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Biden official says administration accepts international Holocaust group’s definition of antisemitism

(JTA) — A State Department official said the Biden administration embraces a definition of anti-Semitism that has sparked controversy because it includes some forms of harsh criticism of Israel.

‘We must educate ourselves and our communities to recognize anti-Semitism in its many forms so that we can call hate by its proper name and take effective action,” Kara McDonald, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said Monday at an experts’ meeting on anti-Semitism.

“That is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, with its real-world examples, is such an invaluable tool,” she said at the meeting convened by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security umbrella for Western nations. “As prior U.S. administrations of both political stripes have done, the Biden administration embraces and champions the working definition.”

A number of progressive groups have lobbied the Biden administration not to fully embrace the definition, particularly as an enforcement tool, because they say its restrictions on extreme criticisms of Israel — for instance denying its right to exist as a Jewish state — inhibit free speech.

Defenders assert that the definition emphasizes that it should not be used to inhibit criticism of Israel and explicitly says that its application should be “non-legally binding.” McDonald in her remarks did not refer to the Israel components of the definition.

McDonald, who said she would fulfill the role of anti-Semitism monitor until President Joe Biden names one, said the administration would join its predecessors in encouraging other countries to adopt the definition.

“We applaud the growing number of countries and international bodies that apply it,” she said. “We urge all that haven’t done so to do likewise.”

Major Jewish groups back the IHRA definition, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which commended McDonald’s statement.

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