Over 30 Law Faculty Call Out American Bar Association for Omitting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism from Resolution

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Illustrative Anti-Israel protestors in Melbourne, Australia, c. 2021. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons.

Over 30 law faculty and two university leaders on Tuesday issued a letter criticizing the American Bar Association (ABA) for not adopting what is widely considered the world’s leading definition of antisemitism after activists argued that it is ‘anti-Palestinian.’

The ABA’s House of Delegates had in February included the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in a resolution, titled “514,” that was scheduled for a vote. But before proceedings began, the group faced a public backlash from dozens of organizations alleging that the IHRA definition is “dangerously chilling fundamental rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and protest, and academic freedom.”

ABA ultimately excluded the IHRA definition from the resolution that passed, a development that Tuesday’s letter, organized by Academic Engagement Network (AEN), a nonprofit that promotes free speech and academic freedom, described as “unfortunate.”

“We reject claims that the IHRA definition undermines and chills free expression, suppresses pro-Palestinian advocacy, or prohibits speech critical of Israel,” the letter — signed by professors from Harvard Law School, Northwestern University, and University of California-Berkeley among others — said. “In fact, the definition explicitly states that it is not antisemitic to criticize Israel in ways similar to other countries. But when conspiracy theories and anti-Jewish stereotypes flourish under the guise of calls to eliminate Israel, this needs to be called out and condemned as antisemitism.”

On Wednesday, Kenneth Marcus, former US Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and current chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, told The Algemeiner that ABA “has squandered the opportunity to be a helpful source of expertise on this issue.”

Miriam Elman, executive director of Academic Engagement Network, said the definition’s omission from the resolution was “disheartening.”

“It’s critical that people be educated about the multifaceted nature of contemporary antisemitism and how it is experienced by the majority of American Jews today. That’s exactly what the IHRA definition does and the reason that it is so broadly endorsed.”

The earliest the ABA could reconsider adopting the IHRA definition is during its annual meeting in August, which will be held in Denver.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism is used by over 850 governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations. Over 30 countries have adopted it with support from lawmakers across the political spectrum. Georgia and Virginia became the most recent states to embrace it in the past year, joining Massachusetts, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Arizona, New York, and Arkansas. Over half of all US states and the District of Columbia have done so also.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

Editor’s note: The headline of this article has been changed to reflect that the version of “resolution 514” containing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism was never voted on by the American Bar Association House of Delegates.

Over 30 Law Faculty Call Out American Bar Association for Omitting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism from Resolution

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