Ken Stern isn’t the only author the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

This is an open letter written by Rabbi Andrew Baker, Deidre Berger and Michael Whine, who were the people centrally responsible originally for writing the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It explains how it came to be written, why, and by whom. Ken Stern was one of a number of people involved in the early drafting of the document.

This letter has been made necessary because opponents of the definition have mobilized the name of Ken Stern as a key ongoing owner of the text, or the authoritative interpreter of the ‘real meaning’ of the text. Ken Stern’s First Amendment free speech absolutist position is in any case quite incompatible with the use which is being made of his position by antizionists and by people who want to continue doing things which are called into question by the definition.

January 19, 2021
Dr. Kathrin Meyer, Secretary General, IHRA
Ms. Katharina von Schnurbein, EC Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life

Dear Kathrin and Katharina,

As adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism increases in both Europe and the United
States, opponents of the definition have frequently cited the critical views of one of the early drafters to
claim that it is being misapplied or used in ways that were not originally intended.

Since we were among that small group involved in the original development and drafting of the
definition, we want to set the record straight.

The IHRA Working Definition (adopted in May 2016) is based on an earlier version developed in 2004-
2005 and issued by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in March 2005.
(The EUMC was replaced by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2009.) The drafting and
development of the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was a months long collaborative process,
involving a score of individuals. We were among those who were part of this from the very beginning.
This group included our colleague at the time, Kenneth Stern, who has since identified himself—or is
described by others–as the “author” or “primary drafter” of the Working Definition. This is simply not
true. But most troubling is the fact that this mythical elevated status is primarily touted because he is a
vocal critic of using the Working Definition and thus a helpful (witting or unwitting) ally for those who
today seek to discredit the IHRA Working Definition. Virtually all others who were involved in its
development believed then and continue to believe now that the adoption and use of the Working
Definition is an essential component in the fight against antisemitism.

Let us summarize for the record how the Working Definition came to be.

In 2001-2002, we witnessed a resurgence in antisemitic incidents in Europe including violent attacks on
Jewish targets. Most occurred in Western Europe, and many were identified as coming from parts of
local Arab and Muslim communities. This coincided with the breakdown of the Middle East peace
process and was reflected in the anti-Israel and antisemitic activities that were an unfortunate
consequence of the UN World Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001. European governments were
slow to recognize these attacks or to identify them as antisemitic in nature. As they continued, there
were calls for regional security and human rights organizations to address them. This resulted in the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) organizing its first conference on
antisemitism in 2003, and the EUMC commissioning its first study of antisemitism in the EU that same
year.

In 2004, the OSCE organized a second, high level conference in Berlin, which resulted in the Berlin
Declaration on Antisemitism, supported by all 55 OSCE participating States. It declared that antisemitism
had taken on “new forms and manifestations” and stated that events in Israel and the Middle East, “can
never justify antisemitism.” Also, in 2004, the EUMC (having concluded that the report it commissioned
the previous year was inadequate) conducted its own study, relying on data from its own monitors in EU
Member States and in person interviews with Jewish leaders in Europe.

The new EUMC report presented in the spring of 2004 revealed that European Jews had a high level of
concern and anxiety in reaction to their firsthand observations of growing antisemitic incidents. The
information provided by the EUMC’s monitors was limited in some cases because there was scant data
on antisemitic hate crimes and limited polling data on anti-Jewish attitudes. In its own internal review,
the EUMC acknowledged that it was hampered by the lack of a common and comprehensive definition
of antisemitism and challenged by a lack of clarity in understanding those “new forms and
manifestations” of antisemitism as it relates to Israel. EUMC Director Beate Winkler and AJC Director of
International Jewish Affairs Rabbi Andrew Baker agreed that summer to work together to develop such
a definition.

Baker turned to his AJC colleagues, including Deidre Berger in Berlin and Ken Stern in New York, and to
other longtime collaborators, including Michael Whine of the CST in London. Academic experts,
including Dina Porat and Yehuda Bauer in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were brought in, along with leaders
and representatives of several major Jewish organizations. Ken played the vitally important but limited
role of being the communications hub as various drafts and proposed language were circulated, slowly
moving toward a consensus agreement where his role ended.

All agreed the definition should include both a core paragraph defining the basic nature of antisemitism
and clear examples of its traditional and more contemporary forms.

Mike Whine took over the final drafting job and, with this in hand, the focus turned to Vienna. The three
of us were joined by the leadership team of the recently established Tolerance and Non-Discrimination
Unit at OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which had responsibility for
implementing the commitments spelled out in the OSCE Berlin Declaration. Together we worked with
the EUMC Director and her specialists, as further changes and revisions were made. We were wellaware that with the inclusion of examples relating to Israel, there would be challenges, and some would
say that they could be used to label critics of Israel as antisemitic. But we also recognized how egregious
some of these attacks had become and the importance of including this section. This was to be a guide
for better understanding antisemitism, not a speech code etched in stone. To strike the necessary
balance, we added the important, conditional phrase, “depending on the context.” In a further measure
to allay these concerns, the EUMC considered it important to state explicitly that criticism of Israel is not
antisemitic.

In January 2005, we concluded the final drafting of what became known as the EUMC Working
Definition of Antisemitism, and in March 2005 it was formally released. In promoting and circulating the
Working Definition, its use was neither defined nor circumscribed. We understood then—as we do
today—that it is first and foremost an educational tool for those who need to know what antisemitism
is. This includes government, Jewish community, and other civil society monitors responsible for
recording antisemitic incidents. It includes those in authority who are responsible for identifying and
responding to antisemitic hate crimes and other antisemitic events, such as police, prosecutors, and
judges, among others. And it includes the public, whose understanding of the problem is essential to
marshal the full force necessary to combat it.

It was called a working definition for a reason. This was not meant to be a tool for academic researchers,
but for those, briefly identified above, who would put it to use. They would be the ones to determine its
value and its longevity.

In 2007, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, a newly appointed Congressionally
mandated position, applied the EUMC Working Definition to his work and posted it on the State
Department website. It was endorsed by Parliamentarians at the 2009 Inter-parliamentary Coalition for
Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) London Conference, and at successive ICCA Conferences in Ottawa
(2011) and in Berlin (2015). It was recommended for use by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in 2014.
Over fifteen years have passed since the EUMC issued its working definition. It has been slightly
modified and further amplified as the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. It has been endorsed by
leaders of the European Union, the United Nations, the OSCE, and other international bodies. It has
been formally adopted by over thirty countries, including most EU Member States. It has become an
essential, educational tool for law enforcement.

We are heartened by the Working Definition’s increased use and international recognition as the
authoritative definition of antisemitism. While the threat of antisemitism in all its various forms is, sadly,
as great as it was fifteen years ago, this proper and comprehensive definition is now an essential
element in our common fight against it.

Rabbi Andrew Baker
Deidre Berger
Michael Whine, MBE

(Rabbi Andrew Baker is Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee and
since 2009 the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism.
Deidre Berger is a consultant and former Director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish
Relations. Michael Whine is the former Government and International Affairs Director of the Community
Security Trust, Senior Consultant World Jewish Congress, and UK Member of ECRI Council of Europe.)

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