Minister calls on federal government to support international anti-Semitism definition

Education Minister Alan Tudge has called on the federal government to formally endorse the international definition of anti-Semitism amid a rise of violence and threats toward Australian Jews on university campuses and in the community.

More than 40 nations and hundreds of local governments, sporting organisations, institutions and universities around the world have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

Education Minister Alan Tudge wants the federal government to endorse an international defintion of anti-Semitism.Credit:

The IHRA – an intergovernmental body made up of 31 member countries – defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.

The non-legally binding definition is also supported by 11 contemporary examples of anti-Semitism designed as a resource to help educate people as to what anti-Semitism is, and what is legitimate criticism of Israel.

Many police forces around the world use a version of the definition, which has been described as a useful tool which assists officers to identify what could constitute anti-Semitism.

In an address to Jewish community leaders on Monday evening, hosted by the Zionist Federation of Australia, Mr Tudge raised concerns about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents within politics, at universities and in the community.

“We should be adopting the international definition of anti-Semitism – and it should be adopted more broadly,” Mr Tudge said.

“From my perspective, I’m determined to see it implemented as government policy, and I’d like to see that cascaded down to key institutions, including universities.”

The definition spells out that it is not anti-Semitic to criticise the government of Israel, but says it is anti-Semitic to draw comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis and also holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of Israel.

It also includes traditional stereotypes such as regarding Jews having inordinate power over media, financial systems or governments and or denying Jews the right to self-determination.

The definition has been contentious to some groups, including with some human rights groups, university academics and lawyers, who have expressed concerns that it restricts freedom of speech by prohibiting legitimate criticism of Israeli government action in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Tudge said the government was working towards adopting the definition, and he had spoken with university leaders about the issue, raising concerns that anti-Semitism was usually conducted “under the cloak of anti-Zionism”.

“It comes down to all of us in leadership positions … to call it out when we see it,” Mr Tudge said.

Mr Tudge said Jewish students had reported being prevented from joining some clubs, particularly progressive ones such as an LGBTI club because Zionism was said to be contrary to the club’s mission.

“But these are Australian students like anyone else, and they are not responsible for the State of Israel or the actions of the Israeli government or any other government,” he said.

The British government was among the first to adopt the working definition in 2016 while the United States, Canada and Germany have also followed. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had publicly supported the definition as well as the European Union and the English Premier League.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese and foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong endorsed the definition on behalf of their party in discussions with Jewish community leaders last year.

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said the IHRA working definition was a key tool in educating people about anti-Semitism.

“With the rise in anti-Semitic incidents on and off campus, it is clear that it should be adopted as widely as possible in Australia, and I was delighted that Mr Tudge so strongly supported its adoption – as government policy and more broadly,” he said.

A government spokesman said it was under consideration.

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