The IHRA Antisemitism Definition and Racism

Graffiti on the Israeli separation barrier in Jerusalem. (Photo: via

By Jim Miles

On Thursday, February 11, the Foundation for Middle East Peace held a webinar  concerning the IHRA definition and ‘examples’ of antisemitism.

The participants were all progressive Jews from the United States and Canada. While the conversation touched on several topics – all related – the core of the presentation could be summarized by a single word: racism.

Rebecca Pierce, Editor of Unruly, is a black United States Jew and is exposed to the intersection of Jewish and black racism. There is a strong history of identity between black oppression and Palestinian oppression, most frequently cited as comparisons between apartheid South Africa and the treatment of Palestinians in apartheid Israel.

Her comments focused on the racial aspect of Jews of color in the US and attacks by right-wing racists attacks on her specifically but also on other black Jews using lies and ad hominem innuendos.

In the recent US elections, right-wing white supremacist groups who are known to be antisemitic were using antisemitism charges against Jews of color, a tactic clearly designed to stir the racial element within voting choices.

It was a way of exploiting antisemitism for a different goal – to drive out Jews of color. She referenced the black-Palestinian historical liaisons and the different treatments accorded the Mizrahi Jews (from the Middle East and Africa), Sephardi Jews (descendants of the Spanish diaspora, mainly in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean region), and the Ashkenazi Jews (mainly of north and eastern European areas) within Israel itself.

The Ashkenazi Jews are the ‘preferred’ Jews in Israel, and as descendants of mainly eastern European Jews, this idea was supported indirectly by Barry Trachtenberg when he presented arguments concerning the IHRA definition and its example of “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.”

He noted that there were many variants of Jewish nationalism. Zionism was only one of them and not a majority perspective, but the main point was that right from the outset the Zionist Jews knew there would be resistance to colonialism, to settling Jews in Palestine against the wishes of those already living there.

From the beginning arguments were made to push out the Arabs, a concept accepted quite readily by European supporters, both Jewish and gentile, as Europe as a whole was (and is) highly racist and white supremacist.

In Canada there is a growing grassroots movement in support of Palestinian rights and the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement.

Canada has undergone some recent foreign policy setbacks stemming in part from this activism. A good part of the effort to prevent Canada from obtaining a UN Security Council seat came from activism related to the government’s opposition to the BDS movement, its ongoing official position on the idea of a two-state solution, and several recent polls indicating strong opposition to Canada’s stance against the ICC and strong support for Palestinian rights.

Corey Balsam, the National Coordinator of Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), expressed the IHRA definition in simple terms as being an attempt to quash the BDS movement without actually saying so.

Of course, it serves many other services as it is vaguely worded and poorly defined allowing it to be used to allow the charge of antisemitism to be used against an array of political, media, and activist opposition.

At the same time, he indicated that just as BDS had increased exposure and knowledge concerning Israel’s illegal activities with the settlements and its colonial-settler-military occupation, the IHRA definition could also be used to increase knowledge concerning Israel’s racist and apartheid policies.

Unfortunately, the charge of antisemitism in white supremacist racist countries such as Canada and the US allows the definition to be used mainly in ad hominem attacks (i.e. not addressing the issues but trying to slander the person).

When the IHRA definition of antisemitism is examined critically, it falls apart quite easily.  The more exposure that is given to the IHRA and its poorly worded definition and examples, the more the racist policies of Israel (and Canada and the US) can be exposed.

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.

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