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Why It’s Important to Adopt the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

If punitive measures are to be applied to an act, then that act must be defined with as little room for ambiguity as possible

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Illiterate Antisemitic graffiti

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Widely considered to be the founder of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, British theorist and mathematician Alan Turing played a pivotal role in Britain’s wartime efforts to crack Nazi Germany’s encryption codes. In 1946 he was awarded with the OBE, one of Britain’s highest honours. Even back in my home country of Syria, every computer science student had heard of the name of the brilliant Alan Turing.

Sadly, he ended his life by suicide in 1954, two years after being convicted on the charges of “gross indecency.” That is lawyer-speak in antiquated English law for being involved in a homosexual relationship.

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In the UK, as in Canada, it is no longer a crime to be involved in a same sex relationship, as what was previously defined as a crime, is now considered to be an inalienable right of any individual. In societies that seek to conduct themselves according to the rule of the law, definitions are important. 

Countries the world all over have definitions for age-old crimes such as theft and the differing degrees of murder. More recent additions to the laws of many countries have been concepts such as the age of consent and racial discrimination. 

Statue of the great mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing | Bletchley Park | Artist Stepehen Kettle

Societies that seek to conduct themselves according to the rule of the law are always challenged to re-examine their laws, and the definitions that underlie those laws. If definitions are loose and open to wide degrees of interpretation, it becomes extremely challenging to apply laws fairly. For instance, under the Baathist dictatorship in Syria, the charge of “threatening national security” could mean everything from deserting army service to not attending a government sanctioned rally, if the government even bothered to lay a formal charge).

As a Syrian, I saw my own country fall apart over the course of several years. But the illness in Syrian society, and indeed the entire region, was growing decades before the final calamity. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Jews in Syria were subjected to the confiscation of property, bank accounts, and restrictions on employment and travel, both within the country and out of it. These acts of oppression would eventually be used as a template to oppress the rest of the country. 

In Syria, as in the rest of the world, throughout history, what started with the Jews, never ended with the Jews.

Which brings us to the present, and the world’s oldest hatred, antisemitism.

By every indication and reliable statistic, the world is without a doubt facing a worrying rise in antisemitic attacks, rhetoric and hate crimes.

Especially now, during the COVID-19 global pandemic, with antisemitic conspiracy theories being widely circulated on the Internet (i.e. “since Israel was the first to a breakthrough with a vaccine, it must have known about the virus all along”).

It is an issue that is not limited to one country or region, but, as has been the case throughout history, is a global matter. A blood chilling, hateful video in one part of the world can inspire a murderous rampage in another part. Hate speech targeting a certain demographic in Europe will also affect the safety of members of that demographic in North America or Australia.  And a global matter requires a global approach to confront

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

It is with these concerns in mind that a coalition of intergovernmental organizations and experts known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) met in Bucharest in May of 2016, and agreed to adopt a non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism, meant to be a guide in the possible application of laws with regards to antisemitic hate crimes. 

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Definitions are important. If punitive measures are to be applied to an act, then that act must be defined with as little room for ambiguity as possible. The alternative is to leave the application of the law to the whims and attitudes of those with the power to enforce the law (in other words, dictatorships). If antisemitism is to be confronted, then the first step is to define it in as clear and unambiguous manner as possible.

As of March 2020, the IHRA Working Definition on antisemitism has been adopted by 25 countries and numerous universities, city councils, political parties, sports clubs and parliaments. Of course, any initiative such as the one put forward by the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism will have its critics. Just as the struggle for the rights of groups throughout history has had its detractors, so to has the IHRA definition come under attack. 

The groups opposed to the working definition almost exclusively focus on the possibility that adoption of the definition would criminalize any criticism of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hassan Rouhani, Iranian Dictator and a well known Antisemite who calls Israel a "cancerous tumor"

In the four years since the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism had been formulated and adopted by dozens of countries and governments the world over, not a single criminal case has been brought to any court in the world with regards to criticism of Israel. 

Under the IHRA definition, criticizing the policies of the Israeli government would not be considered antisemitic. Not even calling Israel “a cancerous tumor”, as the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did in 2018, would be, under the IHRA definition, considered to be antisemitic. 

Do Israel’s detractors seriously require speech more hateful than that of Hassan Rouhani to express their opposition to Israel? While it is important that no one be punished merely for expressing a belief that “Israel must end the occupation”, neither should Jews be subjected to taunts of “A progressive Zionists is the same as a progressive Nazi”, expressed by a protestor at the recent AIPAC Conference in Washington, DC. Indeed, detractors of Israel should be among the strongest supporters of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, as it clearly lays out that even their obsession with that country does not constitute antisemitism. 

The law that made homosexuality illegal in the UK was repealed 13 years after Alan Turing abandoned hope. It is encouraging that so many countries and institutions around the world are aware of the dangers that the current wave of antisemitic hate poses to societies seeking to function according to the rule of the law. The IHRA Working Definition on Antisemitism is an important guide to assist those countries to continue to do so, when it comes to confronting antisemitism. 

Aboud Dandachi is a former Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada in 2017 through the Canadian Refugee Resettlement Program. He has been published, interviewed and cited on Syrian issues in numerous outlets, including the BBC, NPR and the Israeli and Turkish press. He has been published on Tablet Magazine and the CJN. Follow him on Twitter at @abouddandachi

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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