June 16, 2024
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Putting Dictionaries at the Forefront: Defining Antisemitism With the IHRA Framework

In today’s world, where words hold immense power to shape beliefs and actions, the importance of clear and accurate definitions cannot be overstated. Among the terms that demand precise delineation, few are as crucial as “antisemitism.” This term not only denotes bigotry and discrimination but also carries the weight of centuries of prejudice and persecution against Jewish communities worldwide.

As societies grapple with the complexities of addressing antisemitism, it becomes increasingly evident that a unified and comprehensive definition is paramount. Enter the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism—a widely acknowledged framework adopted by numerous governments, institutions and organizations globally. Despite its widespread recognition, the IHRA definition has yet to find its place in mainstream dictionaries, a significant oversight with profound implications.

At the heart of the matter lies the question of who has the authority to define antisemitism. Dictionaries, often seen as impartial repositories of language, wield significant influence in shaping public discourse and understanding. However, by neglecting to incorporate the IHRA definition, dictionaries inadvertently dictate policy on a matter that extends beyond mere linguistic semantics. Antisemitism is not merely a term for academic debate; it is a societal scourge that demands unequivocal condemnation and concerted action.

By integrating the IHRA definition into their entries, dictionaries would not only reflect the consensus among governments and organizations but also fulfill their duty to provide accurate and comprehensive definitions. This step would not constitute an infringement upon their autonomy but rather a recognition of their societal role in promoting clarity and understanding.

Some may argue that adopting the IHRA definition deviates from the principle of linguistic neutrality. However, neutrality should not translate to indifference, particularly in the face of hatred and bigotry. Dictionaries have a moral obligation to confront antisemitism head-on, and the IHRA definition offers a robust framework for doing so.

Furthermore, the absence of a universally accepted definition of antisemitism breeds confusion and ambiguity, allowing perpetrators to exploit loopholes and evade accountability. By enshrining the IHRA definition in dictionaries, we establish a common language for identifying and addressing antisemitism, thereby bolstering our collective efforts to combat this pernicious form of prejudice.

Moreover, the inclusion of the IHRA definition in dictionaries would serve as a valuable educational tool, empowering individuals to recognize and challenge antisemitic attitudes and behaviors. In an era where misinformation runs rampant online and hate speech finds new avenues of expression, equipping people with the knowledge to identify and confront antisemitism is more crucial than ever.

In conclusion, dictionaries must embrace their responsibility to define antisemitism accurately and comprehensively. By adopting the IHRA definition, they can play a pivotal role in shaping public understanding and discourse on this pressing issue. It’s time for dictionaries to recognize that defining antisemitism is not merely an academic exercise but a moral imperative, and the IHRA definition provides the most robust framework for fulfilling that obligation.

Mark Rosenberg
Teaneck
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