Skip To Content
Breaking News

Anti-Semitism Envoy Opposes Restrictions on Free Speech

The top U.S. official combating anti-Semitism said he does not counsel any restrictions on speech in his interactions with foreign officials.

“In our interactions with other governments and civil society outside the United States we make very clear that we support freedom of speech and assembly and oppose criminalizing speech – even the most odious forms of anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred,” Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism, said in an Aug. 10 letter to Jewish Voice for Peace.

Forman was replying to the group after it said that the State Department definition of anti-Semitism, which is used to deal with foreign officials, inhibits free speech on U.S. campuses.

Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group critical of Israeli policies, had in May sent Forman and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a letter from its academic advisory council saying that the State Department definition of anti-Semitism was “vague” and “problematic” and had been “construed to silence any criticism of Israeli policies.”

The letter, signed by over 250 academics and backed by a petition signed by over 15,800 people, cited instances where terms related to Israel appearing in a 2010 State Department circular on anti-Semitism -“demonize,” “double standard,” and “delegitimize” – were used on some U.S. college campuses to define anti-Semitism, a definition the group said silences criticism of Israel.

Those terms appear in an addendum to the definition explaining, “What is anti-Semitism relative to Israel?”

In his reply, Forman notes that the addendum expands on and makes more specific the “demonize,” “double standard,” and “delegitimize” terms deemed vague by JVP.

He notes that the expanded explanation includes: “Denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination … applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation … drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” as examples of anti-Semitism. Forman also notes that the addendum says that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Forman says that the definition has been “useful” in his work. He quotes Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaking last year of anti-Semitic manifestations at protests of Israel’s actions during last summer’s Gaza war.

“Just as there is a way to express criticisms of Palestinian policies and actions without expressing Islamophobic views or attacking Muslims, so too there is a way to express criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions without making anti-Semitic remarks,” Power had said.

In a reply to Forman, JVP said it was “heartened” by Forman’s commitment to speech protections but argued that even the expanded definition of the terms is problematic.

“’Denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination…applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,’ are vague and overbroad, so much so that they can be construed to deem any criticism of the State of Israel as anti-Semitic,” the letter said.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we still need 300 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Only 300 more gifts needed by April 30

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.