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Beinart: In endorsing IHRA and opposing Islamophobia, Republicans guilty of racist double standards

December 30, 2021 at 3:50 pm

Peter Beinart [Flickr]

Republican opposition to the creation of an envoy to monitor Islamophobia overseas while advocating for the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism reveals the racist double standards of Israel’s strongest backers in Congress, argues prominent American Jewish commentator, Peter Beinart.

Writing in the American magazine, Jewish Currents, Beinart commented on the latest split in Washington over tackling anti-Muslim racism during a vote on the creation of the position of “Special Envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia”. Congress was split along party lines. While 219 Democrat representatives voted in favour of the proposed Bill, every single Republican voted no.

In explaining why they think that the State Department does not need an envoy to combat Islamophobia, Republican lawmakers employed anti-Muslim tropes and double standards which, if applied to any other minor community, would have rightly been slammed as racist.

Baseless claims about the threat to free speech was the common mantra of Republicans opposing the Bill during the floor debate. It was argued that because the legislation does not define Islamophobia, it could be interpreted in ways that violate constitutional rights.  “Without clear definitions,” warned Republican, Guy Reschenthaler, “even First Amendment-protected speech could qualify for an investigation.”

For Beinart, their remark was typical of the double standards often displayed when confronting anti-Muslim racism. “The irony is that in warning that an overly broad definition of anti-Muslim bigotry might infringe on individual freedom, congressional Republicans inadvertently highlighted the ways in which an overly broad definition of anti-Semitism already does” said the 50-year-old commenting on the IHRA’s chilling effect on free speech.

READ: ‘Seriously flawed’ definition of anti-Semitism must be dropped, says Jewish coalition

Beinart explained that a similar law used to create an envoy for anti-Semitism in 2004 did not offer a definition of Jew-hatred but, nonetheless, this did not prevent such a position from being created. He argued that that silence on that point had allowed establishment Jewish groups to successfully agitate for an extremely expansive definition of anti-Semitism when, in 2016, the State Department began using the IHRA definition. “And that definition has made the anti-Semitism envoy exactly what congressional Republicans fear the Islamophobia envoy could become: a threat to free speech”.

US officials and pro-Israel groups have deployed this sweeping conception of anti-Semitism to such a degree that opposition to illegal Israeli settlements was considered anti-Semitic under the administration of former US President Donald Trump. The global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s military occupation was also labelled an anti-Jewish group.

The “push to use the IHRA definition and equate BDS with anti-Semitism has threatened free speech” Beinart stressed. He cited the case in Texas where a Palestinian American speech pathologist was told in 2018 that, according to state law, she could not work in the Austin school district unless she pledged not to boycott Israel. A lawyer who would not sign the anti-boycott pledge was prevented from working as a public defender in Arizona. A newspaper in Arkansas was required to oppose boycotts in order to receive advertising from a state university.

“There’s no evidence that any of this bothers the congressional Republicans who claim an Islamophobia envoy would menace free expression” said Beinart, pointing to the double standards of Republican politicians who have been muted over the chilling effect that the IHRA is having on free speech. While Republican members of congress have been warning that the creation of an Islamophobia monitor could lead to the “investigation” of protected speech, they were co-sponsoring legislation that would require the Department of Education to use the IHRA definition when it investigates allegations of campus anti-Semitism.

“Imagine if the circumstances were reversed” asks Beinart: “If American politicians argued against an anti-Semitism envoy by publicly fretting that the position would limit their ability to accuse Jews of secretly controlling America’s banks, yet cheered on an Islamophobia envoy who promoted laws prohibiting Americans who boycott Saudi Arabia from working in America’s public schools. It’s hard for most American Jews to envision such a reality. But it is the equivalent of the world in which American Muslims currently live”.