ABA removes international definition of antisemitism from its resolution condemning the problem

Photo: American Bar Association

The American Bar Association (ABA) removed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism from a resolution condemning the phenomenon. In the lead-up to the vote, various groups and activists called on the ABA to remove the definition, saying that it was “anti-Palestinian” and chilled Free Speech. 

Key Players

The ABA, a voluntary association of lawyers and law students founded in 1878 and based in Chicago, serves “equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.” 

The IHRA, a leading intergovernmental organization with the purpose of “uniting governments and experts to strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research worldwide,” identifies antisemitism through its nonbinding working definition.

Further Details

On Jan. 24, 2023, the ABA announced it would vote on some 30 items during its 2023 midyear meeting inNew Orleans, including Resolution 514, which “urges federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments in the United States to condemn antisemitism” as defined by the IHRA. 

The IHRA definition of antisemitism 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.”

The U.S. Department of State uses the IHRA definition and has encouraged “other governments and international organizations to use it as well,” The Washington Examiner reported. 

The resolution encouraged the ABA to condemn “all antisemitic attitudes and actions,” advocating that governments “take all reasonable steps to improve the physical security of Jewish institutions and organizations” and encouraging “laws, policies and training” that combat antisemitism, promote collaboration and education among attorneys to prevent antisemitism, and implore social media platforms to take greater steps to counter antisemitism online.

According to the resolution, it did not intend “to diminish or infringe upon any right protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Ahead of the ABA’s announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, came out against the IHRA definition. On Jan. 18, the groups released a statement urging the ABA to remove the IHRA definition from the resolution, alleging that the “objective behind the promotion of the IHRA definition is the suppression of non-violent protest, activism, and criticism of Israel and/or Zionism.”

“The IHRA definition has been used consistently (and nearly exclusively) not to fight antisemitism, but rather to defend Israel and harm Palestinians – at the cost of undermining and dangerously chilling fundamental rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and protest, and academic freedom,” the statement read.  

While the organizations said they believed the ABA should fight against antisemitism, they were “concerned that the reference to the IHRA definition” undermined “the ABA’s own ability to engage on key issues related to Palestinian rights.”


Resolution passes, but with IHRA definition removed 

On Feb. 6, the ABA voted to pass Resolution 514, condemning antisemitism but removing the IHRA definition. 

Sponsors of the original resolution included the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, the Coalition of Racial and Ethnic Justice, the International Law Section, the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and the Senior Lawyers Division. 

During the session to vote on the resolution, no one spoke in opposition to the resolution. The ABA did not immediately reply to The Free Speech Project to confirm when and how the IHRA definition was removed prior to the resolution’s passage, but the body had allegedy faced pressure from the human rights organizations who were against the definition, Mondoweiss reported. 

Jewish organizations lament decision

Some Jewish organizations and leaders spoke out against the removal of the IHRA definition. For instance, the Anti-Defamation League tweeted that “including the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism would better reflect how antisemitism manifests today.”

Robert N. Weiner, an ABA delegate from Washington, D.C., felt that the ABA did not do enough to combat antisemitism. “Last-minute changes weakened [the resolution] in a manner I think is unwise and unfortunate,” he said.