Posters saying that criticism of Israel is not equal to antisemitism

Posters saying that criticism of Israel is not equal to antisemitism hang at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 12, 2023.

(Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

800+ Jewish Professors Urge Biden, Senate to Oppose 'Dangerous' Antisemitism Bill

"Criticism of the state of Israel, the Israeli government, policies of the Israeli government, or Zionist ideology is not—in and of itself—antisemitic," reads a new letter.

A Dartmouth University professor who once served as the school's head of Jewish studies and was violently arrested at a Palestinian rights protest last week was among more than 800 Jewish educators who had signed a letter as of Thursday, demanding that lawmakers and U.S. President Joe Biden oppose a bill claiming to combat antisemitism.

The Awareness of Antisemitism Act, said the letter, would actually "amplify the real threats Jewish Americans already face" by "conflating antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel."

The bill, which was passed by the Republican-controlled House last week over the objections of 70 progressive Democrats and 21 Republicans, would codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which includes "targeting of the state of Israel" and "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis."

The Awareness of Antisemitism Act, which could soon be taken up by the Senate, would require the Department of Education to consider the group's working definition when determining whether harassment is motivated by antisemitism.

The professors noted that the working definition has been "internationally criticized," with more than 100 civil society organizations—including some Israeli groups—calling on the United Nations last year to reject the IHRA's interpretation because it has been "misused" to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.

"We hold varied opinions on Israel," reads the letter. "Whatever our differences, we oppose the IHRA's definition of antisemitism. If imported into federal law, the IHRA definition will delegitimize and silence Jewish Americans—among others—who advocate for Palestinian human rights or otherwise criticize Israeli policies."

The professors pointed out the irony that by using the IHRA definition—which also includes "accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel" than their own home countries—the bill "hardens the dangerous notion that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to every decision of Israel's government."

"Far from combating antisemitism, this dynamic promises to amplify the real threats Jewish Americans already face," the letter reads.

Annelise Orleck, the Dartmouth professor who was arrested last week, was joined by other Jewish academics including City University of New York professor Peter Beinart and professor emeritus Avishai Margalit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in signing the letter.

Orleck, a labor historian, told ABC affiliate WMUR after her arrest that she hopes Dartmouth and other schools that have cracked down on and condemned pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks will "stop weaponizing antisemitism."

The professors urged political leaders who are "earnestly concerned with antisemitism" to "join hundreds of Jewish scholars from across the globe who have endorsed alternative definitions of antisemitism—such as those contained in the Nexus Document or Jerusalem Declaration. Unlike the IHRA definition, these documents offer meaningful tools to combat antisemitism without undermining Jewish safety and civil rights by insulating Israel from legitimate criticism."

When the Antisemitism Awareness Act was passed by the House last week, Jewish-led Palestinian rights groups were among those that condemned the proposal.

Biden has angered pro-Palestinian rights groups by suggesting the campus protests that have spread across the U.S. in recent weeks, with students and faculty demanding an end to U.S. support for Israel as it bombards Gaza, are inherently antisemitic.

"Criticism of the state of Israel, the Israeli government, policies of the Israeli government, or Zionist ideology is not—in and of itself—antisemitic," reads the professors' letter, which was first publicized Wednesday. "We accordingly urge our political leaders to reject any effort to codify into federal law a definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.