A Guardian article by Caitlin Cassidy about Melbourne University adopting the IHRA Working Defintion of Antisemitism describes the definition as controversial in the headline (“Melbourne university first in Australia to take up controversial definition of antisemitism”, Jan. 25), and in the first sentence. It also cites “critics” complaining that it could be used to “shut down legitimate criticism of Israel”.
The University of Melbourne has become the first tertiary institution in Australia to adopt a controversial international definition of antisemitism, in a move critics say could be used to shut down legitimate criticism of the state of Israel.
On Wednesday, the university announced it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism as part of its broader “anti-racism commitment”.
In fact, the (non-legally binding) IHRA definition – in addition to being supported by most Jewish organisations – is the most widely used antisemitism definition in the world, with 39 (democratic) countries having adopted it, including a large number of regional and local governments, and law enforcement agencies. The UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed recommended that governments use IHRA, as did the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the EU Council and EU Parliament.
But, as is so often the case with the Guardian reporting on IHRA, the reporter then focuses not on Jews, but on the views of Palestinians.
The IHRA has faced global backlash among Palestinian and Arab scholars who argue its definition of antisemitism, which includes “targeting the state of Israel”, could be used to shut down legitimate criticism of Israel and stifle freedom of expression, citing the banning of events supporting Palestinian rights on campuses after the definition was adopted by universities in the United Kingdom.
First, as Dave Rich of the CST argued in a detailed defense of IHRA, “it is hard to see how a non-legal definition with no legal authority could undermine legally-guaranteed rights to free expression and academic freedom”. Moreover, the dishonesty of the partial quote from the definition used by the journalist, as including “targeting the state of Israel“, is apparent when you read the two sentences in full:
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
Note the qualifying word “might” before “include”, clearly indicating that not all “targeting of the state of Israel” should be considered antisemitic. And, as you can see, the sentence that follows, omitted by the Guardian, is even more important, as it notes that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
IHRA also includes examples of where criticism of Israel can cross the line into antisemitism.
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- 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.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
The Guardian article also includes the following:
Ghassan Hage, a former professor at the University of Melbourne, was among 122 Palestinian and Arab figures to sign an open letter in 2020 expressing concerns the IHRA’s broad definition was being deployed to “shut down defenders of Palestinian rights”.
However, as our colleague demonstrated in this detailed analysis, many of the signatories to that letter engaged in antisemitic rhetoric themselves, including accusing Jews of dual loyalty; of controlling the media and banks; of “whining” about the Holocaust and pedaling “fairy tales” about the Final Solution; and of being part of a “pampered religion.” Some have celebrated terrorists who murdered innocent Jewish civilians, whilst others excused those responsible for vile antisemitism, including the claim that Jews use Christian blood in their rituals, Holocaust denial, and calls to “kill the Jews.”
As such, it’s not hard to understand why so many of those Palestinian signers would want to control the definition of antisemitism, and, specifically, oppose IHRA. Nor, is it difficult for followers of our blog to understand why the Guardian continues to gaslight the Jewish community about the nature of modern antisemitism.