Protecting Jewish students: The Case for IHRA


Rachel Zaslavsky ’23 is a CAMERA on Campus Fellow, and she is active in Hillel, Chabad and Tribe for Israel. Rachel loves to cook and maintains that people who like pineapple on pizza are the silent majority. 

For four years, we called the College of William and Mary home. For four years, we cheered, “One tribe, one family.” However, as my time in Williamsburg comes to an end, Jewish students are threatened with rising antisemitism across college campuses. Our presence at the College is becoming precarious. Now more than ever, it is imperative to protect Jewish students and hold antisemites accountable.

Much of this antisemitism is routinely veiled as criticism of Israel. Jewish on Campus’s 2021 Antisemitism Report recorded over 500 antisemitic incidents on college campuses. Over half of these reports were related to Israel. An Anti-Defamation League survey found that 10% of students felt unwelcome in a campus organization because of actual or perceived support for Israel as a Jew. This is more than the 6% of students who felt unwelcome because they are Jewish.

Often the connection between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, the opposing of Jewish self-determination in their native homeland, is far from subtle. At Northwestern University, a student’s op-ed about Jewish pride was printed onto a large poster board and used as a backdrop for the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” painted in blood red. The slogan itself is antisemitic, calling for the removal of Jews from Israel and the dismantling of Jewish self-determination. Furthermore, the choice of poster material is especially suspect; claims that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not linked fall through when Jewish pride is used as a tool for anti-Zionism.

In another instance at the University of Chicago, Students for Justice in Palestine called for the dismissal of an Israeli visiting professor and the boycott of his class. Targeting an individual because of his nationality and military experience is blatant discrimination. This past January, students at the University of Michigan called for an “intifada” as the “only one solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict. An intifada specifically refers to armed Palestinian uprisings against Israel. During a period known as the Second Intifada, over 1,000 Israelis were murdered and thousands more injured in Palestinian terror attacks ranging from suicide bombings to shootings. These students were promoting the violent uprooting and murder of Jews in Israel. 

These incidents represent a continuation in antisemitism, one of the world’s oldest expressions of hatred spanning back over a thousand years. It is a unique form of hatred, being neither racial nor religious, and thus requires its own enforcement mechanism. While the College’s discrimination policy is intended to protect students and faculty from discrimination “with regard to race, creed, gender, religion, national origin, or political belief,” such a policy is inadequate without a clearly defined, working definition of antisemitism. Given the lack of effective university policy, Jewish students and allies at the College must unite and work with College administration to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. 

The IHRA definition addresses antisemitism that appears as anti-Zionism, making it the most extensive definition available. Manifestations of antisemitism as the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” are accounted for in the IHRA definition. 

Claims that the IHRA definition restricts freedom of expression should raise red flags. The IHRA definition makes it clear that legitimate criticism of Israel, such that is similar to criticisms leveled against any other country, is not antisemitism.

The work of Natan Sharansky, Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident, further clarifies this distinction. According to Sharansky, legitimate criticism of Israel is that which does not demonize Israel, does not delegitimize Israel and does not apply double standards to Israel. When criticisms do not pass this three-D test of demonization, double standards and delegitimization, it is antisemitism. IHRA’s examples of antisemitism related to Israel are consistent with the three-D test.  

Another option growing in popularity is the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, but it is an insufficient definition. While the JDA does condemn the application of “symbols, images and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism” to Israel, it does not deem the boycotts of Israel and Israelis, double standards or the opposition of Zionism as antisemitic. The JDA is not thorough enough nor complete enough to protect Jews from antisemitism, especially when disguised as anti-Zionism. The JDA does not consider anti-Zionism to be antisemitic, which is a major failure for a definition that purports to fight antisemitism.

The IHRA definition is the most widely agreed upon definition of antisemitism — over 30 countries have adopted it. The European Centre for Law and Justice labeled the IHRA definition as “the most comprehensive, pragmatic, and effective modern definition of antisemitism available to combat the phenomenon.”

Just an hour away, University of Richmond Jewish students have witnessed vandalism and other displays of antisemitism. According to a 2022 report by StopAntisemitism, only 28% of Jewish college students surveyed said their campus administration takes antisemitism and the protection of Jewish students seriously. 

Allow students of the College to be part of this 28% who can trust their administration. There is only one way to protect Jewish students: having an effective mechanism to identify and respond to antisemitism. Let us join the ranks of 30 other universities which protect their Jewish students by adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism. 

We must take action now. Push for the IHRA working definition of antisemitism to be adopted on campus. 


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