To the Editor:
Like Michael Barnett and Nathan Brown ("Biden Administration Punts on Defining Antisemitism," June 23, 2023), I share critique of the IHRA definition of anti-Jewish discrimination and bigotry, although for different reasons. I believe that the definition has significant value and merit even as it is imperfect, imprecise, and incomplete — as any such definition inevitably will be.
Discrimination against any group cannot be comprehensively and exhaustively defined in several sentences or a brief paragraph, and we should not expect any definition of anti-Jewish bigotry - or definitions of other forms of discrimination - to address all manifestations of the discrimination and persecution which they seek to describe, define, address, and reduce. Discrimination is dynamic in nature and takes on different expressions and forms across time, culture, and geography.
The IHRA definition does not make explicit reference to human rights and international human rights law. It does, however, appropriately affirm that Jewish people have a collective right to political self-determination.
Unfortunately, however, the IHRA definition does not explicitly state that the collective self-determination to which it is referring and defending is a fundamental human right and the legal and moral basis for the two core legally binding international human rights treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
The IHRA definition is valid in characterizing denying Jewish people a universal human right as being anti-Jewish and discriminatory. Indeed the IHRA definition's supporting commentary defends the legitimacy of criticism of Israel when such criticism does not violate that fundamental human right. Such a denial of the right to self-determination to Jewish people is a violation of the right to equality and equal legal protection under international human rights law and international law.
Simultaneously and similarly, Palestinians also have a fundamental human right to collective self-determination. Denying them that right is also discriminatory and an attack on the universality of the law and its equal application and protection of Palestinian rights. Only the affirmation of both people's rights to collective self-determination reflects international human rights law and international law.
Lecturer, International and Area Studies
University of California, Berkeley