Readers Write: Importance of the IHRA antisemitism definition

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Readers Write: Importance of the IHRA antisemitism definition

To support the mistaken view that the International Holocaust Alliance working definition of antisemitism “chills criticism” of the Israeli government, critics of the definition often cite Ken Stern, a former American Jewish Committee employee. This was the case in Matthew Zeidman’s latest letter, published in these pages on July 30.

AJC staff experts played a critical role in drafting the working definition. As Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s Director of International Jewish Affairs, noted in his recent Forward op-ed, Mr. Stern was not the “lead drafter” but was one of a dozen experts from Europe, Israel and the U.S. involved in writing the definition that was first adopted by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005, and by the IHRA in 2016.

“All the original authors of the definition, with one exception, still believe that this one-page definition is a critical tool in understanding and combating antisemitism that merits widespread adoption and use,” wrote Rabbi Baker, who himself was one of the drafters. He noted that Mr. Stern is the one exception.

AJC, a leader in combating antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world for more than 115 years, has continued to advocate for adoption of the working definition because it is recognized as the clearest and succinct explanation of what is antisemitism. And defining antisemitism is key to fighting it. For a full analysis, download a copy of AJC’s publication, “The Working Definition of Antisemitism: What Does It Mean, Why Is It Important, and What Should We Do With It?

Mr. Zeidman’s charge that AJC is “actively attempting to use the IHRA definition to brand all criticism of the Israeli government and its military antisemitic” is baseless. AJC has stated time and again that the Israeli government, like all governments, is open to valid criticism.

But, let’s be honest, critics who question the very legitimacy of the State of Israel or who verbally or physically attack American Jews for supporting Israel are antisemitic.

Also astonishing is his accusation that AJC is “actively attempting to erase the identities of any members of the Jewish community who don’t hold a similar worldview and falsely portraying said community as a political, cultural and religious monolith.”  This smear reveals how little the author knows or wants to understand AJC.

AJC is one of the most experienced and welcoming of American Jewish organizations. AJC recognizes that our community is diverse, and, in fact, the AJC tent is large with a broad cross-section of Jews across the entire political and religious denomination spectrum.

I welcome an in-person meeting with Mr. Zeidman to discuss these issues and to try to find some common ground. You can reach me at [email protected]. My hope is that after we meet and get to know each other, we can jointly author a follow-up piece.

Arnie Herz

American Jewish Committee

Long Island President

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