Letter: Civil Rights Groups Demand DOE Reject IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

False Conflation of Criticism of Israel and Antisemitism Perpetuates Anti-Arab, Anti-Muslim, and Anti-Palestinian Discrimination
The Center for Constitutional Rights joined Palestine Legal and over a dozen other civil and human rights organizations in submitting a letter to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to reiterate the call for OCR to reject codifying the distorted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, into agency rules, policies, or decisions. The letter, sent on January 16, 2024 along with the included index of case examples, demonstrates how the IHRA definition has been used to suppress advocacy for Palestinian freedom, infringing on bedrock free speech rights and perpetuating anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Arab and Islamophobic bigotry that has intensified since October 7. The letter also notes that schools and universities have failed to address and, in some instances, have actively contributed to this hostile and chilling environment for Palestinians and their allies, often justifying their actions by relying on the same conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish animus that is at the heart of the IHRA definition.
The letter followed up on an August 31, 2022 letter to OCR that the Center for Constitutional Rights and sixteen other organizations joined, which described how the IHRA working definition infringes on First Amendment rights and contributes to suppression of protected advocacy, and included a list of case examples on college and university campuses. OCR has delayed the release of its proposed rule on Executive Order 13899 (Combating Antisemitism) until December 2024.
The Center for Constitutional Rights previously advocated against ultimately unsuccessful attempts to redefine antisemitism in the U.S. Congress, and opposed the use of the IHRA working definition by OCR under the previous administration.
These letters are part of a longstanding effort to challenge legislation, guidance, and policies that threaten core First Amendment-protected activity in an attempt to silence Palestinian rights advocacy. For more information about suppression of free speech in support of Palestinian rights, including efforts to restrict Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, see the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal’s 2015 report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the U.S.


Last modified 

January 19, 2024