EJJP lobbies national delegations to United Nations

EJJP learned that the Israeli Delegation to the UN was planning to table a resolution in the General Assembly endorsing the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. Working with the Palestinian delegation, we quickly drafted our letter and paper in order to lobby all the delegations to reject any such proposal.

Dear Ambassador/Permanent Representative 13 January 2023

re: International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism

We are writing regarding the growing concerns about rising antisemitism and other forms of racism and the need to confront them collectively. Our particular concern is that the issue of antisemitism has in recent years become entangled with the right to criticise Israel, with concerted attempts being made to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD) to characterise fundamental criticism of Israeli policy as antisemitic. .

We understand the Israeli delegation is preparing a resolution endorsing the IHRA WD, intending to table it on the anniversary of passing last year’s resolution on Holocaust denial or on Holocaust Memorial Day. The timing appears to be an attempt to use the entirely legitimate calling out of Holocaust denial as a means of obtaining General Assembly support for the inadequate and biased IHRA WD.

If a resolution is tabled, we urge you to vote against it. The IHRA WD is a very poor tool for identifying genuine antisemitism and lends itself to repressing people’s willingness to criticise Israel for its violations of international law and human rights.

There are a number of reasons for the shortcomings of the IHRA WD.

Its provenance does not give confidence in its objectivity. Despite being taken up by the IHRA, it was actually produced by a very small group of people working for or with big Jewish communal organisations that support Israeli policies.

The definition is bewilderingly imprecise and fails the first test of a definition, which is to define. It is useless for deciding whether any particular statement is antisemitic.

It creates uncertainty as to whether any given statement criticising Israel is legitimate or antisemitic. Therefore it discourages people from criticising Israel for fear of being called antisemitic.

The 11 illustrative examples are heavily biased towards interpreting fundamental criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Two in particular lend themselves to this, i.e. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”, and “applying double standards by requiring of it {Israel} a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Those two examples are often used to demand cancellation of Palestinian support events where BDS will be advocated, despite the fact that boycott and divestment are traditional means of protest against governments that people consider unjust. The right to advocate them is protected in democratic countries by the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Since 2015 there have been a total of 27 Court rulings in western countries that advocating BDS is legal.

By endorsing the IHRA WD, the General Assembly would unwittingly be misdirecting people towards false beliefs about antisemitism.

The IHRA WD privileges Israeli intolerance of criticism over the rights of other people to freedom of speech. By endorsing it, the General Assembly would be undermining the two seminal United Nations declarations on human rights..

All forms of racism are reprehensible and are prohibited by human rights legislation in democratic countries. It is questionable whether any specific form should be elevated above others by having its own definition. However, if the General Assembly wishes to endorse a definition of antisemitism, we would recommend the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA). There are several reasons.

The JDA’s provenance gives confidence in its objectivity. It was framed by an international group of eminent academics in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, Middle East studies and philosophy. They do not all share the same political views and are not seeking to promote a partisan political agenda. It is endorsed by more than 200 scholars from several countries.

It provides a clear definition of antisemitism that enables people to distinguish between statements that are antisemitic and those that are not.

It provides a basis for differentiating logically between legitimate criticism of Israel and criticism which is antisemitic.

It does not create a bias either for or against criticism of Israel.

It supports the legitimacy of criticising Zionism, fundamental criticism of Israeli policy, and advocacy of Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) in protest against Israeli policy.

It is consistent with the right to free speech protected by United Nations Declarations.

To summarise, the General Assembly should not endorse the IHRA WD. If it wishes to endorse a definition of antisemitism, it should endorse the JDA. The paper attached to our covering e-mail provides an analysis of the IHRA WD and the JDA. The list of 27 court rulings and a brief introduction to EJJP are also attached.

Yours sincerely,

Dror Feiler, Chair of EJJP, Judar for Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred (Stockholm).

Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Officer, JFJFP (London)

the EJJP paper analysing the IHRA WD and the JDA can be obtained on request.