November 7, 2017 — Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs, addressing the House Judiciary Committee today, called for expanding the use of the Working Definition of Antisemitism to American college and university campuses.
“If we are to be successful in combating antisemitism we must first understand it,” Baker told the Committee’s hearing on “Examining Antisemitism on College Campuses.” The Working Definition “is a necessary educational tool, which increases public awareness and helps government authorities more effectively address the security concerns of Jewish communities.
Combating antisemitism in the U.S. and around the world has been a top priority for AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization, since its founding in 1906. AJC’s 2017 Survey of American Jews, released in September, found that the percentage of Jews considering antisemitism on the college campus a problem rose from 56% in 2016 to 69% this year, and that the number believing it to be a “very serious” problem went from 23% to 29%.
Baker reviewed the history of the Working Definition, first developed in Europe more than a decade ago, and AJC’s instrumental role in crafting it. “The definition references traditional hatred and prejudice toward Jews, conspiracy theories about Jews, Holocaust denial, and what is sometimes referred to as a new form of antisemitism, the demonization of the State of Israel,” he said.
“While the numbers of incidents and manifestations of antisemitism are far more severe in Europe than in America, I believe there are important parallels that have bearing on addressing antisemitism in this country and, in particular, on a number of our college campuses,” said Baker, who also serves as the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism.
Regarding U.S. campuses, Baker asserted that the Working Definition could be useful to the Department of Education in assessing whether there has been a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “The definition will provide clarity and uniformity for the Department and for the Administration as a whole in recognizing manifestations of antisemitism. At the same time consulting this definition does nothing to alter the standards for determining when harassing conduct amounts to actionable discrimination, leaving our educational institutions free to operate as forums for vibrant and open discourse.”
The definition was first adopted by the European Monitoring Centre (EUMC) in 2005. In 2016, the 31 countries that comprise the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted it as well. Individual governments that have adopted the definition include the United Kingdom, Romania, Austria, Germany and Bulgaria. Russia single-handedly blocked its adoption by the OSCE last December.
AJC has led efforts to promote the definition’s use in understanding and responding to antisemitism. Since its adoption “we have seen many examples that illustrate why using the working definition is valuable," said Baker.
The definition is included in “Understanding antisemitic Hate Crimes and Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities,” a practical guide prepared by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) for use in the 57 participating States of the OSCE.
Baker pointed out that the U.S. State Department office of the Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism has used the definition in its reports on acts of antisemitism around the world.
Thanks to the definition, “there is a better recognition of the very real problem of antisemitism as it relates to Israel and the dangers it poses to the Jewish community’s own sense of security and well-being,” said Baker. “Surely this ought to be instructive when addressing the problems of antisemitism as it appears on various college campuses in America today.”