The State Department has updated the working definition of anti-Semitism detailed on its website to include comparisons between current Israeli policies and those of the Nazis. The move comes just two weeks after the House passed a resolution denouncing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and amidst consistent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for introducing a bill that affirms the right to boycott foreign countries in the name of human rights.
The revised definition was first spotted by Israeli-American Council chairman Adam Milstein. On August 6 he tweeted, “The State [Department] just updated the definition of
#Antisemitism to include “Drawing Comparison of Contemporary #Israeli policy to the of #Nazis“. Kudos to [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] and Special Envoy Elan Carr. It’s more clear now, the BDS Movement is disgustingly Antisemitic.”
The State Dep. just updated the definition of #Antisemitism to include "Drawing Comparison of Contemporary #Israeli policy to the of #Nazis". Kudos to @SecPompeo and Special Envoy Elan Carr. It's more clear now, the BDS Movement is disgustingly Antisemitic https://t.co/6VEW9A1M1X pic.twitter.com/O0O78p6XiU
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) August 6, 2019
Although the department’s site only recently added this information, it has endorsed an interpretation of anti-Semitism since at least 2010. However, the site’s archive shows that this definition wasn’t publicly cited on the website till this month.
Rep. Omar introduced H.Res.496 on July 16. Although the legislation doesn’t mention Israel (or Palestine) at all, it was perceived as a response to H.Res.246, a resolution that condemned BDS, effectively tagged the movement as antisemitic, and identified it as a major impediment to a two-state solution. Omar’s bill declares that “Americans of conscience have a proud history of participating in boycotts to advocate for human rights abroad” and cites a number of such situations. One example mentioned is the “boycotting Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.”
Upon its introduction, Omar’s bill was immediately criticized by pro-Israel groups and GOP lawmakers for allegedly being anti-Semitic as a result of the Nazi reference.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Director of Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) that the bill served as “proof that Omar is not an accidental or incidental anti-Semite. [She] serves the founders and goals of BDS by slandering Jewish Democratic state and Zionism. She should be condemned, not coddled, by her colleagues Democratic and Republican.”
Masha Merkulova, founder of the “Zionist Youth Movement” group Club Z, told JNS: “The resolution that Rep. Ilhan Omar has introduced defies American values and seeks to degrade the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. The anti-Semitic BDS movement is rooted in bigotry and hatred of Jews. It seeks to delegitimize the only Jewish State. While Rep. Omar is attempting to equate her actions to justified boycotts of Nazi Germany, in reality this resolution is reminiscent of the hateful Nazi boycotts of Jewish communities.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) tweeted, “This new pro BDS reso by Omar has the nerve to claim moral equivalency between boycotting Nazi Germany & boycotting Israel. Disgraceful! I’m a hard NO on this reso, her past anti-Semitism, hate towards Israel & blame America 1st agenda! Again=>she should NOT be on [the House Foreign Affairs Committee]!”
This new pro BDS reso by Omar has the nerve to claim moral equivalency between boycotting Nazi Germany & boycotting Israel. Disgraceful! I’m a hard NO on this reso, her past anti-Semitism, hate towards Israel & blame America 1st agenda! Again=>she should NOT be on @HouseForeign!
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) July 19, 2019
National Republican Senatorial Committee senior adviser Matt Whitlock tweeted, “So this is real — Ilhan Omar’s BDS bill actually does compare Israel to Nazi Germany. And just this morning she said she didn’t regret any of the anti-Semitic comments she had previously apologized for. Yikes.”
So this is real — @Ilhan Omar's BDS bill actually does compare Israel to Nazi Germany. And just this morning she said she didn't regret any of the anti-Semitic comments she had previously apologized for.
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) July 17, 2019
A full reading of the resolution’s text makes it clear that Omar isn’t actually comparing Israel with Nazi Germany– again, the legislation doesn’t even mention Israel– but rather demonstrating how boycotts have a long tradition in the United States and should be consistently protected by the First Amendment. However, this selective interpretation of the bill is obviously motivated by a wider effort to paint Omar and the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.
These accusations also come amidst similar attacks from President Trump against Omar and other three congresswomen who make up “The Squad.” At a press conference last month Trump said, “And in one case you have [Omar] that comes from Somalia, which is a failed government, a failed state, who left Somalia, who ultimately came here and now is a congresswoman who’s never happy. Says horrible things about Israel. Hates Israel. Hates Jews. Hates Jews. It’s very simple.”
The State Department move also comes at a time when some House Members are pushing legislation that would allow the Department of Education (DOE) to investigate charges of anti-Semitism at schools with a broader definition of that term. That new interpretation would include some criticisms of Israel and many believe that the DOE would be allowed to crack down on pro-Palestine students as a result. Last year, the DOE adopted the new definition of antisemitism and the proposed legislation would formally codify that definition on a federal level. This is the third time that lawmakers have attempted to pass such a bill in the House, it has previously passed in the Senate.
Yair Golan, now a leading candidate for the Israeli Knesset and a former Israeli army official, himself made the Nazi Germany-Israel comparison in 2016:
If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance, it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then — 70, 80 and 90 years ago — and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.