New campaign encourages churches to adopt IHRA antisemitism definition in response to White House plan

New campaign encourages churches to adopt IHRA antisemitism definition in response to White House plan

When the White House unveiled a new campaign to combat antisemitism in the US at the end of May, it met with mixed reactions.

The new governmental strategy includes 100 “actions” the administration will take “to raise awareness of antisemitism and its threat to American democracy, protect Jewish communities, reverse the normalization of antisemitism and build cross-community solidarity,” according to the White House.

“This US national strategy to counter antisemitism is a historic step forward. It sends a clear and forceful message that in America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail,” US President Joe Biden said at the time.

Many Jewish groups responded positively to the campaign. Still, there was also a severe backlash from major Jewish organizations that said the definitions defining antisemitism in the plan left too much scope for misinterpretation and allowed for anti-Jewish feelings to continue under the guise of anti-Israel sentiment. It is argued that the plan’s choice not to make the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘s working definition of antisemitism the sole one cited in the documentation “seriously weakens” the White House effort. The IHRA definition has been adopted by scores of countries’ governments, sporting bodies, and other organizations and is seen as an ultimate, all-encompassing definition of antisemitism.

One man who has taken the initiative to increase awareness of this is Rabbi Daniel Friedman of the Center for Torah Values. Working closely with Florida megachurch pastor Scott Thomas of Free Life Chapel in Lakeland, a campaign has been launched to have churches adopt the IHRA definition.

“When the White House put out its strategy on antisemitism, and, despite a lot of attempted persuasion, did not commit to adopting IHRA as the definition of antisemitism, it came under the sway of other influences,” Friedman told Israel365 News. “Essentially, [their definition] is meaningless. It has been a major blow to efforts in getting IHRA to be the definition of antisemitism, and, of course, the reason why that’s so important is IHRA is the only definition that includes anti-Israel feeling, or anti-Zionism as part of the definition of antisemitism.”

For Friedman, who has begun a petition to get churches to sign up adopting the IHRA definition, the importance of the Land of Israel to Christians as the biblical setting for their faith puts modern Israel in a unique position compared to other countries. Despite an often turbulent relationship, “today, we live in a time when Christians have done unbelievable things, for Israel, for the Jewish people,” Friedman stated.

“It’s now or never. Unless we get it clear that there is only one definition of antisemitism that is going that is useful in any way, we will lose that battle. It’s being diluted in one [governmental] document, which will be quoted right, left, and center.”

Despite growing acceptance among Christian churches of the need to recognize and fight antisemitism, Friedman says there is much more work to be done than just organizations adopting the IHRA definition.

“Often, with the IHRA definition, it’s happening at a [high] level with these major organizations, but the average person on the street hasn’t even heard of it.

“Unless we’re bringing it down to the street level, to the congregational level, to analysts, and when we’re talking to pastors, it’s not just, you know, adopted and signed off, and that’s the end of the story. That means following up. It means that you educate the congregation,” Friedman told Israel365 News. 

“Those that have signed on, we’re going to be giving follow up with an educational package, meaning how to let your church members know what antisemitism is and what does it mean when they see it? The only way that we can truly make changes is with each individual human being on this planet one by one.”

The link to join this timely and historic campaign may be found here:

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