What Is The Definition of Antisemitism - January 29, 2021

This has been an important week of happenings.
Wednesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time for reflection and recommitment. It also marks 76 years since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated, where nearly 1,000,000 Jews, including 200,000 Jewish children, were murdered.
Rabbi Meir Goldstein, Senior Jewish Educator at Oregon Hillel, wrote, “It beckons us to reflect on the six million Jews murdered in a maelstrom of hate. It calls upon us to remember that, in addition the genocide against the Jews, the millions of other lives destroyed, families broken, and communities perished by the Nazis and collaborators. It is a day to recommit ourselves to the tremendous responsibility we bear toward our fellow humans, as we remember the core teaching from our Torah, that each and every person is the walking, breathing, living image of God in this world.” May their memories be for a blessing.
To coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a representative body of 53 organizations, put out a statement endorsing this working definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). You may have read about this in the Jewish press. Sadly, within the Jewish community there is a debate about what constitutes antisemitism and the role “criticism of Israel” plays.
This framework was formed by a number of governments in 1998 in response to the increasing levels of Holocaust denialism and antisemitism. As part of this process, the IHRA developed a working definition of antisemitism, including a number of examples, some of which relate to Israel and the anti-Zionist form of antisemitism.
Notably, thirty countries have endorsed the IHRA definition, including the United States, Israel, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain the United Kingdom, and also the European Parliament.
What is the nature of the debate within the Jewish community? Defenders of the definition say its Israel examples — which include comparing Israel to the Nazis, calling Israel racist, and applying a double standard to Israel that is not applied to other countries — are helpful in identifying where anti-Israel activity turns into antisemitism. Its detractors, however, say that the examples can possibly brand all criticism of Israeli policy antisemitic. (The definition clearly states “legitimate criticism” of Israel is not antisemitic.)
But “adoption” of the definition can mean different things depending on the organization. Earlier this month, 10 Jewish groups with progressive positions on Israel — including two organizations that signed onto the statement — condemned attempts to codify the definition into law or regulations. The groups said, “The effort to enshrine [the definition] in domestic law and institutional policy… risks wrongly equating what may be legitimate activities with antisemitism.”
Some argue that if the IHRA definition is just a talking point that has no application to law, it effectively hamstrings the efforts of both advocacy groups and government agencies to stop discrimination and targeting of Jews by antisemitic individuals, groups, and institutions.
Where do we stand on the issue? Last January, our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which has representation from every local congregation and several other non-synagogue agencies, endorsed this definition by a vote of 16 to 0 with 4 abstentions. In addition, our two national umbrella groups, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), have both officially adopted this definition. Among the affiliates of the JCPA are 125 JCRCs around the country, the Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements as well as the ADL, Hadassah, and American Jewish Committee.
We fully agree that the IHRA definition must not be misapplied in order to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. Indeed, the definition states clearly, “Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” The Federation and JCRC strongly believe that criticism of Israeli settlement policy, for example, is not antisemitic; odious comparisons of Israel to the Nazis, however, is antisemitic, according to this definition.
Understanding there will be reasonable disagreements on some of the specifics of the IHRA definition, we are committed to ensure that it will never be misused to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policy.
This week we celebrated Tu b’Shevat, the birthday of the trees. This holiday has become even more significant with efforts to save our environment and to help fight climate change. The Jewish Community Relations Council Climate Action Committee is asking everyone to fill out this Climate Action Pledge.
The month of February marks the annual Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAM). Jewish organizations and communities worldwide join in a unified effort to raise awareness and champion the rights of people with disabilities.
JDAM is the latest in Federation’s long history of disability advocacy. We continue to try and break down barriers to opportunity and inclusion and advance policy that empowers individuals with disabilities to achieve maximum independence.
To help kickoff JDAM, we invite you to a special conversation titled “Our Time, Our Fight” with world renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. It will be held on Wednesday, February 3 at 4:00 p.m. Register here.
In addition to this event, we are co-sponsoring 14 other incredible programs designed to educate and empower the community to advocate in support of people with disabilities. All events are fully accessible and will have closed captioning. Click here to see the entire calendar of programs and workshops throughout the month.
In addition, during this month, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Portland Jewish Academy, Maimonides Jewish Day School, Maayan Torah Day School, and Cedar Sinai Park have a volunteer opportunity for you. Help create mishloach manot, special gift packages that are traditionally made and distributed for Purim to friends, family, and even strangers. This year our community is invited to drop off Mishloach Manot for the elderly residents and caregivers on the Cedar Sinai Park campus to add joy to their Purim celebration. Drop off will be coordinated and socially distanced, and there are strict guidelines for volunteers to follow in assembling packages. Click here for details, to register, drop off dates, and times.
Shabbat shalom.


Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


Add Comment