The recent Op-Ed by University of Washington Professor Liora R. Halperin makes numerous claims that simply do not line up with the facts [“King County should not adopt antisemitism definition used to censor speech,” Jan. 24, Opinion].
Antisemitism is becoming more prevalent and more lethal. According to the FBI, although Jews make up about 2% of the U.S. population, they are the targets of about 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes. The Metropolitan King County Council is responding to this alarming development by considering a proposed resolution condemning antisemitism, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism and its 11 guiding examples.
Halperin claims that the IHRA definition is a source of “deep division and controversy.” However, the definition is widely recognized across nationalities and political beliefs. Through December 2022, the definition has been adopted or endorsed by a total of 1,116 entities, including 39 countries; 464 regional, state, and local governmental bodies; and the Global Imams Council. It has been “enthusiastically embraced” by the Biden administration and adopted by the U.S. State Department. Federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, are required to consider it when enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination at federally-funded educational institutions. Outliers may object, but it is the consensus-driven definition across the globe.
Halperin asserts that if adopted, it will “censor and even criminalize principled speech like mine.” The truth is that the IHRA definition does not prohibit anyone from exercising their First Amendment rights. In fact, the IHRA definition expressly recognizes that criticism of Israel, similar to criticism leveled at other countries, cannot be regarded as antisemitic. It is a tool to identify and address antisemitism and does not prohibit any speech, even the most hateful.
As with all definitions, the IHRA language includes examples to help clarify its meaning. Halperin can rest assured that her “principled speech” is protected. One can only wonder on what moral ground she objects to the examples of contemporary antisemitism, some of which describe vitriolic accusations against the Jewish state rather than against the Jewish person. Which of these statements would Professor Halperin consider to not be antisemitic?
∙ Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
∙ Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
∙ Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
∙ Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g., gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
∙ Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
∙ Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
∙ 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.
∙ Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
∙ Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
∙ Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
∙ Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Although the IHRA definition has garnered overwhelming support and continues to serve state agencies and governments as an essential definitional tool, other definitions have been proposed. These alternatives may reflect antisemitism as it was expressed in 1943 but fail to identify all the ways Jews experience it today in King County. We encourage the Metropolitan King County Council to join more than 1,000 organizations and governments and adopt the IHRA definition. It is time to take a first, very important step to defeating what has been called “the world’s oldest hatred.”
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