The Battle over the Meaning of anti-Semitism


Editorial Note

Even before Joe Biden was sworn as the new president, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel groups, among them academics, have urged to abandon the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of anti-Semitism. They hope that the Democratic administration would undo Trump’s Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism, issued on December 11, 2019.  

Trump’s Executive Order stated: “My Administration is committed to combating the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and around the world.  Anti-Semitic incidents have increased since 2013, and students, in particular, continue to face anti Semitic harassment in schools and on university and college campuses.” As a result, “Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.”

The Executive Order instructed agencies charged with enforcing Title VI to consider the IHRA Definition, which states:  

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.  Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The examples identified by IHRA “might be useful as evidence of discriminatory intent.” 

Trump ordered that “the head of each agency charged with enforcing Title VI shall submit a report to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, identifying additional nondiscrimination authorities within its enforcement authority with respect to which the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism could be considered.”

The U.K. has followed suit. As IAM reported on October 15, 2020, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has warned universities that they could have their funding cut if they refuse to adopt the IHRA definition. He noted “too many disturbing incidents of anti-Semitism on campus and a lack of willingness by too many universities to confront this.” He added that “While many universities have rightly been quick over the summer to demonstrate their readiness to take action against other forms of racism, it is frankly disturbing that so many are dragging their feet on the matter of anti-Semitism.”  Williamson has asked university officials to consider directing their Office for Students to impose a new regulatory condition of registration using the IHRA Definition. Otherwise, they will face suspension of funding.

Soon after Trump’s Executive Order was announced, the media reported that “the move appears to be targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement,” which encourages boycott against Israel “for what it deems violations of international law.” BDS groups on college campuses hold annual events like “Israeli Apartheid Week” to push for Palestinian rights. The critics argued that Trump might use the order to “pander to Jewish constituents” or “as a goodwill gesture toward Israel,” which “tries to combat anti-Semitism and the BDS movement around the world.” Others worried that the “broadened definition of anti-Semitism” could infringe on free speech.

One such critic was Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who said that the move would “silence Palestinian rights activism” because “Many Israeli apartheid apologists… are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win.”

Evidently, many pro-Palestinians are putting all their weight behind the campaign to cancel the IHRA Definition. Omar Barghouti, the Qatari born Palestinian and one of the key activists in the BDS movement, would speak in a Zoom briefing on Sat, 23 January 2021, titled “how to oppose the IHRA definition across the UK, and Gavin Williamson’s attempt to impose it in England.” Worth noting, Barghouti lives in Israel and has studied at Tel Aviv University for nearly a decade. Other briefing participants are Ben Jamal, Naomi Wimborne Idrissi, Jonathan Rosenhead, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, Tom Hickey, Mark Abel, Ghada Karmi, and Richard Kuper. The Zoom briefing is organized and hosted by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP). 

The purpose is to discuss how to “understand and resist” the pressure on universities and colleges to adopt the “contentious” IHRA Definition and “the Gavin Williamson’s attempt to force universities to comply through the threat of financial penalties.” The briefing will “address both the abuse of the definition as a means of silencing Palestine advocacy, and the attack on academic freedom and university autonomy.”  The briefing aims to “provide a toolkit for negotiating with managements, preparing motions or statements or talks on the definition, and campaigning amongst staff and students.”

Also, BRICUP intends to discuss the “misuse” of the IHRA definition, which “conflicts with the responsibilities of universities under the Equality and Education Acts,” and the potential impact on “freedom of academic staff to teach and research in their fields.” Students’ ability to debate issues on Palestine/Israel and to “interrogate the nature of Zionism.” How staff and Academic Boards in universities, and trade unions in colleges and elsewhere, “can resist the adoption of the definition by their institutions, and how they can defend Palestine advocacy in the face of the definition.”

Members of BRICUP perceive the IHRA Definition as “inadequate” because “It fails to capture some of the most virulent and most insidious forms of the disease; and its ambiguity and lack of precision leaves it seriously defective for use for either disciplinary, regulatory or legal purposes. It is also mired in controversy as an unsubtle attempt to block campaigns over the suppression of Palestinian rights by allowing them to become targeted as antisemitic.” BRICUP argues that “Palestinians have long warned that the widespread adoption of the definition and its examples would block campaigns over the suppression of Palestinian rights in just this manner.”   

Interestingly, however, there are no clauses in the IHRA definition which infringe on Palestinian rights, nor does it mention BDS. The only three clauses that could affect Palestinians are:  “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor;” “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;” and “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Supporting the IHRA Definition is Kenneth L. Marcus, the author of the book “The Definition of Anti-Semitism.”  He noted that, as Vice President, Biden has spoken about the need to address anti-Semitism. Marcus suggested two new tools that can help President Biden fighting anti-Semitism. First, the legislation passed by the US Congress in late December elevate the State Department’s special envoy on anti-Semitism to ambassadorial status. Such a move should enable the Biden administration to fight anti-Semitism more effectively on a global scale. Second, the European Commission and IHRA released a new handbook presenting the IHRA Working Definition within the context of twenty-two real-world anti-Semitic incidents and crimes. 

Marcus’s proposal is useful. In order to fight anti-Semitism, any incident suspected as anti-Semitic should be evaluated with the framework of the IHRA Working Definition to clarify whether it is anti-Semitic or not. Quite possibly, some pro-Palestinian activism on and off-campus may be considered anti-Semitic, a prospect that has fueled their efforts to do away with the IHRA Definition. 

Date And Time       Sat, 23 January 2021       12:30 – 15:15 IST


Online Event

How to oppose the IHRA definition across the UK, and Gavin Williamson’s attempt to impose it in England.

About this Event

Omar Barghouti • Ben Jamal • Naomi Wimborne Idrissi • Jonathan Rosenhead • Salma Karmi-Ayyoub • Tom Hickey • Mark Abel • Ghada Karmi • Richard Kuper

Organised and hosted by BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine)

This is a Zoom briefing on how to understand and resist the pressure on universities and colleges across the country to adopt the contentious IHRA Definition of Antisemitism. In England this has now taken a new form: the attempt by the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, to force universities to comply through the threat of financial penalties.

The briefing will address both the abuse of the definition as a means of silencing Palestine advocacy, and the attack on academic freedom and university autonomy which Wiliamson’s demand represents. And it is designed to provide a toolkit for negotiating with managements, preparing motions or statements or talks on the definition, and campaigning amongst staff and students.

Registered participants will receive informative documents in advance, and will be sent log-on details on the day before the event.

The briefing will cover

  • the origin and misuse of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism;
  • how the IHRA definition conflicts with the responsibilities of universities under the Equality and Education Acts, and the legal status of Gavin Williamson’s threat;
  • the potential impact of adopting the definition on university autonomy, and on the freedom of academic staff to teach and research in their fields – especially but not only if they involve the study of the Middle East;
  • the potential impact of the definition on students’ ability to debate Palestine/Israel issues on university campuses, and to interrogate the nature of Zionism; and
  • how individual staff and Academic Boards in universities, and trade unions in colleges and elsewhere, can resist the adoption of the definition by their institutions, and how they can defend Palestine advocacy in the face of the definition.


Introductory remarks Jonathan Rosenhead  (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine – BRICUP)

The context  Ben Jamal   (Palestine Solidarity Campaign – PSC)

Omar Barghouti   (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – PACBI)

Session One

Chair and respondent  Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi  (Free Speech on Israel)

Jonathan Rosenhead  What’s wrong with the IHRA Definition?

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub   (Barrister and Consultant on Human Rights)  The legal status of the IHRA definition, and of Williamson’s threat


Session Two

Chair and respondent   Ghada Karmi   (Author, Activist and Academic)

Tom Hickey   (BRICUP)   The definition and its impact on research, teaching and debate about Palestine

Mark Abel   (University of Brighton UCU)   Defending Palestine advocacy and academic freedom


Closing remarks

Richard Kuper (Jewish Voice for Labour and socialist publisher)   and  Jonathan Rosenhead  (BRICUP)  

  Participants may find the latest edition of the BRICUP Newsletter (no.138) helpful. This and all previous issues can be accessed on the BRICUP website.  


  Left-Wing Jewish Groups’ Rejection of Holocaust Alliance Antisemitism Definition Meets Criticism  

  by Algemeiner StaffJANUARY 12, 2021 6:19 PM

A statement from a coalition of progressive Jewish groups rejecting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism because it included anti-Zionism among its examples encountered criticism on social media on Tuesday.

The statement from the Progressive Israel Network, which includes the left-wing lobby group J Street, argued that the definition — which has been adopted by dozens of governments, NGOs, sporting organizations and other civic institutions around the world — stifles “legitimate free speech, criticism of Israeli government actions, and advocacy for Palestinian rights.”

The statement acknowledged that there “can be no doubt that some anti-Zionists and critics of Israeli policy can sometimes cross the line into antisemitism.” However, it went on to describe as “harmful overreach” the US State Department’s “unambiguous declarations that  ‘anti-Zionism is antisemitism’ and that ‘the Global BDS Campaign [is] a manifestation of antisemitism.’”

The statement echoed similar objections to the IHRA definition expressed by pro-Palestinian groups.

The words “Zionism” and “anti-Zionism” do not appear in the actual definition, which emphasizes that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

In an article this week for the British journal Fathom, Dave Rich — director of policy for the Community Security Trust (CST) of the UK Jewish community — pointed out that IHRA definition’s examples mentioning both Jews and Israel include: “‘Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust’; ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’; ‘Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis’; or ‘Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.’”

Of the definitions critics, Rich wrote, “Do [they] really intend to claim that these examples suppress legitimate, non-antisemitic criticism of the State of Israel? If that is the case, let them try. They will struggle to persuade many people of their argument.”

Mainstream Jewish groups in the US support the IHRA definition in full. Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on Twitter on Monday that the definition “is a useful tool in fighting #antisemitism & does not restrict legitimate criticism of Israel.”

Continued Greenblatt: “To be clear, antisemitism referencing Israel still is antisemitism.”


Biden has new tools to fight anti-Semitism

Working with allies who have demonstrated their commitment to human-rights values, the president-elect can use the new anti-Semitism ambassador to strengthen American international leadership.By Kenneth L. Marcus

(January 8, 2021 / JNS) President-elect Joe Biden has two new tools that can help him in his professed priority to strengthen international ties, support human rights and combat anti-Semitism. The new tools play well to Biden’s foreign-relations experience and enduring belief in internationalism, which favors intergovernmental alliances, democratic cooperation and a liberal rule-based order.

First, in late December, Congress passed legislation elevating the State Department’s special envoy on anti-Semitism to ambassadorial status. This should enable the Biden administration to fight anti-Semitism more effectively on a global scale.

The outgoing special envoy, Elan Carr, did a remarkable job raising public awareness about the world’s oldest hatred. His predecessors in prior administrations—Ira Forman, Hannah Rosenthal and Greg Rickman—were also strong.

The enhanced position should enable Biden to succeed Carr with a high-profile successor who can work even more effectively with foreign peers. The candidates reportedly under consideration are highly qualified, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman and Sharon Nazarian.

Second, just today, the European Commission and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) released an excellent new handbook on fighting anti-Semitism. It presents the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, along with its guiding examples and relates those to the contexts of 22 real-world anti-Semitic incidents and crimes. The European Union had already called on its member states, as recently as December 2020, to use this definition to identify anti-Semitic incidents.

The handbook is issued to bolster this call within the European Union and to show how the working definition, including its guiding examples, can be used as a powerful defense against anti-Semitism. Its strength is in its real-world examples and best practices for policymakers.

This European contribution will reinforce longstanding U.S. efforts to make the working definition more widely adopted as the global standard. The George W. Bush administration had used a predecessor version of the IHRA definition for international affairs. The Obama administration had developed its own, nearly identical definition for this same purpose. The Trump administration adopted the IHRA definition by executive order, applying it domestically as well as internationally.

While the European Commission’s directives apply, as its name suggests, to the European Union, the United States is an IHRA member-state so the document applies here as well. This gives important elevation to the status of the IHRA definition in this country. While the Trump administration tended to go its own way, asserting leadership through mechanisms such as the Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism, the Biden team gravitates more towards international efforts such as this one.

The handbook observes that the working definition has been used by parliaments, governments, ministries, courts, law-enforcement agencies, city councils, civil-society organizations and (crucially) universities. For U.S. domestic purposes, the most important section addresses higher education, which has been a flashpoint for anti-Jewish incidents here.

It also observes that anti-Semitism in educational institutions often remains “invisible, unaddressed and unchallenged.” This is especially true when it is guised as anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel. This is a key reason why definitions are needed. Notably, the U.S. government began using the Working Definition in its oversight of higher administration during the outgoing administration.

The handbook reveals that the working definition is quickly gaining higher-education traction worldwide. For example, the German Rectors’ Conference, representing 94 percent of students at German universities, adopted the definition, declaring that it “provides a clear basis for recognizing hatred of Jews and is thus an important tool in combating it.” The rectors observed that the definition “takes into account” Israel-related anti-Semitism. The Romanian Ministry of Education promotes the adoption, by universities, of a code of conduct on anti-Semitism that incorporates the definition. Cambridge University decided, in November 2020, to adopt the definition as a “test to establish whether behavior that is in breach of the University’s rules is anti-Semitic.”

Although U.S. universities have lagged behind, they are now beginning to follow their European peers. For example, in August 2020, Florida State University’s president publicly endorsed the working definition and its contemporary examples. And in September 2020, New York University agreed to incorporate the IHRA definition into its revised non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy as part of its settlement agreement with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. These institutions are overcoming political resistance from critics of Israel, as well as erroneous charges that the definition would stifle free debate. Used properly, the definition can facilitate free speech while educating all participants in the ways that some speech can be hurtful and some conduct hateful.

These new tools can help Biden integrate domestic and international agendas. The former U.S. vice president has spoken passionately about the need to address anti-Semitism. Working with allies who have demonstrated with this new handbook their commitment to the human-rights values that he champions, he can use the new anti-Semitism ambassador to strengthen American international leadership.

Kenneth L. Marcus is founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and author of “The Definition of Anti-Semitism.” He served as Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights (2018-2020).


Why are people fighting the IHRA definition of antisemitism?

Here’s what the IHRA definition says, why its supporters see it as a key for fighting Jew-hatred and why its critics are fighting it.

By BEN SALES/JTA   JANUARY 16, 2021 11:47

antisemitism signifies hatred of Jews and the ways that hatred is perpetuated through age-old conspiracy theories and their modern variants. But what about when that hatred is expressed through rhetoric about the Jewish state? Is anti-Zionism antisemitism?
Those questions have divided American Jews in recent years — and are doing so again this week.
Establishment Jewish groups want Joe Biden’s administration to treat some anti-Israel speech as antisemitism. Progressive Jewish groups disagree, worried about chilling or criminalizing legitimate criticism of Israeli policy.
At the center of the debate is a 500-word “working definition” of antisemitism, published in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA. That definition seeks to provide a guide to which statements or actions qualify as antisemitism.
It ranges from stereotypes about Jews to incitement of violence to Holocaust denial. A growing list of countries, international agencies, universities and sports teams have adopted the definition in an effort to help them recognize Jew-hatred.
But its provisions on rhetoric around Israel have sparked contentious debate, which was heightened last year when President Donald Trump signed an executive order essentially adopting the working definition as a reference for adjudicating civil rights complaints on campus. This debate has continued even as the IHRA has emphasized that the definition is not legally binding.
Here’s what the IHRA definition says, why its supporters see it as a key for fighting Jew-hatred and why its critics are fighting it.
The definition is an effort to describe an age-old hatred.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is an international network of academics, museum heads and nonprofit leaders from 34 countries that promotes Holocaust research and education.
In 2016, facing rising antisemitism around the world, the alliance drafted a definition of antisemitism that was aimed at helping countries, institutions and organizations recognize when it was taking place, and monitor and record it. The IHRA definition was based on an earlier one formulated in 2005 by a European Union agency.
The later effort was prompted by “a surge in antisemitic incidents in Western Europe, with attacks on Jewish targets including schools and synagogues,” reads a pamphlet published by the American Jewish Committee advocating for the working definition. “Governments were slow to recognize them, let alone respond to them.”
The document aims to help countries do that and covers a range of different ways that hatred of Jews can manifest.
According to the definition, antisemitism “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and that antisemitism could take physical or rhetorical form and be directed at Jews as well as non-Jews, in addition to property and institutions.
The document lists 11 ways that antisemitism could take shape. They include calling for Jews to be killed, advancing enduring Jewish stereotypes about conspiracy and control, blaming Jews as a group for the actions of individuals or various forms of denying the Holocaust.
Six of the 11 examples have to do principally with certain kinds of rhetoric around Israel. They include:

Accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel or to a global Jewish agenda than to their home countries.
Denying Jews the right to self-determination or calling Israel a “racist endeavor.”
Applying a double standard to Israel that isn’t applied to other countries.
Applying classic antisemitic smears, like the blood libel, to Israel.
Comparing Israel to the Nazis.
Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.

The definition says antisemitism “frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong.’”
It is increasingly being seen as the guidebook for fighting antisemitism across the globe.
Since it was drafted, the working definition has gained currency in a growing number of nations and organizations. To date, 28 countries — mostly in Europe — have adopted the definition to help them determine what constitutes antisemitism.
In December, the Council of the European Union invited the bloc’s 27 member states to adopt the definition. Various other pan-European bodies have endorsed it as well, and in 2018 U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the definition can “can serve as a basis for law enforcement, as well as preventive policies.”
Some nongovernmental institutions — such as universities, soccer teams and, recently, an international Muslim clerical council — have also adopted the definition as a way to identify antisemitism. Last year, 145 Jewish and pro-Israel organizations wrote a letter to Facebook encouraging the platform to use the definition “as the cornerstone of Facebook’s hate speech policy regarding antisemitism.”
The U.S. State Department uses a similar definition of antisemitism, which it adopted in 2010. President George W. Bush’s State Department had endorsed the definition’s predecessor in 2007 as an “adequate initial guide” to antisemitism.
The Trump administration was even more reliant on the definition. Last year, an executive order by Trump instructed the Executive Branch to consider the IHRA definition, including its 11 examples, when investigating civil rights complaints — including those filed to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights regarding alleged discrimination on campus.
On Tuesday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a coalition of establishment Jewish groups, sent a letter to Biden asking him to adopt Trump’s policy regarding the IHRA definition.
“We believe that all federal departments and agencies should, in their work, consider the IHRA working definition of antisemitism (with examples),” says the letter, which was sent on Jan. 12 and first reported by Jewish Insider. “We urge your administration to maintain and build upon these policies of the last three presidents.”
Critics, especially Palestinians and their advocates, say the IHRA definition inhibits free speech.
As adoption of the IHRA definition has spread, so have protests against it from coalitions of activists and academics.
The definition’s opponents say its clauses on Israel will have a chilling effect on debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They worry that in condemning some forms of anti-Israel speech, the definition will serve to label all critics of Israel, or pro-Palestinian activists, as antisemites.
“The effort to combat antisemitism is being misused and exploited to instead suppress legitimate free speech, criticism of Israeli government actions, and advocacy for Palestinian rights,” reads a statement opposing adoption of the IHRA definition made Jan. 12 by a coalition of American Jewish organizations with progressive positions on Israel.
Palestinians have said that the Israel provisions, including the one that bans calling Israel racist, serve to make Israel immune to criticism for its treatment of Palestinians and for what they view as its violation of international law.
“To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity,” a group of 122 Palestinian academics and writers wrote in The Guardian. “The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination.”
In 2018, British Jews slammed the country’s Labour Party for adopting the definition but initially refusing to include several of the Israel-related provisions. At the time, the party was embroiled in controversy over mounting allegations of antisemitism against its officials and particularly its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime harsh critic of Israel.
Debate over the definition has flared again in the United Kingdom after the country’s education secretary instructed universities to adopt the definition. While Oxford and Cambridge have adopted the definition in recent weeks, according to The Guardian, a letter published by eight prominent British lawyers last week argues against adopting the definition.
Defenders point to the definition’s nuance on Israel and support for free speech.
The definition’s advocates say the definition distinguishes between legitimate criticism of Israel and instances where rhetoric either crosses the line into antisemitism or uses critique of the Jewish state as a front for hatred of Jews.
The definition makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The AJC pamphlet says the definition concerns itself only with “where and how anti-Israel animus can become a form of antisemitism, separate and apart from criticism of Israel,” and that “its careful wording leaves a wide berth for sharp and vigorous criticism of Israel’s government and policies.”
What’s more, the definition itself states that it is “non-legally binding,” and in introductions to the brochure, officials stress that point to argue that the definition should not be an obstacle to free speech.
“Non-legally binding in its nature, the working definition is helpful in public discourse as well as training for media, educators and public authorities, without impeding the legal right to freedom of speech,” writes Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism.
What was supposed to be a helpful guide has become a instrument of division.
The irony in all this is that the definition was supposed to help resolve debates over what constitutes antisemitism, not start them. But the definition has become divisive as activists have sought to give it the force of law — something that, according to one of the definition’s authors, was never supposed to happen.
“It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code,” Kenneth Stern, director of the Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College, wrote in a 2019 Guardian op-ed opposing Trump’s executive order.
Stern added that he fears right-wing pro-Israel groups “will hunt political speech with which they disagree, and threaten to bring legal cases. I’m worried administrators will now have a strong motivation to suppress, or at least condemn, political speech for fear of litigation.”
Some pro-Israel advocates have also sought to widen the definition’s scope. In a New York Times op-ed about Trump’s executive order, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner appeared to interpret the IHRA definition more expansively.
Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, wrote that the definition “makes clear” that “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism” — though the word “Zionism” does not appear in the definition itself. In employing the definition, he wrote, the executive order prevented students from harassing Jews under the guise of criticizing Israel.
“It has become fashionable among Jew haters to characterize any discriminatory behavior — no matter how loathsome — not as criticism of Jews, but of Israel,” he wrote. “This is a lie. Especially on college campuses, where discrimination, harassment and intimidation of Jewish students has become commonplace and is routinely, but wrongly, justified.”
All of this debate is now associated with the definition. That’s why the question of whether the U.S. should keep using it as its framework for identifying antisemitism has become one of the first open disputes among American Jews regarding the Biden administration.


How Israel is harming the war on antisemitism

Noa LandauPublished at 04:30

Behind the scenes, a stormy argument is taking place in the Jewish world between two camps that were aptly defined by the late Prof. Yehuda Elkana – the one that, ever since the Holocaust, has been saying “never again,” and the one that has been saying “never again to us.” Recently, this issue has been the focus of the first public battle within the American Jewish community in the run-up to Joe Biden’s inauguration as president.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is an international project that seeks to define what antisemitism is for countries and organizations worldwide in order to help them fight it, legally and educationally. On the face of it, this is a worthy goal. But the definition IHRA adopted in 2016 has become the subject of a fierce political controversy, with the Israeli government orchestrating and intensifying the drama.

The reason is the definition’s focus on examples of the “new antisemitism” against Israel as a Jewish collective. Or in other words, on whether criticism of Israel that reaches the point of anti-Zionism is necessarily antisemitic.

Thus, for instance, its examples of antisemitism include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” An especially deceptive example, however, is “applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” After all, the Israeli-Palestinian situation is a very specific one, and so, presumably, is the criticism aimed at it.

These examples have sparked concern among many individuals and groups, including liberal Jewish organizations, that IHRA’s definition infringes on freedom of expression in a way that allows criticism of Israel to be branded antisemitic. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has proven in recent years that this concern is justified.

Netanyahu, the Strategic Affairs Ministry under its previous minister, Gilad Erdan, the Foreign Ministry (which has made promoting the IHRA definition a supreme diplomatic goal), and Jewish organizations funded by Israel have all argued repeatedly, citing IHRA, that the BDS movement, for example, is antisemitic. Israel has thereby proven that IHRA’s definition of antisemitism indeed has a political aspect.

In addition, the Netanyahu government has deliberately blurred the Green Line between criticism of Israel and criticism of the settlements, thereby further fanning the controversy. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration then added fuel to the fire when it announced that it planned to label important human rights organizations like Amnesty International “antisemitic.”

Since the IHRA definition was drafted, 28 countries and numerous organizations, including universities and sports associations, have adopted it, with encouragement from the Israel lobby. Last week, the European Commission even issued a nonbinding recommendation on the matter. Israel would dearly love for Facebook and Twitter to adopt it as well.

Last week, in a step that flew under the radar of the Israeli discourse, 10 liberal Jewish organizations, including J Street and the New Israel Fund, issued an unusual joint call for the Biden administration not to implement its predecessor’s pledge to enshrine the IHRA definition in law. This was in contrast to establishment Jewish organizations, which have been urging the Biden administration to adopt it.

The inauguration of a Democratic president provides an opportunity for Israel to reconsider, in light of the fact that its involvement is harming the war on antisemitism more than it is helping. The politicization of this issue is clearly an unwise, erroneous step that has also proven counterproductive; it is a battle that has actually served to strengthen the BDS movement.

BRICUP Newsletter 138
November-December 2020
P 2. Special Issue of Molecules: An Ongoing Saga. Malcolm H. Levitt, Professor of Physical Chemistry, University of Southampton
P 4. Limiting free speech (on Israel) and Controlling Virtual Spaces:
Adam Abdulla, Apartheid off Campus, University of Leeds
P 5. Terrorism and false claims of ‘Islamo-leftism’ add to troubles on French university campuses
Robert Boyce- BRICUP
P 6. Undefining Antisemitism
Tom Hickey and Jonathan Rosenhead -BRICUP
P 9. A statement from 400+ Current UK Students on IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
P 10. Americans for Peace Now Refuses to Adopt ‘Weaponized’ Definition of Antisemitism
P 11. The University of Cambridge Adopts the IHRA Definition
Announcement P 11. Report on systematic targeting of Palestinian academia News from PACBI P 11. Israel lobby spreads more lies about Palestine groups at New York University
From the Electronic Intifada
Steven H. Miles, The Torture Doctors: Human Rights Crimes and the Road to Justice (.
Derek Summerfield
UK scholars to human rights in Palestine.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: We welcome comments from our Supporters on any of the issues raised in our newsletter
Special Issue of Molecules: An Ongoing Saga
Malcolm H. Levitt, Professor of Physical Chemistry, University of Southampton
Scientific publishing is a strange business. Publishing houses make profits through the following extraordinary business model: (1) hundreds of highly qualified professionals perform thousands of hours of academic and scientific research at the expense of the tax payers or charitable foundations, (2) they and their teams produce with great care scientific publications conforming to rigorous quality standards, (3) the research teams typeset their papers at their own expense using freely available software, to the specifications of the journal, (4) the paper is submitted to rigorous peer review by other highly qualified professionals, performed entirely without pay, (5) if successful, the authors’ institution pays a large fee to publish the article in one of the many thousands of scientific journals, with transfer of copyright to the publisher, (6) the authors or institution libraries buy back the rights to view or use the articles, even if they themselves did all the work and wrote the article. Steps (1) to (4) are performed entirely free, at no cost to the publishing house. Steps (5) and (6) result in huge profit for the publishers. It is all completely mad and has been for years. The scientific world is struggling like an insect in a spider’s web to break free from this insane model, but it is remarkably resilient, for reasons beyond the scope of this article.
Not surprisingly this, to put it mildly, attractive business model has attracted the attention of all sorts of dubious operators, some of them respectable and some of them less so. One of the big operators in this marketplace is called MDPI ( Its boss is called Shu-Kun Lin (more on him later), and although it is largely based in China, it maintains a small office in Switzerland presumably for residency advantages. MDPI runs 283 scientific journals, and one of those is a Chemistry journal called Molecules. Molecules has itself several sections, one of them being Organic Chemistry. At some point in the summer, the Organic Chemistry section of Molecules opened a special issue on a particular branch of Chemistry with a Guest Editor called Dr Mindy Levine, who declared her affiliation as “Department of Chemical Sciences, Ariel University, 65 Ramat HaGolan Street, Ariel, Israel” (see
This contentious affiliation came to the attention of BRICUP and PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) in July. I was asked if I could help to raise the issue of the affiliation and I agreed. I thought the best way was to contact the editorial board of the special issue and request that the author’s affiliation is corrected to one meeting international standards. As the readers of this newsletter will know very well, Ariel is not in Israel. I should mention that I am a UK scientist with a lifetime of experience in chemistry and physics and my reading of the situation was that the best way to handle this issue was to avoid stirring up a political campaign, with open letters, press releases and the like, but to calmly raise the issue through the academic channels. My experience of the vast majority of scientists is that political campaigns or stunts are a big turn-off, with few exceptions. I know that this view may not be entirely consonant with BRICUP members, but that was, and remains, my reading of the situation.
While preparing to contact the editorial board I was astonished to discover that just the Organic Chemistry section of Molecules has 69 members. This is very unusual – the editorial boards of most journals have no more than 10-20 members. The reason that MDPI journals have enormous editorial boards is not because those members actually do anything. It’s seen as good for one’s CV to be on the editorial board of a journal. In return for the nominal kudos, one of the expectations of an editorial board member is that they contribute an article a year to the journal. Hence by appointing 69 scientists to the editorial board, the Organic Section of Molecules (note -just one section of a single journal) more or less ensures about 50 articles a year, together with its publication charges. Repeated over all sections of all 283 journals of MDPI, this constitutes a very nice stable profit for doing absolutely nothing except counting the income. Nice.
Anyway, I spent a good afternoon tracking down and emailing all 69 members. The email I sent was very restrained and professional in tone, and
merely proposed that the Guest Editor should be requested to correct her affiliation to one conforming to international law. I cited at least one UN resolution on the status of the occupied territories. I deliberately did not suggest a specific corrected affiliation since I did not think, and still do not think, that is a wise or appropriate thing to do. It’s likely that my view differs from many other BRICUP members here, but I do not consider myself qualified to propose the correct form of the affiliation of someone living in Ariel. However, I do consider it within my rights to point out that “Ariel, Israel” is not correct under international law.
I did not know at the time, but later came to know that the American Physical Society, an academic society that also publishes a raft of academic journals, some of them the best in the field, had already adopted an explicit policy on the acceptable form of affiliations, for example “Ariel University, Ariel, West Bank”, see If I had known this, I would have used that information.
Anyway, after sending that email, nothing appeared to happen, except that I received two or three supportive responses from members of the editorial board. However, on 14 September, I was copied in to an email from the section managing editor of Molecules to one of the editorial board members, stating that “Our leader contacted Dr Levine to discuss, and Dr Levine disagreed to change her affiliation. And in order to avoid further mistakes, they decided to close her special issue and remove her information from our journal website.” Indeed, the reference to the special issue had disappeared from the journal website.
This small victory proved to be temporary. The subsequent developments are quite confusing, but I think instructive. My inclination was to bank this small victory, and start to chip away, using a similar low-key behind-the-scenes approach wherever the same issue cropped up again. Maybe eventually enough momentum could be built up to open up the campaign and make it more public. However, I felt that the time was not right. That cautious view was definitely not shared by PACBI, and in my opinion what followed was a textbook case of overplaying one’s hand, although many others will disagree with me on that.
Quite rightly, this was seen primarily as a PACBI issue (and indeed, they had originally raised the issue with BRICUP who had got me involved.) But, in going for the declaration of a big victory with attendant press releases and open letters, the gains were lost. In my view it was a case of misguided overreach. A Zoom call between several of us ended up with an agreement to publish a press release and an open letter (although my recollection of the call seems to differ a bit from the others.) PACBI issued a press release which contained the following phrases: “Nobel Chemistry Laureate George P Smith and Royal Society Fellow Malcolm H Levitt congratulate journal on principled decision”. In a letter to the editors, they urged the journal to “correctly and factually” indicate the professor’s affiliation as “Ariel University, illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel, Occupied Palestinian Territory”. see
Although I have omitted some of the intermediate text, the press release can certainly be read as meaning that I, and also George P Smith, demanded that the journal corrected the affiliation to include “illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel”. As stated above, that is not strictly accurate. I never suggested such an affiliation, and I would not have done so. To be fair, I agreed to sign this press release, having failed to read it closely enough.
Possibly the only people who read the press release were at the offices of the Jerusalem Post in Israel. They published an article on 5 October stating that “The group is led by Prof. George Smith, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Prof. Malcolm Levitt, a Fellow of the Royal Society. The group asked the journal to change the address to say “Ariel University, illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel, Occupied Palestinian Territory’.” As you can imagine from my views above, I was not at all happy about this. In fact, I felt that I and George were now branded as well-meaning but misguided idiots indulging in a stunt, which was of course, precisely the intention of the Jerusalem Post. George and I immediately received, as expected, a good portion of hate email. More importantly, the fuss caused the journal to reverse its decision. Indeed, the special issue has been reinstated (link above) and
will now appear with “Ariel, Israel” as the affiliation of the Guest Editor.
There is a curious sequel. George Smith, who is indeed a Nobel Laureate and a quite extraordinary person, managed to get in contact with Shu-Kun Lin, the director of MDPI. He asked him in a measured and polite email to reconsider the decision to reinstate the special issue. He received this terse reply from the man himself: “If your guys are scholars please do research. The political issue is not your business.” George and I discussed this, and I followed up with a polite email to Lin which sneakily informed him that George was a Nobel Prize winner and that maybe someone had hacked his (Lin’s) account since his email was so out of character. To my astonishment I got a prompt response from Lin apologising for his email to George, saying that he was very busy and had responded hastily, etc., and that he would consider the issue further, in light of the APS policy (see above). However, nothing has happened. That’s where we are now.
I think that for BRICUP members there is quite a bit to consider and discuss here. Did the cautious and low-key approach lead to a small but concrete gain which was thrown away? Or was the loss of the small gain a small price to pay for the attendant publicity and coverage? I have my own view.
Limiting free speech (on Israel) and Controlling Virtual Spaces:
How voices are shut down, dissent limited and topics taken off the agenda.
Adam Abdulla, Apartheid off Campus, University of Leeds
Universities and students’ unions should be the bastions of free speech and academic debate; they are meant to be open spaces for debate where faculty and students are encouraged to engage in critical discussions around issues that shape our world. It would seem, however, that some issues are more desirable than others and that some voices are more equal than others. Have we discovered the limit of free speech on western campuses and are we entering a time when arbitrary censorship of dissent will be the hallmark of higher education with virtual spaces curated by ‘big tech’? More particularly, what are the implications of marginalising Palestinian and Muslim voices in academic institutions that are also materially complicit in the continuation of Israeli violations of international law, at a time when the fight against racism and decolonisation is used as a marketing technique by universities both in the UK and the US?
In late October 2020, Zoom unilaterally deleted an online event which was originally going to be co-hosted by the Leeds University Union Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) titled: ‘We Will Not Be Silent with Leila Khaled’. The event was in solidarity with the Palestinian feminist, freedom fighter and organiser who was prevented by the company from participating in an online panel on feminism and marginalisation of women’s voices and dissent on 23 September. The panel was organised by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi of the San Francisco State University, which failed to support Professor Abdulhadi and bowed to pressures from pro-Israel legal groups and Zoom.
Professor Abdulhadi and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) thereupon urged solidarity groups at universities across the world to take action and organise online events to demonstrate their resistance to Zoom censorship and pressure from Zionist lobbying groups. The various groups were invited to show a video of Leila Khaled speaking on various occasions about her people’s resistance to the Israeli occupation and colonisation of their land, which has been going on continuously for nearly a hundred years with the support of major Western powers (notably the UK and US). Rising to prominence as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the 70s, Leila Khaled was the first woman to hijack an aeroplane and was the feminist face of the armed struggle against the Israeli military Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Labelled a terrorist by some, today she is an advocate of the boycott of Israel, recalling the successful campaign against Apartheid South Africa and the global solidarity with the ANC’s armed struggle. Given the historical context and Leila Khaled’s long-held support for voluntary non-violent BDS, the cancellation of her platform and the silencing of her voice should disturb every progressive
academic and student who cares about the struggle for global justice and academic freedom.
After deleting the event, Zoom went on to disable the present author’s private account. In response to the Zoom censorship and pressure from the Leeds University Union (LUU), the organisers decided that PSG would not hold the event. Instead it was held by Apartheid Off Campus (a network of UK student activists), an organisation unaffiliated to the University of Leeds or the LUU. Despite this, an article appeared in the Daily Telegraph (27.10.20) falsely claiming that the events was ‘organised by the Leeds University Palestine Solidarity Group’, and stating that ‘The university has launched an investigation into how the webinar took place despite the society [Leeds PSG] having been denied permission to host it.’
This controversy comes only a few months after the LUU failed to protect the author from racist, Islamophobic smears circulated, in secret, by two senior committee members of Leeds University Jewish Society to more than 200 student societies at the Union during the final weeks of student executive elections. The smears included accusing the author of being linked to ‘terrorists’ and implying that I am a threat to the Jewish community on Leeds campus. In reaction to the smear, an open letter to the LUU and in support of the author was signed by more than 500 students and academics across the UK within days.
Additionally, two Jewish colleagues penned a second letter, complaining to the LUU and defending the author from the bogus claims. The LUU investigated the matter and penalised the authors of the smear but failed to deliver on its promise to revise its policies with special attention to the issues that pertain to POC and Muslim students. The recent behaviour of the LUU has left some students feeling excluded and marginalised by their union at a particularly difficult time for all. Indeed, being Muslim and Palestinian at this university it is a constant struggle to have one’s voice heard and perspectives respected. Unfortunately, this sort of treatment of pro-Palestine voices does not come as a surprise.
The University of Leeds is known to be complicit in the continuation of Israeli violations of international law in Occupied East Jerusalem. Despite being forced by student activists in 2018 to divest from a number of complicit companies and recently urged by sabbatical officers in the students’ union immediately to cut its ties to the Hebrew University, Leeds still maintains the institutional connection. The Hebrew University’s student accommodation in Jerusalem is partially built on illegally annexed Palestinian land, which amounts to a war crime under international law. It has also been accused of systematically racist treatment of Palestinian students and the surrounding neighbourhood.
This recent spike in censorship should be a warning light to everyone who cares about their ability to criticise institutional racism and engage in non-violent forms of resistance to oppression. Dissent and free critical academic thought are the basis for any movement that aims to change the status quo and motivate mass solidarity, whether for the Palestinian struggle for liberation, the Black Liberation struggle or the struggle of the indigenous peoples of the Americas against continuous oppression and ongoing land theft. We must unite in our efforts and recognise that oppression and violence come in more than just a physical form.
Marginalisation, epistemic violence and denial of agency are forms of violence that complement its physical counterpart. They must not be tolerated at institutions that claim to champion equality and diversity.
Terrorism and false claims of ‘Islamo-leftism’ add to troubles on French university campuses
Robert Boyce
A series of terrorist attacks in France carried out by lone perpetrators, culminating in the brutal beheading of a middle school teacher on 16 October has had serious consequences for free speech in the country’s universities. One threat comes from conservative academics who have intensified their campaign against what they call ‘Islamo-leftism’. This is an extremely vague term which in substance amounts to an attack on French Muslims who seek to maintain their religious and cultural traditions, academics who engage in post-colonial studies which allegedly encourages ‘separatism’ among ethnic minorities, and the social sciences in general. On 22 October the Minister of National Education, citing the
example of ‘Carlos the Jackal’, another solitary terrorist of no less than 45 years ago, publicly denounced ‘Islamo-leftism’. He claimed that the dangerous ideas that contributed to ‘Islamo-leftism’, having originated in the United States, were spreading like a virus through French universities and were responsible for the current bout of terrorism. Almost immediately several hundred academics signed a petition in support of the Minister, followed by a more measured counter-petition denouncing this threat to free speech, teaching and research on campus. (The counter-manifesto can be found here )
In the midst of this controversy the French government adopted a bill on financing for future academic research which includes a clause that would inflict a year in prison and a fine of 7,500 euros on anyone who ‘disrupts the harmony’ of a university campus and three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros on groups who cause disruption. Rather than denounce this hopelessly vague charge, the Minister for Higher Education attempted to minimise this assault on free speech by lamely suggesting first, that there was really nothing new in the legislation which begged the question why it was introduced, and second, that the law would only be enforced against individuals coming from outside the university and was unlikely to be applied because university presidents would decide whether the police should intervene on campus, although this is not what the law actually states. Not surprisingly these assurances failed to dissuade the association of university presidents from declaring ‘no confidence’ in the Minister and requesting the Prime Minister to replace her.
Neither assault has directly targeted campus advocates of Palestinian human rights. But it is significant that the academic at the centre of the ‘Islamo-leftism’ campaign, the philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff, has also been the leading populariser in France of the argument that anti-Zionism is the ‘new antisemitism’ and that leftist critics of Israel are joined in an unholy alliance with Muslimists. It seems highly likely therefore that the ‘Islamo-leftism’ campaign will soon fix on supporters of Palestine. It also seems only a matter of time before pro-Palestinian activists who challenge the presence of Israeli agents on campus find themselves charged with the crime of ‘disrupting the harmony’ of their university.
Undefining Antisemitism
A comprehensive survey of key contributions so far to the debate on the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
Tom Hickey and Jonathan Rosenhead
This is an account of an ongoing campaign in which BRICUP is deeply involved. This means, first that some of the facts may have changed before you read this, and second, that some identifying details of individuals and institutions are omitted.
Beware, Rogue Minister
In October Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education told English universities that they must adopt in complete form the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) ‘working definition’ of antisemitism by Christmas, or face financial penalties. This instruction has caused widespread consternation among university managements. They know he has no powers to instruct them on matters of internal governance, and many of them doubt that he has the powers to take any of their money away in such a cause. However, to deliberately go against the minister, particularly one not known for subtlety (or even competence) is not done lightly. For many Vice-Chancellors, ducking and weaving might be the highest form of resistance.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Williamson’s initiative was not preceded by any civil service preparation. There are no policy papers within the Ministry on this subject – no departmental research on the current state of adoption, no systematic information gathering, no assessment of the consequences of the policy in terms of Departmental objectives, no checking that his proposed action wasn’t ultra vires. That is, it’s a personal political objective masquerading as considered government policy.
These circumstances don’t make the definition any less of a threat to university autonomy. But they do alter the balance of political and legal leverage and advantage in the ongoing tussle between the institutions and the Minister. BRICUP is engaged with other organisations to strengthen the hand of those within all of our
universities that want no truck with this definition, a campaign we will describe below.
Deconstructing the Definition
The IHRA definition itself remains what it always was: inadequate as a definition of antisemitism. It fails to capture some of the most virulent and most insidious forms of the disease; and its ambiguity and lack of precision leaves it seriously defective for use for either disciplinary, regulatory or legal purposes. It is also mired in controversy as an unsubtle attempt to block campaigns over the suppression of Palestinian rights by allowing them to become targeted as antisemitic.
As a definition, it has been widely criticised, but it is the illustrative examples attached to it that have been seen as most damaging. Their conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism has been noted with disapproval by the Institute of Race Relations; by eminent legal experts including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; by Liberty; by leading academic experts on anti-Semitism, including Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; by 40 global Jewish social justice organisations, and by more than 80 UK-based BAME groups. The most recent authoritative demolition of the definition, in this case specifically focused on Williamson’s attempt to impose it on universities, is that of David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College, University of London. It was published as we were completing this article.
A legal opinion from distinguished QC Hugh Tomlinson has pointed out that restrictive use of the definition would violate both the European Convention on Human Rights’ and universities’ statutory duties under the Education Act 1986. In his conclusion, Tomlinson points to these issues which universities need to take extremely seriously:
“that public authorities cannot lawfully act in a way which is inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights’ protection of freedom of expression; and
that under the Education Act 1986 universities in particular have a specific statutory duty to ensure freedom of speech expressed in the widest terms.”
Related concerns have been expressed in the opinion by Geoffrey Robinson QC who concludes
“[t]he IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is not fit for any purpose that seeks to use it as an adjudicative standard. It is imprecise, confusing and open to misinterpretation and even manipulation.”
Even the definition’s lead author, Kenneth Stern, a US attorney and member of the American Jewish Committee Against Anti-Semitism, is opposed to this use. It wasn’t constructed with a view “to target or chill speech”, he has said; it was, rather, drafted with consistent data gathering in mind. Stern has complained that the definition “was never intended to be a campus hate speech code”, and that when so used it “is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.” (Stern is due to speak at a meeting on December 14th.)
Yet that is precisely how it is now being used by Williamson in relation to university campuses; by local authorities in the UK to deny meeting venues to pro-Palestine advocacy groups; and by US Secretary of State Pompeo to attempt the proscription of charitable organisations that are critical of Israel, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam. Since President Trump’s Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism, the IHRA definition has, in effect, been codified into law. It is being used in the Americas and in Europe to delegitimise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The general purpose is to silence the voice of Palestinians, and to prevent any criticism that requires Israel to meet the demands of international law.
Palestinians have long warned that the widespread adoption of the definition and its examples would block campaigns over the suppression of Palestinian rights in just this manner. In November this year, 122 Palestinian and Arab scholars, journalists and intellectuals published an impressive letter of protest in The Guardian. One of the points it makes is that the definition has mostly been deployed internationally against left-wing and human rights groups supporting Palestinian rights and specifically the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Perversely, they say, it also sidelines the very real threat to Jews coming from right-wing, white nationalist movements in Europe and the US.
Academic opposition
For those of us in the Academy there is an additional concern: that wherever it is adopted, the definition will become a lever for external interests to press for the abbreviation both of the right to free expression and of the freedom of scholarly inquiry. This pressure would impact most intensely on issues related to Israel and Palestine, but also be felt across a whole range of disciplines from history and politics through international relations, archaeology, cultural studies and psychology, to philosophy and jurisprudence.
This concern is not a theoretical possibility – it has already happened across the world. In the UK there are numerous cases in which academic colleagues have been challenged, often by outside bodies, alleging that the content of their lectures or publications is antisemitic according to the definition; in some cases this has led to formal internal disciplinary processes. In all cases to date these charges have been found to be without substance, but their negative effect on free scholarship and debate is not limited to those who have been targeted in this way.
Opposition to Williamson’s attempt to impose the definition on universities is rising. The feeling against it can be judged from messages circulated by staff at universities where possible adoption is threatened. One academic wrote this in a letter of concern to the management and Academic Board of her university:
When mobilised for political purposes alongside its illustrative examples, the definition deters criticism of Israeli law and of Israeli government policy and of the illegal occupation and settlement of the West Bank. It can be used to prevent critiques of Zionism as a political ideology that focusses on its role in the justification of the colonisation of Palestine, or on its relationship to the systematic discrimination against Palestinians in Israel.
Another wrote
… as someone who has suffered directly from continued armed Israeli aggression against my country, I find that to be denied the basic right even to criticise this violence through the peaceful production and dissemination of knowledge is an abnegation of any principle of justice.
Concern amongst academics is not limited to the curtailment of academic freedom for research on, and teaching about, the Israel-Palestine conflict. Once that Rubicon is crossed the omens are that the move will be followed in the medium term by other government interventions to influence the diet of provision (the educational ethos of institutions, the range of disciplines supported, the character and purpose of degree programmes, and even the details of syllabuses). The beginning of an onslaught on teaching based on critical race theory is a pointer to the direction of travel.
Another staff letter of dissent argued,
I am very concerned that a concession by the University … to the threat from the Secretary of State for Education in the UK would have serious implications for the status of our Institution as an autonomous site of learning and research. For this reason alone, even were there no other grounds for its rejection, the IHRA definition should not be adopted by the University.
Opposition in universities to the adoption of the IHRA definition has been widespread. In some, this has taken the form of senior academics, and those who teach and research in the most immediately affected areas, writing letters of concern to their Academic Boards. Elsewhere it has involved adopting motions at branches of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) that are critical of the definition and urge their local Academic Boards and Councils to reject the instruction from the Secretary of State, and to defy his threat of financial penalties.
In one institution in which the Academic Board last year rejected the IHRA definition as unfit, the (majority lay) Council overrode that decision and announced its adoption, though with added caveats giving rhetorical support to the ideal of free speech. The response of the Academic Board was to set up an impressive and broad Working Group to consider how the situation should be resolved. As we write the Working Group’s report, the product of almost a year of intensive work, is about to be considered by the Academic Board that established it. This could become a test case for the definition, and for the right to academic rather than government control of universities’ internal processes.
UCU opposition
The UCU branch at another university made a submission to its local management which argued that the intervention by the Secretary of State was improper and that adoption would both be incompatible with the public duty of a university, and would also create legal and industrial jeopardy for the institution. Furthermore the adoption of the IHRA definition will embroil the University in a potentially unending series of procedural challenges to the authority of its management, in a potential series of industrial disputes as the UCU is obliged to defend its members against interventions forced on the management by malevolent or innocent but misguided external forces, in the exacerbation of differences of opinion amongst its staff, and in the inevitability of legal action that seeks either to force the implementation of one interpretation of the definition or on the contrary to protect staff and students from inappropriate managerial censure provoked by malicious accusations of antisemitism. Free Speech on Israel
BRICUP has been playing a central role in this campaign, together with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Free Speech on Israel (FSoI) and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). The three groups have jointly written to all Vice-Chancellors in the UK explaining the case against adoption of the definition, and urging a defence of academic freedom for staff and open discussion and freedom of assembly on the issue of Palestine. For institutions that have already adopted the definition, the letter was necessarily somewhat different. It asked what measures had been put in place to protect staff from malicious accusations, protect Palestinian students and their supporters from attempts to prevent campus discussions, and preserve the freedom of scholars to research the history and practices of the Middle East, and design and teach courses without fear of scurrilous attempts at intimidation.
Separately, BRICUP has written to every UCU branch in the HE sector to explain the case against the definition, to register the motions against the IHRA definition passed at successive UCU Congresses, to urge the branches to make representations to their local managements and Academic Boards, and to promise vigorously to defend any members who fall foul of malicious allegations based on the definition. It has offered UCU branch officers and activists the following model motion for debate in their branches:
This branch notes:
the Secretary of State’s attempt to force universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism through threats of financial penalty; that the definition has been criticized as both inadequate and dangerous by eminent lawyers and experts on antisemitism;
that its illustrative examples conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel and Zionism;
that it has already been used to discipline colleagues’ teaching and research, and against campus meetings.
The branch believes that:
this intervention threatens university autonomy;
the definition threatens academic freedom, and seeks to outlaw support for Palestinian resistance, and specifically the BDS campaign.
The branch resolves to:
defend members and students facing malicious accusations of antisemitism;
urge Academic Board and Senate/Council to reject the definition;
circulate the BRICUP statement to all UCU members, and members of AB and Council;
organise a members’ campus (or Zoom) meeting on Palestine, Settler Colonialism, and the Threat to Academic Freedom.
If BRICUP supporters and Newsletter readers would like further information on how you might contribute to this campaign by raising the issue in your own university or school, or in your UCU branch, please contact us at .
A statement from 400+ Current UK Students on IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
As students in the UK, we are deeply concerned that the space to bring the facts of the past and ongoing dispossession faced by Palestinians into the public domain, including in UK universities,
is under severe threat by the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism with its attached examples.
We believe that the IHRA definition is a threat to the fundamental right for Palestinians to describe their lived experience of oppression. The discredited definition, and specifically its illustrative examples, conflates anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of the laws, policies and constitutional order of the State of Israel.
We are therefore gravely concerned by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson’s, announcement that he is actively exploring measures to force universities to adopt the definition, including cutting their access to funding streams. The vast majority of UK universities have so far rightly withstood pressure to adopt.
As a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations warned back in 2018, the discredited IHRA examples erase Palestinian history and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation and oppression by conflating discrimination against Jews on the one hand with legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and system of injustice on the other.
The concerns raised about by Palestinian civil society around the definition, and its illustrative examples, are shared by the Institute of Race Relations; eminent lawyers including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; civil rights organisation Liberty; leading academic experts on antisemitism Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations; and more than 80 UK-based BAME groups.
These concerns are not merely academic; they have unfortunately been substantiated by many examples across the globe.
The right of Palestinians to accurately describe their experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress them and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state, is a core right, protected under numerous international laws and conventions, including Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights.
Likewise we affirm the rights of all students, alongside all UK citizens, to study and disseminate information around the constitutional order and structure of the State of Israel, as well as to stand in solidarity with Palestinians facing continued dispossession and oppression, including through advocacy for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel until it complies with international law. As recently upheld by the European Court for Human Rights, advocating for boycott is a protected right under Article 10.
Attempts to suppress our right to bring information about Palestinian history into the public domain violate our right to free expression, and serve to render Palestinians invisible as a people. These attempts also contradict our academic freedom to learn, discuss, question and test received wisdom.
We call on UK Universities to unequivocally protect our right to describe the facts of Palestinian oppression, to describe Israel’s laws, policies and actions as racist or as constituting apartheid; to criticise the political ideology of Zionism and to call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as nonviolent measures of accountability to bring about its compliance with its obligations under international law and its respect for Palestinian rights.
If you are a UK student, and would like to add your name to the letter, you can do so here
Americans for Peace Now Refuses to Adopt ‘Weaponized’ Definition of Antisemitism
Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish non-profit organisation, whose stated aim is to help find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is refusing a request from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism on the grounds that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition is ‘already being abused to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies’
See here * for further details
*Haaretz is currently offering a promotion which gives a first months subscription for just $1
The University of Cambridge Adopts the IHRA Definition
On November 4th, the General Board of the University agreed to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition on antisemitism in full, with clarifications recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016.
OTHER NEWS News from PACBI Monday , Dec 7th A November 2020 report from Scholarsatrisk (Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project) documents Israel’s systematic targeting of Palestinian academia via: ▪️ House raids and detention without trial or charge of scholars & students ▪️ Movement/travel restrictions and visa denials ▪️ Barring imports of equipment & books
For more information, go to (
Israel lobby spreads more lies about Palestine groups at New York University
From the Electronic Intifada, 23 October 2020
New York University has agreed to settle with the US Department of Education over allegations that the university had not appropriately responded to claims of anti-Semitism.
Two attorneys filed the complaint last year on behalf of a student who alleged that she faced “two years of extreme anti-Semitism on the NYU campus which has created an intolerable and unlawful hostile atmosphere for Jewish students.”
Echoing previous attempts by Israel advocates to silence Palestinian rights activists on campuses, the complaint accused Students for Justice in Palestine of creating the “hostile” climate due to the group’s criticism of Israel and its state ideology Zionism. But in the end, Israel lobby groups seeking censorship and punishment of Palestinian rights advocates barely got what they came for. The university has committed to tackling bigotry against Jews – but, notably, it has not explicitly conceded any undertaking to prevent criticism of Israel.
Read the full article here
Steven H. Miles, The Torture Doctors: Human Rights Crimes and the Road to Justice (Georgetown University Press 2020), ISBN 9781626167520, 224 pages.
Reprinted from the Human Rights Quarterly
Derek Summerfield
During the Middle Ages in Europe torture drew a distinction from its association with confessed truth, repentance, and salvation, yet by 1874 Victor Hugo could write that “torture has ceased to exist.” This magisterial book reminds us how much torture has outlived its obituarists, noting in the Preface that the US Office of Refugee Resettlement estimates that 500,000 torture survivors live in the United States alone. It would seem astonishing to the average citizen that a practice so noxious, the ostensible province of the barbarian—the very antithesis of the professed values and public reputation of the medical profession—should have so intimately involved doctors in so many countries, not least in Western democracies. Steven Miles sets out to exhaustively document and interrogate this role, a vital ethical task.
He starts with examples—from Haiti, Malawi, Syria, Turkmenistan, Ivory Coast, Bosnia, Rwanda—where the torturers-in-chief were
physicians themselves—before going on to the Nazi doctors and their trial at Nuremburg in 1946–1947. He describes a striking aftermath—the election in 1992 of Dr. Hans Sewering of Germany to the Presidency of the World Medical Association (WMA). The WMA had been specifically created after World War II as the official watchdog of the ethical behaviour of doctors worldwide. During the war Dr. Sewering had been in the SS, the Nazi organization most responsible for genocidal killings, and had dispatched over 900 disabled children to their deaths. It is telling—touching on the core question of impunity running through the whole book—that after the war Dr. Sewering experienced no challenge to his career and rose to be president of the German Medical Association. However, the WMA Presidency was exposed as a step too far and Sewering was forced to stand down. But in 2008, fifteen years later, he was awarded Germany’s highest medical honor. His obituary did not mention his Nazi past.
The WMA’s Declaration of Tokyo is the seminal anti-torture text for doctors. This makes it clear that the ethical duties of a doctor go well beyond not directly participating, or not being in the room where the torture is taking place. Whenever he encounters or thinks he encounters torture the doctor has a duty to protest, speak out, and protect the detainee. If he is a working member of a unit whose methods during interrogation include torture, he is in what Amnesty International has called “institutional complicity” with such practices, and this cannot be fudged.
Why do doctors collude with torture? The medical advisor in the Nazi doctors’ trial concluded that a morally lazy careerism lay at the core of most physicians guilty in this way. I think it is much deeper than that, touching on matters of personal identity. In a famous lecture on “Politics as a Vocation,” the sociologist Max Weber distinguished between an “ethic of responsibility” and an “ethic of conviction.” (1) By “ethic of responsibility,” Weber meant conformity to professional standards and accountability. In our profession this means the ethical standards by which doctors should practice, including a commitment to factual evidence— standards determined by peer opinion, by patients and public, employers, and the licensing authority. By “ethic of conviction,” Weber was identifying actions that were inspired by personally valued ideals, political or other philosophies, or identities. In my thirty-five years of anti-torture human rights work, and with an emphasis on the collusion of doctors, I have witnessed how regularly, in doctors, an ethic of conviction trumped an ethic of responsibility, even in matters of grave human rights abuse.
I will give two personal examples. First, in the early 1990s when I was principal psychiatrist at the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture in London, we documented in the medical journal, The Lancet, accounts of the torture of Turkish Kurds (a persecuted people in that country) given to us directly after they had sought asylum in the UK. This prompted a number of Turkish doctors to publish protesting letters in The Lancet. One began memorably:” No state tortures its citizens unless it has to.” Second, in 1999 Professor Eran Dolev, then Head of Ethics of the Israeli Medical Association, told a visiting delegation from the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture interviewing him that “what’s a couple of broken fingers?” in the interrogation of a Palestinian detainee for the information this could yield. (2) It seems to me that Professor Dolev and the Turkish doctor were both expressing Weber’s ethics of conviction, that doctors were doctors but also citizens, and here saw patriotism and loyalty to the state as the higher value and what was expected of them.
Moreover, Dolev was Head of Ethics, no less: what kind of ethical leadership had he been offering, for example, to the Israeli physician implicated in the Nader Qumsieh case in 1993, documented by Amnesty International?(3) Five days after his arrest, Qumsieh was brought to a medical center in Be’er Sheva, where a urologist diagnosed a torn scrotum and bleeding. Qumsieh testified that he had been beaten during interrogation and kicked in the testicles. The urologist later received a call from the Israeli military, and as a result wrote a second report which he antedated by two days, without further examination of the patient. In it he recorded that “according to the patient, he fell downstairs two days before he came to the emergency room.” This time his medical findings were recorded as: “superficial haematoma in the scrotal area, which corresponds to local bruises sustained between 2 and 5 days prior to the examination.”(3) The urologist’s original report disappeared from Qumsieh’s medical file.
These issues, sometimes referred to as the “dual loyalty” question, come through strongly in Miles’s account of United States health professionals like Larry James and James Mitchell in defence of their active roles at the heart of the “enhanced interrogation” program in the United States post-9/11. These professionals knew what they were doing, and were doing it willingly, unthreatened and uncoerced. There is a significant distinction to be drawn here: in many highly repressive states, protesting or refusing to cooperate is dangerous, and silence a survival strategy. In the 1990s in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the director of the Al-Basra military hospital and a doctor at Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah were both executed for refusing to carry out punitive amputations ordered by the authorities for those caught evading the draft or for other offenses.
In drawing a global map of torture doctors, Miles describes physician complicity as a “pandemic.” Doctors monitor torture, fail to record injuries, and write medical reports which do not record torture, or attribute injuries to an innocent cause, as in the Qumsieh case above. Miles writes that it is reasonable to estimate that torture doctors ply their trade in more than 100 countries. Taking the specific example of the UK, he describes a troubled history regarding medically supervised flogging during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His view that the UK and the British Medical Association have been reticent on the matter of holding torture doctors accountable is one I would entirely endorse. In 1976 the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the UK was using techniques on prisoners in Northern Ireland that constituted “inhuman and degrading treatment” and “torture.” In 2014 two authoritative organizations—the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, and Public Interest Lawyers—detailed a total of fifty-eight allegations of UK doctors’ involvement in the torture of Iraqi prisoners between 2003 and 2008. In one case, from the Al Shaibah Detention Centre, the victim related that he told the doctor about the beatings he had suffered but the doctor made no comment. He told me he thought I had a stomach ulcer. He said this without examining me. . . . I told him that I had never had anything wrong with my stomach before, until the soldier had smashed me in it with the hammer. . . . My t-shirt and shorts were covered in blood from the beatings to my face and in particular my nose. The doctor could clearly see this and didn’t ask me about it. I told him about the injury I had received to my nose and that I thought it was broken because it was so swollen but he didn’t do or say anything.
In only one Iraqi case has a UK military doctor, Derek Keilloh, been brought to account, being eventually struck off the medical register. Miles comments that “the penalty against Keilloh appears to be unique in the long history of British complicity with torture.” This was in the case of the torture-murder of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, in Basra in 2003. His head was covered by a bag for twenty-four hours and a group of soldiers beat and kicked him. He died of asphyxia with at least ninety-three injuries evident all over his body. Dr. Keilloh (who had unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate Mousa) did not report his bodily injuries.
Miles ends the book with an extended account of what is the nub of the matter: accountability, and its flipside, impunity. We may wonder why only one case was brought against a UK doctor in relation to the war in Iraq when there was evidence against as many as fifty-eight. Why were the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council so silent, and initiated no proactive work to investigate credible allegations about the conduct of member doctors? In the US we witness the refusal of the American Psychological Association (APA) to respond to cast-iron evidence of complicity in torture by one of their members. By way of deeper implication, Miles tells us that in 2005 the APA was in covert collaboration with military intelligence officials specifically to create a cover for psychologists in the program, in effect licensing them to do what they had to do. Are national medical associations proactive in any country in relation to opposing state torture, and in ensuring their member doctors behave ethically in terms of the WMA Declaration of Tokyo? To pluck another example from the book, one survey found that three quarters of India’s physicians had seen a tortured person and one seventh had witnessed torture. What role is the Indian Medical Association playing in its silence and inactivity regarding such matters? It is hard not to conclude that national medical associations, and comparable bodies like the APA, function at base as buttresses and shields of the state and its policies. The effect of this, explicit or implicit, is to impart legitimacy
and support for what is being done, and to those who do it to hint that in the world of realpolitik medical ethical codes are largely window dressing. What this then instills is a sense of impunity, so vividly illustrated in the case material in the book.
Beyond national medical associations lies the WMA. The WMA calls itself an “independent confederation” of currently 111 national medical associations. Some associations claim that their WMA membership is of itself evidence of their ethical probity. But in practice, does the WMA provide real leadership regarding doctors and torture, part of its core mandate as I noted earlier? Is it proactive and even-handed in investigating incriminating evidence from credible human rights sources? To these questions I offer my own experience as convener of a campaign regarding the well documented complicity of Israeli doctors with torture in interrogation units, shielded by the Israeli Medical Association (IMA). The IMA is a member of the WMA. In 2009, 725 physicians from forty-three countries made a joint submission to the WMA, attaching a dense evidence base—from Amnesty and other international NGOs, but chiefly comprising detailed case studies (some with the involved doctors’ names) compiled by the well-respected Israeli NGOs Physicians for Human Rights Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. (4)(5)(6)) The result? No acknowledgement, even of receipt of the dossier, and only later we heard indirectly from WMA Council Chair, Dr. Edward Hill, that the WMA would definitely not respond to the material. But there was a response of a different kind, a libel lawsuit initiated in London against me personally as convener by the WMA President himself (Dr. Yoram Blachar). At the time Dr. Blachar was also the IMA President, as he had been in 1997 when he defended Israeli practices in a letter to the Lancet. He wrote that “the guidelines on interrogation recommend only that ‘moderate physical pressure’ be sanctioned. Even this is restricted to cases defined in terms of a ‘ticking bomb.’”(7) Yet in 1994 the UN Committee Against Torture had reiterated that “moderate physical pressure” was indeed torture, and also outlawed the “ticking bomb” justification. Here we witness the president of a national medical association defending torture in the pages of a famous medical journal. Our subsequent submissions spanned the terms of office of two further WMA presidents, but with the same result. The WMA is in violation of its own mandate, which is to ensure that its member associations adhere to its codes, but it seems it will not act when the case is Israel, nor I suggest if it was the UK or other influential Western states.(8)
Miles says that the WMA and others should craft and endorse procedural guidelines to help medical licensing boards convene and conduct hearings. This is right, but assumes a shared probity and a process free from political pressures—on the evidence in his book, it is very unlikely. And there is one bullet Miles doesn’t bite on regarding the WMA: the WMA is composed of national medical associations, so what happens when one of those is the principal accused party? And how free is the WMA of political influences? From our experience, the WMA is hollowed out and does not fulfill the ethical purposes for which it was created. (9) Overall, the evidence suggests that there is no effective supervision of the ethical behaviour of doctors worldwide, nor much political momentum to rectify the situation. Perhaps there never was. As Miles says, “a complete lack of accountability is the norm.” This is a mournful note to conclude on, but The Torture Doctors is a work of great scholarship, an essential piece of documentation and likely to be a seminal work.
1. Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1965)
2. Bamber H, Gordon E, Heilbronn R, Forrest D. ‘Attitudes to torture’, Journal of Royal Society of Medicine 2002;95:271-2
4. “Ticking Bombs”. Public Committee Against Torture in Israel/ Physicians for Human Rights Israel. 2007. http:www.
5. Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim: the Involvement of Medical Professionals in Torture and Ill-treatment in Israel. Public Committee Against Torture in Israel/ Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. 2011.
6. Adameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Adameer collects hard evidence on
torture and ill-treatment committed against Palestinian detainees. 2019.
7. Blachar Y. ‘The truth about Israeli medical ethics’, Lancet 1997;350:1247
8. Summerfield D. ‘The WMA speaks out on Iran but not on Israel. Why not?’
BMJ 2009;339:b4635
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Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism


 Issued on: December 11, 2019

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  My Administration is committed to combating the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and around the world.  Anti-Semitic incidents have increased since 2013, and students, in particular, continue to face anti Semitic harassment in schools and on university and college campuses.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance.  While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices.  Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.

It shall be the policy of the executive branch to enforce Title VI against prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI.

Sec. 2.  Ensuring Robust Enforcement of Title VI.  (a)  In enforcing Title VI, and identifying evidence of discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, all executive departments and agencies (agencies) charged with enforcing Title VI shall consider the following:

(i)   the non-legally binding working definition of anti Semitism adopted on May 26, 2016, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which states, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.  Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”; and

(ii)  the “Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism” identified by the IHRA, to the extent that any examples might be useful as evidence of discriminatory intent.

(b)  In considering the materials described in subsections (a)(i) and (a)(ii) of this section, agencies shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment.  As with all other Title VI complaints, the inquiry into whether a particular act constitutes discrimination prohibited by Title VI will require a detailed analysis of the allegations.

Sec. 3.  Additional Authorities Prohibiting Anti-Semitic Discrimination.  Within 120 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency charged with enforcing Title VI shall submit a report to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, identifying additional nondiscrimination authorities within its enforcement authority with respect to which the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism could be considered.

Sec. 4.  Rule of Construction.  Nothing in this order shall be construed to alter the evidentiary requirements pursuant to which an agency makes a determination that conduct, including harassment, amounts to actionable discrimination, or to diminish or infringe upon the rights protected under any other provision of law.

Sec. 5.  General Provisions.   (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.


December 11, 2019.


Many American Jews are worried Trump’s executive order on anti-Semitism would do more harm than good

Rosie Perper Dec 12, 2019, 4:41 AM
The annual national Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremony on the White House Ellipse in December 2010. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday with the goal of combatting anti-Semitism on college campus.
Three administration officials told The New York Times that the order would threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges and universities that fail to combat discrimination on their campuses.
Critics of the executive order included many Jewish people, who took umbrage with the order for several reasons.
On Wednesday, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, published an op-ed in The New York Times about the executive order, which was signed by Trump.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday with the goal of combatting anti-Semitism on college campus.

However, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing three administration officials, that the executive order would classify Judaism as a race or nationality instead of just a religion — setting off a firestorm.

According to The Times’ report, the order would threaten to withhold federal funding for colleges or universities that fail to combat discrimination of minority students on their campuses.

The Times described the logic of the order this way:

“Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the department can withhold funding from any college or educational program that discriminates ‘on the ground of race, color, or national origin.’ Religion was not included among the protected categories, so Mr. Trump’s order will have the effect of embracing an argument that Jews are a people or a race with a collective national origin in the Middle East, like Italian Americans or Polish Americans.”

The move appears to be targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which encourages various forms of boycott against Israel for what it deems violations of international law. The group, which has become popular on college campuses, holds annual events like “Israeli Apartheid Week” to push for Palestinian rights.

Though not all Jews are Israeli citizens and not all Israeli citizens are Jewish, some Jewish groups argue that BDS activism fosters harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters on campus.

Some critics suggested that Trump might use the order to pander to Jewish constituents or as a goodwill gesture toward Israel, a close ally, as the country’s government tries to combat anti-Semitism and the BDS movement around the world. Others worried about the broadened definition of anti-Semitism would infringe on free speech.

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told The Times that the move would “silence Palestinian rights activism.”

“Many Israeli apartheid apologists, Trump included, are looking to silence a debate they know they can’t win,” Munayyer said.

On Wednesday, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, published an op-ed in The New York Times clarifying the executive order.

“When news of the impending executive order leaked, many rushed to criticize it without understanding its purpose. The executive order does not define Jews as a nationality. It merely says that to the extent that Jews are discriminated against for ethnic, racial or national characteristics, they are entitled to protection by the anti-discrimination law.”

But notably, the group most vocally against the measure reported in The Times appears to be Jewish people themselves

Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said on Tuesday that Trump’s executive order represented “the height of hypocrisy.”

“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” she said in a statement. “Instead, President Trump continues to view Israel and anti-Semitism solely through a political lens, which he attempts to use to his political advantage.”

She added: “President Trump is more interested in symbolic gestures that politicize Israel and use Jews as political pawns than actually doing something meaningful to ensure our security and that of Israel. The timing of this signing reveals this is a PR stunt, plain and simple.”

Others, including Jews, expressed similar outrage on social media.

The actress and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Michaela Watkins said on Twitter that Trump’s reclassification of Judaism mirrored sentiments used by white nationalists and Nazi Germany.

“This is antisemitism of the highest order,” she said.

—Michaela Watkins (@michaelaWat) December 11, 2019

Some said the order appeared to question whether Jews are really American.

Kelly Weill, a journalist for The Daily Beast, tweeted that it “gestures at ethno-nationalizing American Jews right out of their country.”

Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan, tweeted that the order questioned the nationality of American Jews.

“Is this what we’re calling an executive order that purports to define american jews as … some nationality other than american?” Litman said.

—Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) December 11, 2019

Other people on social media said the move would put them in danger of anti-Semitic backlash.

—danielle weisberg (@danielleweisber) December 11, 2019

—IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) December 11, 2019

Still others on social media, including Jews and non-Jews, said the order itself was anti-Semitic.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Violent anti-Semitic attacks have spiked to levels unseen in decades. Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel said in May that attacks targeting Jews worldwide rose by 13% in 2018, to nearly 400 cases. About one in four took place in the US.

The Anti-Defamation League said it found 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents reported throughout the US in 2018.

2 thoughts on “The Battle over the Meaning of anti-Semitism

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