The NGO Campaign to Discredit the IHRA Definition

In response to the increase of antisemitism worldwide, many governments and international bodies have recognized the importance of a consensus definition of this phenomenon. The most widely accepted definition, adopted in May 2016, is that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). As of July 2023, 40 governments, as well as thousands of intergovernmental and local institutions, have adopted and endorsed the IHRA framework as the cornerstone to guide their policies in combating antisemitism. 

Nonetheless, the definition has been the target of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have been attempting  to prevent its widespread adoption. This concerted campaign has emerged precisely as antisemitism from NGOs has become an enduring feature of political discourse about Israel and Zionism. Many NGOs that claim to represent human rights and humanitarian values instead promulgate antisemitic rhetoric and tropes, tolerate antisemitism from executives and staff with little to no repercussions, and consistently dismiss consideration of antisemitism as a human rights issue. 

A common form of NGO antisemitism is encapsulated in one of the examples provided alongside the  IHRA definition: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”  Many of the NGOs that contribute to growing antisemitism and simultaneously impede efforts to combat hatred of Jews continue to receive government funding. Despite the significant progress in European countries of acknowledging the evil of antisemitism and the need to allocate meaningful levels of government funding and resources to combat it, some countries have fallen short. These governments, as well as the European Union, have given hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 20 years to organizations that engage in and promote blatant antisemitism as defined by IHRA. 

NGO Monitor has created a detailed database and visualization (below) that illustrate the scope and intensity of the NGO campaign to target the IHRA working definition and prevent its adoption.



The examples in the database are divided into three categories:

  1. Governments and Intergovernmental Institutions
    • 52% of the documented campaigns were directed toward attempts to prevent governments and intergovernmental institutions (i.e. the United Nations) from adopting resolutions, action plans, or internal regulations that would set IHRA as a benchmark for defining antisemitism. 
  2. Public and Professional Institutions
    • 9% of the documented campaigns have been directed at professional bodies, calling for them not to incorporate the IHRA definition. Examples include the American Bar Association and Universities.
  3. General Public
    • 39% of the documented campaigns are part of broader NGO efforts to sway public opinion against the adoption of IHRA.

Government Funding to NGOs Involved in the Campaign

Government funding of NGOs involved in the anti-IHRA campaign runs contrary to stated policies and commitments. Although governments have adopted the IHRA definition as part of their efforts to prevent antisemitism, they simultaneously fund many influential NGOs that oppose it. Instead of combating antisemitism, governmental  financial assistance supports antisemitic organizations and NGOs working to make the  fight against antisemitism more difficult.

The following countries, which have adopted the IHRA definition, fund the NGOs behind the anti-IHRA campaign: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the European Union.  

Self-Serving Nature of the Anti-IHRA Campaign

The widespread and coordinated mobilization of NGOs against IHRA reflects the genuine threat the definition poses to their activities and rhetoric. Anti-Israel NGOs are accurately concerned that, as the IHRA definition gains traction, their operations, narratives, and advocacy campaigns will be exposed as antisemitic. 

In a April 2023 letter, 104 NGOs acknowledged that their motivation is to shield themselves from widespread recognition that much of their activity related to Israel is considered antisemitic. In particular, the IHRA definition “opens the door to labeling as antisemitic… findings of major Israeli, Palestinian and global human rights organizations that Israeli authorities are committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians.”