Antisemitism, in all forms, needs to be fought globally
During the recent Israel-Hamas conflict, a pro-Palestinian caravan drove through West Hollywood, Los Angeles. Passing a sushi restaurant, they leapt from their cars, asked Jewish diners to identify themselves, and began violently attacking them.
That same week in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jewish teens were attacked outside a synagogue by three men who allegedly yelled, “Kill the Jews.”
A Jewish family walking home from synagogue in South Florida was harassed by a group of individuals in a car who yelled, “Free Palestine … die Jew.”
While these incidents made national headlines, even prompting President Biden to issue a public statement denouncing the attacks on Jews, saying, “These attacks are despicable, unconscionable, un-American, and they must stop,” the frightening resurgence in antisemitism in the U.S. and across the globe is nothing new. The ADL reported that antisemitism remained at a historic high in 2020. In fact, 63% of Americans have experienced or witnessed antisemitism in the past five years.
The sharp uptick in antisemitism is not going away, and it requires immediate attention.
Efforts to address this rise in the world’s oldest hatred, however, have long been hampered by a lack of definition.
While the assaults in New York, Los Angeles and Florida were obvious, without an internationally accepted definition of antisemitism, how can we put a stop to the less obvious forms of antisemitism that inspire and incite violent attacks? How can law enforcement determine whether a hate crime has been committed? How can we know whether a Jewish student was subject to an antisemitic attack or simply offended and uncomfortable?
Scholars have been working to address this need. In the early 2000s, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) published a working draft definition of antisemitism, including examples of anti-Israel antisemitism such as blaming Jews for the actions of Israel’s government, like we witnessed in May. Within the U.S., the Department of State under Secretary Hillary Clinton adopted this definition in 2010. This definition was also adopted in 2016 with minor modifications by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Since then, dozens of UN member states, including the U.S. and a majority of EU member states, have adopted or endorsed the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, as have many prominent and prestigious universities; major international companies including Daimler AG and Volkswagen; the International Muslim clerical council known as the Global Imams Council; and even the English Premier League.
According to the Executive Order Combating AntiSemitism, application of the IHRA definition in determining discrimination “shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment. As with all other Title VI complaints, inquiry into whether a particular act constitutes discrimination prohibited by Title VI will require a detailed analysis of the allegations.”
The U.S. is a bastion for free speech, particularly political speech. What many western countries prohibit as hate speech, the Supreme Court has consistently protected as free speech.
The link between anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism was made abundantly clear by the 75% increase in antisemitic incidents in America during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict. This is precisely why a definition of antisemitism, one that recognizes the reality that contemporary Jew hatred uses the terms “Jews,” “Zionist” and “Israel” interchangeably, is necessary. And it is why the IHRA definition is the internationally accepted gold standard.
Our actions today can help prevent the next Los Angeles, Brooklyn or Florida-style attack. Many nations, including Muslimmajority Albania, and groups like the Global Imams Council, have reached a consensus in the effort to define antisemitism. Moreover, within the Jewish community, 51 organizations across the religious and political spectrum, including the leading institutions of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, have adopted the IHRA definition. Now is the time to unite behind the IHRA definition of antisemitism and address all manifestations of antisemitism. Now is the time to call on additional organizations, universities, countries and the United Nations to endorse the IHRA definition. United, we can effectively combat the world’s oldest hatred, domestically and internationally, in the years to come.