FACT SHEETS

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism

Aug 19, 2021 | AIJAC staff

FACT SHEET 1

This fact sheet is current as of August 2021.

SUMMARY 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism is widely accepted by the Jewish community, both in Australia and globally, as a definitive definition of antisemitism and a tool to educate and combat antisemitism.

 

THE FACTS

What is IHRA? 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an intergovernmental organisation that aims to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance, and to uphold the commitment to the 2000 Stockholm Declaration. 

The IHRA’s 34 member countries, including Australia, recognise the need for international coordination to strengthen the moral commitment to combat increasing Holocaust denial and antisemitism. 

The IHRA is a support and resource for policymakers and educators in their efforts to develop curricula, and to inform initiatives for the prevention of genocide. 

 

How does the IHRA carry out its mission? 

The IHRA’s approach is to identify and highlight the most pressing post-Holocaust issues throughout the world, and to promote practicable actions to address them. 

Working definitions are an important practical educational tool, helping to raise awareness of these issues. The IHRA has formulated working definitions on several issues, including antisemitism, Holocaust denial and antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination. 

The drafting process takes years, with the experts on IHRA working groups and committees consulting widely to produce a text for member countries’ approval. Further amendments may be made. 

 

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism 

Antisemitism was the root cause of the Holocaust. It has not gone away. It is persistent, pernicious and, once again, on the rise. Moreover, it is a global problem. It is important, therefore, for the international community to call out this hatred. 

As the only intergovernmental organisation mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues, the IHRA resolved to lead the fight against antisemitism. It first needed to clarify what antisemitism is. To do so necessitated recognising its modern manifestation, following the foundation of the state of Israel, as well as the classic hateful stereotypes.

In 2016 the IHRA plenary, the organisation’s official decision-making body, adopted the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism: 

“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.” 

To illustrate, the IHRA provides the following list of “contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere… taking into account the overall context”:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (eggas 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). 
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

This list is not exhaustive. 

Antisemitism is growing among those who use their hatred of Zionism or Israel as a proxy for their hatred of Jews. The IHRA definition is explicit that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” However, the examples provided alongside the IHRA working definition of antisemitism bring clarity to the distinction between legitimate and acceptable criticism of Israeli policies in contrast to antisemitism. 

 

Why do countries and institutions adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism? 

 Jewish organisations around the world have advocated for the adoption of the definition by governments and institutions, including universities, sporting bodies and human rights organisations among others. It is an important principle that the Jewish people, the victims of antisemitism, be allowed to play the predominant role in determining what antisemitism is, and not have this dictated by others. 

Some argue that the intention of the definition is to silence criticism of Israel, but this has been found to be demonstrably untrue. Israel is not mentioned in the definition itself, and criticism of Israel is explicitly recognised as acceptable when it is levelled in the same way as against other countries, but not when Israel is held to a different standard. The examples, however, illustrate ways in which condemnation of Israel is really a cover for antisemitism  –  for example, when “Israeli” or “Zionist” is substituted for “Jew” in stereotypes embodying secret conspiratorial control or dual loyalty. 

The claim that adoption of the definition would impede free speech is similarly baseless. The working definition is non-legally binding and would not interfere with the existing framework of Australian law regulating freedom of speech. It is designed to highlight, not censor, antisemitism. 

 

Australia and the IHRA 

Australia became the 33rd member of the IHRA on June 4 2019, demonstrating its ongoing commitment to commemorating the Holocaust and to efforts to prevent antisemitic atrocities in the future. 

While there is less evidence of  antisemitism here than in many parts of the world, it does exist. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry logs hundreds of physical incidents each year, there are some antisemitic organisations based in Australia and there are countless examples of online anti-Jewish material, which has impact on Jewish Australians. To help combat this scourge, the time is opportune for the Australian Government to join the, to date, 32 countries (including the US and UK) that have adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has the support of Australia’s major Jewish organisations. 

The leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, has endorsed the IHRA working definition of antisemitism on behalf of his political party. Albanese has said if his party wins government, it would officially adopt the definition. The ALP is the only Australian political party to do so as at August 2021. 

Major Jewish community organisations, including AIJAC, have urged the Coalition Government, led by Scott Morrison, to pave the way for the Parliament to adopt a bipartisan motion that endorses the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in Australia. 

This would lead the way for priority institutions in Australia, such as anti-discrimination bodies, law enforcement, mediaeducation institutions and sporting clubs and associations, to incorporate the IHRA working definition of antisemitism into their operations. The definition may be used to educate, to identify and address incidents of antisemitism and to bring attention to hatred against Jewish Australians.  

This follow-up “adoption” of the definition would operationalise its use in Australia, leading the way for a government office or statutory organisation such as the Australian Human Rights Commission to develop guidelines for the assistance of institutions, so they may employ the definition in their specific contexts. 

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