Mike Offner
Writer and lifelong student.

IHRA’s definition of antiSemitism is critical

As we come to grips with rising antiSemitism globally, some are focusing renewed attacks on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antiSemitism.

But a careful read of some “criticism” of the IHRA definition of antiSemitism reveals that the critics do not produce any logical criticism of the definition, but rather take issue with how some people or groups might employ that definition.

The critics then extrapolate to say that the definition itself is flawed, rather than that the manner in which some people or groups might use it is flawed.

The main, perhaps sole focus of the “criticism” of the IHRA definition is the following component:

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

The issue the critics take is that this component could or can be or is in fact, in their view, used by some defenders of Israel to “deflect” any and all criticism
The self-styled, “leftist” Jacobin magazine even goes so far as to lump “Israel and its supporters” into a single group, completely ignoring the massive disagreements among Israelis, Jewish Israelis, Jewish Americans, and the Jewish people globally:

One example condemns “applying double standards” to Israel by “requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Who is guilty of these double standards? According to Israel and its supporters, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Criminal Court, the European Union, and the United Nations. In short, every significant organization and agency — however judicious, however respected, however responsible — trying to hold Israel accountable for its international law violations. (emphasis added)

There is perhaps nothing more definitionally bigoted than lumping any group into an aritifcial, imagined, and false cluster of homogeneity.

There is no single person or entity who constitutes “Israel and its supporters.”

Referring to actions by “Israel and its supporters” is like referring to actions by “Blacks,” “gays”, or “women” collectively, as though all people who identify as such must all hold identical opinions.

Would it be reasonable to define “the United States and its supporters” as meaning Donald Trump and his allies?

The Jacobin argument implies that it would be inconceivable that Temple Israel of Boston, perhaps the largest synagogue in New England, recently hosted a conversation with IDF veterans who are part of Breaking the Silence, self-described as “an organization of veteran soldiers who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.”

The Jacobin argument would have readers baffled that the latest Israeli elections were as divided and contentious, if not even more so, than recent elections in the United States.

The Jacobin argument would have readers baffled that no single party got even 24% of the vote in the recent Israeli elections, and that the second highest vote total went to the Yesh Atid party, whose emotionally crushed leader said:

Every Israeli citizen – religious or secular, leftist or rightist, Jewish or Arab, straight or LGBTQ+ – should know tonight that we will continue to fight for Israel to be a Jewish, democratic, liberal and progressive state.


Just as Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett of the Supreme Court of the United States have taken away rights from Blacks and women, there are Jewish people who, for whatever reasons, whether self-hatred, desire to assimilate, discomfort with not being Christian, or some other reasons, choose to support and fuel antiSemitism.

Of course their voices are welcomed and amplified by others promoting antiSemitism, just as Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett hold special places of appreciation among many conservative politicians.

This past Shabbat’s Torah section is “Toldot”, and contains, literally, a struggle in Rebecca’s womb between twins Isaac and Esau.

And from there the story gets even more complicated, symbolic and open to endless interpretations about the entire history of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. And in our annual reading of the Torah, we are just part way into the book of Genesis, which is merely the first of the five Books of Moses.

Disagreement and struggle among the Jewish people are literally as old as Judaism, and present throughout the Torah and other Jewish literature. Judaism, in many ways, is defined by cherishing and valuing internal debate.

Anyone referring to “Israel and its supporters” and/or “Zionists” as clearly defined and homogenous groups reflects merely their own ignorance and bias, and no truth of any kind.

The IHRA definition of antiSemitism is well thought out, the best we have, critically relevant today, and affirmatively declares that criticism of actions of the Israeli government does not, on its own, constitute antiSemitism.

About the Author
Mike Offner was born and raised in Newton, MA, and is a graduate of the Newton Public Schools, Yale University, and Harvard Law School.
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