Law school faculty urge Bar Association to reconsider refusal to adopt comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism

The American Bar Association passed Resolution 514 in February, but it excludes the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism due to significant lobbying from the ACLU and HRW.

28 signatories of the petition agree that ‘the IHRA definition is an invaluable educational tool for understanding how Jews experience antisemitism today.’

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN) on Tuesday released a petition urging the American Bar Association (ABA) to reconsider its February decision to refrain from using a comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism in its resolution to combat anti-Jewish hate.

The ABA passed Resolution 514 on February 6, condemning anti-Semitism, as Campus Reform previously reported.

Missing from this resolution, however, is the globally-recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which defines it as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals, property, community institutions, or religious facilities.

While the original draft of Resolution 514 included the IHRA definition, the ABA ultimately removed this language after receiving pushback from human rights advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), both of which claim that it deems all criticism of Israel as anti-Zionist bias, therefore restricting even valid speech.

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As of Tuesday, 28 faculty members from prestigious law schools disagree and have signed the AEN’s petition for the ABA to reconsider adopting the IHRA definition.

The IHRA definition is an invaluable educational tool for understanding how Jews experience antisemitism today,” the petition reads. “It includes both classical antisemitic tropes and canards and illustrations of contemporary antisemitism that are often directed against the State of Israel—such as calls for Israel’s destruction and comparing it to Nazi Germany.”

Addressing the concerns of IHRA critics, the petition notes that the full definition “explicitly states that it is not antisemitic to criticize Israel in ways similar to other countries.”

“[W]hen conspiracy theories and anti-Jewish stereotypes flourish under the guise of calls to eliminate Israel,” however, “this needs to be called out and condemned as antisemitism [potentially justifying] the harassment, exclusion, and marginalization of Jews in America and worldwide.”

Executive Director of the AEN, Miriam Elman, responded to Campus Reform‘s request for comment by noting that the IHRA definition is essential to public education on anti-Semitism

“While it’s commendable that the ABA adopted a resolution to condemn antisemitism,” she said, “it’s vital that people be educated about the multifaceted nature of contemporary antisemitism, and how it is experienced by the majority of American Jews today.”

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States, with 53% of Jewish Americans feeling less safe than they did five years ago, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center poll.

College campuses are especially prone to anti-Semitism, as Campus Reform has covered extensively.

In addition to the numerous reports of vandalism, slurs, and intimidation against Jews on college campuses, a spring 2021 survey of students from the leading Jewish fraternity and sorority found that 65% “felt unsafe” on campus and 55% “personally experienced an anti-Semitic verbal attack in the past 120 days.”

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The AEN’s petition states that the IHRA definition is crucial for determining if anti-Semitism is a factor in a campus dispute or incident and, if so, pursuing legal action for a school’s failure “to protect Jewish students from discrimination on the basis of real or perceived shared ethnic or ancestral characteristics” under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Additionally, the petition contends that the IHRA definition “can help to encourage robust conversations” and “promote speech by ensuring that Jewish students are able to openly express their Zionist identities and can participate freely in campus life.”    

The ABA decline Campus Reforms request for on the record comment.

The ACLU and HWR have not yet responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment, but this developing story will be updated accordingly.