The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is the only intergovernmental organisation mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues. With anti-Semitism clearly again on the rise it determined to take a leading role in combating it. To address the escalating problem it was first necessary to ensure clarity about what is anti-Semitism.
An IHRA committee worked to build an international consensus around a non-legally binding working definition, which the IHRA adopted in 2016. It forms an important tool to assist member states, including Ireland, in identifying and counteracting anti-Semitic hate at national level which is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and in action.
The working definition states: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The IHRA definition is accompanied by illustrative contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace and in the religious sphere. The examples are expressly stated to be illustrative and not exclusive. They are:
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, dehumanising, demonising 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 (eg gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of national socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during the second World War (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, eg by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.
Comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of Nazi Germany and the use of anti-Semitic tropes to characterise or criticise Israel also falls within the definition
Applying double standards by requiring of it (Israel) a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (eg claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise 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.
The IHRA also addresses anti-Semitism and the criminal law asserting that criminal acts are anti-Semitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.
The working definition has been criticised by some because of the references in it to Israel. The criticism is unwarranted. The IHRA emphasises that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. What is anti-Semitic is denying that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination and asserting Israel is a racist endeavour, or the application of double standards; applying to Israel obsessive criticism applied to no other state. Comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of Nazi Germany and the use of anti-Semitic tropes to characterise or criticise Israel also falls within the definition. The recent report of David Collier on anti-Semitism in Ireland clearly illustrates the extent to which members of the Oireachtas, Irish NGOs, anti-Israel campaigning groups and social media warriors deploy such language and how it is both contaminating Irish political discourse and fomenting hate.
Thirty-three member states have adopted or endorsed the IHRA working definition and, amongst other international organisations, it has been expressly supported by the European Council, Commission and Parliament. The states include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the USA.
Memorialising Jews murdered in the Holocaust in today's world generates enthusiasm and is not politically complicated
Since 2011 Ireland has been a member of the IHRA. Ireland has neither adopted nor formally endorsed the definition. On November 9th, in answer to a Dáil question tabled by Fianna Fáil’s Cormac Devlin, the Minister for Children, Equality and Integration, Roderic O’Gorman, said that while Ireland was “supportive of the definition”, it “did not consider the illustrative examples that followed to be an integral part of the definition”.
Other European states who have expressly adopted the definition have voiced no similar reservations and the Minister failed to identify which of the illustrative examples the Government takes exception to and why. At a time of escalating anti-Semitism in Ireland and criticism of Israel being freely and increasingly used as a Trojan horse to justify and disguise the spread of anti-Semitic tropes, there is a need for greater Government clarity.
O’Gorman assured Devlin of the Government’s commitment to an anti-racism strategy, to the enactment of new hate crime legislation and to preventing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. He also reminded him of the funding annually provided by the State for many years to support the national Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration.
Memorialising Jews murdered in the Holocaust in today’s world generates enthusiasm and is not politically complicated. It seems that protecting today’s Jews against escalating anti-Semitism in Ireland generates less enthusiasm and is deemed so complicated that the Government is incapable of endorsing illustrative examples of anti-Semitism agreed and adopted by most EU member states.
The enactment of new anti-hate or anti-racism legislation will have no practical application to countering anti-Semitism if unaccompanied by a working definition of anti-Semitism and illustrative examples. In that context ministerial talk of action being taken to prevent anti-Semitism, to use the words of Greta Thunberg, is just so much “ blah, blah, blah”.