IHRA: From Words to Action, a General Overview

A booklet to present the background to the IHRA definition, to familiarize readers with the definition itself, to clarify several prominent contemporary antisemitic tropes, and to respond to common critiques of IHRA

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism is an internationally accepted definition of antisemitism drafted by representatives and scholars from around the world. The definition includes multiple examples of contemporary antisemitism as it is manifested in public discourse, politics and media. As of January 2020, the IHRA definition of antisemitism has been adopted or recognized by 18 countries, including the United States, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdoms and Canada.

Antisemitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” Throughout the ages, antisemitism has adapted itself to the prevalent paradigms and worldview. In medieval Europe and the Islamic world, antisemitism was directed towards Jews as a religion. Jews were accused of killing Christ, desecrating the host, being in communion with the devil against the Christianity and Islam, and of being uniquely cursed by God. As religion lost its prominence in the modern era, antisemitism shifted toward hatred of Jews as a race. Whereas in the medieval era, Jews could abandon their religion and join non-Jewish society, racial antisemitism saw Jews as possessing certain inherent traits such as greed, cunning and dishonesty. In pseudo-scientific ranking of humanity, Jews were assigned sub-human status, at the bottom of the racial totem pole.

Racial antisemitism was brought to its ultimate conclusion in the Nazi’s genocidal “Final Solution” in which six million Jews were murdered. The horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War, as well as the civil rights movement in the United States and Western Europe, have largely convinced most people in Western countries of the wrongful nature of racist beliefs. While one would be correct in expecting antisemitism to decline or disappear after the Holocaust, antisemitism has once again adapted itself to today’s post-racial and post-national zeitgeist. Today, much antisemitism focuses on Jews as a nation, and manifesting itself in allegations of Jewish dual loyalty, conspiracy theories about Jewish world domination or attacks against the Jewish national movement, and expressions of support for the Jewish right of self-determination in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel. Antisemites and anti-Zionists focus obsessively on the alleged misdoings of the State of Israel, call for its dissolution, and promote conspiracy theories about the Mossad, “the Israel lobby” and Israel’s nefarious influence worldwide.

IHRA is a useful educational tool as it understands this three-fold historical nature of antisemitism: hatred of Jews as a religion, as a race and as a nation. These three forms of antisemitism still exist today, often overlapping and interplaying with each other. Antisemitism forms an important ideological component of radical movements worldwide, and Jews find themselves under assault from three main sources: the racist and white supremacist far right, the hard left influenced by “progressive” and “critical” theories that demonize Israel and Jewish national identity, and Islamic radicals and jihadists.

While antisemitism continues to rise worldwide and Jewish communities face increased harassment, intimidation and even murderous violence, IHRA is a powerful means to combat antisemitism. IHRA can be used as an interpretive tool by legal professionals and law enforcement to identify, prosecute and punish antisemitic hate crimes.

There is no need to pass new legislation formally adopting the IHRA definition as legally binding. Rather, by educating legal professionals and lay people, the IHRA definition can be incorporated into existing hate crime and discrimination law.

The purpose of this booklet is to present the background to the IHRA definition, to familiarize readers with the definition itself, to clarify several prominent contemporary antisemitic tropes and to respond to common critiques of IHRA.