How do we define 'anti-Semitism'?

Earlier this month, 140 concerned organizations sent a letter to Facebook requesting that this leading online company fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism to accurately identify the anti-Semitism that proliferates throughout its social media platform. 

The reasons that adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism specifically are so critical include:

  1. IHRA has become the international de facto standard for defining what is (and what is not) anti-Semitism, endorsed/adopted by more than 40 countries.
  2. IHRA relates to ages-old anti-Semitism directed at Jews, as well as modern anti-Semitism directed at Israel as a proxy for Jews.  On university campuses and in social media, it is the more modern anti-Israel variety that is so widespread.

The Facebook letter was part of the ongoing and intensified efforts to advocate for governmental institutions and social media companies to adopt IHRA.

We are starting to see results.  Shortly after receiving this letter, Facebook announced that it has strengthened its policy on treating identifying anti-Semitism, moving closer to the IHRA definition.

In the U.S., the State Department has adopted the IHRA definition.  Yet other governmental institutions and leading social media platforms have been reluctant to do the right thing and embrace the most accurate definition of anti-Semitism, thus shirking their civic responsibility to stop this discriminatory hatred from being propagated.

Therefore, it is instructive to examine the recent actions in the state of Florida, which can serve as a model within the United States for creating the appropriate state and local legal infrastructure for combating anti-Semitism.  This includes using IHRA as a guideline for definition as well as introducing provisions to penalize those guilty of spreading anti-Semitism in public schools and universities.

Last month, 8,000 Florida State students signed an online petition to remove their student senate president over social media posts described as anti-Jewish.  This prompted the university to pass a resolution combating anti-Semitism as defined by IHRA.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation last year mandating that discrimination against Jewish people must be treated the same as acts of racial discrimination in Florida's public education institutions.  The definition for discrimination against Jews refers to the U.S. State Department definition, which is based upon IHRA.

Finally, at the federal level, President Trump signed an executive order combatting anti-Semitism earlier this year specifying that the Title VI anti-discrimination provision of the Civil Rights Act is applicable to anti-Semitism and that IHRA should be considered when defining if an incident at a public school or university is anti-Semitic.

Governor DeSantis called Florida "the most Israel-friendly state in the country," and he just may be right.  But beyond that, the state of Florida and Florida State University have adopted measures to define anti-Semitism correctly, taking measures to eliminate this hatred from public educational institutions.  Doing so actually doesn't relate to Israel; rather, joining the international community in adopting the IHRA definition is the first step in enabling Jewish students to study and thrive in environments free of harassment and discrimination.

What is critical now is that other states and universities take notice and join the efforts to define anti-Semitism properly so that it can be identified and eradicated from our public institutions.  Equally important, the largest social media companies should finally begin to use the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to enforce their internal regulations against hate content, making it more difficult for such postings to be propagated virally.

With such a concerted effort, we can finally push back against the anti-Semitism that continues to skyrocket throughout our country.

Ron Machol is the COO of Zachor Legal Institute, an organization using the law to combat anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel.

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