aligned groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Governor Abbott’s calls for Texas anti-BDS legislation mirror the attempts by Maryland legislators. Maryland lawmakers and Jewish advocacy groups are currently putting the final touches on a bill that would ban companies that support the BDS movement from doing business with the state. This new bill comes after a failed attempt to introduce similar legislation last April. The previous attempt never saw the proposed bill introduced, which opponents of the bill credit to “intense opposition from public and state legislators.”  The text for the proposed bill uses language similar to that of U.S. Senator Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) anti-BDS bill, which defined BDS as “actions…intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations” with Israel. Cardin’s anti-BDS bill, H.R. 6298, was not enacted.

Both the Texas and Maryland attempts at anti-BDS legislation will face stiff resistance from the active members of BDS groups within both states. Critics of the Texas legislation claim it “infringes upon the First Amendment right to free speech,” specifically in regards to state issued funds. Defenders of anti-BDS legislation, such as Eugene Volokh, have responded that such anti-BDS bills do not restrict speech. Volokh explains that “a [business] doesn’t lose [federal/state] money just for condemning Israel or even praising a boycott, but only for actually boycotting Israel: refusing to deal with Israeli institutions or scholars.” Maryland’s legislation may face more intense opposition, since Mayland BDS groups believe that they helped to stop similar legislation from being passed last year, a belief that will no doubt embolden their resistance. Regardless of the challenges, legislators in both states are pressing on in their pursuit of legislation against the undue pressures targeting Israel and Israel’s supporters.

BDS is rapidly losing ground to the onslaught of legislation it faces at both the state and federal level. The BDS campaign’s attempts to stifle academic freedom and to demonize Israel are facing stiff opposition from an informed public, a public that became informed due to the now publicly litigated nature of the anti-Israel movement. Every attempt at a boycott motion, and the subsequent reaction from the states, leads to discrediting of the BDS movement. With more and more states now drafting anti-BDS legislation and several bills introduced through congress as well, it is only a matter of time before the BDS movement loses what little credibility it has left.

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LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus at StandWithUs Anti-BDS Conference

Caitlyn Carmichael : February 20, 2017 2:08 pm : Anti-Israelism, Anti-Semitism

StandWithUs, an international non-profitUntitled organization dedicated to informing the public about Israel and combatting anti-Semitism, will be holding their third annual Anti-BDS conference in Los Angeles from March 4-6. For the past three years, StandWithUs has invited international experts to discuss strategies to combat the global boycott movement against Israel. LDB President & General Counsel Kenneth L. Marcus will be participating as an expert speaker for the third year in a row, discussing “BDS in Lawfare.”


The conference will focus on combatting the BDS movement as well as understanding the BDS movement’s new strategies and tactics. In addition to LDB’S President Marcus, internationally renowned experts will discuss the global boycott movement against Israel and how it targets college campuses, businesses, legislation, and more. The conference’s keynote speaker will be Alan Dershowitz, a former Harvard Law Professor, Author, and Political Commentator. Other speakers include StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein, New York Times Best-Selling author Edwin Black, Comedy Central and Showtime actor Avi Liberman, and many more.

The exact location of the event is sent to participants upon completion of reservation. To learn more about the event and speakers, click here.


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British Columbia School Reverses Decision on Israeli Students

Edward Kunz : February 6, 2017 11:15 am : Anti-Israelism

The Great Hall of the ISBA school.

The Great Hall of the ISBA school.

In late January, as reported by Jpost, Israeli student Stav Daron was told by the administrators at the British Columbia Island School of Building Arts (ISBA), a Canadian trade school, that he could not attend their school due “to the conflict and illegal settlement activity in the region.” The school’s response to Daron’s interest in enrolling was ended with the following proclamation: “[W]e are not accepting applications from Israel.” Daron, a civil engineering student and amateur carpenter, had gone as far as already purchasing a book from the school in preparation for his classes.

The news of Daron’s plight soon reached Jewish organizations throughout Canada. Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), as well as B’nai Birth Canada, demanded clarification and a retraction of the policy. After the media began reporting the story of Daron’s rejection, ISBA quickly reversed their initial decision. An email sent to the CIJA clarified ISBA’s new position, stating that “[a]fter significant thought and listening to all interested parties, ISBA has decided to rescind any restriction placed on accepting students from Israel…ISBA remains acceptant to all and will continue to do so without restrictions.”

Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said he was “pleased with the speedy resolution,” though questioned why the incident had occurred in the first place. Regardless of the quick action taken by the Canadian Jewish community, as well as the final reversal of the decision, the damage was dealt. Daron, posting publicly on his Facebook profile page, has said that he will not reapply to the school following this incident.

This attempted boycott of a student highlights a disturbing reality of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement within academic circles: the human cost. While BDS stipulates a repudiation of perceived crimes committed by Israel, it goes much further than just refusing to buy Israeli products or refusing to attend Israeli academic conferences. The actions promoted by BDS lead to these situations, where simply having been born as an Israeli Jew is enough for a person to be ostracized and rebuffed from a community that is supposedly “acceptant to all.”

ISBA, as reported by Haaretz, stated in its final email to Daron that the policy had been in an effort to “[stay] in line with our moral compass.” ISBA finished by stating that “[we] are still inclusive and cannot support that which is not inclusive.” The fallacy of this logic was pointed out by Daron in his final contact with the school; he stated that “not taking applications from Israeli students just because they are from Israel is racism, which is basically what you are protesting against.”

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Fordham University Refuses to Recognize SJP Group On Campus

Katherine Hung : January 29, 2017 8:15 am : Anti-Israelism

Keating Hall at Fordham University

Keating Hall at Fordham University

Fordham University denied a request by students to form a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter on campus. The university, a Jesuit school in New York City, does not allow student organizations which promote the interests of one country.

As Fordham’s Dean of Students Keith Eldredge wrote in an email released by Inside Higher Ed, the goals of the SJP chapter would “clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the university.” The group’s political agenda—including support of the BDS movement—and potential polarization were key reasons for Fordham’s denial.

“While students are encouraged to promote diverse political points of view, and we encourage conversation and debate on all topics, I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country,” writes Eldredge in the email, according to Inside Higher Ed . “Specifically, the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel presents a barrier to open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding.”

According to a written statement from college spokesman Bob Howe, “for the university’s purposes, the country of origin of the student organizers is irrelevant, as is their particular political stance.” The bottom line is that the SJP group would act more like a political lobby than a traditional campus club.

In the face of opposition from Palestine Legal, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the Center for Constitutional Rights on the grounds that the ban violates students’ civil rights, Fordham University emphasizes that it has and will continue to protect free speech on campus. “Regardless of the club’s status, students, faculty, and staff are of course free to voice their opinions on Palestine, or any other issue,” according to a university statement.

Presently, the university does not have a pro-Israel student group. There is a Jewish students’ club which does not mention Israel.

SJP chapters at institutions across the nation have garnered a reputation for stirring controversy. They organize programs for “Israeli Apartheid Week” and plan “mock eviction” events that simulate the removal of Palestinians from their homes. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), SJP is “the primary organizer of anti-Israel events on U.S. college campuses and the group most responsible for bringing divestment resolutions to votes in front of student governments.” ADL maintains that since 2001, the SJP “has consistently demonized Israel, describing Israeli policies toward the Palestinians as racist and apartheid-like, and comparing Israelis to Nazis or Israel to the Jim Crow-era U.S.”

Fordham’s refusal to support a SJP student chapter comes on the heels of disruptions by other SJP chapters. Last year, UC Irvine issued a written warning to its SJP student group, effective until March 29, 2017, for violation of the UCI Code of Conduct’s provision prohibiting “obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures, or other University activities.” In May of 2016, an angry mob of fifty UCI SJP chapter members disrupted a small event held by a Jewish student group. The mob blocked entrances and exits, chanted anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-police, and pro-Palestinian sentiments, and chased Jewish student Eliana Kopley. LDB issued a warning letter to UCI Chancellor Howard Gilman, calling for stronger condemnation of the aggressive SJP protest.

Northeastern University suspended its SJP chapter for one academic year from 2014-2015. The SJP group slipped 600 mock eviction notices under dorm room doors to symbolize what the chapter considered arbitrary evictions of Arab residents in Israel. In the past, they had also vandalized university property, disrupted other student organization events, and failed to acquire proper permits, provide a civility statement, and meet with university advisors.

The efforts of Fordham University, along with action taken at UC Irvine and Northeastern University, are steps in the right direction to fighting anti-Semitism and securing justice for Jewish students.

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Possible Anti-BDS Legislation in Wyoming

Katherine Hung : January 29, 2017 8:13 am : Anti-Israelism


Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn

Anti-BDS sentiments reached the Cowboy State this month, as Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn of Jackson, WY encouraged the Wyoming State Legislature to prohibit state agencies from contracting businesses that boycott Israel. Mendelsohn oversees Chabad Lubavitch of Wyoming.

Mendelsohn called upon Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, who then sponsored a resolution requiring state agencies to consider whether a company boycotts Israel or other World Trade Organization members when entering into contracts and grants. The House Joint Resolution 4 was referred to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on January 13th.

The BDS campaign has gained little traction in Wyoming, a state with some of the smallest Jewish and Muslim communities in the nation. To Mendelsohn, this is even more reason to enact anti-BDS policies. “It’s really important that we set precedent — in a state where anti-Semitism is almost unheard of — that our state is one that supports people of all backgrounds, affiliations and lifestyle choices,” says Mendelsohn to Casper Star-Tribune. He views the BDS movement as a form of discrimination against Jews, since it aims to delegitimize Israel.

“This is primarily about the Jewish nation, the Jewish culture, but it really does extend fundamentally to everything else,” says Rep. Byrd to Casper Star-Tribune . The resolution is a clear statement that Wyoming opposes anti-Semitism and will prevent the BDS campaign from securing ground in the state.

Mendelsohn will continue to advocate for this cause, as he ultimately wants to see this resolution in the form of a legally binding statute. Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, has shown interest in sponsoring such a bill.

If Wyoming passes an anti-BDS bill, it would be the eighteenth state to take a stand against the BDS movement and discrimination of Jews. Michigan enacted an anti-BDS law this month, following legislation in Ohio in December, Pennsylvania in November, California in September, New Jersey in August, and Rhode Island in June.

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The Beginning of the End for BDS in Spain

Daniella Hovsha : January 12, 2017 5:07 pm : Anti-Israelism, Litigation

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is being defeated and in perhaps the most surprising of nations – Spain. A country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and the very place where a Catalan lawmaker demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent,” Spain has long been considered a BDS foothold.

BDS demonstration Spain

That is, until about 15 months ago when Ignacio Wenley Palacios Iglesias came onto the scene. A Jesuit lawyer specializing in nautical law, Mr. Iglesias first became involved by happenstance. Iglesias’s daughter was attending the Rototom Sun-Splash Music Festival, infamous for its initial banning of Jewish American singer/ songwriter Matisyahu in 2015. Matisyahu was asked to denounce Israel before being allowed to take part in the Festival, a demand not extended to any of the other artists performing. Matisyahu adamantly refused.  After massive international outcry, Matisyahu did perform, amongst a hostile crowd.

This event was given great attention at the time, and raised questions globally about the motives of BDS operatives and their deep entrenchment in the Spanish political system. For Iglesias, it was the catalyst which involved him in the fight against BDS.

Speaking to the Brandeis Center, Mr. Iglesias adamantly declared that he believes all boycotts of this nature to be unconstitutional. An expert in the Spanish constitution, Iglesias argues that such boycotts as have been imposed by state houses, city councils and universities around the country contradict the need for public offices to stay neutral and breach the civil liberties of various citizens, Jewish or not.

Supported by the The Lawfare Project’s legal fund as well as by ACOM in Spain, Iglesias has been fighting back through the very structures which first allowed this to take place, emphasizing and correcting the contradictions of the BDS through the court. At the time of our interview, Iglesias had spearheaded more than 40 legal rulings, injunctions and opinions against the Boycott Israel movements in Spain.

By fast tracking proceedings for the protection of civil liberties, Iglesias and his colleagues have won more than eight cases in which BDS has been declared illegal, three reversed judgements against previous BDS victories, and 11 injunctions against BDS whilst proceedings continue, something Iglesias categorizes as unprecedented.

This strategy, using the courts to uphold the law and constitution, has been widely successful across Spain, leading to the reimbursement of $107,000 to the Israeli University of Ariel, which had been boycotted by certain Spanish tertiary level institutions. Iglesias’s strategy has also led to a statement made by Spain’s Ministerio Fiscal (the Attorney General), who declared that the anti-Israel boycott of Gijon violates “the constitution as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.”

Certainly, the past week saw another of these victories,: the city of Santa Eulalia nullified the pro-BDS position it had taken up only moths before.

Iglesias is confident that this common sense approach, which underscores the illegality of BDS, and will and must work across Europe and the globe.

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War By Other Means: Addressing the Climate on Campus

Kailee Jordan : January 9, 2017 4:08 pm : Anti-Israelism, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, General


The Student Panel sits at Harvard Law School during the conference on December 4, 2016. (From Left to right) Rezwan Haq (University of Central Florida), Kelsey Kimmes (CSU Long Beach), Misha Vilenchuck (Brandeis University), Kailee Jordan (San Francisco State University), and Jason Storch (Vassar College).


On Sunday, December 4, I had the pleasure of speaking at the CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) conference, “War by Other Means: Israel, BDS, and the Campus,” at Harvard Law School. In recent years, anti-Semitism has been on the rise throughout the country, and particularly on college campuses. Much of this anti- Semitism has taken on a new form, anti-Semitism “coded” as anti-Israelism. This conference addressed these very issues. Featured speakers included Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz, Cornell Law Professor William Jacobson, executive director of CAMERA, Andrea Levin, and co-founder and director of the AMCHA Initiative, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.

The aim of the conference was to further understand what drives the growing and aggressive anti-Israel Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has engulfed our campuses in the United States.

The BDS movement is a call to boycott all cultural, academic, and economic ties to Israel in an effort to strangle the country, until they are held accountable for alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. This movement portrays itself as a global human rights movement, however, as explained by Alan Dershowitz in a video message addressing the conference, “there is no BDS movement.” Movements, explains Dershowitz, are a global effort to hold accountable all countries that violate their terms of human rights abuses. BDS is an effort that solely focuses on Israel. Jordan, which is also a previous territory of the British Mandate of Palestine, doesn’t find it’s discriminatory citizenship laws toward Palestinians on the BDS’s movement’s agenda. He explains that If they were a movement for human rights accountability, Israel would be at the very bottom of their list. As a plethora of severe human rights violations are littered across the Middle East, the BDS movement against Israel has gained more visibility than others among college students.

Authors, lawyers, professors, academic professionals, activists, and students from Harvard – including students from the Harvard LDB Law Student Chapter — engaged in the discussion of campus climate for Jewish students today. Presentations included “Countering BDS on Campus” by Alan Dershowitz, “BDS Has A History” by Professor William Jacobson from Cornell University, “BDS and Campus Anti-Semitism” by AMCHA initiave’s Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, “Academic Freedom, Free Speech, and BDS: Advancing Viewpoint Diversity on Campus” by Professor Miriam Elman from Syracruse University, and “Answering SJP Propoganda” by Dr. Alex Safian.

On a panel along with other current and recent graduates, I shared my personal experiences as an Israel advocate while studying at San Francisco State University (SFSU), a campus with a great presence of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity. I spoke about Professors like Hatem Bazian and Rabab Abdulhadi, both of whom are active leaders of the BDS movement. Abdulhadi, a professor of ethnic studies at SFSU, used University tax-payer funds to finance a field trip for students to Palestinian territory to meet with Palestinian resistance fighters, whom of some were linked with US designated terrorist lists. She met with Leila Khaled, whom Professor Abdulhadi describes as “an icon in women’s liberation and an icon in liberations movements.” Leila Khaled was arrested in 1969 for hijacking an airplane in an act of terror, and she became a famous Palestinian icon for being the first woman to do so. I talked about how leaders of student groups and professors at my school have both gone under FBI investigation, including the former SFSU student Mohammad Hammad, who infamously posted a picture of himself holding a blade on social media, saying: “I seriously can not get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”

Students from Vassar College, Brandeis University, Cal State Long Beach, and University of Central Florida joined me to discuss their unique experiences on their given campus which brought them to advocate for Israel. Students, including a Muslim speaker who previously was a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) activist and transitioned into a strong Israel activist.

The reality of campus anti-semitism captivated the audience and motivated younger students and academic professionals to take initiative to validate Israel’s existence in the classroom and through advocacy. We were left reminded that although the climate can be challenging, the knowledge and motivation of future generations is in our in our hands, especially in a vital environment like a University campus.

The conference was closed with a statement by Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, commenting on the very concept of War By Other Means: “We Will Win”.

For more updates and footage on the conference, visit CAMERA’s Facebook page here.


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Summer and Post-Grad Job Opportunities with LDB!

Aviva Vogelstein : January 4, 2017 1:38 pm : Anti-Israelism, Anti-Semitism, General
Applications are now open for Summer 2017 Legal Clerkships and Post-Grad Civil Rights Legal Fellowships with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law!

Want to help LDB fight against campus anti-Semitism? Apply today! Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Please send a copy of your resume to

Principal duties: Depending on skills, interest and abilities, duties are likely to include some combination of the following: researching substantive issues of federal and state law; analyzing legislative, regulatory, and other public policy issues; drafting legal memoranda and policy materials; assisting in the preparation of scholarly writings and practical guides; writing editorial submissions for news periodicals and blogs; assisting in the preparation of legal complaints, briefs, and related documents; and engaging in social media activities. Additional duties include interacting with complainants, witnesses, government officials, public interest advocates, other nonprofit organizations, university administrators, and/or the public; assisting in the preparation of conferences, workshops, lectures and symposia; preparing continuing legal education materials; and generally providing trusted legal and policy support.

Qualifications: The successful candidate must have excellent academic credentials from an ABA-accredited law school and maintain the highest standards of integrity; exhibit excellence in legal analysis, policy analysis and writing; and display, at all times and to all persons, a courteous, professional and cooperative attitude.

Location: Washington, D.C.

For more info on Post-Grad Fellowships, please click here, and for more info on Summer Clerkships, please click here.

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Definition of anti-Semitism Is a Threat to No One but anti-Semites

Aviva Vogelstein : December 21, 2016 10:59 am : Anti-Israelism, Anti-Semitism

This article was originally published in Ha’aretz on December 20, 2016, and is re-posted with permission from the author. Professor Dina Porat is the chief historian of Yad Vashem International Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, head of the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, and a member of the Louis D. Brandeis Center Academic Advisory Board. 

Opinion || Definition of anti-Semitism Is a Threat to No One but anti-Semites
How did the definition, that few (if any) were familiar with, turn into a hotly controversial, international issue? 

By Dina Porat

This week British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would adopt “the working definition of anti-Semitism,” due to an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents and because the battle against anti-Jewish prejudice is an important part of her efforts to build a fairer society. Last week that definition was discussed at a UNESCO conference in Paris, and later in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At both conferences there was mention of the adoption (for the first time) of the definition by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in May in Romania. Each of the organizations has dozens of members.

Prof. Dina Porat

Prof. Dina Porat

At the UNESCO conference director general Irina Bokova and IHRA chairman Mihnea Constantinescu recommended adopting the definition, and expressed opposition, if indirect, to the decision approved in the organization’s plenum (and by the United Nations General Assembly), to the effect that Jerusalem’s history and present are exclusively Muslim. History must not be distorted, they said. We have to disseminate the factual information and preserve Jerusalem’s legacy as a city sacred to the three monotheistic religions.

A clause in the definition of anti-Semitism, which discusses denying the right of the Jewish people to self determination, made it possible to say at the conference that self determination means identity, history and roots, whose denial – in reference to the ancient Jewish people of all groups – is discrimination, if not anti-Semitism for its own sake.

Now the United States has introduced an initiative to approve a law calling for awareness of anti-Semitism – the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act – and a stormy discussion erupted on the subject, since until now adoption of the definition has not been legally binding. During the discussion there was mention of another adoption of a working definition of anti-Semitism, over a year ago, by the U.S. State Department. The European Union appointed a coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, who is promoting the use of the definition, and in Austria the justice minister recently announced that the definition will be part of the training of new judges and prosecutors in his country.

How did the definition, that few (if any) were familiar with, turn into a hotly controversial, international issue? This is a definition whose wording is a product of the joint work of organizations, scholars and activists, and the member countries – including both Jews and non-Jews. It’s a practical definition – one page in length – that does not go into the identity and motives of anti-Semites or a description of their image of Jews. It determines, in one sentence, that “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

This is followed by a series of examples: incitement to harm Jews, myths about their imaginary power, Holocaust denial and accusations of dual loyalty. In the end, examples of statements against the State of Israel that are defined as anti-Semitism, such as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

A few years ago the definition was removed from the website of that EU monitoring body, perhaps for technical reasons, as its directors claim. Since then, leading personalities and organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, have been trying hard to reinstitute it, and, as mentioned, lately there have been results. That may be happening due to the constant effort, and perhaps because in Europe, where fascist and totalitarian regimes flourished, the attitude towards legislation differs from that in the United States, and therefore a definition of anti-Semitism that serves as a basis for identifying activity, or for legislation to counter it, could open the door to a definition of Islamophobia, as well as hatred of Christians, blacks, Roma and other minorities.

The need for such tools has increased in light of the wave of refugees and immigrants arriving in Europe, one reason being that the rise of violent anti-Semitism makes it difficult for countries that must pay for the protection of Jewish communities: Disturbing the public order often begins with the Jews, but it has already been proven that it doesn’t end with them. The need for these tools may also arise because there is a growing realization that some anti-Zionist statements have made use of anti-Semitic motifs. Such statements have already been condemned by Pope Francis and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. The working definition, according to scholar David Hirsh, does not pose a threat to anyone except anti-Semites.

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