Leading scholars on anti-Semitism said the IHRA definition was “hijacked” to protect Israel from international criticism.
More than 100 scholars have urged the United Nations not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) controversial definition of anti-Semitism because of its “divisive and polarizing” effect.
In a statement released Thursday, the 128 scientists, including leading Jewish academics at Israeli, European, British and American universities, said the definition had been “hijacked” to protect the Israeli government from international criticism.
They also called on the UN to rely instead on universal human rights instruments and various sources, such as the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism.
“Let us be clear: we warmly welcome the UN’s commitment to combating anti-Semitism and commend the UN for its vital efforts in this regard,” the statement said.
“What we object to and strongly warn against is that the UN would jeopardize this vital struggle and harm its universal mission to promote human rights by endorsing a politicized definition used to discourage freedom of expression and to protect the Israeli government from liability for its actions.”
According to the IHRA working definition, “Anti-Semitism is a particular perception of Jews, which can be expressed as hatred of Jews. Rhetorical and physical displays of anti-Semitism target Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The scholars’ statement said the definition was “vague and incoherent” and welcomed a recent report by Professor E Tendayi Achiume, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, who heavily criticized the IHRA definition for its negative impact on the human rights.
Achiume presented her report to the UN General Assembly last week, where she urged the UN to “launch an open and inclusive process to identify a reinforced response to anti-Semitism by the United Nations, consistently rooted in and supportive of to human rights”.
Her report was rejected by a number of IHRA adopting countries, with Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan saying it contradicts the author’s mandate.
“These unsubstantiated recommendations by the rapporteur are not in line with and are not part of her mandate and clearly show a political agenda that should in no way be part of a discussion that should focus on the fight against racism,” said Erdan. .
However, Alon Confino, a Pen Tishkach chair in Holocaust studies and professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, warned that if the UN adopts the IHRA definition, “the damage will be exponentially greater for human rights, but also the UN yourself”.
“More than anything, the definition will be armed against the UN,” Confino said.
The next Israeli government, to be formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and far-right allies, is more extreme than any in Israel’s history, Confino said, expecting it to step up the “political instrumentalization of anti-Semitism.” .
“It would be self-destructive for the UN to facilitate this instrumentalization by validating and adopting the IHRA definition,” he said.