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Frequently Asked Q’s

  • What is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)?
    ​The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental alliance of 34 member countries, including the United States, and some of the world’s leading democracies, whose mission is a committment to combating antisemitism, preserving Holocaust memory, and focusing on Holocaust-related issues. IHRA was established in 1998 as an assembly of experts and governments to “strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust education, research, and remembrance.” Due to the rise of antisemitism in recent years, IHRA has recognized that in order to combat antisemitism most effectively, this hatred must first be clearly defined.
  • What is the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism?
    In response to a rise in antisemitism around the world, the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (“IHRA Definition”) was developed by various leaders and experts around the world in the field. It represents our lived experiences as Jewish students and reflects the many different forms of antisemitism we face on campus today. The IHRA Definition is based on a definition first published in 2005 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which is now the Fundamental Rights Agency. This definition has since been adapted following extensive research and consultation. In addition to conducting extensive research, the IHRA committee on antisemitism and Holocaust denial worked to build international consensus around the definition by consulting with international experts and leaders of the organized Jewish community. As a result, the IHRA Definition is an internationally accepted definition of antisemitism drafted by representatives and scholars from around the world. The IHRA Definition includes multiple examples of contemporary antisemitism as it is manifested in public discourse, politics and the media. In 2016, the IHRA Definition and its list of examples were adopted by the IHRA, which is made up of representatives from 34 democratic governments around the globe. As of September 2021, the IHRA Definition has been adopted or recognized by 33 countries and governmental bodies, including the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as hundreds of universities and civil society institutions worldwide. The IHRA Definition guides these bodies in identifying, combating, and responding to antisemitism.
  • How has antisemitism evolved and what is unique about the IHRA Definition?
    Antisemitism is often called ‘the world’s oldest hatred’, changing its form to fit the ways in which cultural contexts and paradigms shift over time. The IHRA Definition covers the three-fold historical nature of antisemitism: targeting the Jewish religion, Jewish ethnicity (perceived as “race”), and the Jewish State. It is the only definition that recognizes both historical and modern antisemitism in its many different forms, reflecting the lived experiences of Jewish people today. Antisemitism is not exclusive to one ideological source or political camp. Former UK Chief Rabbi and Jewish leader Lord Jonathan Sacks, described antisemitism as a “mutating virus,” saying in 2016: “In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, the state of Israel. It takes different forms but it remains the same thing: the view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.” Today, we are seeing not only a resurgence in ‘classical’ antisemitism directed towards Jews as individuals, but also a manifestation of antisemitism directed against Jewish peoplehood and statehood, which takes on false claims and malicious distortions of truth dangerously disguised as purported criticism of Zionism and Israel. Such hatred often calls for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state, Israel, while applying a double standard to Israel, demonizing Jewish and Israeli people, and delegitimizing the Jewish state and its right to exist. Recognizing that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled at any other country is not antisemitic, the IHRA Working Definition importantly sets out a number of examples, where such criticism can and does manifest into antisemitism, depending on the relevant circumstances and context. These exampled include, but not limited to: denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, use of classical antisemitic imagery when talking about Israel, comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, charges of dual loyalty and ​​applying double standards of Israel by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation. These rather obvious examples of Israel-related antisemitism shouldn’t be particularly controversial, and it is important to distinguish between legitimate discourse and criticism about the state of Israel and rhetoric that devolves and crosses the line into dangerous antisemitic territory. The fact that the IHRA Definition makes this distinction clearly, is the reason it is the most widely endorsed and respected definition and such an indispensable tool in identifying and combating antisemitism.
  • Why Does the IHRA Working Definition Best Represent Jewish Students?
    The IHRA Working Definition represents the lived experiences of Jewish people around the world and reflects the many forms of antisemitism they face today. The definition was created by Jewish leaders and global experts, and has been universally adopted or endorsed by mainstream Jewish organizations in America and elsewhere. This includes the Anti-Defamation League, which is one of the leading organizations fighting antisemitism in the world. Moreover, it has been endorsed by over 30 governmental bodies around the world and hundreds of educational institutions, cities, sports teams, and civil society institutions. In environments where antisemitism is often dismissed, excused or diminished, which includes university campuses, it is crucial to listen to the lived experiences of the Jewish community, as the IHRA Definition accurately reflects. The IHRA Definition provides clear examples of what antisemitism may look or sound like, which helps not only in identifying antisemitism but also for purposes of recording and tracking it. Those seeking to identify antisemitism must utilize a consistent definition that adequately addresses all forms of this hate across the political spectrum.
  • Why Do We Need the IHRA Definition Now?
    Unfortunately, antisemitism continues to rise. Antisemitism has led to increased harassment, bullying, and violence. It is important to recognize that such hate does not occur in a vacuum, and is often the result of a pervasive discourse vilifying and delegitimizing the Jewish state, Israel. Data from the FBI shows that Jews are the targets of 57.5% of all hate crimes in 2020 motivated by religious animus, who comprise less than 2% of the population in the United States. According to a 2019 report by a campus antisemitism watchdog, pro-Israel and Jewish students are directly targeted for harm and abuse. In 2019, attempts to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from campus activities more than doubled, with expression calling for the total boycott or exclusion of pro-Israel students from campus life nearly tripling. On campuses worldwide, Jewish students have had their suitability for positions in student representative bodies questioned because of their affiliations with Israel. Antisemitism is an age-old hatred which is constantly evolving over time. It has many unique manifestations because it adapts to changing social norms and trends. These factors can make antisemitism difficult to identify. As a result, many are slow to recognize antisemitism or do not notice it at all. The IHRA Working Definition provides necessary information to assist Jewish students when they are faced with Israel-related antisemitism. We need to adopt the IHRA Definition because before this disturbing hate can be properly identified and addressed, it must be clearly defined, including when statements or actions morph from legitimate criticism of Israel into antisemitism. Even worse, in the absence of a clear definition of antisemitism, antisemites remain free to define antisemitism and Jew hatred in a way that excludes their own bigotry and shields them from accountability.
  • Is IHRA Still Necessary When Our School Already Has General Anti-Discrimination Rules & Policies?
    Given that antisemitism can be more difficult to identify than other forms of discrimination, it goes unreported and unaddressed far too often. A specific and clear definition is crucial to assist and compliment university administrations in identifying and responding to all forms of antisemitism, as well as educating the broader campus community about its dangers.
  • Does the IHRA Working Definition Censor Free Speech and Criticism of Israel?
    No. Concerns about the IHRA Working Definition silencing criticism of Israel are completely misplaced and often, such claims are wilfully misleading. On the contrary, the IHRA Working Definition is very explicit that "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic." The working definition merely provides guidance for identifying instances of antisemitism, including when rhetoric about Israel can manifest into antisemitic, depending on the context, such as denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, use of classical antisemitic imagery when talking about Israel, comparisons to Nazi Germany, charges of dual loyalty and ​​applying double standards to Israel. It does not call for censorship, restriction, or punishment of any kind.
  • Does the IHRA Working Definition Attempt to Criminalize Speech?
    No. The IHRA Working Definition is not legally binding, and we are not suggesting its adoption as a "speech code." It does not require any sanction or penalty. It is simply a guiding tool for education and application of existing rules where antisemitism may be involved. The IHRA Definition also makes clear that (1) determinations as to whether activity is antisemitic must take into account the overall context, and (2) antisemitic conduct is criminal only when so defined by law, not merely by satisfying the IHRA Definition itself. The definition expressly recognizes that mere criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, nor does any serious person suggest otherwise. The claim that the IHRA Definition somehow stifles free speech rests on a highly dubious assumption that Jews “weaponize” or falsely cry antisemitism in order to protect Israel or other “Jewish interests.” A related false assumption is that the State of Israel is so odious that it cannot be defended using rational arguments, requiring Jewish manipulation instead. Dismissing Jewish concerns over antisemitism is itself a form of antisemitism. It is in sharp contrast to established social justice norms, which respect the rights of communities to define and identify the unique forms of oppression they face. It is no more acceptable than falsely claiming that people of color or indigenous groups falsely charge racism in order to score political points. If there is a real free speech threat involving antisemitism on campus, it is the one faced by Jewish students who are regularly shut down, excluded and marginalized, including when they express support or identification with their ancestral homeland and its people.
  • What About Minority Jewish Opposition to IHRA?
    Jews who disagree with aspects of this definition have every right to voice their opinions. That being said, the fact is that an accepted definition of racism against any community would be nearly impossible to create if it required the agreement of every single member of that community. When it comes to this particular issue, there is an unprecedented level of consensus among Jews. The IHRA Working Definition was created by Jewish experts and has been adopted by Jewish organizations around the world, including the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish organization fighting antisemitism worldwide. A long list of Jewish organizations in support of the IHRA Definition can be found on the Adoptions page. This definition represents the organized Jewish community in the diaspora and the vast majority of Jews in general, and dismissing it invalidates all of their voices. To reject this definition because of a small minority of the Jewish community would be a classic example of tokenization.
  • Does the IHRA Working Definition Provide Special Treatment for Jews and/or Harm Palestinians?
    No. The IHRA Working Definition is not a form of special protection or treatment. It provides an understanding of an existing form of bigotry/discrimination that can be difficult to identify because of the many different ways it appears or manifests. Nor does identifying bigotry or discrimination against one group cause harm to any other group. Those who choose to “support” the Palestinian people by engaging in bigoted speech against Jews or Israelis may continue to do that. The IHRA Definition, however, can be used to identify some of that speech as (potentially) antisemitic, but it does nothing to silence or punish that speech. Moreover, the desire of some to engage in bigoted speech is not a reason to shy away from identifying and condemning that speech for what it is (i.e., racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc).
  • Is it Antisemitic to Criticize Israel?
    There is nothing inherently antisemitic about criticizing Israel. However, there are times when rhetoric about Israel does cross the line into antisemitism – the IHRA Working Definition helps clarify this line, taking into account the overall context. In fact, one line in the definition reads: "However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic." This has been publicly recognized by everyone from President Barack Obama and the head of the United Nations to the Pope, and is not controversial. “I think a good baseline is: Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind.” —Barack Obama “To attack Jews is antisemitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also antisemitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.” — Pope Francis “Denial of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.” — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
  • Is Anti-Zionism Antisemitic?
    Different people believe the term "anti-Zionism" means different things, which often leads to confusion. At its most basic level, being a Zionist means supporting the rights of the Jewish people to self-determination and liberation in their ancestral home - Israel. Being an anti-Zionist means opposing those basic rights for Jewish people, even though all peoples have a right to self-determination under international law. However, some think "anti-Zionism" simply means opposing the current Israeli government. Criticizing or opposing Israeli policy is not inherently antisemitic. It's also not truly anti-Zionist. However, real anti-Zionism - opposing Israel's existence or denying Jews the right to self-determination - is certainly a form of antisemitism. Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. The deep historical, cultural and religious ties between Jews and the land of Israel stretch back over three millennia and are expressed through stories, religious traditions, customs, and many other aspects of Jewish life. Israel is a major part of Jewish identity, both for Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. An overwhelming majority of American Jews agree that the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is an antisemitic statement. The recognition that calls for Israel’s destruction and other tropes about Israel mentioned in the IHRA Working Definition are indeed often antisemitic is shared by the mainstream Jewish community around the world. Jews worldwide, and especially Jewish students, regularly find themselves targeted by exclusion, marginalization, harassment or even violence due to their real or perceived identification with the State of Israel and Zionism. More and more, Jewish students are being forced to relinquish a core part of their identity in order to participate as equals in campus life.
  • What Are These “Alternative Definitions” of Antisemitism I’m Seeing?
    Recently, some groups have proposed their own definitions of antisemitism to replace the IHRA’s version. In some cases these groups were not Jewish and developed these definitions without any consent or input from the mainstream Jewish community. In other cases these definitions were developed by or in collaboration with individuals who represent a small minority of the Jewish community. This recent spate of alternate definitions also appears to be an attempt by a small minority to water down and undermine the fight against antisemitism, and specifically the IHRA working definition, by seeking to extricate Israel from the discussion, in order to legitimize support for the BDS Movement and anti-Zionism, with some veneer of legitimacy. Though these alternative definitions can include potentially helpful language as an addition to the IHRA Working Definition, what all of them have in common on their own is they exclude some or all examples that involve rhetoric or behavior related to Israel or Zionism crossing the line into antisemitism. Whether these alternative definitions were written in good faith or not, they create confusion in defining and understanding antisemitism, especially for those outside of the Jewish community. Additionally, all this does is gaslight the mainstream Jewish community and deny their lived experiences with antisemitism. More information is available here and here. The fact is that anti-Israel rhetoric and actions do sometimes descend into antisemitism and IHRA is the definition that best describes those cases, along with other forms of this hatred. As such, it remains the definition that most accurately captures the lived experiences of Jewish people. While other definitions may be interesting to discuss in an academic setting, using them as a political tool to silence the mainstream Jewish community is an act of bigotry and tokenization.
  • How Can the IHRA Definition Help Universities Combat Antisemitism?
    The IHRA Definition helps those in positions of influence in a university setting to: Identify instances of antisemitism that may not be readily identifiable to all. Create safer places for Jewish students by identifying antisemitism and seeking resolutions at an early stage. Challenge societal stereotypes, biases and hatred, thereby promoting a safer society for all. Record antisemitic incidents and decide on appropriate means, both responsive and proactive, of addressing antisemitism within a university context. The IHRA Definition is already being used by educational institutions around the globe: As a guiding reference. As a part of Codes of Conduct and/or Institutional Values. As part of the training for faculty, staff and other leaders. In educational materials, for example to enhance Holocaust education curriculum. To increase communication and consultation with the Jewish community at the university.
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