Largest organization of university professors attacks IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

Policy document postulates that academic and intellectual freedom are threatened because the definition regards Palestinian activism as a form of discrimination. 

By Yoni Michanie, JNS

A recent policy document published by the largest organization of university professors in the United States has come under fire for demonizing the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of anti-Semitism by Florida’s state legislature.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) published the document in March of 2022, in order to address what it called the “legislative threats” posed by the adoption of the definition.

The document claims that “conservative politicians have justified restrictive legislation under the guise of protecting students” and argues that the wording of the definition conflates political critiques of Israel with Judaism.

It further asserts that academic and intellectual freedom is threatened by the IHRA definition because the definition regards Palestinian activism as a form of discrimination, thus “skewing the social and legal meaning of equality.”

The IHRA definition states that criticism of Israeli politics should not be regarded as anti-Semitic per se—only those critiques that involve a clear double standard. When asked if it recognizes double standards as a form of anti-Semitism, the AAUP offered no comment.

‘The need to disavow their Zionism’

In response to the AAUP’s policy document, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA)’s David Litman said “only by ignoring the actual text of the IHRA definition, which clearly states that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic’ and that overall context matters, is the AAUP able to make its allegation that the definition says the opposite of what it actually says.”

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CAMERA’s International Campus director Aviva Rosenschein said “having deceptively edited the IHRA definition, the AAUP statement goes on to shamefully impute nefarious, conspiratorial motives to the mainstream Jewish community, which the statement then equates with the racist ‘far-right.’ ”

Miriam Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, highlighted the growing number of Jewish students who increasingly feel “the need to disavow their Zionism in order to fit in and succeed on campus.”

“Instead of silencing speech or infringing on academic freedom,” she said, “the definition helps to encourage a robust discussion of the multifaceted nature of contemporary anti-Semitism, including when it’s disguised as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist animus.”

Elman repudiated the AAUP’s claim that the adoption of the IHRA definition is “state interference with academic freedom, thereby undermining the public mission of higher education.”

“The IHRA definition, in fact, promotes free speech by ensuring that Jewish students can openly express the Zionist components of their identity and participate in campus life without being shunned, ostracized or harassed,” she said.