antisemitism,  Israel,  Law

Antisemitism Awareness Act 2023

On May 1 2024, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, margin of 320-91, to the deep consternation of several demographics.

I have made it a point not to follow US politics too closely – madness awaits that way- and was only aware of the passing of the Act due to the collective gnashing of teeth online. The ACLU, many activist academics, hamasniks  palestine rights advocates, left and rightwing antisemites were vociferous in collectively condemning the Act.  Sometimes certain US jurisdictions go too far, in curtailing abortion access for example and I wondered if this was such an instance. The last 6 months have seen the ugliest display of antisemitism since the second world war  and the past several weeks’ of  radical student activism in western universities have clearly shown that anti-zionism and pro-palestine advocacy have endangered the security of Jewish and Israeli students. Did the Antisemitism Act go too far in reaction to recent events?

Well, colour me surprised to discover that  all the high pitched squealing was over the  Act’s adoption of the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working (and legally nonbinding) definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism which is now being made out to be something hugely controversial has been  accepted by the UK government since 2017. The Labour Party which is infamous for the antisemites it harbours adopted the IHRA definition in 2018 in full despite desperate attempts by Jeremy Corbyn to add a ‘note’ to it.

This is the definition of antisemitism that is routinely described as controversial, from the European Commission:


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.

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • 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, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a 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 (e.g. gas 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 behaviour 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 characterise 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.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.


The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)’s  notes that the IHRA working definition has been “gaining increasing support in the international community and has been adopted by 27 states (as of November 2020), including 23 member states of the Council of Europe, and been endorsed or recommended for usage by various international actors, such as the European Union and the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief.”

The ECRI acknowledges that there can be no final definition of antisemitism, and that “inter alia, it has been argued that the Working Definition does not reflect a consensus within academic scholarship”. You don’t say? Academic “scholarship” has itself proven to be an increasingly problematic component of antisemitism. In fact this blog has been running articles on the academy’s abject inability to confront its own failings on antisemitism since 2017. Yes, the UK has the sad advantage of being further along this road than the US but US academia seems to have caught up with a vengeance.

The most serious charge of the critics is that the IHRA definition delegitimises  political criticism of Israel and curtails free speech. The IHRA working definition states that it’s antisemitic to  hold Israel to a higher standard than any other democratic nation. The outsized international obsession with Israel might offer a clue to these blinkered critics. That they are so intent on making it out to be a uniquely evil state that needs to be punished with BDS campaigns, ICC complaints and a surreal number of UN resolutions condemning it when other states that have committed actual human rights abuses are ignored or even slavishly admired.

The UK and EU are seven years into the adoption of the IHRA working definition. There are objective ways of testing this criticism, say comparing news coverage of Israel before and after the IHRA adoption. We could check the number of  criminal prosecutions for anti-zionist speech. We could check to see if pro-palestine protest marches have been cancelled, how many stridently anti-zionist academics have lost their jobs and so on.

The IHRA definition is not like crazily dangerous hatespeech laws that have been enacted in places like Scotland nor the underhand and undemocratic “non-criminal hate incident” recording and harassment for legal speech that the UK police forces have indulged themselves in. The IHRA definition was largely borne out of monitoring work conducted by the defunct European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC, the predecessor of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency – FRA) and that pedigree in part explains the ready acceptance of the definition in Europe. Also it was clear from the start that the working definition “was not designed to be legislated, but to provide operational guidance to relevant public authorities”. When so many bad faith actors who in all other matters concerning racism are utterly draconian censors suddenly turn into  ‘muh freeze peach” warriors when it comes to Israel, one can only laugh.