Anyone who wants to contribute to a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel should support the IHRA's definition of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism also exists in Palestine and among so-called Palestinian friends, and needs to be discussed in order to combat it. Only when criticism of Israel is free from anti-Semitism is it legitimate and effective. It writes Carl Bradshaw, who has stayed with the Ecumenical Companion Program in Jerusalem and in the village of Yanoun on the West Bank.
During my time with Ecumenical Companion Program, whose purpose is to promote respect for international law through preventive presence and minimize the use of violence, I was confronted with anti-Semitism on several occasions - both among Palestinians and among Westerners who called themselves Palestinian friends.
A couple of months ago, I participated in the Malmö International Forum for the Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Fight against Anti-Semitism, of which the organization International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) was a central part. I believe that as many countries, companies and organizations as possible should support the IHRA's definition of anti-Semitism. It does not prevent criticism of Israel or the settler movement. Instead, it enables dialogue and a way forward in the peace process.
Critics of the Companion Program often argue that we only take the Palestinian side and ignore anti-Semitic tendencies. This is a false accusation. The companion program distances itself from both anti-Semitism and violations of international law. Before my own first posting in the village Yanoun at the West Bank we received training from Henrik Bachner, one of Sweden's foremost lecturers on anti-Semitism, racism and political extremism. Once in place, we cooperated with both Palestinian and Israeli actors as long as they operated in accordance with international law, democracy and non-violent principles.
Therefore, a definition of anti-Semitism is needed
IHRA's definition of anti-Semitism is a toolbox that can be used to follow anti-Semitic tendencies over time and national boundaries. It is about having common guidelines to be able to create common solutions.
Many, including several of my acquaintances, have expressed skepticism about the IHRA's definition. The critics' conclusion is that the definition of anti-Semitism protects Israel from criticism and leads to reduced freedom of expression. Many are worried that their criticism of Israel and the settler movement should be classified as anti-Semitic. I argue that this type of concern is unwarranted and is based on fear rather than rationality.
The reason why Israel is mentioned is that a significant part of anti-Semitism is disguised as criticism of Israel. When anti-Jewish motives are woven into a political debate, world leaders, companies and organizations must put their foot down.
In 2017, a court in Germany claimed that one firebombing of a synagogue was not anti-Semitic because it was based on criticism of Israel. This exemplifies why it is not possible to discuss anti-Semitism without talking about Israel. Anyone who is critical of Israeli policy and wants to be part of the debate must confront anti-Semitic tendencies among Israeli critics in order to be taken seriously.
Of course, there are those who try to distort the IHRA's definition through the examples and claim that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism.
If the leaders, companies and organizations of the majority of democratic countries support the definition and actively work to discuss and clarify the parts that they consider problematic, it will be difficult for groups who want to use the definition as a political shield. But this is only done if you have a seat at the table. Perhaps the IHRA's definition is something that in the long run can inspire other definitions regarding Islamophobia, anti-Gypsyism and more.
In the end, objectivity is the only way forward. Israel does not need to be compared to Nazi Germany for criticism of Israel's violations of international law to be effective. On the contrary! Anyone who cannot distinguish between the ideology and policies of these countries is a harmful voice in the debate. It suffices to describe the policy created by the Israeli government and to describe the human rights violations actually committed by both the Israeli military and settlers.
A true friend of Israel should raise his voice when Israel or individual Israeli groups and individuals violate international law. In the same way, a true Palestinian friend should stand up to those who cannot express their criticism of Israel without succumbing to anti-Semitism.
SKR, Companion Program and the definition of anti-Semitism
The Swedish Christian Council (SKR) and the Ecumenical Companion Program want to be a force in the fight against anti-Semitism. In addition to the IHRA's definition of anti-Semitism, The Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism (JDA) has come in response to the former. SKR and the Ecumenical Companion Program have not taken a stand for or against any definition of anti-Semitism, but for continuous discussions about how the organization can counter anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and oppression.