US Reform movement opposes adopting international anti-Semitism definition as law

The IHRA definition identifies targeting the State of Israel as one possible manifestation of anti-Semitism.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

The Reform movement has joined the list of U.S. Jewish groups urging the Biden administration not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

The Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Women of Reform Judaism, and Association of Reform Zionists of America made their position known in a statement issued Monday.

“We will oppose any effort to use the definition to silence, marginalize, or shun those seeking to positively contribute to the public conversation,” the statement said.

“Our commitment to principles of free speech and concerns about the potential abuse of the definition compel us to urge its use only as intended: as a guide and an awareness raising tool.

“The definition should not be codified into policy that would trigger potentially problematic punitive action to circumscribe speech, efforts which have been particularly aimed at college students and human rights activists,” the statement said.

The IHRA definition identifies targeting the State of Israel as one possible manifestation of anti-Semitism.

According to the IHRA, examples of anti-Semitic targeting could include “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Read  Can Reform and Conservative Judaism support for Israel be revived?

“However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” the IHRA said.

Prior to the Reform movement’s statement, far-Left Jewish groups came out opposing the IHRA definition, fearing it would interfere with their efforts to pressure Israel to cave to Palestinian demands because it would label the Palestinian side as anti-Semitic by virtue of its anti-Zionism.

Jonathan Tobin, editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Service, writes, “The definition rightly declares that, among other things, judging Israel by a double standard and demonizing the one Jewish state on the planet and its backers is anti-Semitic.”

On Jan. 13, the Progressive Israel Network issued a statement expressing concern over the adoption of the IHRA definition as a “legal tool” and urging the Biden administration not to codify its use.

The statement said that the use of the definition “has created opportunities for abuse and politicization by the outgoing Trump administration and others, undermining the moral clarity of the effort to dismantle anti-Semitism.”

Members of the Progressive Israel Network include Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, Hashomer Hatzair World Movement, Jewish Labor Committee, J Street, New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, and T’ruah.

Writing in a separate op-ed, Tobin said, “Though some members of these left-wing groups may claim that they are still Zionist and opposed to anti-Semitism, their increasingly ambivalent attitude towards Israel, coupled with hostility to those who have called out Palestinians and other anti-Zionists for their anti-Semitism, seem far more important to them.”

Read  Lufthansa adopts IHRA definition of antisemitism after 100 Orthodox Jews were barred from flying

The statements by the Reform movement and the Progressive Israel Network come after a Jan. 12 letter to Biden from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The letter, which was also signed by the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, and the Orthodox Union, said that the IHRA definition “ought to inform the enforcement of Title VI [of the 1964 Civil Rights Act] throughout the government.”

The letter praised Trump’s 2019 Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism and called upon Biden to maintain and build upon the policies of previous presidents in fighting anti-Semitism.

In December 2019, Trump ordered the use of the IHRA definition by all executive departments and agencies charged with enforcing the Civil Rights Act.