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A high-level international gathering in Hamburg, Germany this week will focus attention on one of the greatest challenges in the global fight against anti-Semitism:  Establishing a clear understanding of this ancient social illness.  The past decade and a half have seen new manifestations of the world’s oldest and most resilient social pathology, as well as a weakening of the anti-bodies that once warded it off for much of the post-World War II period. This worrisome trend has caused the Jewish community no small amount of exasperation and alarm in the 21st century.
What exactly is anti-Semitism in its modern incarnations? The answer contains an important key to monitoring and combating the problem.

The Hamburg meeting of the Ministerial Council of the 57-member-state Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will now tackle the matter. The Council will weigh whether to adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism for use throughout Europe, Eurasia, and North America.

Earlier this year, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted its own working definition of anti-Semitism, stating that the ways in which anti-Israel rhetoric crosses the line into anti-Semitism “include: (1) 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; (2) Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; (3) Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis; (4) Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; (5) Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.
The IHRA document is an important affirmation by an international organization of the serious problem of anti-Semitism in the form of the demonization and delegitimization of Israel. It should be disseminated as widely as possible to educate public officials, educators, journalists, and others about the current nature of anti-Semitism.

For the OSCE – an organization that includes the United States, Canada, Turkey, and an entire continent in between – following IHRA’s example by using a similar definitional template would be a major step forward in the struggle against anti-Semitism.  Such a document could attain wider circulation than any before it and should foster deeper levels of understanding of the dimensions of the problem. This in turn would guide governments in acquiring more sophisticated tools for combating anti-Semitism, in the form of data collection, law enforcement training, hate crimes legislation, education, and other measures.
The fight against hatred is an ethical obligation, one that remains as strong now as ever before, in light of the dramatic surge in anti-Semitism in recent years. It is essential to continue the difficult struggle against anti-Semitism, the distinct and uniquely resilient social illness that gave rise to the Holocaust and that persists, in both new and old variations, today.

​Eric Fusfield, Esq.
 has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007.  He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs