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Britain to Adopt Definition of Anti-Semitism; U.S. Should Follow Suit

Aviva Vogelstein, Brandeis Blog

December 15, 2016

In an effort to combat rising numbers of anti-Semitic hate crimes and incitement, Britain is about to become one the first countries in the world to adopt an international definition of anti-Semitism.

On Monday, Dec. 12, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced in her keynote address at the Conservative Friends of Israel’s annual lunch, that her government is going to formally adopt the internationally-recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

The Prime Minister asserted that anti-Semitism “has no place in politics and no place in this country.” Adopting the IHRA definition in a “ground-breaking step towards eradicating anti-Semitism,” May said, “t means there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it.”

Prime Minister May continued, “Let me be clear: it is unacceptable that there is anti-Semitism in this country. It is even worse that incidents are reportedly on the rise. And it is disgusting that these twisted views are being found in British politics.”

The 31 member nations of the IHRA officially adopted the “IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism” in May 2016. 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.

Though British police already use a version of the IHRA’s definition, Prime Minister May’s announcement is excellent in that the country-wide adoption will now allow for the definition to be used by councils, universities and other public bodies in combatting anti-Semitism.

Prime Minister May’s decision should be emulated in the United States, where anti-Semitism unfortunately is also on the rise. The U.S. Department of State has a great definition of anti-Semitism – but it is not used domestically; rather it is only used for international monitoring. Adopting a definition of anti-Semitism such as the State Department’s 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.

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 according to recent reports by organizations such as the AMCHA Initiative, likely rising.

Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, which passed the Senate 99-0. This landmark bill importantly states that the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism has been a valuable tool “to help identify contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism, and include useful examples of discriminatory anti-Israel conduct that crosses the line into anti-Semitism,” and that “[a]wareness of this definition of anti-Semitism will increase understanding of the parameters of contemporary anti-Jewish conduct and will assist the Department of Education in determining whether an investigation of anti-Semitism under title VI is warranted.”

The proposed legislation, which the House will be voting on in the next legislative session (which begins in January), would adopt the primary public policy recommendation of LDB President and General Counsel Kenneth L. Marcus’s new book, “The Definition of Anti-Semitism” (Oxford University Press: 2015). Marcus explained, “For American civil rights enforcement agencies, the way forward is clear. Whatever else they may do to address resurgent anti-Semitism, the first step should be to adopt the State Department’s definition.”

If you are concerned about anti-Semitism on your campus, or if you seek advice about best practices, contact us.

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Research Articles
and Reports
Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
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Neal M. Sher, Esq.
Neal M. Sher is founder of the Law Offices of Neal M. Sher and Of Counsel to Simon & Partners, LLP, where he specializes in litigation and government relations.
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