HRW Leads NGO Campaign against Consensus IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
On April, 3, 2023, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its NGO allies circulated a letter ostensibly directed to the UN Secretary-General, urging the UN to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The NGOs involved in this campaign include a number of terror-linked groups, NGOs that run campaigns denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, those claiming that the country’s existence is a form of apartheid, and pro-BDS lobbyists.
In this text, the NGOs acknowledge that their motivation is to shield themselves from widespread recognition that much of their activity related to Israel is considered antisemitic, noting that 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.” To support the allegations, HRW and its allies rely on statements from an individual falsely labeled as the author of the IHRA text. In addition, their claim that the IHRA definition “restricts legitimate criticism of Israel” highlights the fact that, from the infamous 2001 Durban NGO Forum until the present, NGO campaigns that seek to demonize Israel through the exploitation of human rights are fundamentally illegitimate.
Broad Acceptance and Adoption of IHRA
In response to increased levels of violent antisemitism, many national and local governments, as well as universities and other public institutions, have recognized the importance of a consensus definition of this phenomenon. The most widely accepted definition is that of IHRA.
However, as IHRA recognizes that certain (though not all) types of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist speech as antisemitic, anti-Israel NGOs increasingly lobby against its acceptance by international bodies.
- As of 2023, the IHRA working definition has been adopted by 35 countries including the United Kingdom, Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, Germany, Cyprus, Albania, Lithuania, Romania, Macedonia, US, and Canada.
- In October 2022, after the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance E. Tendayi Achiume gratuitously attacked the IHRA definition in a presentation to the General Assembly, dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada, and the European Union spoke out against this maligning of the IHRA definition and strongly rejected her false claims. They also reaffirmed the importance of this instrument. Not one country speaking at the debate endorsed the Rapporteur’s attack on IHRA.
- In January 2021, the European Commission published a “Handbook for the practical use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism,” which relates the definition “to the contexts of real-world antisemitic incidents and crimes” and illustrates “good practices in the application” of the definition.
- On December 2, 2020, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), published an opinion directly addressing the false claim raised by the NGOs that IHRA stifles free speech and precludes criticism of Israel. It stated that “any attempts to misuse the Working Definition and its examples to stifle, or stigmatise as antisemitic, legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies, will jeopardise efforts to combat antisemitism and should therefore be rejected. ECRI must reiterate, however, that it is unacceptable when criticism of the Israeli government is used to stir up hatred against all Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere . . .In the ensuing public discourse, insufficient emphasis is placed on the need to distinguish between criticism of the actions of Israel and the public expression of hatred of Jewish people and racism towards them in general. Jewish institutions, such as synagogues, community centres and cemeteries, are often vandalised, also in reaction to events in the Middle East. The view that attacks on Jewish persons and property could be considered as justifiable reactions to policies or actions of the Israeli government is, regrettably, widespread and not only held by members of extremist groups. Keeping in mind the above observations, ECRI welcomes the non-legally binding IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism in the sense that it aids and promotes a better understanding of antisemitism.”
- In a September 2019 report, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, wrote, “The working definition of antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance can offer valuable guidance for identifying antisemitism in its various forms…the Special Rapporteur recommends its use as a critical non-legal educational tool that should be applied.”
- Over 1,100 global entities including cities, universities, NGOs, and corporations have adopted and endorsed the IHRA definition.
- The reference to “alternative definitions” of antisemitism are central components of the NGO campaign to undermine the IHRA consensus; the so-called Jerusalem Declaration is the product of far-left German obsessive anti-Israel campaigners.
HRW: Ignoring Antisemitism and anti-Jewish Advocacy
HRW’s anti-IHRA efforts are consistent with its ongoing erasure of violent antisemitism, in parallel to proactive campaigns to delegitimize practical measures designed to protect Jews, and the NGO’s anti-Israel delegitimization, as documented in detail. For example
- After murderous antisemitic attacks in France, HRW responded by opposing French government policy intended to increase protection and security to Jewish communities. Following the January 9, 2015 assault on a kosher supermarket, during which four Jews were murdered and several held hostage, the French Minister of Justice instructed prosecutors to adopt a “systematic, adapted and individualized” approach to combating antisemitic and other types of hate speech, and speech glorifying terrorism. HRW responded with a January 16 publication (“Dispatches: France, a Country of Freedom of Expression – For Some”), February 11 article (“Assessing Europe’s Response to the Paris Attacks”), and a June submission to the UN arguing that such measures are “likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in France, weaken[s] its credibility as a country that stands up for freedom of expression and set[s] a dangerous example for governments that are quick to use counterterrorism laws to silence their critics.”
- HRW’s 2022 World Report (covering 2021) does not mention antisemitism in the US. The ADL reported 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the US in 2021 – the highest total since the organization began tracking in 1979.
- HRW’s 2021 World Report made no mention of antisemitism in the US. The ADL reported 2,024 antisemitic incidents in the US in 2020 – then the third highest total recorded.
(For more details, see NGO Monitor’s “HRW and Antisemitism: Sins of Commission and Omission.”)
Antisemitic Rhetoric and Terror Ties of Signatories
A number of NGO signatories to the HRW letter are linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. Specifically, Addameer, Al-Haq, and Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P) were all designated as terrorist entities by Israel in October 2021, due to their ties to the PFLP. (See NGO Monitor’s “PFLP Ties of the Six Designated Terror NGOs,” and “Clear and Convincing: The Links between the PFLP and the European Government-funded NGO Network” for more information on each NGO’s terror links.)
Several other of the advocacy NGO repeatedly deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination (Israel) and have embraced and promoted antisemitic rhetoric, such as modern blood libels accusing Israel of harvesting the organs of Palestinian children or deliberately flooding Gaza by opening non-existent dams.
Of note, HRW, B’Tselem, Al-Haq, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), and others lead international campaigns against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, often by promoting the “apartheid” libel.
Al-Haq has led other NGOs – including other signatories to the HRW letter – in issuing statements and making submissions to UN bodies that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
- In November 2022 Al Haq published a report referring to “the Zionist movement’s racialist character,” and asserting that “Israel’s institutionalised discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian people” is “ inherent in the ideology operationalised in the founding institutions of the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine.”
- In May 2022, Al-Haq submitted a flagrantly antisemitic report to the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel” (COI). The submission presents a blatantly false historical account, denying Israel’s right to exist and denying the Jewish people their right to sovereign equality (For more information, see NGO Monitor’s “Does Europe Support This? Al-Haq Tells the World to Dismantle Israel” and “Al-Haq’s Antisemitic Submission to the UN’s Permanent COI.”)
- Following the January 27, 2023 murder of 7 Israeli civilians outside a Jerusalem synagogue – a heinous act of violent antisemitism – Al-Haq legal advisor Isam Abdeen, who also has served as an “advocacy officer” for the NGO, wrote on Facebook, “The shooting operation which was carried out by the son of the capital by himself in occupied Jerusalem is legitimate by international law, and there is no need for any justification, since it happened on ‘occupied land.’ It is in the world’s capability, instead of shamelessly condemning a legitimate operation according to international law, to put pressure on the Zionist entity to end its colonial occupation and the apartheid regime, which consists a crime against humanity under international law…” (emphasis added).
- In January 2022, Addameer and other signatories to HRW’s letter – including Al-Haq, Al-Mezan – submitted a joint report to the UN Human Rights Committee “alleging that “to realize the objective of creating a Jewish state in Palestine, the Zionist movement pursued settler colonialism—with its inherently racist ideology—and the transfer of the Palestinian population as foundational prerequisites. These policies have become the driving force behind Israel’s apartheid regime.”
- In April 2021, Addameer was a signatory on a joint submission to the UN Secretary-General on Intimidation and Reprisals for Cooperation with the UN, stating that “Since its establishment, Israel has created and maintained an institutionalised regime of racial domination and oppression, amounting to apartheid, over the Palestinian people as a whole
- In a March 2016 gathering in London, Addameer General-Director Sahar Francis claimed that while it was “not certain or proved…she shared with the audience the increasing suspicions that Israel was harvesting organs from Palestinian corpses before returning them” (emphasis added).
7amleh board members and officials have used Facebook to celebrate violence against Israelis. One of the most prolific posters of such materials is Ahmad Qadi, 7amleh’s “Monitoring and Documentation officer” since July 2021:
- On January 27, 2023, following a terrorist attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue in which 7 Israeli civilians were murdered, Qadi posted on Facebook, “For decades, the Israeli criminal entity has been… sowing seeds of despair and doubt in the effectiveness of resistance. Even until now, the Israeli war machine has not been able to see the truth – that every Israeli crime is met with greater determination for sacrifice, broader resistance and an untamed determination to victory.”
- On January 4, 2015, Qadi shared pictures from a November 2014 assault on a Jerusalem synagogue, in which Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal murdered five Israelis. Qadi wrote, “I have been wishing for pictures like these for a while, and I still wonder – of what these men are made of?! #deeply_exciting.” Qadi also commented, “Heroes,” “Men of Palestine,” “Congratulations and mercy for all the resistance fighters and martyrs. Our loyalty is to whomever resists and to all who defend the honor of the Palestinian people and its nation…”
- On August 29, 2013, protestors harassed South African Jews attending a concert, shouting “shoot the Jew” as concertgoers entered the venue. A4P founder and leader Muhammed Desai, defended protestors, remarking that “the whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion.”
European Funding to the anti-IHRA Coalition
Despite the adoption of the definition by the majority of EU-member states, and the fact that the European Commission has embraced the IHRA definition and works to implement it, the EU and European countries provided substantial funding to a number of signatories to HRW’s anti-IHRA letter:
- An implementing partner on a €799,362 project from Spain – 2020-2021
- An implementing partner on a €48,477 project from the municipality of San Sebastián (Spain) – 2020-2022
- €449,735 from Spain – 2020-2022
- An implementing partner on a NOK 22.8 million project from Norway – 2019-2023
- An implementing partner on a – $7.6 million project from Sweden – 2019-2021
- €170,800 on a project with Belgian NGO Broederlijk Delen – 2017-2021
- Unknown amount from Wallonie-Bruxelles International (agency responsible for the international relations of Wallonia and Brussels) – 2019-2023
- An implementing partner on a €2,441,589 project from the EU – 2019-2021
- €300,000 for a 2018-2021 project from the EU
- An implementing partner on a project funded by France (€900,000) and Germany (€511,065) – 2020-2023
- An implementing partner on a $7.6 million project from Sweden – 2019-2021
- NOK 3.5 million from Norway – 2021-2022
- Unknown amount from Germany – 2017-2021 Germany
- 540,000 NIS from Norway in 2021
- 275,00 NIS from Switzerland in 2021
- 360,000 NIS from the EU in 2021
- 675,000 NIS from UNDP in 2021
- DanChurchAid DKK 300,000 2019-2022
- On its website, PCHR lists a number of governmental donors, including the European Commission, Ireland, Norway, and Finland, as well as UNDP and several European government-funded church organizations
- Unknown amount from Sweden – 2018-2022
- 2.2 million NOK from Norway, via Save the Children Norway 2018-2020