Middle East Monitor / April 6, 2023
A prominent advocate of the controversial and inaccurate definition of anti-Semitism created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has acknowledged that one of its purposes is to target and silence human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) and others documenting Israel’s human rights abuses.
“The purpose of the IHRA working definition was to prevent the illegitimate demonization of Israel, the singling out of Israel, and the antisemitic aspects of the attacks on Israel, which is exactly what these NGOs are doing,” said a key proponent of IHRA, Professor Gerald Steinberg, the founder of pro-Israel, NGO Monitor.
Steinberg made the remark in response to 60 human and civil rights organisations who on Tuesday released a joint open letter urging the UN not to adopt the IHRA. Steinberg told the Algemeiner that the letter, which was also signed by HRW, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and B’Tselem, is an act of “political warfare against Israel”.
According to Steinberg, the NGOs are doing the very thing which the IHRA was designed to prevent. But critics have pointed out that the IHRA is not preventing anti-Jewish racism and instead has had a chilling effect on free speech and has further undermined the work of the international human rights community.
In the letter to the UN, the groups warned that if the world body endorsed the IHRA then its officials who work on issues regarding Israel and Palestine may find themselves “unjustly accused of anti-Semitism based on the IHRA definition”. A case could also be made for “numerous UN agencies, departments, committees, panels and/or conferences, whose work touches on issues related to Israel and Palestine, as well as for civil society actors and human rights defenders engaging with the UN system,” to be smeared as racist.
The targets of accusations of anti-Semitism based on the IHRA definition have included university students and professors, grassroots organisers, human rights and civil rights organisations, humanitarian groups and members of the US Congress, who either document or criticise Israeli policies and who speak in favour of Palestinian human rights.
Rights group have constantly dismissed the claim that “illegitimate demonization of Israel” and “singling out Israel”, is anti-Semitic. If that principal was accepted in a definition of racism than by that logic, a person dedicated to defending the rights of Tibetans could be accused of anti-Chinese racism, or a group dedicated to promoting democracy and minority rights in Saudi Arabia could be accused of Islamophobia.
IHRA’s qualification that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” has not offered any protection to the constant smearing of critics of Israel. “In practice,” said HRW, “these disclaimers have failed to prevent the politically motivated instrumentalization of the IHRA definition in efforts to muzzle legitimate speech and activism by critics of Israel’s human rights record and advocates for Palestinian rights.”