Last week, on May 26, 2016, the 31 member nations of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), under Romanian Chairmanship, officially adopted the “IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.” This important decision has made the IHRA the first international body to formally adopt such a definition.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise not only in Europe or the Middle East, but in the U.S., as well. According to the 2015 FBI Hate Crime Report, 57% of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were anti-Jewish. (It should be noted how huge that number is, especially taking into context that Jews make up only 2% of the population). On college campuses specifically, the Brandeis Center and Trinity College released an Anti-Semitism Report last February showing that 54% of Jewish college students had experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism. These numbers are shockingly high… and based on the rates of increase in recent years, likely rising.
Adopting a definition of anti-Semitism is crucial for universities and government bodies to actually understand, and properly punish, the oldest hatred in the book, so that it can be reduced and removed it before it gets worse. The U.S. State Department has an excellent definition, but unfortunately it is only used for international monitoring. This means that if an anti-Semitic incident occurs in Paris, the State Department might declare it anti-Semitic. However, if the same incident occurs in New York, the State Department would have no such jurisdiction.
At the Brandeis Center, we are working with universities and domestic government bodies to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism. We had a huge victory in March when the University of California Board of Regents adopted a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, which included a contextual statement declaring that, “Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism are forms of discrimination and will not be tolerated at the University of California.” This was an important victory in that the Regents acknowledged the need to address the problem of rampant anti-Semitism on the 10 UC campuses. The next step is getting the University of California, and other universities nationwide, to follow the IHRA’s good example, and adopt an official definition.
The text of the IHRA definition is essentially the same text as the European Union Monitoring Committee’s definition; because the IHRA has adopted it, the definition has now officially been given the international status that it was previously lacking. The IHRA’s adoption was the impressive culmination of a process initiated by Mark Weitzman, Director of Government Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, two years ago, with help from others including Ira Forman and Nicholas Dean of the U.S. Department of State.
Importantly, the IHRA definition includes contemporary examples of anti-Semitism, and discusses anti-Semitism relative to Israel, stating that, “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The document concluded by stating:
Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).
Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.
Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.
We hope that U.S. universities and government bodies will follow suit.
The IHRA press release, included the text of the definition, can be found here.