Readers Write: Antisemitism definition stifles free speech

In my last letter to your publication, I pointed out that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism was being used to chill criticism of the Israeli government.

In his response to that letter, Arnie Herz, the Long Island president of the American Jewish Committee, made it clear he disagreed with me.

Conveniently, Herz neglected to share the thoughts of Kenneth S. Stern, the AJC’s former antisemitism expert and the IHRA definition’s lead drafter.  Allow me to fill in that blank.

For over a decade, Stern has consistently recommended against treating the IHRA definition as a flag to rally around and warned that it was being misused to censor speech and settle internecine disputes about what it means to be Jewish. In fact, in a Feb. 21, 2021 Times of Israel blog post, Stern described the controversy surrounding the IHRA definition as “a black hole…sucking away the ability to look at other, more comprehensive ways to combat antisemitism.”

So, why is the AJC continuing its crusade to ensure universal adoption of the IHRA definition in the United States and portray said definition as a silver bullet against antisemitism (or, as they refer to it, the “gold standard”)? The answer is that the call is coming from inside the house. 

The AJC, in furtherance of its stated goal of “strengthening Israel’s place in the world,” is actively attempting to use the IHRA definition to brand all criticism of the Israeli government and military antisemitic. It is also actively attempting to erase the identities of any members of the Jewish community who don’t hold a similar worldview and falsely portraying said community as a political, cultural and religious monolith.

These efforts cause immense harm and only make antisemitism in the United States worse by spreading antisemitic stereotypes and casting the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a Jewish/Palestinian or Jewish/Muslim one.

This is why it’s so important for Jews of conscience to stand up and shout, “Not in my name,” when organizations like the AJC claim to speak for them.

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The Island Now

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