Motion: IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

In Parliament, Motions

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. S.L. Game:

That this council:

1. Endorses and adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism together with its contemporary examples, which is: ‘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.’

2. Notes that this definition is to be understood in the contemporary examples given by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, such as:

(a) calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion;

(b) making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective—such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions;

(c) accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews;

(d) denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (for example, gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust);

(e) accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust;

(f) accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations;

(g) denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour;

(h) applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;

(i) using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example, claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis;

(j) drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; and

(k) holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel

(Continued from 1 June 2022.)

The Hon. J.S. LEE (16:29): I rise today on behalf of the opposition to speak to the private member’s motion moved by the Hon. Sarah Game. This motion calls on the Legislative Council to endorse and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, together with its contemporary examples.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), formerly named the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, was initiated in 1998 with the objective of uniting governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education research and remembrance. Today, IHRA’s membership consists of 35 member countries, each of whom recognise that international political coordination is imperative to strengthen the moral commitment of societies and to combat growing Holocaust denial and antisemitism.

IHRA experts determined that, in order to begin to address the problems of antisemitism, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is. IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial worked to build an international consensus around a non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism, which was subsequently adopted by the plenary in March 2016. The contemporary examples of antisemitism outlined in the motion are intended to serve as illustrations to guide IHRA in its work to combat antisemitism.

Honourable members may be aware that Australia officially became the 33rd member of IHRA on 4 June 2019. The Australian government also officially endorsed the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in October 2021. Honourable members in this place on many occasions continue to inform the public about the devastation of the Holocaust, with the aim to educate our community to ensure that the atrocities of the past are not forgotten and never repeated.

In South Australia, the Adelaide Holocaust Museum and Andrew Steiner Education Centre is dedicated to tracing the history of the Holocaust and telling the stories of Holocaust survivors who made South Australia home. The museum’s educational programs, exhibitions and collections encourage visitors to think critically about issues that remain relevant in our contemporary society and to be active citizens who take action against antisemitism or any form of prejudice, hate and racism.

The former Marshall Liberal government played an important role in providing funding to support the Holocaust Museum and Steiner Education Centre to develop their education program. I wish to particularly acknowledge the Hon. John Gardner, who helped to drive this support in his role as former Minister for Education, and James Stevens MP, the federal member for Sturt, who actively lobbied the former federal Liberal government for additional funding.

The education centre provides tours for school students and members of the public to learn about South Australia’s connection to the Holocaust, which is not only of deep importance to our Jewish community but to all active and engaged citizens.

While recognising the good intention of the motion moved by the Hon. Sarah Game, such a motion can, however, provoke a range of different opinions and responses from community members who have different views. I am sure many honourable members have received dozens of emails from community members, including the chairperson of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association, all raising their concerns about this motion, in particular the adoption of the IHRA contemporary examples of antisemitism.

As we live in a multicultural and multifaith society, with people arriving here from all parts of the world, it is important that all Australians, no matter where they come from, uphold the value of respect for cultural diversity but have the opportunity also to raise their concerns and present their views for consideration.

As members of parliament, we are not strangers to receiving a range of diverse views, and it is important that these views, whether positive or negative, are being heard and presented here for consideration. I understand that community members and the Australian Friends of Palestine Association have deep concerns about the matter and have asked members of the Legislative Council to oppose this motion. In the email correspondence I received, the statement was as follows:

The IHRA definition is deeply flawed, and existing laws more than adequately provide for protection for all Australians from all forms of discrimination, including from violence or incitement to violence, irrespective of its motivation. The effect of the definition, if adopted, will be to stifle legitimate debate over Israel and Palestine.

These community members believe that some of the examples provided by IHRA may stifle legitimate debate about the policies and actions of the state of Israel and the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the West Bank.

While today we are debating this motion in South Australia, it is important to remind honourable members that foreign affairs and international matters are within the jurisdictions and responsibilities of the federal government. To this end, the Australian government has repeatedly stated its concerns about the escalating violence and humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and has called on all parties to refrain from violence and to focus on direct and genuine peace negotiations.

More recently, Australia has also provided additional humanitarian funding for the Palestinian territories in 2021 to address critical humanitarian needs. Australia’s ongoing development program and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian territories is a practical demonstration of the Australian government’s longstanding support for a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.

It is also important to emphasise that neither the working definition of antisemitism nor the contemporary examples of antisemitism set out by IHRA are legally binding, and they are intended to serve only as illustrations or case examples of what antisemitism could look like, rather than legal prohibitions. In fact, the plenary of IHRA only adopted the working definition of antisemitism which is quoted in the first clause of this motion, not the list of contemporary examples outlined in the second clause of this motion.

I think it is important to acknowledge these concerns and note that the legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and actions is not inherently antisemitic in itself. These are important discussions that deeply affect diverse community members in South Australia, and ongoing dialogue must be acknowledged. I wish to thank everyone who has written to my office regarding this motion and who has raised their concerns with me.

I hold the same view as the Hon. Sarah Game, the mover of this motion, and many honourable members in this house, that all individuals and communities, regardless of their cultural background or religion, should be able to follow their beliefs and express their views free of discrimination or prejudice in accordance with the Australian rule of law. In this regard, I work with all honourable members to stand against all forms of hatred, discrimination and racism, including antisemitism. We will continue to advocate for a more inclusive and harmonious society.

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (16:38): Members would probably be aware that I am not normally one who speaks on what you might call these internationally focused motions, or sentiments if you like, but in this case a motion, because generally I see them as outside the scope of this parliament, but I think in this case, in my view, it is worth making a contribution because of course antisemitism can occur in South Australia. No doubt it does at some level as well. That is the reason for my contribution today. As I said, normally I would not speak on these internationally focused motions, but I am choosing to do so for that reason today.

For that reason, I rise to strongly support the Hon. Sarah Game’s motion to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of the term antisemitism. I believe it is a vital step in assisting civil society in its understanding of precisely what constitutes antisemitism, and I thank the honourable member for her initiative in bringing this issue to the attention of our Legislative Council.

As the Hon. Ms Game detailed when moving her motion, it is imperative that a universal definition of antisemitism is recognised in order to better protect our Jewish citizens and inform policymakers and, indeed, debate in this place. As stated in her motion, IHRA defines antisemitism as:

…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.

IHRA then offers specific contemporary examples of antisemitic acts to guide and educate, which the Hon. Ms Game outlined in her initial contribution.

Although we do not hear about the antisemitic acts as defined by IHRA that are committed in our local communities very often now, we cannot deny that they are in fact occurring and perhaps at a higher rate than many of us are aware. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the Jewish community is one of the only groups within Australia whose places of worship, their schools, their communal organisations and community centres are required to operate under the protection of high fences in many cases, armed guards in some cases, metal detectors, CCTV cameras and the like, for security purposes.

Our nation’s law enforcement agencies have long recognised the necessity for these measures due to the higher incidence of physical attacks against Jews and their communal property in recent decades, and the threats that can continue unabated. It is extraordinary to think that this is the case in our modern world, given the coverage of such incidents does not seem commonplace and appears to be disproportionate when we consider the level of attention similar acts of discrimination tend to receive when other ethnicities or religions are targeted. It is of great concern to me.

Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that antisemitic incidents are actually occurring in our nation and, indeed, across the world and may in fact be on the rise. During the 12-month period from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021, the Executive Council of the Australian Jewry reported that there were some 447 antisemitic incidents logged nationally. The total figure consists of 272 attacks, including physical assault, verbal abuse, harassment, vandalism and graffiti, and 175 threats made via email, telephone, postal mail or posters and stickers being used in a derogatory way. In the preceding year, some 331 were reported and that equates to a 35 per cent increase in that particular year, in the number of reported antisemitic incidents over that period.

The Anti-Defamation League in the United States similarly found that there was a 34 per cent increase in antisemitic acts in 2021 from 2020, indicating that there may in fact be a broader trend. I note that both the ECAG and ADL—a lot of acronyms—utilised the IHRA criteria for antisemitic acts, which exemplifies the importance of having a clear working definition of antisemitism to maintain accurate and comparative statistics, the subject of the Hon. Ms Game’s motion today.

In October last year, I was pleased that our then Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that Australia would adopt IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism. At the time, Mr Morrison, the Prime Minister, stated:

My government pledges to embrace the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Australia does so as a people, and as a nation. Antisemitism has no place in Australia. It has no place anywhere in the world. And we must work together, resolutely and as a global community to reject any word or any act that supports antisemitism towards individuals, towards communities or religious facilities.

It goes even further than that because our now newly-elected Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, concurred with Mr Morrison whilst he was in opposition, confirming that an Albanese-led Labor government would also uphold the IHRA definition if elected. That has now come and I am not aware that we have had formal recognition of that but certainly he indicated that as opposition leader and I have no reason to suspect that he will not see that through.

Some Australian states have since proceeded to officially endorse the definition within their jurisdictions. MPs in the New South Wales parliament passed a motion similar to the one we are debating today with bipartisan support—indeed, I understand that it was broader than even bipartisan. The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, also declared that his state’s institutions would also be using the definition as a tool to fight antisemitism. The support is broad.

Australia was joined by 33 other United Nation member states that have adopted the definition, signalling its increasingly normative status. Despite the inconceivable atrocities from the Holocaust and subsequent global outcry at the state-sponsored genocide of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany all those years ago, antisemitic sentiment has persisted, unfortunately, at all levels of society throughout many nations ever since.

I believe that now more than ever our parliament has a responsibility to the South Australian Jewish community to do whatever it can to support local and global efforts to counter this phenomenon. I therefore strongly support the Hon. Ms Game’s motion.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:44): I rise to speak briefly on this motion. Let me be clear, antisemitism is a scourge and must be combated vigorously and the Greens have long been calling for a broad ranging antiracism strategy. With a worrying local and global rise in far-right extremist politics and Neo-Nazi activity, the urgency of this fight has rarely been greater.

What is not as clear is what is a Semite? In my exploration of this issue, it has become clear that the definition is not as simple as it has been portrayed. Originally, a Semite was someone who spoke a Semitic language. This is a family of languages that came from areas that spanned from western Asia to Africa. The meaning includes a much broader range of people than the Jewish people. The definition of antisemitism clearly requires clarity in order to be understood here.

The motion before us faces some of that same challenge. Everyone in this chamber has received correspondence from the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA). AFOPA has written to us and raised their concerns about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. They say:

Australian Friends of Palestine Association rejects anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and advocates a peaceful path towards a future of justice, equality and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Regarding the definition of anti-Semitism, Australian Friends of Palestine Association does not endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism as its effect will be to silence valid criticism of Israel and its supporters. We see its adoption by governments and other organisations as an attack on the right to free speech for all Australians.

It goes on to say:

Jewish community leaders continue to push for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, ostensibly to fight racism, while invariably defending Israel which practices racism.

AFOPA, however, do support the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, which was launched in 2021 by an international consortium of 200 leading scholars. This declaration provides a more nuanced representative definition, which can be used as a tool to effectively identify, confront and raise awareness of antisemitism. This declaration is a direct response to the criticism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, which has faced substantial criticism for being unclear, open to different interpretations and weakening the fight against antisemitism.

Kenneth Stern, one of the lead authors of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, has since stated that the ‘weaponisation’ of the definition has been used to silence critics of the Israeli government, when it was originally designed as an educational tool. He has gone on to state that its adoption in the United States, through an executive order by Donald Trump, would ‘harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates but also Jewish students and faculty, and the Academy itself.’

The Greens share the concerns of human rights groups and Israeli and Jewish organisations that have warned against the consequences of codifying the definition, including the New Israel Fund, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network and the Progressive Israel Network. The capacity of this definition to be used to silence critics of the Israeli government for its human rights abuses of Palestinians is reason enough to be worried about the definition being adopted and potentially enforced. I note that little consultation has taken place with regard to bringing this particular motion here today. Certainly, the groups that I have spoken to were not consulted prior to this debate.

Given that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition is controversial, even within the Jewish community, we agree with Harold Zwier of AJDS that the energy that has gone into formulating competing definitions ‘would be better directed to actually fighting antisemitism and racism’. Jan Deckers and Jonathan Coulter, the authors of a comprehensive journal on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, raise many concerns with the definition in their review, including:

Readers unengaged with the debate over the definition might be forgiven for thinking that opponents are making a lot of fuss about nothing. However, this definitional lack of clarity poses significant moral issues as it leaves the door ajar both for those who wish to mobilise the definition for unfounded accusations of antisemitism and for instances of antisemitism that are not covered by the definition to go unchallenged.

To that end, the Greens have consistently called for an institutional societal response to all forms of racism, including antisemitism, through the establishment and funding of a national antiracism strategy and a coordinated plan to tackle far right extremism in all its forms.

In our work challenging racism and antisemitism, the Greens have either proposed or supported establishing formal parliamentary inquiries into the rise of the far right in Australia, as well as investigating the rise of far right nationalists and the risk that their plans and actions pose to the state, particularly in Victoria’s multicultural communities, and also the banning of the public display of hate symbols, including those used by far right extremists and Neo-Nazis, as well as exposing and adopting a zero tolerance approach to the normalisation of far right ideologies and hate speech in mainstream politics and media. We strongly urge the Malinauskas government to adopt and fund such activities to ensure that antisemitism and all forms of racism can be challenged and mitigated.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo.