Photo Credit: Lukas Schulze/Web Summit via Sportsfile
ACLU President Deborah Archer, November 3, 2022.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday called on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to refuse the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. In a letter to the Secretary, they asserted that adopting this definition could stifle the free speech of pro-Hamas students on American college campuses.

“If the Department of Education were to adopt this definition, and investigate universities for Title VI complaints based on it, college and university administrators would likely silence a range of protected speech including criticism of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, analogies likening Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany, or sharing differing beliefs about the right to a Jewish state,” the group complained.


Usually, the objection to the IHRA list of definitions of antisemitism relates to attacks on Israel and pro-Israel Jews. But the ACLU is looking to quash the whole kit and caboodle:

“The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the nation’s foremost defenders of free speech, urges you to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of “antisemitism” (and similar definitions) in any proposed rule your office may formulate in response to Executive Order 13899, or in any other policy or practice to enforce civil rights law. This definition of antisemitism conflates protected political speech with unprotected discrimination, and enshrining it into regulation will chill the exercise of First Amendment rights and risk undermining the agency’s legitimate and important efforts to combat discrimination,” the group’s letter opens.

Executive Order 13899–Combating Anti-Semitism was signed into law by then-President Donald J. Trump on December 11, 2019.

The order’s most important aspect was its note that while Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover discrimination based on religion, discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.

As a result, the order calls on all executive departments and agencies charged with enforcing Title VI to consider the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted on May 26, 2016, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which states, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”; as well as “the contemporary examples of Antisemitism identified by the IHRA.”

“The IHRA working definition of antisemitism includes protected criticism of Israel and its policies,” attacks the ACLU letter. “For example, the definition declares that ‘denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,’ ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,’ and ‘applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’ are all examples of antisemitism [according to the IHRA]. … People may disagree about whether such speech is antisemitic, but that debate is irrelevant to the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from censoring or penalizing core political speech.”

“Harassment of Jewish students is wrong and illegal,” the group concedes, however, “As the ACLU has articulated in other contexts, the federal government is equipped with the standards to address hostile environment harassment, including when speech is involved. But the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not rooted in the legal protections against hostile environments and instead seeks to prohibit speech based on viewpoint alone. The speech we censor today will set the stage for what we censor tomorrow.”

Although I could find merit in the ACLU’s argument, I’m not sending my check this year.


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David writes news at