”Do not politicize the fight against antisemitism”

Police officers guard the Malmö­mässan exhibition hall on Sunday in preparation for the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, October 13–14.
Police officers guard the Malmö­mässan exhibition hall on Sunday in preparation for the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, October 13–14. Foto: Johan Nilsson/TT

54 scholars: We issue a stark warning against the political instrumentalization of the fight against antisemitism.

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We issue this call as scholars working in antisemitism studies and related fields.

On 13–14 October 2021, the leaders of the European Union and the United Nations and heads of state and government from many countries will meet at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven convenes this forum 21 years after the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, which resulted in the Stockholm Declaration, the founding document of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

We welcome and support the declared purpose of the Malmö Forum “to jointly take concrete steps forward in the work on Holocaust remembrance and the fight against antisemitism”. Antisemitism and all other forms of racism and bigotry pose a growing threat that must be fought most forcefully. We commend governments’ resolve and efforts in this regard.

At the same time, we issue a stark warning against the political instrumentalization of the fight against antisemitism. In the interest of the integrity, credibility and effectiveness of that fight, we urge the leaders at the Malmö Forum to reject and counter this instrumentalization.

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A particular concern in this context is the “working definition of antisemitism” that the IHRA adopted in May 2016, in the aftermath of the 2015 Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism organized by the Israeli government.

Eleven “contemporary examples of antisemitism” have been attached to this IHRA definition, seven of which relate to Israel. Several of these examples are being weaponized against human rights organizations and solidarity activists who denounce Israel’s occupation and human rights violations. They legitimize wrongful accusations of antisemitism, which serve as a warning for anyone voicing criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. This has a chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom and compromises the fight against antisemitism.

Regrettably, this clear abuse of the IHRA definition and of the examples has so far not been acknowledged by governments and parliaments that have adopted it. More concerning, the European Union is working hard to implement the IHRA definition across multiple policy areas and to entrench it society-wide. In January 2021, the European Commission published a “Handbook” for that purpose, which was harshly criticized by civil society stakeholders. Among other initiatives, the handbook promotes giving legal effect to the IHRA definition and cultivates it as a criterion to allocate or deny funding to civil society organizations. We fear this is a prelude to discriminatory and repressive policies.

On 5 October 2021, the European Commission presented the EU’s long-awaited “Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life”. Like the aforementioned handbook, this strategy ignores the growing concerns about the shortcomings and instrumentalization of the IHRA definition, as also raised by various stakeholders in the context of a public consultation launched by the Commission; including this academic expert submission with annex illustrating the instrumentalization of the IHRA definition and a joint letter by ten European NGOs and networks. In fact, the EU’s new strategy feeds these concerns.

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With concern, we also note that the political instrumentalization of the fight against antisemitism and of the IHRA definition is being facilitated by coordinators and commissioners appointed by the European Commission and national governments. In particular in Germany, this has created a toxic and intimidating atmosphere. We notice coordination with and reliance on lobby organizations shielding the Israeli government.

This politicized approach and political entanglement has a divisive and polarizing effect, which undermines broad support for the fight against antisemitism and distracts attention from acute sources of antisemitism. It also contradicts the universalist spirit of the Stockholm Declaration, which is missing from the IHRA definition.

By contrast, an alternative definition of antisemitism launched earlier this year does carry this spirit: the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA). The JDA was crafted by a group of scholars from the United States, Israel, Europe and the UK, who have vast experience with the IHRA definition. After more than one year of deliberations, the JDA was launched in March 2021. It has been endorsed by more than 300 scholars of antisemitism and related fields, including many heads of institutes in Europe and the US.

We encourage the leaders at the Malmö Forum to add the JDA to their policy toolbox and to rely on it for guidance. Rooted in universal principles, the JDA is clearer and more coherent than the IHRA definition. Without any underlying political agenda, it offers guidance concerning political speech where the IHRA definition has created muddle and controversy.

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We recommend the JDA also in view of Prime Minister Löfven’s statement, issued in anticipation of the Malmö Forum: “We must address Holocaust denial and antisemitism by protecting and promoting democratic values and respect for human rights”. The JDA reflects and respects democratic values and human rights.

For the sake of a concrete outcome of the Malmö Forum, the Swedish government has invited all participating delegations to present “pledges”. We call on the leaders at the Malmö Forum to jointly pledge to reject and counter the escalating political instrumentalization of the fight against antisemitism, which undermines democratic values and human rights and is causing grave harm to this fight.

Taner Akçam
Professor, Kaloosdian/Mugar Chair Armenian History and Genocide, Clark University
Jean-Christophe Attias
Professor of Medieval Jewish Thought, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Université PSL Paris
Leora Auslander
Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor of Western Civilization in the College and the Department of History, University of Chicago
Omer Bartov
John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History, Department of History, Brown University
Moshe Behar
Dr., Programme Director, Arabic & Middle Eastern Studies, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures, The University of Manchester
David Biale
Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor, University of California, Davis
Donald Bloxham
Richard Pares Professor of History, University of Edinburgh
Micha Brumlik
Professor Dr., fmr. Director of Fritz Bauer Institut-Geschichte und Wirkung des Holocaust, Frankfurt am Main
Jose Brunner
Professor Emeritus, Buchmann Faculty of Law and Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science, Tel Aviv University
Naomi Chazan
Professor Emerita of Political Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Bryan Cheyette
Professor and Chair in Modern Literature and Culture, University of Reading
Alon Confino
Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies, Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Director Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Lila Corwin Berman
Murray Friedman Chair of American Jewish History, Temple University
Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi
Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hasia R. Diner
Professor of American Jewish History, New York University
Chaim Gans
Professor Emeritus, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University
Sander Gilman
Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences; Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University
Shai Ginsburg
Associate Professor, Chair of the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Faculty Member of the Center for Jewish Studies, Duke University
Carlo Ginzburg
Professor Emeritus, UCLA and Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
Amos Goldberg
Professor, The Jonah M. Machover Chair in Holocaust Studies, Head of the Avraham Harman Research Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Leonard Grob
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Jeffrey Grossman
Associate Professor, German and Jewish Studies, Chair of the German Department, University of Virginia
Atina Grossmann
Professor of History, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, The Cooper Union, New York
Wolf Gruner
Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Founding Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research; Professor of History, University of Southern California
Anna Hájková
Associate Professor of Modern Continental European History, Warwick University
Elizabeth Heineman
Professor of History and of Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies, University of Iowa
Didi Herman
Professor of Law and Social Change, University of Kent
Dagmar Herzog
Distinguished Professor of History and Daniel Rose Faculty Scholar Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY)
Jonathan Judaken
Professor, Spence L. Wilson Chair in the Humanities, Rhodes College
Marion Kaplan
Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University
Brian Klug
Emeritus Fellow in Philosophy, St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford; Member of the Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University
Claudia Koonz
Professor Emeritus of History, Duke University
Tony Kushner
Professor, Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton
Dominick LaCapra
Professor Emeritus of History, Cornell University
Ian S. Lustick
Bess W. Heyman Chair, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Shaul Magid
Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College
Samuel Moyn
Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence and Professor of History, Yale University
Susan Neiman
Professor Dr., Philosopher, Director of the Einstein Forum, Potsdam
Derek Penslar
William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History, Harvard University
Andrea Pető
Professor, Central European University (CEU), Vienna; CEU Democracy Institute, Budapest
Göran Rosenberg
Writer, Sweden
Michael Rothberg
Professor of Comparative Literature and Holocaust Studies, UCLA
Victoria Sanford
Lehman Professor of Excellence 2021-2024, Professor of Anthropology, Lehman College, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY)
Raz Segal
Associate Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Stockton University
Joshua Shanes
Associate Professor and Director of the Arnold Center for Israel Studies, College of Charleston
David Shulman
Professor Emeritus, Department of Asian Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Levi Spectre
Dr., Senior Lecturer at the Department of History, Philosophy and Judaic Studies, The Open University of Israel; Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University
Enzo Traverso
Professor in the Humanities, Department of History, Cornell University, New York
Peter Ullrich
Dr. Dr., Senior Researcher, Fellow at the Center for Research on Antisemitism, Technische Universität Berlin
Dov Waxman
Professor, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair in Israel Studies, Director of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, University of California (UCLA)
Yael Zerubavel
Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies and History, fmr. Founding Director Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, Rutgers University
Moshe Zimmermann
Professor Emeritus, The Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Steven J. Zipperstein
Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University
Moshe Zuckermann
Professor Emeritus of History and Philosophy, Tel Aviv University

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