#4 / Editorial: Defining Antisemitism

Joann Sfar states in a long interview he gave K. for our fourth edition that in the incalculable litany of hatreds, “racism, antisemitism, sexism, there is a profusion of phenomena which are not entirely alike, which do not have the same motives. We need to name them correctly.”

Now, the act of naming has become problematic when it comes to certain terms. The return in force at the turn of the twenty-first century of anti-Semitic violent acts has obligated us to pose in the public square the question of how to combat this phenomenon. A debate among activists has become also a debate about rhetoric and language. How has the meaning of anti-Semitism become such a point of contention?

For a decade, various international organizations, acting under the auspices of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association, have worked to create “a working definition of antisemitism,” a document which for the first time drew a direct line between hostility toward Jews and hostility toward the State of Israel. The text of the IHRA definition has indeed been controversial since its adoption. At the end of this March, a collective of intellectuals, most of them based in Israel or North America, proposed an alternative definition under the name of “The Jerusalem Declaration.” The signatories fault the IHRA working definition for having focused too much on the association between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity, to the neglect of other forms of anti-Semitic prejudice. These intellectuals imply that the IHRA definition also represents a menace to freedom of speech.

Several of K.’s editors were asked to sign the Jerusalem Declaration. We decided against it without even having consulted one another. Does our reluctance illustrate the particular feelings of European Jews, conscience of our continent’s history and harboring fears about the future that are imperceptible in the United State of Israel? We seek to answer this question in part of our fourth issue, in which, apart from our interview with Joann Sfar, we critically examine the IHRA definition as well as the Jerusalem Declaration. We also address another statement on antisemitism, published in last November in five languages and drafted by a group of Palestinian and Arab intellectuals.



Interview with Joann Sfar, who owed us some explanations about the title of his latest novel: The Last Jew in Europe.

The controversy set off by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is curious and sometimes befuddling. What motivated the Jerusalem Declaration on antisemitism issued last March?

Last November, 122 Palestinian and Arab intellectuals issued a “Declaration on Antisemitism”. At its core are two assertions: that antisemitism must be recognized and fought; and that criticism of Israel…

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