An executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, which effectively allows Palestine activism to be targeted as discriminatory toward Jews under the Civil Rights Act, alarmed many observers for its potential to threaten free speech around Israel. Yet the order is only the latest legal development this month to threaten the rights of Palestinians and their allies abroad.
The National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, agreed on Dec. 3 (by 154 votes to 72) to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Three days later, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 326 (226 votes to 188, with 2 present), a bill that commits to promoting the two-state solution and reviving previous U.S.-led peace efforts in the region.
The two resolutions, which appear to be unrelated at first glance, have ostensibly good intentions. With anti-Semitic attacks sharply rising in France and across Europe, the National Assembly has turned to the IHRA definition to help institutionalize its fight against racism toward Jews. In Washington, Congressional representatives hoped to offset the Trump administration’s open backing of Israel’s settler policies by re-centering what they regard as a fairer solution to the conflict.
Both bills, however, are cause for serious concern. Since its release in 2016, the IHRA definition has been heavily criticized for including various criticisms of Israel as examples of anti-Semitic acts (six of its 11 examples explicitly relate to Israel). The National Assembly even emphasized in its resolution that “Criticizing the very existence of Israel as a collective of Jewish citizens is tantamount to hatred of the Jewish community as a whole … Such abuses increasingly make anti-Zionism ‘one of the contemporary forms of anti-Semitism.’” Israeli officials, including Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Blue and White head Benny Gantz, praised the decision.
The resolution insists that this position does not inhibit the right to criticize Israeli government policies — but that’s precisely what it does. It portrays the Israeli state and the Jewish diaspora as a homogenous unit, inferring that any criticism of the former must be viewed first and foremost with suspicion if not hostility. It views Zionism as the only legitimate framework for exercising Jewish self-determination, while ignoring the dissenting views of anti-Zionist and non-Zionist Israelis and Jews worldwide. And it dismisses the right of Palestinians — those who are citizens of Israel, for starters — to question why the state should privilege Jewish citizens instead of enshrining equal rights for all.
H.R. 326, meanwhile, reflects the classic bias embedded in U.S. policy toward the region. For example, one of its preambles claims that “for more than 20 years, Presidents of the United States from both political parties and Israeli Prime Ministers have supported reaching a two-state solution” (emphasis mine). Not only did Congress willfully ignore that Netanyahu, Israel’s leader for the past decade, has done everything possible to thwart a Palestinian state, it didn’t even bother to mention the Palestinian Authority — the only actor that has actually worked to have that state recognized (albeit imprudently and futilely) — as a partner in the project.