The Charity & Security Network endorsed a joint letter, signed by 104 civil society organizations, urging the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Under Secretary-General Miguel Ángel Moratinos not to adopt an overly broad definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), language which has fueled politically motivated attacks against dissenting civil society in Israel and Palestine who do not fit a pro-Israel paradigm.

The joint letter, spearheaded by Human Rights Watch, presents two alternative definitions by the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and the Nexus Document. These definitions clearly define antisemitism in a way that reduces their potential to be weaponized against civil society.

Although the IHRA originally drafted the definition to educate on the Holocaust, it is often misused for political purposes. The joint letter underscores, “In practice, however, the IHRA definition has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress, non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the U.S. and Europe.”

Civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and journalists operating in Israel and Palestine have been targeted by politically motivated pro-Israel “lawfare” groups. In 2021 C&SN published a comprehensive report that details how these attacks manifest and who is behind them. These politically motivated groups often manipulate broadly defined counterterrorism laws to conduct smear campaigns, deplatform organizations from payment services, and launch frivolous lawsuits meant to undermine civil society in Israel and Palestine. If the UN adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism, it will exacerbate the risks posed by lawfare groups. 

The Charity & Security Network is the only organization dedicated to protecting civil society from broadly scoped national security measures, which often impede the ability of NGOs to reach populations in need, defend human rights, and promote peace in conflict zones. C&SN recognizes the pernicious and utterly repugnant nature of antisemitism and opposes it. Nonetheless, by signing this joint letter to the UN, we underscore the troubling parallel in which an overly broad definition of antisemitism could cause a similar chilling effect and hamper the ability of civil society providing essential services in Israel and Palestine.