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Israel: Rights groups call for UN to oppose IHRA antisemitism definition

B'tselem, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence and others warn IHRA definition has been used to 'silence dissent' over treatment of Palestinians
A UN flag hangs over a school at al-Fawwar refugee camp, southwest of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on 8 April 2021 (AFP)

A number of Israeli rights groups have called on the UN not to adopt the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, warning that it has been used to "silence dissent" over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, rights groups including B'tselem, Adalah, Breaking the Silence, and Yesh Din, warned the UN that using the IHRA definition in its upcoming action plan on combatting antisemitism would be self-defeating.

"The Israeli government views and treats the IHRA definition as a coercive tactic and tool to silence dissent to its repressive policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians," read the statement.

"Testifying to the political agenda behind its instrumentalisation, Jewish organisations are now also being targeted by allegations of antisemitism invoking the IHRA definition. This includes NGOs signing this statement."

The statement added the definition "undermines the fight against antisemitism, by devaluating the meaning of antisemitism and by distracting from the real and imminent threats to the safety and well-being of Jews throughout the world".

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The IHRA definition was formulated in 2004 by antisemitism expert Kenneth Stern in collaboration with other academics for the American Jewish Committee, a Jewish advocacy organisation founded at the beginning of the 20th century and based in New York.

Stern said he formulated the definition specifically for European data collectors to help them monitor antisemitism.

But critics say some of the accompanying examples conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism, or criticism of historical and current policies that led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in modern-day Israel, and continuing human rights abuses against Palestinians and the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel.

The UK was the first European country to adopt the IHRA definition in 2016, followed by Austria and Germany a year later.

Local government institutions and membership organisations have also independently adopted or voted to adopt the IHRA definition.  

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