JJP Policy Statement: Definitions of Antisemitism


The issue of antisemitism has in recent years become entangled with the right to criticise Israel. This arose because, since 2016, the big, communal Jewish organisations in the Israel lobby have been actively promoting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA WD). The WD is worded in such a way as to create confusion between criticism of Israel and antisemitism, and is used by its proponents to claim that much fundamental criticism of Israel is antisemitic.

In May 2021,after a year of intensive consultations. the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism was created as a response to the faulty IHRA Working Definition. Its purposes are to strengthen the fight against antisemitism by clarifying what it is and how it is manifested, and to protect the space for open debate about Israel and Palestine that has been constricted by the faulty IHRA WS.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians supports the Jerusalem Declaration and opposes the IHRA Working Definition.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism

The framers of the Declaration are an international group of eminent academics in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, Middle East studies and philosophy. The Declaration is endorsed by more than 200 scholars from several countries. The framers and endorsers do not all share the same political views and are not seeking to promote a partisan political agenda.

The JDA consists of the preamble, the definition, general guidelines, examples of comment on Israel and Palestine that, on the face of it, are antisemitic, and examples of comment on Israel and Palestine that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic.

  • The definition states “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).” This is precise and very difficult to misinterpret.
  • The general guidelines provide historical context, identify the similarities between antisemitism and other forms of racism and the particularity of antisemitism, identify for forms antisemitism can take, and specify that Holocaust denial or minimisation is always antisemeitic.
  • The two sets of Israel/Palestine related examples provide a basis for differentiating logically between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism.
  • The guidelines support the legitimacy of criticising Zionism, fundamental criticism of Israeli policy, and advocacy of Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) in protest against Israeli policy.

While JJP would disagree with one or two of its formulations, the JDA is a sound and fair-minded document. It is consistent with the right to free speech, which is protected by Article 10(2) of the Convention on Human Rights, under which public authorities are under “a positive obligation to create a favourable environment for participation in public debates for all concerned, allowing them to express their opinions and ideas without fear, even if these opinions and ideas are contrary to those defended by the official authorities or by a large part of public opinion, or even if those opinions and ideas are irritating or offensive to the public” (Tomlinson Para 16).

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism

The Working definition consists of a two-sentence statement (the basic definition), a linking paragraph, and ‘eleven examples.

There are serious problems with the IHRA WD which can be summarised as:

  • The “working definition” consists of these two sentences: 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 is bewilderingly imprecise. It can be understood in different ways and therefore is fundamentally unhelpful in judging whether particular comments are antisemitic. Just two of the many questions that arise will suffice as illustrations: What is “a certain perception” supposed to mean? What is “may be expressed as hatred” supposed to include or exclude, since ‘may be’ implies ‘may not be’?”
  • The statement that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’ leaves open what kind of criticism is to be considered antisemitic .That is because it is in the negative and because ‘similar’ is so imprecise.
  • The specific reference to Israel in seven of the eleven examples elides Jews and Israel. Together with the absence of any examples of legitimate criticism of Israel, this creates a strong bias towards seeing criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
  • The eleven examples of antisemitic statements include some that would clearly be antisemitic but others where the judgement would depend on context, without specifying which examples are context-dependent, which adds a further level of ambiguity.

In Britain the IHRA WD has been adopted by the Conservative Government, and by many local authorities and universities,albeit sometimes with caveats. The Labour and Liberal Democrat political parties have adopted it with caveats.

In practice, applying the IHRA WD has meant that criticism of Zionism, fundamental criticism of Israeli policy, or advocacy of BDS have routinely been deemed as antisemitic. Action has sometimes been taken against individuals or against specific activities, despite the fact that courts have often ruled that such comments and advocacy are legal and not antisemitic. The IHRA WD thereby undermines the right to free speech protected by Article 10(2) of the Convention on Human Rights.

JJP activity

Together with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel, JJP commissioned Hugh Tomlinson QC to produce a legal opinion on the IHRA WD which concluded among other things that a public authority would be acting unlawfully if it applied the IHRA WD to prevent or sanction such activities as describing Israel as an apartheid state or supporting policies such as BDS. The Court rulings mentioned above bear out his judgment.

We participate in the international No IHRA Group which campaigns against the adoption of the definition and its use to silence pro-Palestinian activity.

JJP policy

  • Work for adoption of the JDA.

  • Continue opposition to the adoption of the IHRA WD.

  • Where the IHRA WD has already been adopted:

oppose attempts to use it in a way that prevents supporting the struggle for Palestinian rights;.

where there are internal enforcement mechanisms, seek to join those mechanisms if appropriate in order to mitigate deleterious use of the WD;

advocate replacing the IHRA WD with the JDA.

Supporting Documentation

  • The Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism, 2021(https://jerusalemdeclaration.org/)
  • The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism
  • (https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antisemitism)
  • Hugh Tomlinson, In the Matter of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, 2017. (https://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/ihra-opinion/#sthash.b2lSXb4T.YuRtx1cS.dpbs)
  • Court rulings that BDS and anti-Zionism are legal and not antisemitic.
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