The incorrect claim that Kenneth Stern opposes the IHRA definition of antisemitism

Opponents of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has been adopted by over 40 countries and over 1000 NGOs, institutes and organisations, often raise the name of the author, Ken Stern, claiming he is appalled by how the definition has been weaponized to silence criticism of Israel and, if the author believes this, they argue the definition is surely worthless and it should be scrapped or, at the very least, rewritten.

If, indeed, this is the view of the author they would be a very valid argument, except in their attempts to discredit the paper they make two glaring errors.

Firstly, contrary to what critics or newspaper articles claim, Ken Stern isn’t the ‘author’, or even the ‘lead’ or ‘primary drafter’ as he refers to himself, of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism.

In 2004 Ken Stern was invited to participate in the creation of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) Working Definition of Antisemitism which, two years later, would be used to form the basis of the IHRA’s Definition of Antisemitism. Three of the authors, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Deidre Berger and Michael Whine, in response to Ken Stern’s name being used to attack their work and to set the record straight, issued an open letter in January 2021 confirming that his position in the EUMC Communications Hub was important, but limited to circulating various drafts of the proposed paper while discussions were being held on the form the Definition should take and the language used.

Secondly, and more importantly, Ken Stern stands fully behind the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism to this day. In 2010 he stated “In my view, attempts to change the definition would give away all the gains made by having a uniform definition for five years, would give a great opening for those who would want to scuttle it rather than improve it, and to open this can of worms would be a terrible mistake.”

Stern’s one caveat is that the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism should not be adopted and enshrined into law by Universities. He believes the college campus’s purpose ‘is to explore ideas’ and should be regarded as a special ‘free-speech’ environment which allows anti-Israel hate speech, a view which pits him against many of his peers.

So when Stern talks about the Definition being weaponized he is not talking about it being used to stifle criticism of Israel, he is solely concerned about stifling debate in Universities, as a champion of academic freedom.

Claims that Stern calls the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism into question is a complete misrepresentation of what he actually believes. Ken Stern has fervent belief in it, leading to him expressing his hope for ‘more and more institutions use it’ and he even argues it didn’t go far enough, naming the BDS campaign and referring to Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ as examples of Antisemitism which, in his opinion, should have been included.


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