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In 2016, following major attacks targeting Jewish and Israeli targets around the world, and based on earlier text adopted by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, the government-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) published a two-page working definition of anti-Semitism. This initiative was designed to fill the vacuum that fostered ineffective policies and willful blindness in countering the sources of hate crimes directed specifically at Jews.

The authors included a number of examples, some of which relate to Israel and the “new” anti-Zionist form of anti-Semitism, which, along with traditional sources, uses the hate-inducing language and images of the Soviet era. These include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” applying double standards not “demanded of any other democratic nation,” using symbols “associated with classic anti-Semitism…to characterize Israel or Israelis” or comparing “contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Since 2016, this document has been formally adopted by thirty governments, mainly in Europe, North America, and Australia, as well as by international institutions. In addition, a number of parliaments and municipalities have endorsed the text, and, in many cases, universities and other important frameworks use the definition in the form of guidelines for assessing antisemitic behavior.

But for some ideological activists—particularly Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supporters—the Israel-related examples of anti-Semitism are unacceptable and are portrayed, or distorted, as attempts to “silence criticism” of Israeli policies, or even as “threats to democracy.” Under the banner of “progressive values,” influential groups that frequently critique Israel—including J-Street, the New Israel Fund, and American Friends of Peace Now—pushed the claim that the “codification of the IHRA working definition,” specifically its “contemporary examples,” create the potential for misuse to “suppress legitimate free speech” and prevent “criticism of Israeli government actions.”