A group of over 200 Jewish scholars have released a definition of antisemitism that excludes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). The move is a direct response to the contentious International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which includes some criticisms of Israel. While many Palestine activists applauded the new definition for taking on the IHRA, they’re also pointing to problems with its framing and voicing concerns over its potential impact.
The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) bills itself as a tool to identify and raise awareness about antisemitism. In addition to providing a definition of the term, it also features a set of guidelines for confronting such prejudice. The declaration was developed by Jewish scholars from Jewish studies, Holocaust historians, and Middle East studies. Signatories include Neve Gordon, Richard Falk, and Peter Beinart.
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016. It identifies 11 examples of antisemitism, 7 of which concern Israel. For last five years, various organizations and lawmakers have tried to use the definition as a tool to stifle criticism of Israel and have fought for it to be adopted by educational and government institutions.
The JDA asserts that the IHRA Definition is “unclear in key respects and widely open to different interpretations, it has caused confusion and generated controversy, hence weakening the fight against antisemitism.” In response the JDA offers this sussinct definition of antisemitism: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).” The JDA also explicitly rejects the idea that criticism of Israel, opposition to Zionism, or support for BDS is antisemitic. Yet, it also includes “guidelines” on discourse surrounding Israel and Palestine that it considers both antisemitic and not antisemitic.
The Palestine BDS National Committee (BNC) published a critique of the JDA on its website. The statement acknowledges that the JDA provides a “coherent and accurate definition of antisemitism” that can be used as an important tool in combating “anti-Palestinian McCarthyism,” but it also contains multiple criticisms.