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Home » Antisemitism and Israel-related Speech: a Resource Guide for Reconstructionist Communities

Antisemitism and Israel-related Speech: a Resource Guide for Reconstructionist Communities

antisemitism and israel speech

There is a lot of debate in the Jewish world today regarding the question of when Israel-related speech crosses the line into antisemitism. These debates are likely to increase in the coming years, resurfacing as flashpoints on university campuses, in political campaigns, and in media platforms of all kinds.

In recent years antisemitic incidents have been sharply increasing around the world, and Reconstructionists have contributed to some of the excellent resources helping to educate people about antisemitism, its history, and its current manifestations. When the conversation about antisemitism is focused on things like white nationalist ideology, there is basic unanimity across the Jewish community regarding how to define and recognize this type of antisemitism. When the conversation about antisemitism focuses on Israel-related speech, however, we find a lot of different viewpoints, many passionately held, across the Jewish community. As Reconstructionists, we have a powerful set of tools to bring to this specific and important conversation about antisemitism and Israel-related speech. We have a thorough and evolving understanding of Jewish history, a welcoming of diverse and sometimes challenging viewpoints, and an openness to the messiness of questions that may not always be easily resolved.

This web page is a resource developed by members of the Joint Israel Commission (JIC) of the Reconstructionist movement. It is here to help people across the movement, and beyond, learn about some of the current competing definitions of antisemitism that are out there, and in particular, to learn about how each of them addresses the intersection of antisemitism and Israel-related speech.

This resource has four sections:

  1. Five Contemporary Definitions of Antisemitism that address Israel-related speech. This section begins with the definition adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). IHRA has sparked controversy and debate regarding its examples of Israel-related speech that it claims may be antisemitic and warrant scrutiny. The next three definitions that follow were all written in part as attempts to address issues that their respective authors found problematic about IHRA. The fifth resource was written during a time when these debates were very active and offers yet another perspective.
  2. A statement that Reconstructing Judaism joined the Progressive Israel Network (PIN) in making that expressed opposition to the legal codification of IHRA based on concerns about potential misuse. 
  3. Dissenting viewpoints from within the movement. This section features two essays by Reconstructionists critiquing the PIN statement that Reconstructing Judaism joined from very different perspectives.
  4. How you can use these resources for discussion and study in your communities.

Section 1

Five Contemporary Definitions of Antisemitism addressing Israel-related speech

Section 2

A statement that Reconstructing Judaism joined the Progressive Israel Network (PIN) in making that expressed opposition to the legal codification of IHRA based on concerns about potential misuse.

On January 12, 2021, Reconstructing Judaism took part in a joint statement of the Progressive Israel Network (PIN), a coalition of progressive Zionist groups of which Reconstructing Judaism is a member. The statement took a stand opposing the legal codification of IHRA by governments and other civic institutions. 

Progressive Israel Network Groups Oppose Codification of IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, Citing Strong Potential for Misuse

Section 3

Dissenting viewpoints from within the movement.

As Reconstructionists, we place a high value on recognizing the diversity of viewpoints within our movement. After the January 2021 statement opposing the legal codification of IHRA came out, two members of the movement wrote essays critiquing the Progressive Israel Network (PIN) statement that Reconstructing Judaism had joined.

Dr. Susan S. Lanser is Professor Emerita of English, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Comparative Literature at Brandeis University. A member of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in Newton, MA, USA, she also serves on the Joint Israel Commission of the Reconstructionist movement. Dr. Lanser’s essay, Why the IHRA’s “Working Definition of Antisemitism” Does the Wrong Work, can be accessed at this link.

Rabbi Carl S. Choper (RRC ’90) is founding director of The Religion and Society Center and President of The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania. Rabbi Choper has also served as a congregational rabbi, a geriatric chaplain, and a prison chaplain during a long career in central Pennsylvania. Rabbi Choper’s essay, The Need for Active Use of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, can be accessed at this link.

What are other Jewish organizations saying about IHRA? 

Below are a sampling of some different Jewish organizations – with very different political views regarding Israel – and their responses to questions about the legal codification of IHRA.

Almost all of the 53 member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations recently approved a resolution supporting the US government adopting IHRA without qualification.

The Union for Reform Judaism issued a somewhat similar statement to the one Reconstructing Judaism took part in, urging that IHRA not be codified into law. Their statement differed from PIN’s in tone, however, praising IHRA as an excellent tool for defining and understanding contemporary antisemitism, but warning about potential misuse should it be codified.

A group of Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, penned an open letter to the Biden administration and Congress laying out suggested priorities for addressing domestic antisemitism. It encourages the use of IHRA by the government without qualification, but in later sections the letter urges that IHRA not be codified into law.

Jewish Voice for Peace and Independent Jewish Voices Canada strongly oppose the potential legal codification of IHRA and its merits as an accurate or helpful definition of antisemitism.

Section 4

How you can use these resources for discussion and study in your communities.

These two essays, along with the PIN statement and the links to several different contemporary competing definitions of antisemitism are being presented here as a set of materials for members of Reconstructionist communities to consider using for study and discussion. There are many options for how you could use these resources to organize a webinar, in-person discussion, or short adult education series on this topic. Possibilities include:

  • Plan a moderated discussion around Section 1 and the 5 contemporary definitions of antisemitism, focusing on the similarities and differences with which these definitions address the role of Israel-related speech.
  • Build a three-part class that selects some of the competing definitions of antisemitism from Section 1 and then focuses more intensively on the PIN statement and the 2 dissenting essays by Reconstructionists in Sections 2 and 3.
  • Contact Rabbi Maurice Harris, who staffs the Joint Israel Commission, to inquire about whether members of the JIC, or the creators of some of the resources found on this webpage, are available to join in a webinar or online panel discussion about these issues. Maurice is also available to help you think through options for how to use these materials for a constructive and respectful program. (mharris@reconstructingjudaism.org)

The Reconstructionist Network