Some discussion about IHRA and the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ – David Hirsh

Dear xxxx,

let me take up two points that you’ve made. First in relation to what the text does, and does not do. And in relation to the claim that its real threat lies not in what it says but in what it “could be used to do”.

You’re absolutely right that the text is “innocent”. I think it’s more than innocent, I think it’s quite good.

Nobody is suggesting that IHRA be used for prosecution. Well, how could it be? Antisemitism is not a crime. Not in the USA, not in Britain. I don’t think anywhere.

IHRA could be used in a court or in a disciplinary process, for sure, but it could never do the whole job of proving anything.

What IHRA does, as you’ve said, is provide examples of the kinds of things which we know are often antisemitic. That’s it. It says that if you see a case like this, look again, look carefully, and then make a judgment. IHRA does not, and cannot possibly, substitute for judgment.

So as part of a process, IHRA gives a framework. You could say to the decision maker: IHRA says that cases like this are often antisemitic and this case is antisemitic because x, y and z reasons.

In Britain you could also use the Equality Act, the Macpherson Principle, the EHRC report in similar ways. But none of these are automatic. They are part of a case.

And related to this, the point about Ken Stern and the true authentic meaning and purpose of IHRA: So, Ken is angry, he doesn’t like the way that Ken Marcus and others have interpreted the text. Fine.

First, have a look at this letter written by the people who were more concerned in the drafting process than he was.…/ken-stern-isnt…/

But more important, there is of course no authentic and unchanging meaning of a text. It’s true that IHRA was drafted by Jewish NGOs, at the request of the EU, to help with monitoring – in particular in newly democratic states, emerging from authoritarian rule (and antisemitic rule) in Eastern Europe. In fact, the indeterminacy of IHRA also applies in this context. It also required monitors to use judgment, as it requires institutions today to use judgment. There is no automatic machine which can tell a person what is antisemitic. It requires judgment.

But here’s the point: of course the use of this text has, over 20 years, developed, been used in new ways, has taken on a different significance.

Yes, Jews on campus, Jewish institutions, Governments, Football clubs, city councils – yes they have adopted it as an affirmation that they recognise and take seriously the kind of antisemitism which comes in hostility to Israel.

IHRA has developed into what it is today. That’s OK. For more on the genealogy of IHRA, see this:

The other point I want to make is about your claim that IHRA talks too much about Israel, and that gives rise to the appearance that its real function is to silence criticism of Israel under the guise of opposing antisemitism.

You have got this upside down.

Start with the phenomenon, not the definition.

It is antisemitism which more and more appears as hostility to Israel.

It is not the definition of antisemitism which links antisemitism to Israel, it’s the thing itself.

The definition keeps up with the phenomenon.

So adopting IHRA is an affirmation that an institution takes this kind of antisemitism seriously.

Often people on the right deny antisemitism on the right and they point at the left and the Islamists and they scream that the real problem is over there.

And often people on the left deny left antisemitism and they point at the right and they scream that the real problem is over there.

Both disavowals are equally dangerous.

IHRA is not a right wing attack on the left. IHRA is an attack on antisemitism and it specifies a kind of antisemitism that is often seen on the left. Why? Because it’s often not recognised by people who think they oppose antisemitism.

Here’s a text I’ve written about this. It’s not IHRA that puts Israel into the definition of antisemitism, it’s antisemites who put Israel into antisemitism itself.…/

One more thing xxx.

I’m really concerned about how many serious people have joined in denouncing IHRA and in defending efforts like the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ to prevent the adoption of IHRA.

Some of us have been working on this for years, doing scholarly work, doing political work, trying to defend ourselves and our students from antisemitism.

It’s not cool that so many big names, in Jewish Studies in particular, are intervening in this, on the wrong side, and, I assume, because they haven’t really thought things through and they haven’t really read the literature.

The attempt to disqualify us as scholars, and to disqualify our work, by branding us as Trumpists seems to be working. But serious people should know how to deal with that.

David Hirsh