An international organization behind a controversial definition of anti-Semitism has misled the public about that definition, according to a new report by the British campaign group Free Speech on Israel, obtained exclusively from the Al Jazeera Investigation Unit.
The report, written by Oxford University researcher Jamie Stern-Weiner and set to be officially released on Sunday, shows that statements made by spokespersons and publications from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) have misrepresented the “working definition of anti-Semitism. “by arguing that it includes a highly contested list of” examples “of anti-Semitism.
At a May 2016 meeting in Bucharest, the IHRA decision-making body, which at the time represented 31 countries, adopted a document that included two separate sections.
The first section is a two-sentence definition of anti-Semitism:
“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which can be expressed as hatred of Jews. The rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and / or their property, Jewish community institutions and religious structures. “
The second section is a list containing 11 “contemporary examples” of potentially anti-Semitic statements or behaviors.
Of these eleven examples, seven contain references to the Israeli state. One controversial example claims that it could be considered anti-Semitic to describe Israel as a “racist attempt”, while another argues that “applying double standards” to Israel could be considered anti-Semitic.
The organization’s decision to adopt the document came after a heated debate about including the examples in the IHRA definition. According to a confidential internal note from an ambassador at the 2016 IHRA plenary meeting, seen by Al Jazeera, Sweden and Denmark opposed the hasty definition and “examples added to the definition”.
In the end, the government plenary decided to adopt only the passage of two sentences as a definition, excluding the controversial examples. The examples were not approved as part of the operational definition but as “illustrations” to “guide IHRA in its work”.
Restrict freedom of speech
Despite this decision made by the plenary, the Stern-Weiner report shows how the controversy over the state of the examples was omitted from the public register by high-ranking members of the IHRA.
Israel’s leading advocacy groups have described these examples as the most important part of the IHRA definition. A senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official explained that while “the definition of the IHRA itself is … minimalist”, what makes it “an essential definition in our eyes is the list of examples”.
Critics of the examples have expressed concern at the ways in which they restrict freedom of speech, particularly that of Palestinians to describe the occupation of their land and their continued oppression by the Israeli state.
The examples have also been used by Israeli lobby groups to disrupt the activities of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement around the world by claiming that the boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic.
In a foreword to the report, Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim argues that its findings “should cause any government or organization that is considering adopting the IHRA definition to change their mind.”
Stern-Weiner identifies repeated public statements made by the IHRA, its spokespersons and representatives that misrepresent the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism by merging it with the list of examples.
In May 2018, the IHRA Committee on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial appeared to be opposed to the decision taken by the plenary two years earlier, stating that “the definition and examples constituted the complete definition and that the topic was not open for further discussion “. This was suggested by a pro-Israel lobby group active in the IHRA.
An article on the IHRA website, published in the same year, falsely claimed that “the definition of work, including its examples, was unanimously revised and decided at the IHRA plenary in Bucharest in May 2016”.
In June 2020, IHRA President, German Ambassador Michaela Küchler, said IHRA member countries had “agreed” on the “text of the job definition” both the passage of two sentences “and the examples included” .
This inaccurate statement was repeated by a European Commission handbook on the IHRA definition, jointly published by the IHRA in January 2021.
These statements are in contrast to other public statements in which the IHRA applauded the decisions of the German and French parliaments to approve the operational definition without including examples.
Despite the report’s author’s repeated attempts to ask the IHRA for clarity on the status of the 11 examples, no response from the organization on this question has been forthcoming.
This misrepresentation has hit those who stand up for Palestinian rights. For example, in early 2017, the IHRA definition of work was leveraged to have pro-Palestine events on UK university campuses canceled.
In 2018, the British Labor Party was at the center of a national controversy as Israel’s advocacy groups, including the Jewish Labor movement, prompted the party to adopt the examples, which these groups have improperly described as an integral part of the IHRA definition. .
Yet Labor had adopted the IHRA definition of work in two sentences, exactly as agreed by the IHRA plenary.
The four-part investigation by Al Jazeera The Lobby, released in January 2017, revealed how the Jewish Labor movement and others worked closely with the Israeli Embassy in London in order to influence the Labor Party to include examples that they refer to Israel in the definition and present the party leadership as “anti-Semitic” for not doing so.