(Photo credit: Stephan Savoia/AP Photo)
Compiled by Rowan Gaudent, IJV-Montreal
IJV is documenting examples in several countries of where the IHRA definition has been used, or significant attempts have been made, to cancel events or silence Palestine solidarity movements. Below is a complete list to our knowledge, and we will keep adding to this list as the number of examples grows. (Last update: January 18, 2021)
The IHRA definition has largely been weaponized against students, professors, and on-campus activities in the US. The definition was quietly adopted by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights with no notice in 2018. This was made official by Trump’s December 2019 executive order which fully adopted the definition for use in Title VI civil rights complaints on campuses. As described by Palestine Legal, The US State Department adopted a version of the definition which was substantially extremely similar, which was then replaced by the IHRA definition in early 2018. Thus references to the State Department definition can be considered as references to the IHRA definition.
State Department Attack on Human Rights Groups
As reported by Politico, in October 2020, the State Department announced its intentions to declare the advocacy groups Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch as antisemitic. This would lead to the United States withdrawing their support of these groups. Mother Jones further reported that according to a memo they obtained from special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism Elan Carr’s office, the IHRA definition was relied upon in the decision. All three groups ardently deny all accusations of antisemitism, and Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch is quoted by Politico as pointing out that the Trump administration itself regularly relies on his group’s work.
As Radhika Sainath wrote in August 2019, a judge issued a landmark ruling declaring that the Manhattan based Fordham University must recognize the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter formed by its students. The ruling was notable in that Fordham is a private university, and thus not held to the first amendment. Fordham appealed the decision, and the pro-Israel group StandWithUs filed an amicus curiae in support of the appeal. The amicus curiae cited the IHRA definition to claim that SJP, a student activist group, has an “antisemitic nature of [its] conduct.”
Berkeley: SJP-JVP vigil
Following the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting and bombings in Gaza, the Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace chapters planned to hold a joint vigil to mourn together. The event faced backlash, including a letter to the OCR by attorney Joel Siegal which claimed that the vigil would portray Israel as a racist nation, which he noted contravened the IHRA definition of antisemitism. He also claimed it was holding Israel to a higher standard than other nations. The public mourning was cancelled in the face of this pressure.
Pomona & Pitzer Colleges
The David Horowitz Freedom Center, a group known for its anti-Muslim hate, accused the Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at the two colleges of antisemitism. The center’s letter, sent February 2020, quotes the IHRA’s controversial examples in full to claim that SJP’s support of BDS as an example of antisemitism. It lists various other examples, such as SJP’s mock apartheid wall, alongside examples of actual antisemitism which have no clear connection to SJP. The letter concludes with a vague call to ‘take action’ against the SJP chapters. It is unclear if the Center will follow up with its explicit threat to sue the colleges.
University of Michigan: Emory Douglas
In a 2018 guest lecture at the University of Michigan by former Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, he showed hundreds of photos of his art. Included were several pro-BDS works, and one claiming that both Hitler and Benjamin Netanyahu were guilty of genocide. Alexa Smith, one of over a thousand students at the lecture, used this supposed instance of antisemitism to push for the university to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which would deem the longtime anti-racist activist an antisemite. She also used the definition to claim Douglas committed hate speech. This push has been backed by a campaign in various newspapers, the ADL, and even Israeli minister Naftali Bennett.
Columbia: Jonathan Karten
The aptly named Lawfare group launched a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of Jonathan Karten against Columbia University claiming antisemitic abuse. As the group Palestine Legal details, this complaint is an attempt to silence student activists for actions such as displaying a hand painted replica of Israel’s Apartheid wall, or for supporting BDS. As a Jewish Currents article notes, it also includes a rash of other accusations which are so vague as to be unverifiable. Lawfare’s press release specifically mentions Trump’s Executive Order adopting the IHRA as making the complaint possible.
Columbia: Jamie Kreitman
Jamie Kreitman, who completed a Masters degree at Columbia in the 1980s, has submitted a complaint against the university relying on Trump’s inclusion of the IHRA definition in Title VI cases. She claims that her complaint is based on the current climate, and that programs within the university “disseminate anti-Semitic ideas and encourage anti-Semitic actions, per the IHRA definition and examples[…]” While the details of the complaint are unavailable, she stated that issues include programming which “equates Zionism with racism[…]” and “demonizes Zionists as establishing an apartheid state in Israel[…]”
University of Arizona
On February 24th, 2020, Congressman Paul Gosar sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos claiming that the University of Arizona was misusing its Title VI government funds. As the Middle East Forum notes, Gosar relied on the IHRA definition to threaten the university’s funding. In his letter, Gosar attacks Dr. Maha Nassar for several articles she wrote for Jewish papers in which she defended Students for Justice in Palestine and Marc Lamont Hill who had been the target of smears. Gosar further relies on the IHRA definition to make such ridiculous claims as “referring to Israel as ‘Palestine’ is itself anti-Semitic hate speech[…]” The University of Arizona has maintained that it rejects antisemitism and defends the right of its professors to free speech.
New York University: Adela Cojab
Drawing on Trump’s adoption of the IHRA definition Adela Cojab has launched a lawsuit against New York University claiming that the university allowed for a climate of antisemitism to exist on its campus. As reported by Washington Square News, the complaint cited a protest which took place at an Israeli Independence Day event, as well as the very existence of BDS activities on campus which Cojab describes as by nature antisemitic. As Cojab makes clear in her op-ed, this legal attack on the right to peacefully boycott Israel would not be possible without Trump’s executive order.
UCLA: Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi
After Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi participated as a guest lecturer in a class about race at UCLA, StandWithUs brought a complaint for antisemitism based on statements she reportedly made about the state of Israel. As Palestine Legal describes, Dr. Abdulhadi discussed the interrelations of Zionism, colonialism, and Islamophobia. StandWithUs maintains the comments, which did not specifically mention Jews, were antisemitic according to the IHRA definition. The Department of Education has opened the matter for investigation.
UCLA: SJP Conference
As reported by the Jewish Journal, following Trump’s executive order adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the Zachor Legal Institute received word in January 2020 that the Department of Education has opened an investigation regarding their complaint against UCLA. The complaint was for having simply hosted the 2018 national conference of Students for Justice in Palestine. Justin Feldman, the student who leads the case, based it on the organization’s opposition to zionism and unsubstantiated links between SJP and terrorist groups. In the original threat of legal action Zachor Legal based itself on the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which is the same as the IHRA definition.
Florida State University: Ahmad Daraldik
Following Ahmad Daraldik’s 2020 election as Florida State student senate’s president, the Palestinian student faced a barage of criticism for his old social media posts. Namely, they focused on statements he had made calling Israel a racist state and for a post using antisemitic language he had made, as he explained, when he “was a [twelve year old] child in Palestine witnessing death on a daily basis.” He apologized in full for the antisemitic comment. Following his election the student senate publicly reviewed his voting record and, having found no evidence of antisemitism, kept him as president. FSU has since adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, leading to widespread concerns that Palestinian and Muslim students would face political repercussions. Reportedly, one professor has already decided against teaching about Palestine-Israel for that very reason. Daraldik has continued to resist the ongoing smear campaign to make him step down.
In the fall of 2018, the Department of Education re-opened a complaint against Rutgers University which had originally been dismissed in 2014. As reported by Palestine Legal, the department used this as a chance to quietly adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The original case was based on the claim that Jewish students had been targetted for an entrance fee for an event highlighting the voices of survivors of both the Holocaust and the Nakba. The claim had been dismissed as unsubstantiated, and in re-opening it the DoE was accused of giving illegal preferential treatment to the Zionist Organization of America over hundreds of other cases.
Indiana University: Jamil Dakwar
As described by Palestine Legal, Palestinian human rights lawyer Jamil Dakwar was scheduled to talk at Indiana University when a pressure campaign was launched by the Israel Public Affairs Committee to cancel the talk. A student congress motion, which cited the state department’s definition of antisemitism, attempted to condemn Dakwar’s talk and prohibit free speech supporting the BDS movement. The motion was vetoed and the talk went ahead as scheduled.
Berkeley: Paul Hadweh
In September of 2016, Berkeley senior undergraduate student Paul Hadweh was attacked in the media for the course he was teaching called “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.” The attacks were led by the AMCHA initiative with a letter relying on the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which is the same as the IHRA’s, to claim that the course was antisemitic due to its “anti-Israel bias.” Following these attacks the course was cancelled by the university citing concerns it was ‘one-sided’. As Palestine Legal made clear, this was a blatant violation of First Amendment rights. The university reinstated the course and offered a partial apology, although it did nothing to remedy the harms caused to Hadweh and the course participants.
University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass)
In April of 2019 three anonymous students launched a lawsuit against University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) in response to their hosting of an event titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights.” As Palestine Legal noted, the lawsuit relied on the IHRA definition. So did a letter, which preceded the lawsuit, by pro-Israel groups attempting to pressure the university to drop the event. As Rachel Weber, a lawyer representing the event’s sponsors said: “Ironically, the lawsuit sought to censor an event on how activists supporting Palestinian rights are censored.” The event went ahead and the lawsuit was eventually dropped.
University of Illinois
In October 2020 the Louis D. Brandeis Center filed a Title VI complaint with the Department of Education against the University of Illinois on behalf of two Jewish students alleging a “hostile environment of anti-Semtism.” The complaint explicitly cites Trump’s Executive Order and the IHRA definition itself. It also includes a list of 23 supposed antisemitic incidents, all listed without any citations. The incidents range from actual manifestations of antisemitism like the vandalization of a Hillel menorah, to a call for “UIUC to divest from certain companies that do business with Israel[…]” The list therefore mixes actual antisemitic incidents and pro-Palestinian sentiments, using the IHRA definition to create a correlation and equivalence between the examples in order to justify labelling them all as antisemitism. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Department of Education announced in November that it would be investigating the complaint. Kenneth L. Marcus, who as head of the Department’s Office of Civil Rights was behind the itss adoption of the IHRA definition, was by the time of this complaint serving as the Chairman of the Brandeis Center’s board of directors.
The federal government of Canada adopted the IHRA definition as a non-legally binding definition in 2019. However, attempts to have provinces and cities adopt the definition have been blocked by local campaigns. There has not been a successful push to have universities adopt the definition.
In June of 2020 a debate on the IHRA definition was organized by the Ryerson University’s Center for Free Expression which included human rights lawyer and professor Faisal Bhabha. Following the debate, the pro-Israel organization B’nai Brith launched a petition against Prof. Bhabha accusing him of antisemitism and calling for him to no longer teach any human rights classes. The petition, as described by fellow professor Jamie Cameron, was carefully worded to avoid being defamatory. Cameron further described how the petition relied on taking statements Prof. Bhabha had made about zionism, and statements about narratives of the Holocaust, out of context. York University (where Bhabha teaches) has not yielded to the smears and calls to dismiss Prof. Bhabha, who claimed “B’nai Brith have proven my point.”
University of Winnipeg: “My Jerusalem”
In February of 2018 various groups in Winnipeg, including a chapter of Independent Jewish Voices, organized an event titled “My Jerusalem” about the U.S.’s embassy move to Jerusalem. Following the event, B’nai Brith published a post claiming it was antisemitic due to anti-Israel statements made. The university apologized and, in its review, used the IHRA definition to deem the event antisemitic. B’nai Brith celebrated this apology, and claimed it “highlights the importance of universities using the IHRA[…] definition of antisemitism[…] which includes the promotion of anti-Jewish hatred under the guise of anti-Zionism.”
Foodbenders, a local restaurant in Toronto which was vocal in its support of Palestinians, received a wave of criticism and intimidation during the summer of 2020. The criticism was led by the FBI-listed terrorist group Jewish Defence League, which was joined by B’nai Brith and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The pressure included having its windows graffitied and led to the restaurant being kicked off various food service apps. The restaurant had made what Independent Jewish Voices Toronto described as “broad, exaggerated and conspiracy-tinged allegations, which reinforce classic antisemitic allegations against Jews…” But IJV-Toronto’s efforts to have discussions with the owner were productive, and she expressed regret over the comments. That the organizations applying pressure have been unwilling to take this into account is, as IJV-Toronto notes, because their criticisms have focused on her pro-Palestinian sentiments. Most recently the International Legal Forum filed what it deemed a ‘groundbreaking’ case against the local restaurant in a human rights tribunal, utilizing the IHRA definition. The ILF’s announcement cited only criticisms of Israel and Zionism as relevant examples of antisemitism.
The United Kingdom has seen the IHRA definition passed through various channels. It has been adopted by the federal government, as well as the main political parties. Most notably the Labour Party originally adopted a modified version before adopting the full list of examples in 2018. The National Union of Students also adopted the definition in 2017. Meanwhile the government has applied pressure to local councils and universities, threatening to withhold funding from those that do not adopt the definition in full.
Tower Hamlets: Big Ride for Palestine
In mid-2019 the London council of Tower Hamlets refused its space to Big Ride for Palestine, a group which fundraises money for children’s sports equipment in Gaza. As reported in The Guardian, council officials withheld information regarding their reasoning. It was discovered through freedom of information requests that officials had been fearful that the event could contravene the IHRA definition of antisemitism due to references on Big Ride for Palestine’s website to apartheid and ethnic cleansing. The emails, quoted in The Guardian article, state that council officials were scared of backlash, making this a clear example of the IHRA’s chilling effect on free speech.
University of Central Lancaster: Israeli Apartheid Week
In 2017, the University of Central Lancaster banned an upcoming event titled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine and the Importance of BDS”. The university directly referenced the government’s adoption of the IHRA definition in its decision, specifically claiming that the talk would not maintain a “balanced view” and thus was not “lawful”. Ben White, a journalist who had been a planned speaker at the event, wrote that the university never explained their decision.
Exeter Student Union: Malaka Shwaikh
Dr. Malaka Shwaikh, who at the time was a PhD student, was elected in February 2017 to the Exeter Student Union in the UK. The university’s Union of Jewish Students used the IHRA definition and quotes taken completely out of context to smear Shwaikh, who is Palestinian, as an antisemite for comments she made about Israel. As her op-ed on the controversy makes clear, as do the rash of newspapers forced to retract and apologize for false claims they made about her, “the point of these attacks is not to determine the truth, but rather to bully those who speak up for Palestinian rights, in order to scare others away from Palestinian activism.”
National Union of Students: Ayo Olatunji
Ayo Olatunji was an executive committee member of the National Union of Students, which has adopted the IHRA definition, in 2018 when he was criticized for comments he had made on social media. The comments include calling Israel a racist state, referencing comparisons made by a Holocaust survivor between policies of the Nazis and the Israeli state, criticisms of the IHRA definition, and tweets which were misquoted and twisted to (falsely) appear as if Olatunji endorsed the Rothschild conspiracy. Although he originally refused to resign his position despite a smear campaign relying on the IHRA definition to brand him an antisemite, he resigned shortly before a vote of censure was set to take place.
National Union of Students: Zeid Truscott
While a candidate for the National Union of Students’ executive committee, Zeid Truscott faced a complaint for calling Israel a racist endeavor and an apartheid state. While a smear campaign relying on the IHRA definition claimed he was an antisemite, the complaint looked specifically at comments he made during the election campaign. As he states in his account, the investigation found he had not been antisemitic. Despite this, Truscott was made to swear to uphold the IHRA definition and, in an unclear and confusing statement made by the NUS elections officer, Truscott was disqualified for the complaint.
Labour Party: Lisa Forbes
While a Labour Party candidate for a seat in parliament, Lisa Forbes faced calls for her resignation based on two claims. The first was that she ‘liked’ a video on Facebook which included an antisemitic message in the accompanying text. She apologized for this and stated that she had not read the message in full, as reported by the Jewish News. The second claim was that she signed a letter opposing the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Mike Katz, the National Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement which led calls for her resignation, attacked her with a letter in early 2019 which emphasized that her opposition to the IHRA was the real issue: “Ms Forbes apology and statement response made it clear that she regretted endorsing material online in an ‘accidental’ manner but said nothing about the position she took last year, or indeed, currently takes on IHRA.” The letter goes on to call for her suspension, which did not take place. She lost her seat in the December 2019 parliamentary election.
Labour Party: Nikki Brennen
After being elected in the Spring of 2020 as a Labour councillor on the left-wing Momentum slate in Brighton and Hove, a photo from two years previous surfaced of Nikki Brennen at a protest against the adoption of the IHRA definition outside a local town hall. As reported by The Argus, the photo shows her holding a sign which deemed Israel a racist apartheid state, and opposed the IHRA definition. She resigned her position, reportedly after the Daily Mail claimed they would publish the photos.
Labour Party: Rebecca Long-Bailey
After losing the leadership race of the Labour party to Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked by Starmer for supposed antisemitism. Long-Bailey had retweeted a long interview of supporter and friend Maxine Peake which briefly included the claim that Israeli training of U.S. police had taught them the knee-on-neck technique which killed George Floyd. As Jewish Voice for Labour made clear, while the truth of the claim is questionable, simply because a claim is wrong does not make it antisemitic. Starmer, however, emboldened by the party’s use of IHRA, called it an antisemitic conspiracy theory and promptly sacked Long-Bailey before she could even meet to speak with him about it.
Labour Party: Kate Knight
In July of 2020 a local councillor in Brighton named Kate Knight resigned from the party after a complaint was filed accusing her of antisemitism in relation to posts she had made on Facebook. As reported by the Brighton and Hove News, the articles shared were critical left-wing perspectives of the antisemitism accusations happening within the Labour Party. Notably, most of the examples are actually Jewish publications such as Jewish Socialist and Jewish Voice for Labour. A Labour Party spokesperson is quoted in the article saying that any accusation of antisemitism “are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures…” which includes the IHRA.
Manchester University: Marika Sherwood
After interventions by the Israeli ambassador to the UK Mark Regev and the embassy’s counsellor for civil society affairs Michael Freeman, Manchester University censored the title of a talk by Jewish Holocaust survivor Marika Sherwood. As reported by The Guardian, the event was organized by students as part of Israeli Apartheid Week under the original title “You’re Doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis Did to Me.” In an email to the university quoted in the above article, Freeman claimed the title breached the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and therefore accused the Holocaust survivor of hate speech.
Germany has seen the use of IHRA take place in-tandem with and alongside widespread anti-BDS legislation. In 2019 the Bundestag voted to define BDS as antisemitic with a motion which cited the IHRA definition. Similar motions have been passed in various cities around Germany.
Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East
As the Jewish Post reported, in mid-2019 pressure tactics along with a series of articles in their paper led the German Bank for Social Economy to investigate and ultimately shut down the account of German-Jewish pro-BDS group Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. The head of Jewish Voice Iris Hefets stated that the bank had been unsure how to proceed when deciding whether the group’s (entirely Jewish) membership are antisemites, so they turned to the IHRA definition. In her powerful statement Hefets rejects the German institution’s authority to “decide which Jews are the real ones” and which are to be censured.
In June of 2020 Palestinian writer and activist Khaled Barakat was subjected to a ban on speaking and the threat of a 1 year prison sentence by German police at a community event about Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. As Samidoun describes, Germany next ordered him to be expelled from the country and banned him for four years in a document accusing him of antisemitism. While it does not directly reference the IHRA definition, the document clearly relies on the German government’s adoption of IHRA by falsely claiming that “opposing the existence of the State of Israel” and discussing the “racist project of Israel” are antisemitic acts.
The widely respected Cameroonian post-colonial philosopher Achille Mbembe became embroiled in a conflict when he was invited as the opening speaker of the Ruhrtriennale festival. His invitation sparked accusations of antisemitism, including from Germany’s antisemitism chief Felix Klein, leading to calls for Klein’s resignation. Klein defended his attacks in an interview by claiming that he was “fulfilling my mandate as formulated in several German parliament resolutions, particularly when it comes to Israel-focused anti-Semitism.” He further justified accusations of antisemitism by pointing to Mbembe’s discussion of similarities between Israel and South African apartheid. The festival was eventually cancelled due to Coronavirus.
Munich: Anti-BDS Legislation
In December 2017 Munich’s city council outlawed BDS events from taking place in public facilities or using public funds. In 2018 BDS activist Klaus Reid attempted to challenge this in order to host a BDS event at a local museum, but a Bavarian court upheld the law. The Jewish Post, which saw the 23-page court decision, reported that the court justified its decision because the law “used modern definitions of antisemitism to establish that BDS is an antisemitic campaign, including the definition from the The [sic] International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).”
In the Fall of 2020, a Palestinian cultural festival organized in Rome became the site of unexpected controversy. As an article by Romana Rubeo and Ramzy Baroud explains, the event was meant “not to simply humanize Palestinians in the eyes of ordinary Italians, but to explore commonalities, to cement bonds and to build bridges.” Despite this goal, complaints from Jewish communities in Rome and the Simon Weisenthal Center released seemingly coordinated statements which both cited the IHRA definition to claim the cultural festival was antisemitic due to ties between some of the planned speakers and BDS. The festival continued unabated and was deemed a success by organizers.
Public University of Navarra
In early September 2020, the Spanish group Accion y Comunicacion sobre Oriente Medio called on the Spanish government to cancel a course at the Public University of Navarra titled ‘Apartheid in Palestine and the Criminalization of Solidarity’. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also issued their own letter which called for the cancellation of the course, claiming alleged links to what it deemed terrorist organizations and readings about the BDS movement which made the course antisemitic. Both groups cited the IHRA definition but, as reported by the European Jewish Press, the university did not cancel the course.
Pax Christi Flander (Brigette Herremans)
As reported by the Jewish News Syndicate, the Catholic NGO Pax Christi Flanders was criticized by various groups when it announced that it would be giving its “ambassador for peace” award to doctoral student Briggette Herremans for her work supporting human rights in the Middle East. The criticism focused on her support for BDS, and the fact that the award ceremony was meant to take place at Kazerne Dossin; a former transit point during the Holocaust turned into a human rights museum. The group NGO Monitor released a statement claiming that by holding it in the human rights museum connected to the Holocaust, the group was drawing an equivalence between Israeli and Nazi policy, which it pointed out contravened the IHRA definition. Stand With Israel later released a statement which repeated the use of the IHRA definition to condemn the group, and celebrated that the museum cancelled the event “in response to outcry from a number of Jewish organizations…”.
As reported by Yle Uutiset news in January 2020, the Finnish MP and sociologist Anna Kontula was accused of antisemitism by the Jewish community of Helsinki for her attempts to challenge the Gaza blockade. After she was arrested alongside other international activists for challenging the blockade, the World Jewish Congress also released a statement accusing her of antisemitism. The statement relied on the European Parliament’s adoption of the IHRA definition (as Finland has not adopted it) to argue that as she was placing the blame for conditions in Gaza solely on Israel, she was holding Israel to a standard not expected of other countries. Both the Jewish community of Helsinki and the WJC relied on the IHRA definition to claim that Kontula’s protest constituted antisemitism.