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Explained: Why Have Jewish Scholars Rejected IHRA's Definition of Antisemitism?

This comes amid Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in the Israel polls, and coalition talks with the far-right.

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Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

Over 100 scholars have urged the United Nations (UN) to not adopt the controversial definition of antisemitism propounded by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), calling it "divisive" and "polarising."

How Has the IHRA Defined Antisemitism? 

The IHRA says that 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."

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Why Have Scholars Opposed the Definition? 

In a statement published last week, 128 scholars, including Jewish academics from Israel, Europe, the United States, and Britain said that the IHRA's definition of antisemitism had been "hijacked" to safeguard the Israeli government from global criticism.

While the scholars "wholeheartedly" welcomed the commitment of the UN to fight antisemitism and commended the body for its efforts in this regard, they opposed the "instrumentalisation" of antisemitism by Israel as a political weapon to achieve its goals.

"What we object to and strongly warn against is that the UN would jeopardise this essential fight and harm its universal mission to promote human rights by endorsing a politicised definition that is instrumentalised to deter free speech and to shield the Israeli government from accountability for its actions."
Statement by the scholars.

Instead of the IHRA's definition, the signatories asked the UN to rely on universal human rights instruments and other significant resources, like the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.

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Slamming the IHRA's definition as "vague" and "incoherent," the scholars hailed a recent report by the UN's special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E Tendayi Achiume, who came down heavily on the IHRA for its "negative impact" on fundamental rights.

In her report presented to the UN General Assembly last week, Achiume urged the global body to "launch an open and inclusive process to identify an enhanced response to antisemitism by the United Nations, consistently rooted in and supportive of human rights."

However, the report was rejected by several IHRA-adopting countries.

Israel's ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan also went to the extent of saying that the report was a part of the author's "political agenda."

"These ill-founded recommendations made by the rapporteur are not in line and not part of her mandate and clearly demonstrate a political agenda that should not be in any way a part of a discussion which should focus on the fight against racism," Erdan argued, as per Al Jazeera.

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Significance of the Statement

The statement opposing the IHRA gains immense significance in the backdrop of latest political developments in Israel.

The country's longest-serving prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a majority in the recently held Israel election, backed by the far-right.

It coalition talks succeed, which they are likely to, the country could see the formation of the most far-right government in its history.

Netanyahu's most powerful coalition partner is the Religious Zionism Party, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir – who has openly expressed vehemence against Palestinians, demanded a more stringent pushback against them, and called for the formal annexation of the West Bank.

Ben-Gvir is also expected to become the public security minister in the new Netanyahu government, giving him complete control over the police agency and absolute powers to crack down on Arabs – which comprise 20 percent of Israel's population.

The IHRA's definition of antisemitism could thus arm the government to take action against Palestine as it pleases, citing a threat or insult against Jews by Arabs and several Palestinian groups like Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

(With inputs from Al Jazeera.)

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Topics:  Israel   Palestine   United Nations 

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