Thirty-nine words about antisemitism are splitting the Jewish community

Of note:

There’s a storm brewing in the American Jewish community over a definition of antisemitism that appears, upon first glance, quite banal.

“Antisemitism,” it reads in part, “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

But the language, adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016, comes packaged with a host of examples that describe various criticism of Israel as antisemitic. As much of the Jewish establishment makes federal adoption of the IHRA definition a top priority for the Biden administration, it has become a proxy for a wider rift in the Jewish community over the politicization of antisemitism.“These are not people I trust to go after antisemitism.”

“The Jewish community is pushing this because they see it as a tool that they want to use to stop certain speech they don’t like,” said Ken Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, who helped draft the language on which the IHRA definition is based.

“I can’t totally speak to their intent,” Morriah Kaplan, strategic director at IfNotNow, which is focused on opposing the Israeli occupation, said of the organizations backing the definition, “but these are not people I trust to go after antisemitism.”

The Conference of Presidents, established in the 1950s to give American Jews a unified voice to communicate with the White House and world leaders, sent a letter on Jan. 12 to now-President Joe Biden urging him to use the IHRA definition to combat antisemitism on campuses.

But that letter was only signed by five member-groups and it is unclear how many of the 51 organizations that joined the Tuesday conference statement also support the call for Biden to use it.

In fact, several conference members had joined a competing Jan. 12 statement by the Progressive Israel Network, which cited “strong potential for misuse” of the definition. The Reform movement, the largest Jewish denomination in North America, announced Monday that it had adopted the IHRA definition but simultaneously opposed codifying the language in federal law. Bend the Arc, a major liberal Jewish group, also came out against government use of the definition late Monday.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether Biden supports use of the IHRA definition.

Identifying the threat

As the establishment groups ramp up their lobbying for federal adoption of the definition, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, another left-wing activist group, plan to launch lobbying and educational campaigns to oppose the definition in the coming months.

Kaplan, with IfNotNow, and others on the left argue that after four years of the Trump administration, during which the antisemitic far-right gained new power, the most urgent threat to the Jewish community clearly comes from violent white nationalists.

Public opinion polls suggest that most American Jews agree: 75% said in an American Jewish Committee survey last year that the political right posed a serious antisemitic threat, compared to 32% who said the same about the political left.

Yet many mainstream groups continue to emphasize a need to fight antisemitism across the political spectrum. And the antisemitism that Jewish leaders call out on the left almost always refers to attacks on Israel that they believe cross a line. The IHRA definition, they say, helps clarify that line.“Nobody has a problem of defining antisemitism if it’s waving Nazi flags.”

“Nobody has a problem of defining antisemitism if it’s waving Nazi flags,” said Abe Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The definition deals with a lot subtler issues of what antisemitism is, which today unfortunately includes attacking Israel’s existence.”

Foxman said the IHRA language can be used to deal with all forms of antisemitism, but critics say those promoting the definition are doing so at the expense of focusing on right-wing extremists.

They point to a November memo to Biden’s transition team from the Jewish Federations of North America outlining the organization’s priorities for fighting antisemitism. The document listed ISIS and Al Qaeda as threats to American Jews, but did not name right-wing antisemitism. Sandwiched between increased security grants and Holocaust education was promotion of the IHRA definition.

More outrage came following the Conference of Presidents letter, sent six days after a right-wing mob ginned up on antisemitic conspiracy theories stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“To go forward with a letter to Biden saying that college students advocating for Palestinian freedom are the greatest threat to American Jews was truly unconscionable to me,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist and supports the BDS Movement.

Source: http://click1.e.forward.com/xsrkkdjvvqrtqqmktpblmtslydtpbbdbrlpqdjcpcjvdp_tzwbplvvklcllccbzww.html?a=Daily+Newsletter+USE+THIS+ONE&b=01%2F26%2F2021

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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