On 13 October, EJJP lobbied Miguel Moratinos, Deputy Director General of the United Nations, against adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. The United Nations has been considering promulgating an Action Plan against antisemitism for some two years. It has been under considerable pressure to include the IHRA WD in the plan from Israel and the big Jewish communal organisations that support Israeli policy.
EJJP also lobbied the UN member state delegations and the Head of UNESCO against the IHRA WD earlier in the year when it was thought pressure was again being applied.
Our letter to Mr. Moratinos is below.
13 October 2023
Deputy Secretary General, United Nations
c.c. António Guterres, Secretary General
Dear Deputy Secretary General,
We are writing to you about the Action Plan to combat antisemitism that you are planning to promulgate, and in particular about the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD). We understand you are considering whether to include this definition in the plan. We urge you not to do so. It is not only a poor definition, but it is biased towards seeing fundamental criticism of Israel as hidden antisemitism.
You will no doubt be aware that we have written similarly to UN member delegations and to the Director General of UNESCO earlier in the year.
This is of course an extremely difficult time for Jewish people everywhere, including our members, because of Hamas’ despicable attack on Israeli civilians. Nevertheless, the issue of creating a proper and effective policy to combat antisemitism is separate.
While criticisms of Israel can be hidden antisemitism, it is equally true that allegations of antisemitism can be hidden attempts to suppress criticism. The Action Plan should provide criteria which distinguishes logically between the two. The IHRA WD does not provide that. It does the opposite.
There are a number of reasons for its shortcomings.
Its provenance is a sure clue to its nature. 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 core 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 Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel 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. In fact, since 2015 there have been a total of 27 Court rulings in western countries that advocating BDS is legal.
By adopting the IHRA WD in the Action Plan, the United Nations would unwittingly be misdirecting people towards false beliefs about antisemitism. It would also be undermining the two seminal United Nations declarations on human rights.
Criteria for distinguishing between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitic speech can be provided by the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA).
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 BDS in protest against Israeli policy.
It is consistent with the right to free speech protected by United Nations Declarations.
To sum up, we urge you to adopt the JDA as the appropriate criteria in the Action Plan and not to give any credence to the IHRA WD.
We have attached to our covering e-mail a full analysis of the IHRA WD and the JDA, a brief description of our group and the list of the 27 Court rulings..
We would be happy to meet you on-line to discuss these issues.
Dror Feiler, Chair of EJJP, Judar for Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred (Stockholm).
Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Officer, JFJFP (London)