U.S Congressman Chris Smith speaks to Israel Allies Caucus legislators
U.S Congressman Chris Smith speaks to Israel Allies Caucus legislatorsnone

Legislators from the Israel Allies network joined together for an online conference on the adoption and implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

The conference was hosted by the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF), the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), and the Combat Antisemitism Movement. Each of the attending legislators serves as Chairmen of the parliamentary Israel Allies Caucus in their country and have a faith-based connection with Israel. The event was hosted by MEP Bert Jan Ruissen (NL) and Finnish MP Peter Ostman and attended by legislators throughout Europe, the US and Africa.

Israel's Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor) opened the program by encouraging the parliamentarians to look towards the IHRA definition as a means to a greater goal.

“Choosing to adopt IHRA is a clear and practical first step. It allows all of us to work together to combat anti-Semitism based on a shared language and understanding of the challenge itself. The EU’s adoption of IHRA set the groundwork for its new strategic plan to combat anti-Semitism and foster Jewish life in Europe” he said.

The European leader responsible for the European Union’s (EU) adoption of the IHRA definition is Katharina von Schnurbein, who was the first person to be appointed as the European Commission Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life.

“You can’t fight it if you can’t define it. The EU Commission takes a victim-based approach and regards all forms of anti-Semitism as equally pernicious. The non-legally binding working definition of the IHRA on anti-Semitism reflects what the majority of European Jews regards as anti-Semitic. Since 2017, the Commission has been using this definition as a useful guidance tool to recognize anti-Semitic biases and recommends it to its member states,” she said.

Co-host of the event MEP Ruissen questioned whether the EU implements the IHRA definition in their actions.

“It is very good that the EU recognizes the IHRA working definition and focuses on a strategy to combat anti-Semitism in Europe and protect the Jewish minority in the EU,” said Ruissen. “However, the EU should not at the same time subsidize textbooks that are anti-Semitic at Palestinian schools! The EU should practice what it preaches also outside the EU. Fighting anti-Semitism would also be strengthened if the EU would stop its current unbalanced negative attitude towards the State of Israel, the safe haven for Jews from around the world.”

Croatia is one of the few European countries yet to have adopted the definition. MP Marijana Petir explained, “The Croatian Parliament's Education, Science, and Culture Committee in January 2020 adopted a conclusion encouraging state institutions and civil society organizations to promote the working definition of anti-Semitism that was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).”

“I am proud that Croatia was the first member of IHRA that has translated IHRA's recommendations on teaching and learning about the Holocaust. Croatia has not yet adopted a working definition of anti-Semitism, but I believe that opening discussion on it will be one of the priorities during Croatia's 2023 IHRA presidency.”

Currently there are no African countries who have adopted the definition. Chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Israel Allies Caucus Joyce Chitsulo expects Malawi to lead in this effort.

“It is time for African countries to join the global movement supporting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. My goal is for Malawi to be the first African country to adopt the definition,” said Chitsulo.

Member of Knesset Ruth Wasserman Lande (Blue and White), a member of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, highlighted how the IHRA definition extends not only to the Jewish people but also to the Jewish state.

“The IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism correctly qualifies the wholesale demonization of Israel as anti-Semitism. Those who delegitimize the only Jewish homeland are discriminating against the Jewish people by denying their right to self-determination,” said Wasserman Lande.

“It is important to note that the success of the IHRA definition lies not only in protecting the Jewish people, but also in serving as a model for defining racism against other religious or racial minorities,” she added.

Co-Chair of the US Congressional Israel Allies Caucus Chris Smith (R-NJ) has chaired 10 Congressional hearings on anti-Semitism and created the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in 2004.

“As legislators we have a responsibility to fight anti-Semitism with all the tools available to us,” Smith said. “This means we have to write good legislation, provide funding for programs to fight anti-Semitism, hold hearings, pass resolutions, meet with executive branch officials, and work together with parliamentary colleagues in Israel Allies caucuses.”

Other speakers at the event included Former US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism Elan Carr, MEP Lukas Mandl (Austria), and MP Emanuel Zingeris (Lithuania).

President of the IAF Josh Reinstein said, “Faith-based diplomacy is the most important diplomatic tool that Israel has. We know we can count on the parliamentarians in the Israel Allies network to implement tools like the IHRA definition to combat anti-Semitism and its new manifestation, anti-Zionism.”