The Trump administration is considering branding Amnesty International as ‘anti-Semitic’ because of its repeated criticism of human rights abuses by Israel. One of the legal tools Trump uses is the so-called “IHRA” definition of anti-Semitism. But resistance to the IHRA definition is growing in the USA, in Canada and around the world. Read more…
In October, NBC News reported that The Trump administration is weighing a proposal to brand prominent human rights organizations as “anti-Semitic”. Backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the proposed declaration would take aim at Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and possibly other rights groups that have criticized the Israeli government over its policies toward Palestinians. Pompeo followed that up by announcing that the U.S. would also brand the boycott movement against Israel (BDS) as “anti-Semitic” and bar any groups that participate in it from receiving government funding.
While these threats may be merely political theatrics by the outgoing Trump/Pompeo administration, they do reflect a dramatic “weaponization” of the term “anti-Semitism” by the pro Israel lobby in Canada and the USA in an attempt to “chill” any criticism of Israel.
One of the legal tools that is being used is a document called the “IHRA definition of anti-Semitism” which goes far beyond traditional definitions of anti-Semitism, – hostility toward or discrimination against Jews – to include many examples of statements critical of the State of Israel.
But as the term anti-Semitism is increasingly used against a broader and broader range of Israel’s critics, so too, does the pushback. Established human rights organizations like Amnesty and Human Rights watch are sputtering with anger at this attempt to smear them. “It’s shocking, confusing, offensive, troubling. I am almost speechless,” Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch said of the Trump/Pompeo proposal.
Widespread rejection in North America of IHRA definition.. including from some surprising places
Opposition to the overuse of the anti-Semitism label has come from some surprising places.
Over 30 Jewish groups – including non-Zionist, anti-Zionist and liberal Zionist groups from around the world have also signed a statement calling on legislative bodies to reject the definition.
We urge our governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition and instead take effective measures to defeat white supremacist nationalist hate and violence and to end complicity in Israel’s human rights violations. Israel does not represent us and cannot speak for us when committing crimes against Palestinians and denying their UN-stipulated rights.
Statement by over 30 Jewish groups worldwide
In fact, the list of those opposing the IHRA definition is growing, according to Corey Balsam, National Coordinator of Independent Jewish Voices Canada in a blog post which appeared in The Times of Israel.
“Proponents of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance like to boast about how much support it has,” noted Balsam. “Pro-IHRA lobbying efforts around the world have had remarkable success: nearly 30 countries including the US, Israel and Canada have adopted or recognized it, as have many local governments and universities (especially in the UK, where the government is now threatening universities with funding cuts if they refuse to adopt it)”.
“But,” notes Balsam, “The IHRA definition also has a great many detractors.”
Among those detractors are some rather centrist Jewish organizations, not just radical ones. The Washington-based liberal Zionist organization J Street lobby group said in a statement that “Trump’s executive order is a cynical, harmful measure designed to suppress free speech on college campuses, not fight anti-Semitism. (…) it appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,” J Street wrote.
Americans for Peace Now, a nonprofit whose stated aim is to help find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has refused a request from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
And backlash in Europe, too
The “anti-Semitism” label has also been widely used in Europe, and especially in Germany, which for historical reasons is understandably concerned about being (or even being labelled as) anti-Semitic. “In Germany, a Witch Hunt Is Raging Against Critics of Israel. Cultural Leaders Have Had Enough,” headlined the the Israeli daily “Haaretz’. Nazareth based blogger Jonathan Cook explains that a “reign of political and cultural terror” has unfurled over the last several years in Germany, as unfair and unfounded anti-Semitism accusations undermine the careers of some important political and cultural figures. But, he says, a backlash is also building there, too.
Divided public reaction in Canada
Public reaction in Canada has been divided, as reflected in a debate which unfolded recently in the Toronto Star. In Canada, Zionist groups like CIJA and B’nai Brith have been actively promoting the IHRA definition.
Some liberal Zionist groups in Canada have chosen to look the other way. CTIP contacted Canadian Friends of Peace Now for a statement. “This is not an issue we want to be active on”, said Gabriella Goliger, CFPN’s Ottawa Chapter chairperson.
In recent days, IJV has been waging its own very “in your face” campaign against the IHRA called #no to IHRA in particular focusing on the IHRA claim that calling Israel a “racist endeavour” state is anti-Semitic.
IJV points to 11 examples of Israeli racism – not just in daily social practice, but rooted in Israeli law and in the statements from some Zionist leaders. Each of these examples, claims IJV Canada, demonstrates a different aspect of the racism which underlies and pervades Israeli society.
Example #1 starts with a reference to a letter from from Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism to Cecil Rhodes, one of Britain’s best known colonialists. Hertzl’s vision of a “Jewish State” was clearly based on a notion of Jewish racial superiority over the barbaric Arabs.
Canada’s official response?
Canadian authorities have no excuse for not understanding the discriminatory policies, based on race/religion which are embedded in Israeli practice and law. They are openly displayed for anyone interested in investigating human rights. We have diplomats on the ground both in Tel Aviv and in Ramallah. Yet our government has ENDORSED the IHRA definition. Prime Minister Trudeau even named Hon. Irwin Cotler, a longstanding promoter of IHRA as Canada’s official representative to the IHRA. It seems that Canada, which claims to support human rights around the world, finds it convenient to look the other way while attempts are being made through the IHRA definition to shield Israel by labelling its critics as “anti-Semitic”.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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