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Countering Antisemitism Can’t Wait Until Israel’s Crisis is Resolved

The NGO-led efforts to weaken and replace the IHRA working definition – the most effective means of countering modern antisemitism – need to be countered effectively before they become dominant.
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September 27, 2023
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While much of the Jewish world is focused on and absorbed in Israel’s internal political turmoil, the pernicious campaigns of demonization and antisemitism continue to expand without facing significant or sufficient counter force. On many university campuses, anyone still brave enough to be associated with Israel and Zionism is ostracized, intimidated, and increasingly targeted in physical attacks. Jewish students and faculty are afraid to openly express their affinity with Israel as a central part of their identities. 

In parallel, powerful groups claiming to promote moral principles, including officials of the UN Human Rights Council, accelerate their assaults on Israel and Zionism. They twist the lessons that should have been learned from the Holocaust to promote hatred of the Jewish people in an audacious employment of moral inversion. The network of obsessive anti-Israel and anti-Zionist radicals and their donor-enablers are facing far too little counterforce while the Jewish leadership in Israel and the diaspora are otherwise engaged. 

Reflecting the lack of pushback, these attacks no longer attempt to disguise their hatred as merely “opposition to the post-1967 occupation” or legitimate criticism of Israeli policies – their goal of eliminating Israel is directly stated, including through labels like “apartheid.” Classical antisemitic themes of nefarious Jewish power which had been taboo since the Holocaust are openly disseminated. 

These developments are reflected in a number of campus events, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” – a propaganda celebration under a very thin academic facade. Sponsored by official university departments, including Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. and Cinema and Media Studies, the invited “experts” included Roger Waters – a notorious antisemite and clearly not a Palestinian writer – who wore a Nazi-style uniform during a recent appearance in Germany. (At the last minute, and following protests, Waters was uninvited.) A number of speakers label Zionists as Nazis, refer to Israel as “one big tumor,” post “Death to Israel” slogans on social media, and call Israel a “demonic, sick project” – declaring we “can’t wait for the day we commemorate its end.” And at least one speaker is openly identified as a member of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), which is officially designated as a terror organization by the US, Israel and other governments. 

University officials have turned a blind eye to all of this, hiding, as usual, behind academic freedom and other slogans. The comparison of Israel to the Nazis and denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination are examples of antisemitism in the consensus working definition published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Of course, similar expressions of hate directed at other minority groups would not be tolerated for an instant. Demonstrating the link between hate speech and antisemitic violence, the campus Hillel at Penn was vandalized and the perpetrator shouted antisemitic slurs. 

Another example is the founding conference of the self-declared Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism, whose objective is to delink “the study of Zionism from Jewish Studies” and “reclaim academia and public discourse for the study of Zionism.” The event, focused on attacking the IHRA definition of antisemitism is scheduled to take place “in the intellectual space” (sic) of UC Santa Cruz and NYU. 

This combination of delegitimization and antisemitism is fueled by the blatant campaigns led by powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working closely with allies in the United Nations. The two most influential political NGOs operating under the false flag of human rights – Amnesty International ($350 million annual budget) and Human Rights Watch ($100 million) – continue to pump out “apartheid” agitprop, presented as research reports and analysis. Both organizations have long histories of singling out Israel and double standards (another example of antisemitism listed in the IHRA Working Definition.) 

Amnesty also began trolling the Israeli protestors in a campaign attacking the Israeli courts, which they accuse of upholding “laws, policies and practices which help to maintain and enforce Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians – the Supreme Court has signed off on many of the violations that underpin the apartheid system.” (To gain the support of reserve officers and former security officials, protest leaders claim that the Netanyahu government’s reform would compromise judicial independence and expose IDF personnel to lawfare attacks led by NGOs, including prosecution by the International Criminal Court. As Amnesty demonstrates, the manipulation of legal arguments is political, and Israel’s actual judicial processes are largely ignored.)

Instead of concentrating on exposing and fighting back against these and many other virulent forms of demonization and antisemitism, Israel and the Jewish communities worldwide are distracted and divided. The attention and energies of Israel’s dysfunctional government and opposition, as well as writers, academics, high-tech leaders and even doctors are devoted mainly to the internal political struggle. Jews, particularly on university campuses, are exposed and forced to fend for themselves against the tidal wave of hate.

The NGO-led efforts to weaken and replace the IHRA working definition – the most effective means of countering modern antisemitism – need to be countered effectively before they become dominant. 

We cannot afford to wait until Israel’s internal crisis is resolved (or papered over) before fighting back. The NGO-led efforts to weaken and replace the IHRA working definition – the most effective means of countering modern antisemitism – need to be countered effectively before they become dominant. The bogus efforts to twist free speech principles in order to make antisemitism acceptable must be systematically rejected. Jewish students need to know that they are not being abandoned to the forces of hate.


Gerald M Steinberg is professor emeritus of politics at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor in Israel.

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