CEO Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Why the IHRA Handbook on Anti-Semitism — Not Just Its Definition — Is Needed
The year 2020 will be marked as, among other distinctions, a time of unbridled global antisemitism. The phenomenon is growing from three sources — the radical Left, the extreme Right, and Islamists — but while that doesn’t tell the full story, it does provide a spectrum that indicates how widely this particular virus has spread.
This unbridled antisemitism demonstrates why a new handbook of definitions is so important. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in conjunction with the European Commission and with the support of the recent German presidency of the EU, has published this new guide.
Based on extensive research conducted by RIAS, the German Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on antisemitism, the handbook is a first-of-its-kind best-practices guide for use in such fields as law enforcement, the judiciary, education, international bodies, funding institutions, and civil society.
The handbook connects the IHRA document to real life examples — which helps to make it a real “working” definition.
Making the battle against antisemitism relevant to individual branches of government, or to educators, will help to monitor, identify, respond to, and counteract antisemitism in the open or in dark corners of society across the European continent and beyond.
In 2016, the IHRA, a consortium of countries committed to Holocaust education and remembrance, adopted a working definition of antisemitism. It was not intended to be a detailed, deep dive into the causes and manifestations of this millennia-old hatred. It was meant, rather, to speak to categories of Jew-hatred, both classic and contemporary.
Its recognition of how the existence of Israel has worked its way into the repertoire of antisemites has been vitally important in helping those fighting antisemitism to pull the veil off “legitimate criticism of Israel” from those who advocate the elimination of the Jewish state.
In this regard, the working definition states, for example, that antisemitism includes “accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.” Antisemitism is also “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.” Or, as we see almost every day somewhere in the world, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
To date, 28 countries have adopted the IHRA working definition, and the number continues to grow. Provincial, state, and local governments are doing the same, as are organizations as diverse as the Argentine Football Federation and the Global Imams Council.
More countries, state and local governments, agencies, and non-governmental organizations need to add their support and buy in.
But equally important is how the definition will be applied, and by whom. That is where the handbook comes in.
Expressions of antisemitism know no borders. The hierarchy of leadership in Iran regularly spews antisemitism, often using Nazi imagery; Israel is frequently referred to as a “cancer” that needs to be excised. Genocidal calls for Israel’s destruction are daily features in Iranian media. And Tehran is known for its “leadership” in the Holocaust denial arena.
Over the past 12 months in Europe, we witnessed a concerted campaign by the neo-Fascist Nordic Resistance Movement to intimidate Jews in their places of worship and in communal spaces. A kosher restaurant in France, the scene of countless acts of antisemitism, was vandalized with tags of “Hitler was right,” “Jews get out,” and “Free Palestine.”
In Greece, multiple cemeteries were vandalized; rabbis were attacked on the street in Berlin and Vienna; and in Germany, on the holiday of Sukkot, a synagogue was attacked in Hamburg, just days before the one-year commemoration of the Yom Kippur attack on a synagogue in Halle.
And already this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that individual European Union member states can legislate against kosher ritual slaughter, or shechita. Already some countries place restrictions tantamount to a ban on the practice, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, regions of Belgium, and non-EU member Switzerland. Efforts to ban circumcision, or brit milah, have been similarly underway in Europe for some time — though without much success at this point.
Denying Jews the right to these essential acts of religious freedom, especially on European soil, where the greatest crimes against the Jewish people were perpetrated, is not just “discriminatory.” All of this places Jews in an “other” or outcast category, which is unacceptable, and can only be read as antisemitic.
And, lest some think antisemites cannot bring back classic blood libel charges against Jews from the Middle Ages, the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University reported last summer that there were widespread assertions that Israel or Jews as a whole were responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early stages of the pandemic, websites charged Israel with creating the virus in order to manufacture vaccines for it, from which it would profit.
With reports indicating a continuing rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses, an arsonist set fire to the University of Delaware’s Chabad Center just as the school year opened in the fall. Earlier this month, among those demonstrators storming the US Capitol were those wearing clothing adorned with Nazi imagery, including a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie.
Much antisemitism from the far-left focuses on Israel and Zionism, with comparisons to apartheid South Africa and condemnations of “the occupation.” From the extreme right, classic charges of control of the media and banks are rolled out in new 21st century wrappers, but their message of hate remains the same. And notwithstanding the much-welcomed rapprochement between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors, many in the Arab and Islamist media — particularly, but not limited to, the Palestinian media — spin webs of antisemitic rhetoric on a daily basis. The common denominator to all of this is hatred of Jews.
In our community, there are many whose innate antennae can identify antisemitism from the proverbial 36,000 feet. But others are less likely to recognize the nuances of it when it appears. The IHRA handbook will be a vital resource for them.
The working definition and the new IHRA handbook are not a cure for history’s oldest social virus. Much more needs to be done. Holocaust denial continues to grow, as the dwindling number of survivors reach the end of their lives. Recent studies reveal an astonishing lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among millennials and Generation Z’ers, which obligates us to grow Holocaust education programs in our schools and universities.
And then there is the Internet, which has had a multiplier effect, as antisemitic conspiracy theories and outright rants run rampant on our laptops and tablets. The major social media platforms must confront the role they are playing as enablers of such combustible language.
In the 21st century, combating antisemitism requires new tools and means to join the battle. The IHRA handbook is a welcome addition to the resources we need to get the job done. If it sits on the shelf, it will have been a noble, but wasted effort. We need to encourage its wide distribution, and especially advocate for its recommendations and practices to be put to good use.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
At the turn of the 21st century, much of the world feared computers around the world would crash, setting off all kinds of millennial chaos. It didn’t happen. Clocks continued to tick; computers continued to run.
For the United Nations, perhaps the time was right for another chance to rid the world of racism, end slavery, and sex trafficking of women and children. Perhaps it was time to conquer famine and disease. In 2001, planning for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took shape. The site for this noble, if not symbolic event, was Durban, a location on the southern coast of Africa, a continent racked by all of the above problems.
As often happens with the United Nations, a space built on visions of peace, the event aimed at fighting humanity’s millennia-old maladies would devolve into a hatefest. Durban, instead, would become a battleground against an ancient people who’d build an identity from receiving a divine code of human behavior and entering a sliver of real estate bordering the Mediterranean. Four days into the event, the United States and Israel withdrew their delegations in protest.
Twenty years after Durban, the very United Nations that organized and promoted the original Durban Conference announced another round of fighting human rights and racism. Fast-forward 20 years into the 21st century. Something called the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (DDPA) is planned to offer “discussions” that will become a report to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly at its 76th session in 2021 and the Human Rights Council’s 45th session. Can’t wait. And neither can Iran.
The representative of Iran requested that on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the DDPA, the Intergovernmental Working Group would “address the wide range of issues addressed in the DDPA, as well as the new manifestations of discrimination,” in particular issues of “xenophobia and Islamophobia.” So full of irony is this request from one of the chief violators of human rights in the world that one can only wonder if such a request from this member-nation makes the entire event a nonstarter, at least for the United States and Israel.
Other nations have requested that the 20th anniversary of Durban be celebrated with “one thematic event” in Geneva and one “high-level political event” in New York. Other groups requested producing promotional materials and “high visibility” from such countries as South Africa and Cuba, among others. Much, if not all, of the free world must wonder if the phrase “well-intentioned” has a chance to be relevant here. What’s more, the plans call for member states, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, of which B’nai B’rith International is so credentialed, to organize and participate in the Durban 20th anniversary programs.
The framework for this meeting is beginning to sound awfully like something the world has already witnessed in the first Durban Conference. Are we headed for Durban déjà vu—another hatefest?
When the governments of Iran, Cuba and South Africa figure prominently in the planning, it’s reasonable to feel skepticism. Will the funds budgeted for this conference perpetuate United Nations bias against Israel? This funding could surely be better spent on reducing famine and sickness.
What else would make such a conference fruitful? Dream about these developments: the U.N. conference opens with a salute to Gulf States and other countries seeking peace and normalized relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority declares the end of its covenant to destroy the State of Israel. Gone is the drumbeat of language declaring Israel an “apartheid state.” A new Palestinian government replaces its covenant and ceases uttering the refrain about how Israel targets innocent children and stops claiming the Temple Mount and the Western Wall have no attachment to the Jewish people. Imagine the progress in such a world. Nice dream. (Snap) Wake up.
Twenty years ago, while people from the free world were packing for Durban, pre-conference documents assailed Israel for “the racist practices of Zionism.” In 2021, contrary to popular belief, many in the world understand and appreciate positive contributions of Muslims and their faith in God. At the same time, no one can honestly deny Islamophobia or xenophobia of any kind, particularly when significant parts of the world live with extremist threats to kill other people, destroy other faiths or cultures and “annihilate” Israel.
Twenty years ago, delegations condemned Israel for her “treatment of Palestinians” in defending her borders. Never mind the relentless terror directed at Israel, the tunneling, kidnappings, stabbings of civilians, the firing missiles at Israeli towns from Gaza homes, schools, hospitals, even mosques.
The DDPA should try again to promote racial reconciliation, to construct a message of peace and harmony and do what the United Nations was designed to do since 1945 — “to prevent conflict, to help parties in conflict to make peace or to create conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish.” Avoid Durban Déjà vu.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
At B’nai B’rith we are a proud sponsor of affordable senior housing across the country. The goal of our Senior Housing Network is to provide seniors with quality, affordable housing in a secure, supportive community environment. What makes many of our buildings special are the service coordinators who work at the properties and connect residents with services in the community that allows seniors to age in place and not move to more costly facilities. Service coordinators play a vital role in the operation of our senior housing buildings, and their work has never been more critical than during the pandemic.
Prior to the virus, interacting with residents was a big part of service coordinators’ job. Obviously, given rules regarding social distancing, speaking with residents in close proximity has become problematic. Along with the limitations the pandemic has put on older Americans, the role of service coordination has dramatically changed. Recently, the American Association of Service Coordinators (AASC) and Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies issued a report entitled “For Older Adults in Publicly Funded Housing During the Pandemic, Service Coordinators Help Build Resilience,” detailing the ways service coordinators’ jobs have changed because of the virus. Results are based on surveys from service coordinators in June and July who are members of AASC, with 79 percent of those surveyed being people who work with individuals over 62 years old.
For starters, service coordinators have been asked to perform work left vacant by in-person or personal care assistants that normally help residents with housekeeping, laundry and dressing. Because of the pandemic, this type of assistance has not been as accessible to residents. In addition, the study reported that many residents did not have enough food, medicine and household supplies to isolate for a week. Consequently, service coordinators worked to remedy these problems, in part by reaching out to local donor organizations and distributing resources once it reached the property.
The study further reports that 74 percent of service coordinators found their residents exhibited more loneliness and anxiety. One service coordinator who was surveyed wrote, “I have had many conversations with residents who are very lonely, anxious and tired of being isolated. A lot of our residents have positive attitudes during this time, but it has taken a toll on their mental/emotional health. [I have] observed residents who are sad and feeling desperate to socialize.” In response, service coordinators encouraged residents to decorate their doors and created writing contests. In addition, these coordinators scheduled activities like scavenger hunts and bingo that allowed residents to enjoy themselves and practice social distancing.
Samara Scheckler, postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and co-author of the study said, “For older adults living in publicly-funded housing, the early months of COVID-19 highlighted the critical role service coordinators played in maintaining the stability of resident housing and health through a period of major change. With interruptions in access to food, medicine, medical care, personal assistance and social supports, service coordinators filled in many gaps. They linked residents to community resources, managed public benefits, coordinated informal supports, facilitated residents’ access to and ability to use technology, communicated emerging public health guidance and knit together peer-support networks. Service coordinators ensured residents had access to the resources needed to manage their physical and mental health and maintain their housing through intense disruption.”
The study’s findings are similar to what the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services (CSS) is hearing from our Senior Housing Network. For instance, once the pandemic began we started a weekly B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network Zoom call, and we held our yearly Senior Housing Conference and Managers and Service Coordinators Meeting virtually. These meetings provide a forum for property managers and service coordinators to share new ideas, hear success stories and speak directly with their colleagues across the country facing similar challenges. Also during these virtual meetings, issues such as social isolation were addressed using case studies and by providing resources through our website.
Furthermore, we were able to discuss COVID-19 related scams with our building staff. As an example, we showed an email where the sender claimed to be from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and offered five million dollars in exchange for personal identifying information. Hat-tip to our sponsored building, B’nai B’rith Chesilhurst House, for bringing this scam to CSS’s attention and giving us the opportunity to make our network aware of the problem. The Harvard/AASC study also reported service coordinators making their residents aware of scams during the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, B’nai B’rith service coordinators have worked to combat social isolation and partner with community organizations to provide food to residents. B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pennsylvania and Covenant House in Tucson, Arizona have worked with community partners to ensure residents have groceries during the pandemic. Building staff have packed up food and other supplies, and then coordinated to have them distributed to residents while practicing social distancing. Regarding social isolation, staff have orchestrated activities like painting, exercises classes and bingo, all in a safe and distant manner. Service coordinators in these buildings have also spent hours with residents on the phone and try to communicate with the residents in person when feasible.
With all the work being done by service coordinators in federally subsidized senior housing, it’s time for Congress to appropriate additional money to be used for more service coordinators and supplies. Keep in mind only around fifty percent of federally funded senior housing buildings eligible for a service coordinator have one, and even buildings with one could use the additional help. Funds should also be allocated for increasing Wi-Fi accessibility that would enable service coordinators to speak with building residents while practicing social distancing, as well as make it easier for residents to participate in telehealth. Since the pandemic started, B’nai B’rith and AASC have advocated to Congress for maximum funding for affordable senior housing to combat the negative consequences of the pandemic. Alayna Waldrum, consultant to AASC said, “Service coordinators have been essential to the success of affordable senior housing across the country, and during the pandemic. It is imperative that Congress appropriates additional funding for resources to provide for more personal protective equipment, emergency service coordinators and increased Wi-Fi availability in senior properties. These resources would help alleviate some of the negative impacts of the virus and resulting isolation.”
Everyone who works with a service coordinator should take a second and appreciate the invaluable service they have performed during the pandemic. It’s not surprising that CSS has found our Senior Housing Network’s service coordinators’ experiences run parallel to the AASC/Harvard study. Ensuring residents have food, supplies, medicine and don’t suffer from social isolation are common themes. Service coordinators around the country have answered the call to best serve their residents during the pandemic and deserve our heartfelt gratitude.
More than two months have passed since Dick (as we called him) Schifter left us, at age 97. And even though it would be impossible to express in just a few lines what it meant to our organization, and to me personally, to work with him, I felt the need to write about how blessed we were to be able to meet him, and learn from him.
About 10 years ago, he came to B’nai B’rith as Chairman of AJIRI (the American Jewish International Relations Institute), an organization he had founded some years earlier, to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.
His profound knowledge of the United Nations system, a product of his years representing the United States at the U.N. in different capacities, was truly impressive. He was interested in working with B’nai B’rith, among other things, because of our name recognition and presence in so many countries around the world. But there was also, from the very beginning, a great personal connection between him and our CEO Dan Mariaschin, whom he often described as a “Mensch” (Yiddish for “gentleman”). For us, it was truly an honor to work with someone of his caliber, integrity and knowledge.
I was at the time B’nai B’rith’s assistant director for Latin American Affairs, and he was interested in working with me to try to change the way several Latin American countries voted at the U.N. General Assembly, on Israel-related resolutions.
Dick was a person who cared deeply about justice. His opposition to the grotesque mistreatment of Israel at the United Nations had to do not only with his desire to support Israel and the Jewish people, but also, and most importantly, with his deep conviction about the intrinsic justice of this cause.
He was also a deeply humble human being. He never spoke about his life achievements, which were too many to count. And every time I would tell him that he was too humble, he would tell me: “you know that I do not promote myself. Our cause is what really matters."
His preoccupation with the U.N. had to do with his strong belief that the powerful anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that operates out of the U.N. building in New York hindered the prospects of a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He focused particularly on two U.N. entities, whose funding is yearly renewed by the U.N. General Assembly: The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR). He firmly believed that, by endorsing the most extreme Palestinian narrative, these two entities placed a serious obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.
Dick was absolutely right. CEIRPP and DPR work all year long to promote the so-called “right of return” of the more than 5 million Palestinians who are still considered “refugees” by the U.N., to what is now the State of Israel. In fact, only one percent of these people are original refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The other 99 percent are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugees, something that has no precedent in international law. The Palestinians are the only people in the world whose refugee status passes from generation to generation, indefinitely, along the paternal line.
The mass migration of more than 5 million Palestinians to Israel is something that no Israeli government—left, right or center—could ever accept as it would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state, and the creation of yet another Arab state, “from the river to the sea.” This is why the insistence on the “right of return” is in fact a weapon to destroy Israel, and the single most important obstacle to the achievement of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
As Dick used to put it, as long as U.N. member states continue to endorse the right of return by re-authorizing the operations of CEIRPP and DPR, the Palestinians will continue to believe that the U.N. will help them destroy Israel through demographic means, and will have no incentives to enter into meaningful peace negotiations.
The many other anti-Israel resolutions that proliferate at the U.N. were of little interest to Dick, as he knew that they were mostly declaratory. But CEIRPP and DPR were at the heart of the U.N. anti-Israel propaganda apparatus, and conducted a yearlong anti-Israel campaign, paid with U.N. funds. They were also responsible for most other anti-Israel resolutions and initiatives within the U.N. system and beyond.
An expert on vote counting (something he had learned from his years in Maryland politics), and in possession of an extraordinary legal mind, he carefully studied the U.N. Charter and realized that, as these resolutions required funding, a two-thirds majority was needed to get them approved. Therefore, defeating them was not an impossible task. He decided to devote himself to this cause the last years of his life. And we at B’nai B’rith had the privilege of joining him in this effort. Over the years, we had several achievements in our diplomatic efforts, but a lot remains to be done.
The Abraham Accords completely reshaped the landscape of the Middle East, and we are witnessing how several Arab and Muslim countries leave their hostility behind to come closer to Israel. However, we don’t see this trend within the current Palestinian leadership. Dick was convinced that the U.N. was the last stronghold of support for the most extreme positions of the Palestinian Authority. And that only when the U.N. abandons this position will peace be possible.
Just a few days prior to Dick’s passing, B’nai B’rith and AJIRI formally partnered, and a new institute named AJIRI-BBI was formed. His son Rick has now kindly assumed the chairmanship and, together with Gil Kapen, a member of the board who has also been a great collaborator of Dick for over a decade, we will continue to work to make sure his legacy is preserved. But Dick's inspiration and wisdom will be forever missed.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
As a Jewish European, last week’s ruling to by the European Court of Justice to allow member states to impose restrictions on ritual slaughter was personal.
I say that as a secular Jew, one who does not eat kosher meat. I was raised in Eastern Europe, in Romania, where Communism nearly obliterated what was left of Jewish life after the Shoah. I was one of those Jews, who like many in the region had Christmas trees alongside their Chanukkiah. My parents – as their parents – are not well versed in Jewish liturgy. Our home – while deeply embracing our Jewish identity, was empty of regular Jewish practice.
Yet, Jewish religious freedom is personal to me; it’s personal to all Jews. We know the history of suffering and indignities that our ancestors have endured to preserve that freedom. And we know the richness of thought and culture, of philosophy and tradition that has stemmed and continues to stem out of Judaism, binding Jews of all stripes together worldwide, and shaping, without a shadow of doubt, the European ethos – it’s values and principles, as we know them today.
I, like most Jewish Europeans, love Europe. This is not merely anecdotal. Multiple surveys of Jewish Europeans confirm this attachment, which is often greater than that of non-Jewish Europeans. And how could that not be so? Post-WWII Europe is founded on a promise to safeguard Jewish life and to celebrate it as part of European life; a promise to nurture pluralism and diversity; a promise to protect fundamental freedoms. That is a Europe that the dwindling Jewish community after the war decided to embrace – that was our home, and in this new Europe we could bring forth a Jewish renaissance.
That is why today’s ruling bore down so heavily. The ruling grants EU countries the right to require further restrictions on religious slaughter of animals, a core tenant of Judaism – one that has animal welfare at its core. It comes on the back of a prior ruling in Belgium, that granted such restrictions, balancing religious freedom and animal safety and favoring the latter. Today’s ruling though, had to deal with another balancing act: this time, religious freedom was weighed against the member states rights and jurisdiction. This ruling too favored the latter. It went against the recommendations made by the Advocate General (AG) to the ECJ, that such a ruling would be a disproportionate infringement of fundamental rights. In both cases, the fundamental right to freedom of religion had a negligible weight.
At best, the decision shows an utter lack of understanding and empathy for the essential place that the preservation of certain religious laws – such as ritual slaughter – occupies in one’s religious expression, in one’s faith and sense of self, in one’s communal affiliation and feeling of belonging and of course, in the collective identity and manifestation of a community. At worst, it is a not-too-subtle message: “You don’t belong”, to Jewish as well as Muslim communities throughout Europe – ergo, to millions of Europeans.
The feeling I have today is one I’ve had too often – disappointment, otherness, frustration. Yet it is nothing compared to what practicing religious Jews are experiencing today. For them, Jewish life is, as of today, effectively limited. Families may choose to relocate. Their sense of safety in society will undoubtably be diminished.
Just the other week, the Council of the European Union produced a unanimous declaration reaffirming states’ commitment to safeguarding Jewish life in Europe. It’s worth repeating part of it here:
Judaism and Jewish life have contributed considerably to shaping European identity and enriching Europe’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage. We are grateful that 75 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life, in all its diversity, is deeply rooted and thriving again in Europe. It is our permanent, shared responsibility to actively protect and support Jewish life.
If the Court of Justice ruling is to stand alongside the above declaration – we need a new framework for religious freedom in the EU.
Read Director of EU Affairs Alina Bricman's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Alina Bricman is the Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. She formerly served as president of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) from 2017 to 2019 and worked for the Representation of the European Commission in Romania and for the Median Research Centre, a Romanian civil society NGO focused on civil engagement and combating xenophobia. She studied political science at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and at the Central European University in Budapest.
Analysis From Our Experts
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: