Academia for Equality’s letter to the President of the German Rectors’ Conference

We [the Board of Academia for Equality] wrote to the President of the German Rectors’ Conference as well as to the Members of the Executive Board and the General Assembly expressing our deep concern regarding their decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

In light of the increase in anti-Semitism as well as other forms of racism in Germany and beyond, we welcome and support all academic professionals and institutions initiatives to combat racism and bigotry. However, we maintain that the adoption of the IHRA definition neither serves the cause of combating anti-Semitism, nor does it protect its victims. We urge the German academic community to fight anti-Semitism while respecting legitimate support for Palestinian rights, without infringing the basic rights of free speech, expression and political association, while zealously protecting democratic spaces.

See the full letter below


Distinguished colleagues,

We are writing on behalf of Academia for Equality, a group of over 550 academics, based in Israel and in academic institutions all over the world, many of whom identify as Jewish and Israeli. Academia for Equality is a members’ organization committed to a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians and to social justice within Israel.

We are writing to express our great concern regarding the decision of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) of 19 November 2019 to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition of anti-Semitism” and particularly its examples [1] in the resolution entitled ; “No place for anti-Semitism”. [2]

The rise in anti-Semitism as well as other forms of racism around the world, including in Germany, is a cause for grave concern. All forms of racism and bigotry are a threat that must be fought tirelessly, and we welcome the efforts by German academia in doing so. However, we maintain that the adoption of the IHRA definition including its examples neither serves the cause of combating anti-Semitism, nor does it protect its victims. Furthermore, it violates academic freedom and the freedom of speech, and dangerously mislabels and limits the possibilities of support for Palestinian rights.

As an organization committed to the values of human dignity, freedom, and equality of rights, we are committed inter alia to secure free expression and debate, and protect democratic academic spaces. We therefore alert that adopting the highly problematic IHRA “working definition of antisemitism” [3] by no means serves these values.

First, as Kenneth Stern, one of the drafters of the definition, who rejects any normative or political use of it makes clear in his important Guardian op-ed from December 13th, the definition that was drafted as a tool for researchers of anti-Semitism has become a tool for monitoring speech or activism, despite being completely unsuitable for this end. [4]

Secondly, the working definition and particularly the examples in it are unsuitable for use as part of a code. As it stands, it conflates support for Palestinian rights with anti-Zionism, and it conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. For example, its seemingly innocuous rejection of “double standards” can and is being used to force supporters of Palestinian rights to prove they are not anti-Semites against a vague and highly controversial charge. According to the examples and the way they are applied, if one criticizes Israel in a way allegedly involving a double standard, he or she is an anti-Semite. If one favors a binational or a democratic one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he or she is an anti-Semite. So is one, when he or she blames Israel for institutionalized racism or criticizes the lack of separation of religion and state in Israel, which leads to severe discrimination of women and people of LGBTQ communities, as well as non-Jewish communities in Israel. One can disagree with these opinions, but such opinions are legitimate and must be protected by freedom of speech in any other democratic political context. As a result, the definition creates an unjustified bias in favour of political-Zionist Israel and against the Palestinians. As we are witnessing time and again it has a chilling effect on any critical discussion of Israel-Palestine and it prevents any honest discussion regarding the solution of the conflict.

In addition to the inherent contradiction to the values of freedom of speech and academic freedom, and undermining the struggle to secure Palestinian human rights, by adopting the IHRA definition the German Rectors’ Conference is slighting a long history of Jewish opposition to Zionism and/or to Israeli policies. The conflation of hostility against Jews with legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and non-violent opposition to the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people leads to the oppression of civil society organizations and slanders individuals (including Jewish individuals) for their political beliefs. It further fails to respect German scholars and students who express their political views and concerns for human and civil-rights violations, some of whom are directly affected by the Israeli occupation. At the same time, it leads to labeling distinguished researchers, many of them Jews and even Holocaust survivors, as anti-Semites. Indeed as Professors Jan and Aleida Assmann recently warned in an open letter : a new form of McCarthy style witch-hunt sweeps through Germany and Europe : the accusation of anti-Semitism ! Which denounces Europeans, and especially Germans who do not support the policies of Israel as an anti-Semites. [5]

More than anything, however, the decision to adopt the IHRA definition undermines the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality. As academics well versed in the Israel-Palestine question, some of whom also research anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, we urge you to protect and support the free debate of the situation in Israel-Palestine.

In light of the increase in anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Germany and beyond against Jews and other minorities, we support the German academic professionals and institutions initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. We urge you to do so while respecting legitimate support for Palestinian rights, without infringing the basic rights of free speech, expression and political association, while zealously protecting democratic spaces.

Sincerely,
The Board, Academia for Equality, Israel