FRESH AIR

ABC considering IHRA antisemitism definition

Nov 6, 2020 | Naomi Levin

ABC managing director David Anderson with ABC editorial director Craig McMurtrie during Senate Estimates.
ABC managing director David Anderson with ABC editorial director Craig McMurtrie during Senate Estimates.

ABC Managing Director David Anderson says he has considered incorporating the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism into the public broadcaster’s editorial policies.

The IHRA definition is an internationally recognised definition of antisemitism that is used by many states, as well as specific institutions, to define and prevent antisemitism. The definition includes 11 examples of antisemitism, including Holocaust denial, and provides a helpful tool to differentiate between antisemitism and legitimate criticism of Israel. In 2019, the Australian Government was accepted as a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, but Australia has not adopted the definition of antisemitism for government use.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has also written to the ABC’s Editorial Director, Craig McMurtrie, asking him to update the ABC’s Editorial Policy on Hate Speech, Terrorism and Mass Killings to include reference to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

During questioning at Senate Estimates, Anderson said he had considered the IHRA definition of antisemitism, but could not confirm what outcome had been reached as a result of that consideration.

“Immediately after [last] estimates, we did talk to it. I read about it,” he told the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment and Communications.

“Where we’ve got to as to whether or not we’ve included that definition with regard to editorial policies or amended our editorial policies, I don’t believe we have, but…”

Anderson was asked by the committee to prepare a written submission to the committee on whether or not the ABC would adopt the definition.

Anderson’s response and AIJAC’s letter to McMurtrie both referenced an ABC radio documentary and podcast called “The Lone Soldier”. While the content itself was not antisemitic, many of the responses left on the ABC’s Facebook page clearly fell afoul of the IHRA definition. Some were removed, others were not. The letter also mentioned a small amount of other antisemitic content that had been broadcast on the ABC in recent months, or appeared on its website or social media pages.

In its letter to McMurtrie, AIJAC praised the ABC for its thoughtful editorial policies on hate speech, particularly its acknowledgement that “Distinguishing between hate speech and legitimate debate can be very difficult and the acceptable boundaries of debate are often not clear.”

The ABC’s policy notes that: “There are identifiable patterns that can help distinguish hate speech and prejudice from legitimate debate.

“For instance, the point at which legitimate criticism of the state of Israel and the actions of some Israelis becomes anti-Semitism reveals itself when the target becomes ‘Jews’ rather than ‘Israel’.”

While there is nothing incorrect about the example above used in the ABC’s hate speech guidelines, this example hardly exhausts the many complexities a journalist, broadcaster or producer who is not familiar with the nuances of Middle East politics and debate might have to face in seeking to correctly identify the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism.

For this reason, AIJAC urged McMurtrie to fully incorporate the IHRA definition of antisemitism into its editorial policy on hate speech.

“We believe it would greatly assist editorial staff by providing a detailed definition and explanation of antisemitism,” said the letter, co-signed by AIJAC’s National Chair Mark Leibler and AIJAC’s Executive Director Colin Rubenstein.

It is certainly positive that the ABC is reviewing its important editorial policies on hate speech, and the managing director is considering the utility of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. At a time when the online environment can often be a haven for racists and extremists, the IHRA definition could be an important tool for Australia’s national public broadcaster to carry out its vital responsibilities to lead the way in setting policies to deal with racist speech generally, and antisemitism in particular.

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