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Are ethical guidelines or legal restrictions legitimate means of responding to the singling out of Israel through boycotts and similar attacks? Or, as critics of these measures claim, are these guidelines anti-democratic infringements on free speech and attempts to prevent criticism of Israel?

The intensity of this debate has been increasing in parallel to the rise in violent antisemitic attacks in which the perpetrators justify their actions as responses to Israel and Zionism. Clashes surrounding BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns add to the friction, including (unsuccessful) efforts by activists to boycott the recent Eurovision song contest held in Israel, as well as the latest BDS initiatives led by global NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In responding effectively, it is necessary to encompass the “old” theologically-based form, from the right of the political spectrum, as well as the “new” dimension that targets Israel, as David Hirsh (Goldsmiths College, London University), documents in his book on Contemporary Left antisemitism.

These concerns have produced a growing global consensus based on the working definition of antisemitism, adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and built on an earlier EU version. This document has been officially endorsed by the 32 state members of IHRA (France was the most recent addition). It has been used for training of police in the UK and elsewhere in order to provide criteria by which hate crimes directed at Jews can be identified with consistency. There are proposals to include in ethical guidelines for journalists and media platforms – the recent case of a New York Times cartoon, for which the editors apologized, highlighted the importance of an accepted definition of antisemitism. Other potential venues include influential NGOs and the United Nations.