The huge importance of the recent IHRA definition of anti-Semitism
The huge importance of the recent IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

Many authorities, organizations and individuals in Western societies have a vested interest in the minimization and trivialization of anti-Semitic acts. Against this background the recent adoption of a working definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) -- a body whose purpose is to promote Holocaust education, remembrance and research -- is hugely important. The agreement of all thirty one member countries of the IHRA was required to approve this definition.

This working definition reads: “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.”

This summary text is accompanied by a much longer explanation. One important element of it is that it also includes discriminatory manifestations targeting the state of Israel, “conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”[1]

The text of the definition and its explanation are not new. The major increase of anti-Semitic incidents in the current century and the intensified verbal attacks on Israel have created an increasing need for an updated definition of anti-Semitism that could also expose its anti-Israel permutations. The definition -- now adopted by the IHRA -- was presented as a working definition more than ten years ago by a body then called European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).

The EUMC definition was gradually accepted in many circles. For example, delegates to the May 2005 Cordoba Conference of the Using the IHRA definition it becomes clear that BDS activities are anti-Semitic as they are only applied against Israel. The same is true for various European Union labeling rules.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) frequently referred to this definition. In another example, in 2006 the Report of the British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism recommended that the EUMC definition should be "adopted and promoted by the [British] Government and law enforcement agencies.”[2] In view of the current outburst of anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party it might be mentioned that the report was an initiative of a Labour MP, and the inquiry itself was headed by another Labour MP while 6 of its 14 members were Labour MPs.  

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) was the successor of the EUMC. The text thereupon became known as the FRA working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2013, the FRA rather suddenly removed this definition from its website. This may well have been because applying the definition of this  European Union Agency would expose the fact that the EU itself commits anti-Semitic acts from time to time.[3] Though it has no official working definition of anti-Semitism, the US. State Department has published an anti-Semitism fact sheet, which mentions some further examples of anti-Semitism in addition to those noted in the FRA document.[4]

Using the IHRA definition it becomes clear that BDS activities are anti-Semitic as they are only applied against Israel. The same is true for various European Union labeling rules concerning the disputed 'West Bank' and the occupied Golan which are also only applied against Israel.[5] This is the more interesting as the IHRA has 24 EU countries among its members.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center ranked the European Union’s labeling behavior as the third most important anti-Semitic/anti-Israel incident of 2015, noting that “the European Union has chosen to label products from the Golan Heights and disputed territories on the West Bank alone, ignoring the products of other occupied and disputed territories in the world such as Western Sahara, Kashmir, Tibet and products from areas controlled by terrorist Hamas and Hezbollah. This use of double standards against Israel typifies modern anti-Israelism and has been at the core of anti-Semitism for many centuries.”[6]

Reading the IHRA definition with a critical eye, one important drawback comes into view. Its explanatory text says that it is an anti-Semitic act to apply double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic country.

When talking to some of those who drew up the original EUMC definition, none of them could explain why the word “democratic” was included in this sentence. Indeed why would one consider only the behavior of democratic countries. In fact, even though not a country, it seemingly gives the Palestinians a simple way out. The PA leadership frequently glorifies those who have murdered Israeli civilians and others. They cannot deny this as there is so much evidence. However, since the PA is not democratic it is seemingly entitled to benefit from a lower standard. By implication this would mean that the Palestinians are inferior people. Yet the Universal Declaration of Human rights considers all people equal and responsible for their acts.[7] The same should be true for all countries, democratic or not.

The importance of the IHRA definition cannot be emphasized enough. This is currently very evident in view of the many who minimize and trivialize the anti-Semitism in the British Labour party. The phenomenon is not new. Over ten years ago, French sociologist Shmuel Trigano exposed the mechanisms employed by the socialist Jospin government of the time to manipulate and minimize the importance of many anti-Semitic acts in France. He said that the “socialists were preparing for the 2002 elections and had to show their achievements. Giving publicity to the anti-Semitic violence was inconvenient. It has become known that the police reports on these incidents for the Ministry of the Interior were often incomplete.”[8]

It is convenient to have a definition handy. However, the IHRA definition, even though not legally binding, also opens up many new opportunities in the fight against anti-Semitism. It may be difficult to convince any one of the thirty-one member countries to adopt the definition as legally binding on the national level. Yet one can analyze cases of anti-Semitism in various countries and address the logical question to their governments: “You voted for the IHRA definition, why don’t you apply it to these incidents in your own country?”

One example on how this could be done concerns the Netherlands. Recently Foreign Minister Bert Koenders explained that the Netherlands allow BDS promotion under its free speech laws, yet the government itself opposes BDS. The latter is patently untrue because it has given large amounts of money to several Dutch BDS-promoting NGOs. One of these, Cordaid, received almost half a billion Euros in Dutch government subsidies between 2007 and 2011.[9] Additional government subsidies were given in later years.

Koenders, has also come out in favor of labeling of Israeli goods, without proposing such labeling in any other case.[10] His position falls under the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This is just one of hundreds of cases which can now be exposed as anti-Semitism in many other member countries of the IHRA.



[2]Report of the British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (London: Stationery Office Ltd, September 2006), para. 26.

[3] Sam Sokol, “Israel Urges EU Human Rights Body to Return ‘Anti-Semitism’ Definition to Website,” Jerusalem Post, 6 December 2013

] Special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, “Defining Anti-Semitism: Fact Sheet,” U.S. Department of State, 8 June 2010.






[10] “Koenders zet etikettering weer op agenda,” Telegraaf, 20 November 2014.