MESA Board Statement regarding the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (and “Contemporary Examples”)

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America expresses its grave concern about a number of the “Contemporary Examples of Antisemitism” that accompany the definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and have been adopted or endorsed by some government agencies and university administrations. We are deeply distressed by the rising tide of racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism in North America and around the world, and we firmly believe that combatting antisemitism and all other forms of racism, bigotry, and discrimination is an essential duty of public officials, universities, and colleges. However, some elements of the “Contemporary Examples” accompanying the IHRA definition broaden the definition of antisemitism – properly understood as hostility toward, hatred of, and/or discrimination against Jews – to encompass legitimate criticism of and opposition to Israel, its policies, and/or Zionism as Israel’s official state ideology, thereby posing a threat to free speech and academic freedom.

By conflating criticism of Zionism and Israel, and advocacy and activism informed by such criticism, with antisemitism, these elements of the “Contemporary Examples” facilitate the delegitimization, and potential sanctioning, of certain political perspectives and those who express them as manifestations of antisemitic bigotry or hatred. These examples and their translation into policy by government agencies and university administrators thus threaten the constitutionally protected right to free speech. By exerting a chilling effect on research and teaching about, as well as public discussion of, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on college and university campuses, they also undermine the academic freedom so vital to the mission of our institutions of higher education.

We therefore encourage the federal, state, provincial, and local governments of the United States and Canada, and university and college administrations, to refrain from adopting, or making policy on the basis of, the IHRA’s accompanying examples, many of them deeply flawed. We urge them to rigorously uphold the constitutionally protected right to free political speech, including criticism of any country, government or ideology, and the right to engage in advocacy for any group’s rights. At our institutions of higher education in particular, this constitutional protection must be accompanied by rigorous adherence to the standards and traditions of academic freedom, including freedom from the threat of politically motivated harassment or punishment.

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