A senior US State Department official has announced that the Biden administration “embraces and champions” a definition of anti-Semitism that has become a point of tension between mainstream and progressive Jewish organizations in America.
“As prior US Administrations of both political stripes have done, the Biden Administration embraces and champions the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s] working definition [of anti-Semitism]. We applaud the growing number of countries and international bodies that apply it. We urge all that haven’t done so to do likewise,” says Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Kara McDonald.
Addressing an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting, McDonald says, “We must educate ourselves and our communities to recognize anti-Semitism in its many forms, so that we can call hate by its proper name and take effective action. That is why the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, with its real-world examples, is such an invaluable tool.״
The IHRA working definition is a 500-word document with a brief explanation of anti-Semitism followed by 11 examples of how it can manifest — most of which involve speech about Israel.
The definition has been adopted by dozens of countries and a growing list of organizations and universities to help monitor, teach about and combat anti-Semitism. But its Israel provisions have also become a flashpoint for debate. Adoption of the definition can signify different things to different groups.
Defenders of the definition say its Israel examples — which include comparing Israel to the Nazis, calling Israel racist and applying a double standard to Israel that isn’t applied to other countries — are helpful in identifying where anti-Israel activity turns into anti-Semitism. Its detractors, however, say that the examples can have the effect of branding all criticism of Israeli policy anti-Semitic.