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Three Definitions of Antisemitism: A Comparison

By TTN Blog

TTN members discussed the merits and demerits of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which drew the signatures of more than 200 Jewish scholars and a few activists, as an alternative to the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) working definition.  Although viewed skeptically by some of us as a way to legitimize or enable opposition to Israel and Zionism, the Jerusalem Declaration attempts a consensus position for both liberal supporters of Zionism and others who are anti- or non-Zionist to both respect academic freedom and condemn antisemitism.  Our colleague, David Schraub, has just drawn up a chart that compares the two formulations with a third  recently produced by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School.  Schraub’s preface and his chart follow: 

Over the past several years, the “IHRA” working definition of antisemitism has risen in prominence. While it has been widely adopted by governments, colleges, businesses, and sports teams, IHRA has also come under criticism from those who think it is too vague or conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Recently, two additional definitions of antisemitism have emerged to (depending on one’s perspective) complement or supplant IHRA: The Nexus Document (a project out of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School) and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. Note that all three of these projects had slightly different objectives when they were drafted. IHRA was initially designed as an aid for data-collection regarding antisemitic incidents in Europe. The Nexus Document is specifically concerned with the intersection of antisemitism and discourse on Israel, and does not independently address other cases of antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration seeks to be comprehensive, but also positions itself expressly as an alternative to IHRA and so concentrates on certain areas where it believes IHRA is inadequate or wrong.

The table below summarizes the contents of these three definitions and how they address major areas of controversy, highlighting where they overlap and where they disagree. A green check means the concept is unambiguously included in the definition of antisemitism, a yellow square means it is ambiguous or included with significant qualification, and a red X means it is excluded under the definition. Where a cell is left blank, that means that the definition does not speak one way or the other on that topic.

  IHRA Nexus Jerusalem
What is antisemitism? “A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” “Anti-Jewish beliefs, attitudes, actions or systemic conditions”, including “conditions that discriminate against Jews and significantly impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic, or social life.” “Discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).”
Antisemitism includes perceptions/beliefs/

attitudes?

… includes conduct? 🟨
… includes conditions? X X
… includes violence?

“Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.”

“It is antisemitic to attack and/or physically harm a Jew because of her/his relationship to Israel.”

“Examples of antisemitic deeds are: assaulting someone because she or he is Jewish [and]  attacking a synagogue.” 

Orientation towards IHRA? N/A Meant to complement (described as “Gemara” to IHRA’s “Mishnah”) Meant to replace, but can be used as “a tool for interpreting” for organizations which have already adopted IHRA
How to read illustrative examples Examples of antisemitism “could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to…” N/A “In general, when applying the guidelines each should be read in the light of the others and always with a view to context.”
Dismissiveness towards antisemitism N/A

“All claims of antisemitism made by Jews, like all claims of discrimination and oppression in general, should be given serious attention.”

N/A
Can criticism of Israel or Zionism be antisemitic?

“As an embodiment of collective Jewish organization and action, Israel can be a target of antisemitism and antisemitic behavior.”

The document does not “suggest that anti-Zionism is never antisemitic”, rather, it “seeks to clarify when criticism of (or hostility to) Israel or Zionism crosses the line into antisemitism and when it does not.”

… is it always antisemitic? X

“Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic

X

“As a general rule, criticism of Zionism and Israel, opposition to Israel’s policies, or nonviolent political action directed at the State of Israel and/or its policies should not, as such, be deemed antisemitic.”

“Opposition to Zionism and/or Israel does not necessarily reflect specific anti-Jewish animus nor purposefully lead to antisemitic behaviors and conditions. (For example, someone might oppose the principle of nationalism or ethnonationalist ideology. Similarly, someone’s personal or national experience may have been adversely affected by the creation of the State of Israel.)”

X

Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism “are categorically different. Nationalism, Jewish or otherwise, can take many forms, but it is always open to debate.”

“Hostility to Israel could be an expression of an antisemitic animus, or it could be a reaction to a human rights violation, or it could be the emotion that a Palestinian person feels on account of their experience at the hands of the State.”

Jewish self-determination in Israel

“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” [is a potential example of antisemitism]

🟨

“It is antisemitic to advocate a political solution that denies Jews the right to define themselves as a people, thereby denying them — because they are Jews — the right to self-determination.”

X

“Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.”

This is compatible with “a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.”

Double-standards

“Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” could be antisemitic.

“However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”

🟨

“It is antisemitic to treat Israel differently solely because it is a Jewish state, using standards different than those applied to other countries.”

However, “paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of [a double-standard].”

X

“Criticism that some may see as … reflecting a ‘double standard,’ is not, in and of itself, antisemitic.”

BDS N/A 🟨

Does not speak on directly, but says “nonviolent political action directed at the State of Israel and/or its policies should not, as such, be deemed antisemitic.”

X

“Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.”

“Strident” criticism N/A 🟨

“Even contentious, strident, or harsh criticism of Israel for its policies and actions, including those that led to the creation of Israel, is not per se illegitimate or antisemitic.”

However, “It is antisemitic to convey intense hostility toward Jews who are connected to Israel in a way that intentionally or irresponsibly (acting with disregard to potential violent consequences) provokes antisemitic violence.”

X

“Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected … Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious … is not, in and of itself, antisemitic.”

There is a difference between “unreasonable” and “antisemitic” speech.

“Tropes”

“Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis” could be antisemitic

“It is antisemitic to promote myths, stereotypes or attitudes about Zionism and/or Israel that derive from and/or reinforce antisemitic accusations and tropes.”

“Applying the symbols, images and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism to the State of Israel” is, “on the face of it”, antisemitic.

… Jewish hyperpower

“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

“Characterizing Israel as being part of a sinister world conspiracy of Jewish control of the media, economy, government or other financial, cultural or societal institutions.”

“Indiscriminately blaming suffering and injustices around the world on a hidden Jewish conspiracy or of being the maligning hand of Israel or Zionism.”

“At the core of many anti-Jewish fantasies [is] the idea of a Jewish conspiracy in which ‘the Jews’ possess hidden power that they use to promote their own collective agenda at the expense of other people [and] in the fantasy that ‘the Jews’ control governments with a ‘hidden hand,’ that they own the banks, control the media, act as ‘a state within a state,’ and are responsible for spreading disease”

… dual Loyalty

“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” could be antisemitic.

“Considering Jews to be a priori incapable of setting aside their loyalty to the Jewish people and/or Israel” is antisemitic.

“Assuming that non-Israeli Jews, simply because they are Jews, are necessarily more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.”

… wealth N/A N/A

“Examples of antisemitic words include utterances that all Jews are wealthy [or] inherently stingy”

Collective responsibility

“Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews”

“Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

“Holding individuals or institutions, because they are Jewish, a priori culpable of real or imagined wrongdoing committed by Israel.”

“It is antisemitic to use symbols and images that present all Jews as collectively guilty for the actions of the State of Israel.”

“Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating Jews, simply because they are Jewish, as agents of Israel.”

… demands for disavowals of Israel N/A N/A

“Requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, at a political meeting).”

… demands that Jews hold the “right” view on Israel to be recognized as Jewish N/A

“Denigrating or denying the Jewish identity of certain Jews because they are perceived as holding the ‘wrong’ position (whether too critical or too favorable) on Israel.”

N/A
Holocaust Denial

“Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).”

N/A

“Denying or minimizing the Holocaust by claiming that the deliberate Nazi genocide of the Jews did not take place, or that there were no extermination camps or gas chambers, or that the number of victims was a fraction of the actual total, is antisemitic.”

Nazi Comparisons

“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” could be antisemitic.

N/A X(?)

Doesn’t specifically address, but does say “even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.”

One Response to “Three Definitions of Antisemitism: A Comparison”

  1. Barbara Landau
    April 12, 2021 at 12:09 pm #

    Thank you for this helpful analysis. The concern is not so much with a definition as with how it can be and IS being used as a weapon to stifle free speech, impact academic appointments or speakers, etc – both as applied outside the Jewish community and within our community. The IHRA has been misused and therefore greater clarity about the balance between safeguarding Jews and all victims of racist attacks VS the right to be critical and hold diverse opinions is very important. The JDA offers greater clarity based on the experience with the IHRA.

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