On Wednesday, September 20th, the German Cabinet announced that it had unanimously adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism used by the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA). In 2016, the 31 member states of the IHRA adopted their definition after a unanimous vote at a plenary session in Bucharest City. The IHRA was the first international body to formally adopt such a definition. Similar decisions to apply this working definition of anti-Semitism have been adopted by the governments of Romania, the United Kingdom, and Austria. The European Commission also, as of April 25th, has the working definition of anti-Semitism posted on its official website.
Following the announcement, the Minister of the Interior for Germany, Thomas de Maizière stated that “History made clear to us, in the most terrible way, the horrors of which anti-Semitism can lead.” The push to adopt the definition was spearheaded by the independent Bundestag Commission on Anti-Semitism, which has also urged the appointment of a federal commissioner for anti-Semitism affairs. This move for a federal commissioner has been championed by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) as well, with the director of the AJC, Deidre Berger, promoting it as essential for “fighting anti-Semitism as well as responding to current manifestations.”
Earlier this year, Romania pledged to apply the IHRA definition as well. The Romanian government asserted that “…Romanian society will be provided with an efficient guide that will contribute toward better understanding and definition of anti-Semitic actions as well as of the consequences deriving therefrom.”
In the United States, the U.S. State Department has a definition which is almost entirely that used by both the EUMC and the IHRA. This definition is, however, only used for international monitoring. In December 2016, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (AAA) was introduced to the U.S. Congress. The AAA would have required the U.S. Department of Education to use the State Department’s definition in evaluating intent of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. The AAA bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in December of last year, did not have a chance to be voted on in the House before the legislative session ended. Several states are currently in the process of drafting their own versions of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.
The adopting and application of a uniform definition of anti-Semitism in both Europe and the United States will help provide the tools to the governments and institutions of countries where resurgent anti-Semitism and bigotry threatens to undermine the progress made in fighting intolerance during the 20th century. Germany’s decision to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism is a wonderful step in the right direction, one that will inspire other countries to follow suit.