December 7, 2022 | Policy Brief

How Biden, Congress can stop the UN from legitimizing antisemitism

December 7, 2022 | Policy Brief

How Biden, Congress can stop the UN from legitimizing antisemitism

United Nations officials urged countries in October and November to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, the global benchmark for identifying anti-Jewish prejudice. The call to reject the IHRA definition reflects a split within the UN, where some officials are moving firmly against antisemitism, while others have adopted practices that are antisemitic per the definition.

On October 6, 2022, E. Tendayi Achiume, then UN Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, reported to the UN General Assembly that despite widespread endorsement of the IHRA definition across Europe and North America, it “has become highly controversial and divisive owing to its susceptibility to being politically instrumentalized and the harm done to human rights.” She claimed the definition is “wielded to prevent or suppress legitimate criticisms of the State of Israel” and urged countries “to suspend the adoption and promotion of the working definition and the examples attached to it.” In response, the U.S. State Department reaffirmed its support for the definition, which it described as “one of the most fundamental and critical tools in the arsenal to combat” antisemitism.

The IHRA (formerly the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research) has 35 member states and eight observers. In 2016, acting on the belief that governments cannot effectively combat antisemitism without knowing what it is and how it manifests itself, the IHRA adopted a working definition of antisemitism with concrete examples.

Those examples include: “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations;” “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor;” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

According to the IHRA, 38 countries from across Europe, South America, North America and Asia — along with a “large number of regional/state and local governments” — already use its definition of antisemitism. In September, Lufthansa became the first airline to adopt it. The Obama administration embraced the definition in 2016 and the Biden administration affirmed U.S. support in March 2021.

In May 2022, then UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed issued an Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism, which called on governments to use the IHRA definition. Achiume’s October report was a veiled response to Shaheed — and a defense of UN agencies that engage in activities that IHRA defines as antisemitic. The Human Rights Council, for example, last year established a commission laying the groundwork to label Israel an apartheid state — meeting the IHRA definition’s criteria of “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” Additionally, both the council and the World Health Organization have standing agenda items castigating one country — Israel — thereby applying the kind of “double standards” identified by the IHRA working definition. Notably, another UN Human Rights Council official, Francesca Albanese, voiced opposition to the IHRA definition in November.

Late last month, Deputy U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism Aaron Keyak called Shaheed’s action plan a “groundbreaking document” and a “true model” for the international community. The Biden administration should continue urging countries to adopt the IHRA definition — and offer resolutions within UN agencies supporting the definition wherever possible.

Additionally, as FDD previously proposed, Congress can defend the IHRA definition at the UN by prohibiting funding for any agency that sponsors, supports, enables, or engages in antisemitism pursuant to the definition.

Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served on the White House National Security Council, as deputy chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), as former chief of staff to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.), and as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer. Follow Richard on Twitter @rich_goldberg. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. Will Kielm is an FDD international organizations intern. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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