IHRA antisemitism definition ‘being used by to silence free speech at American univerisites’, lawyer who helped draft it says

Kenneth Stern said the President’s executive order which made Jews a protected class was ‘an attack on academic freedom and free speech’


The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is being used by American conservatives to silence free speech on university campuses, a lawyer who helped draft it has said.

Commenting in the Guardian, Kenneth Stern – director for the Bard Centre for the Study of Hate – criticised President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order earlier this week which designated Jewish people a nationality and therefore a protected class against discrimination.

“This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself,” he wrote.

He said American “rightwing Jewish” groups had begun using the IHRA definition to “weaponise” claims of discrimination under the Title VI of Civil Rights Act of 1964, which empowers the Education Department to withhold funding from any educational programme that discriminates “on the ground of race, color, or national origin.”

“The problem isn’t that the executive order affords protection to Jewish students under title VI,” Mr Stern said. 

“The Department of Education made clear in 2010 that Jews, Sikhs and Muslims (as ethnicities) could complain about intimidation, harassment and discrimination under this provision.

“I supported this clarification and filed a successful complaint for Jewish high school students when they were bullied, even kicked.

“But starting in 2010, rightwing Jewish groups took the ‘working definition’, which had some examples about Israel… and decided to weaponize it with title VI cases.

“It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week.”

Mr Stern continued: “If you think this isn’t about suppressing political speech, contemplate a parallel. There’s no definition of anti-black racism that has the force of law when evaluating a title VI case.

“If you were to craft one, would you include opposition to affirmative action? Opposing removal of Confederate statues?”

He also hit out at Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's Jewish son-in-law, for saying the IHRA definition “makes clear Anti-Zionism is antisemitism”.

“I’m a Zionist. But on a college campus, where the purpose is to explore ideas, anti-Zionists have a right to free expression,” Mr Stern said.

“There’s a debate inside the Jewish community whether being Jewish requires one to be a Zionist. I don’t know if this question can be resolved, but it should frighten all Jews that the government is essentially defining the answer for us.”

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