60 organizations claim that the IHRA definition has been misused to falsely classify criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has a contentious definition of anti-Semitism that dozens of rights organisations have encouraged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres not to embrace. They claim that this definition has been used to silence criticism of Israel.

60 human rights and civil rights organisations argued that the UN shouldn’t adopt the concept in its action plan against anti-Semitism and related activities in a letter published on Monday.

In addition, it urged the UN to guard against “inadvertently emboldening or endorsing practises” that violate fundamental human rights, including the freedom to speak out and organise in favour of Palestinian rights.

The letter stated that “the IHRA definition has frequently been used to falsely designate criticism of Israel as antisemitic, chilling and occasionally suppressing non-violent protest, activism, and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, particularly in the US and Europe.”

Among the signatories were the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

The working definition of anti-Semitism provided by the IHRA reads, “Anti-Semitism is a particular perspective of Jews, which may be manifested as hatred towards Jews. Anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions are aimed towards Jewish or non-Jewish people and/or their property, as well as at Jewish community organisations and religious buildings.

According to the statement, the term has targeted those who promote Palestinian human rights, including academics, students, and grassroots organisations.

The letter noted two instances when universities in 2017 forbade various activities scheduled for “Israel Apartheid Week,” citing the IHRA definition, citing the example of the United Kingdom, where the definition was accepted nationally.

Leading anti-Semitism experts and academics with expertise in Holocaust and Jewish studies have also criticised the IHRA’s definition, the organisations stated, “arguing that it inhibits valid criticism of Israel and hinders the fight against antisemitism.”

The Jerusalem Declaration against Antisemitism and the Nexus Document, two definitions that have been proposed since 2021, were deemed to be superior substitutes by the groups.

These new definitions “lay out more clearly what constitutes antisemitism and provide direction regarding the boundaries of legitimate speech and action around Israel and Palestine,” they stated, “while accepting that criticism of Israel can be antisemitic.

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