ATLANTA: More than 200 Jewish-studies scholars and academics have endorsed a definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel.
The Jewish Declaration on Anti-Semitism (JDA) challenges the definition proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and adopted by the US government.
The IHRA’s definition treats criticism of Israel, including calls to boycott the country or its products, as anti-Semitic.
The JDA, however, considers valid criticism of Israel and Zionism as a legitimate form of protected speech, and does not consider the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the country as anti-Semitic.
Pro-Palestinian rights activists say equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is an attempt to muzzle discussion about Palestinian suffering.
Prof. Barry Trachtenberg, a scholar of Jewish studies and anti-Semitism at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told Arab News that he signed the JDA because he thinks enacting a law to protect Jews specifically reinforces the perception of Jewish exceptionalism.
“The pro-Israel crowd wants to prevent any criticism of Israel as entirely anti-Semitic. Obviously this isn’t correct because Israel is a political entity, and just like every other state it needs to be subject to criticism,” he said.
“Israel doesn’t represent the entire Jewish people, but even if it did, because it’s a political entity it should be subjected to valid criticism.”
Joshua Cooper — a mathematics professor at the University of South Carolina, and a member of the US-based group Jewish Voice for Peace — told Arab News that the JDA is “mostly a positive development in countering the harmful definition of the IHRA.”
However, he expressed concern about the JDA’s “vague” Article 10, which opposes “denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.”
Cooper said: “If someone believes that the radical Jewish settlers living in stolen homes and terrorizing Arabs … should leave, is this an anti-Semitic stance? Surely not.”
Iymen Chehade, a history professor and pro-Palestinian human rights activist in Chicago, told Arab News that the JDA’s definition is a step up from the IHRA’s.
However, he said the JDA “reinforces the false and misleading idea that Israel and the Palestinians live on the same moral plain.”
He added: “It’s ironic that while the signatories rightfully seek to protect one group, they ignore the rights as well as the suffering of the Palestinians in the process.”