US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration “enthusiastically embraces” a definition of anti-Semitism that has become a point of tension between mainstream and progressive Jewish organizations in America.
In a letter to the American Zionist Movement retrieved by Jewish Insider, Blinken says the US backs the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, “including its examples,” such as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “applying double standards” to Israel.
Blinken says the US is “eager to work with allies and partners to counter Holocaust distortion and combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance abroad while we strengthen our efforts at home.”
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. And 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 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.
Critics have said it serves to make Israel immune to criticism for its treatment of them and for what they view as its violation of international law.
Americans for Peace Now, a frequent critic of Israeli policy, told Haaretz in December that it would not adopt the definition because it is “already being abused to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies.”
The Reform Movement has taken a slightly more moderate position, calling the IHRA definition helpful but stating that it should not be given the force of law.