Australia adopts IHRA definition of antisemitism

October 14, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism that the Australian government pledges to embrace the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Scott Morrison addresses the Malmo Forum Photo: Screenshot

Speaking through a video link, he said: “In the history of humanity the Holocaust serves as a perpetual and brutal reminder of exclusion, of racism, of systematic political hatred and evil, itself.

I welcome the tremendous efforts of the government and the people of Sweden, for your deep commitment to Holocaust remembrance and for your work to embody the vow “never again”.

My Government pledges to embrace the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Australia does so as a people, and as a nation.

Anti-semitism has no place in Australia. It has no place anywhere in the world. And we must work together, resolutely and as a global community to reject any word or any act that supports antisemitism towards individuals, towards communities or religious facilities.”

He added: “Australia has been blessed for generations by the presence of the children of Israel. Among them are many whose childhood and youth was destroyed, stolen from them by the darkness and the evil of the Holocaust. Our nation owes a great debt to the miracle of their gentle souls and their gentle wisdom. Their example stands as a light that will shine through the ages.”

He quoted Holocaust survivor and writer Ellie Wiesel who said ‘Whoever listens to a witness, becomes a witness’.

The Prime Minister continued: “Our work is to be witnesses too and so we shall be. It is to grasp firmly the torch of memory that has been carried for so long and so bravely by Holocaust survivors. And to shape a world where such cruelties, where evil can never happen again.”

THE IHRA DEFINITION

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has warmly welcomed the announcement made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“The use of the word ‘embrace’ means that the Australian government sees this pledge not only as a formal, international commitment but also as a profound expression from the heart of our most abiding national values  – a fair go for all, mutual respect and personal freedom”, said ECAJ co-CEO Peter Wertheim.

“It is also a matter of national honour that Australia has joined the ranks of other nations which have adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism”.

ECAJ President, Jillian Segal thanked co-CEOs Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin for their efforts, as well as the Expert Members of the Australian Government Delegation to IHRA, the Zionist Federation of Australia and AIJAC.  “We have all worked closely on this issue, especially over the last 12 months”, she said. “I also acknowledge the support of a great many parliamentarians from the government and the opposition, including Federal Opposition leader, Anthony Albanese”.

“This is a watershed in Australia in the unending battle against antisemitism”, Segal said.  “It is the beginning, not the end of the journey.  In order to make good on the Prime Minister’s pledge that Australia embraces the IHRA Working Definition as a nation and a people, it will need to be adopted by the public and private sectors, the University sector, civil society, school education systems and sporting organisations among others”.

“The government’s announcement has set the standard, for which we are grateful, and the challenge of making the Working Definition a reality in daily life lies before us.”

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has praised Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement.

AIJAC said the definition was drafted by global antisemitism and Holocaust experts, will help Australians to better identify, educate and respond to antisemitism. It has been adopted by the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and many other countries. Australia is the second country in the Asia-Pacific to embrace the definition, following South Korea’s adoption earlier this year. The Prime Minister’s announcement follows Australia’s acceptance as a full member of IHRA in 2019.

The definition includes a brief, simple-to-understand description of what antisemitism is, as well as 11 contemporary examples that help to explain how antisemitism manifests itself in daily life.

“AIJAC welcomes this important announcement by Prime Minister Morrison,” AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein said.

“It is deeply regrettable and unfortunate that Jewish people around the world, including in Australia, continue to face antisemitism.

“This year has been a particularly difficult year for Australian Jews with bigots and xenophobes using the coronavirus pandemic, the May conflict in Israel and Gaza and media reporting of public health breaches to spread hateful and dangerous anti-Jewish messages.”

“We need to use all tools available to teach Australians about the dangers of antisemitism and to stop hate speech before it turns into violence – as we have seen happen recently, especially in Europe and the United States.”

AIJAC’s National Chairman Mark Leibler added, “The Australian Government has shown a strong commitment to fighting antisemitism wherever it emerges. This has been demonstrated widely, from the halls of the United Nations – where Australia was party to an important statement against antisemitism this week – to the streets of Australia’s capital cities, where the Government is building or upgrading Holocaust education centres.”

“AIJAC thanks the Australian Government for its continued commitment to remembering the worst ever manifestation of antisemitism, the Holocaust. Prime Minister Morrison’s pledge to ‘grasp the torch of memory’ was deeply moving for the Australian Holocaust survivor community.”

“AIJAC also acknowledges the expression of support for the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism from Labor leader Anthony Albanese. We are grateful that Australia’s support for the definition is above politics and embraced by both our major political parties.”

AIJAC’s Director of International and Community Affairs Jeremy Jones further explained that while there is limited detail available about how the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism will be applied in an Australian context, there are many examples internationally of best practice usage.

“Around the world, the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is used by law enforcement to train police to understand when a crime may have an antisemitic motive, it is used by universities and schools to identify and intervene against antisemitism, and it can help social media companies to better moderate antisemitism on their platforms, among many other uses,” Jones said.

“With this announcement”, said the Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler, “the Government has reconfirmed its commitment to fighting antisemitism. I want to thank the prime minister for his very strong statement on this issue on Wednesday.”

“Antisemitism is increasing around the world”, continued Mr Leibler, “and the key to its reduction is education. The IHRA working definition provides the central plank to this educational endeavour. Antisemitism should have no place in our society. It should be defined, identified and rejected.”

Mr Leibler also noted the role that Labor has played in this process. “Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong have publicly endorsed the working definition. The fight against antisemitism is not a partisan issue and we are extremely grateful to have support from the two major political parties.”

Mr Leibler said its adoption should not be merely symbolic. “The government has led the way, but those fighting antisemitism in Australia should urge universities, institutions and businesses across the country to adopt it as part of their anti-discrimination policies.”

Dave Sharma, Federal Liberal MP for Wentworth tweeted: “Whilst it will not stop antisemitism, it will people recognise and call out such behaviour.”

Background

‘Traditional’ anti-Jewish tropes are blatant, but becoming rarer. Unfortunately, other forms of antisemitism—such as holding Jews in Australia responsible for Israeli actions—are increasing in Australia and around the world. This has dangerous consequences.

Some people don’t know where the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitic commentary about Israel lies. Further, antisemitic attacks against individual Jews always spike in times of Israeli–Palestinian tension. For instance, during the Hamas–Israel violence in May 2021, the number of antisemitic incidents in Australia were double that of May 2020. During May this year, many Jewish students felt it was unsafe for them to be on Australian campuses, and so stayed away.

Where is the line between legitimate criticism and racism commentary when it comes to Israel?

In 2005, an EU agency developed a ‘working draft’ of antisemitism. This was later adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (or IHRA). The working definition includes a 38-word definition followed by 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism (you can read it here).

The examples include ‘traditional’ tropes of Jews having inordinate power over media, financial systems or governments, and more recent inventions, such as holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions or denying Jews the right to self-determination. The definition does not aim to, nor does it actually stifle criticism of Israel. Indeed, it specifically says, “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Adoption

The working definition is being adopted across the world by countries and organisations with strong anti-racist mechanisms. So far, 40 countries and dozens of state and municipal governments have adopted it in one form of another. Over half of UK universities have adopted the working definition, as has the English Premier League and the Global Imams Council.

How it works

The working definition’s main role is as a resource to help educate people as to what antisemitism is, and what is (and what is not) legitimate criticism of Israel. This is one of many anti-racism resources developed by government and non-government agencies for the same broad purpose—to allow the public to engage in free speech while being careful not to offend minority groups who have long been subject to discriminatory behaviour.

A subordinate role of the working definition is to act as a yardstick, to measure whether an action or cumulative actions amounts to antisemitism (whether intended or otherwise). The working definition does not recommend what should happen if someone is found to be antisemitic. Most businesses and organisations ban racist and bullying behaviour and provide appropriate sanctions if an employee is found to be racist or a bully. In this context, the working definition helps HR determine if alleged antisemitic behaviour was, in fact, antisemitic.

Attending the conference in Malmo was Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. He told J-Wire: “Our delegation was led by Australia’s Ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland, Amb. Kerin Ayyalaraju. It also included staff from our Embassy to Sweden, Sara-Kate Goltz-Wharton and Carl Bradshawthorell. Our Ambassador to Sweden Amb. Bernard Philip assisted with preparations but was unable to attend. “

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