On November 2, Maryland’s Montgomery County Council unanimously vote to adopt a resolution that embraces the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. The definition has been criticized by human rights organizations and Palestine advocates for including some criticism of Israel.
The measure was opposed by a multiracial and interfaith coalition of nearly forty organizations, including Maryland 2 Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace DC Metro, If Not Now DC, New Synagogue Project, CAIR Maryland, J Street University of Maryland and Food Not Bombs DC. “We reject the false choice between standing up against anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Semitism,” reads a letter from the coalition to the council. “Combating anti-Palestinian racism and anti-Semitism go hand in hand, and misleading policymakers into this false choice threatens our collective security. Rejecting the IHRA is a necessary first step in preventing racism and right-wing bigotry from being codified in law, harming our communities, and in reorienting towards a consistent anti-racism and anti-discrimination policy.
The council began negotiating the resolution in July, but took it off the agenda after just a few days due to a pushback. Activists point out that the item was put on the consent agenda, meaning the debate would take place behind closed doors with no input or engagement from community members. “The process by which amendments were made to this resolution was highly undemocratic,” said Hannah Shraim, co-chair of Maryland 2 Palestine. Mondoweiss. “This whole process has been a roller coaster ride from hell.”
“We have not been consulted for comment on any of these amendments. In addition, over the past few months, the resolution has been placed and removed from the consent agenda on several occasions. The underhand manner in which this resolution was introduced and later adopted shows why the IHRA definition is so problematic.
Prior to the resolution’s passage, Council member Andrew Friedson announced that he had revised the references to Israel, but his change failed to assuage activists’ concerns. A line was added to emphasize that the criticism of Israel was not anti-Semitic, but the same sentence states that “modern forms of anti-Semitism can manifest themselves through anti-Zionism”.
“The IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism mistakenly associates anti-Semitism with much-needed criticism of the Israeli government’s horrific violence against the Palestinian people,” said Sana Siddiq, head of political campaigns and advocacy at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR). Mondoweiss. “In doing so, this racist definition undermines the fight against right-wing repression and makes us all less safe. We must fight white supremacy wherever it manifests itself, which means defending the security of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. That’s why there was a massive pushback from a coalition of 38 organizations, yet the Montgomery County Council passed this harmful resolution anyway.
IHRA working definition
The IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism has come under criticism since it was first developed in 2016. It states that “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed at Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, at Jewish community institutions and religious establishments.
Critics warn that this definition is vague enough to be weaponized against Palestine advocates and used to stifle criticism of Israel. They also point to the eleven “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism” that are attached to the definition. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist enterprise” is one of them, “Applying double standards by demanding [Israel] behavior that is neither expected nor demanded of any other democratic nation” another.
This criterion can of course be used to qualify anti-Zionists as anti-Semites. In 2020, more than 120 Palestinian and Arab scholars, journalists and intellectuals Express their concerns about these standards. “Through the ‘examples’ it provides, the IHRA definition confuses Judaism with Zionism by assuming that all Jews are Zionists, and that the State of Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews,” their statement read. We deeply disagree with this. The fight against anti-Semitism must not be turned into a ploy to delegitimize the fight against the oppression of Palestinians, the denial of their rights and the continued occupation of their land.
This week alone, 128 grantees urged the United Nations to refrain from adopting the definition. “What we oppose and strongly warn against is that the UN would undermine this essential fight and undermine its universal mission to promote human rights by endorsing a politicized definition that is instrumentalized to deter free speech and protect the Israeli government from accountability for its actions,” they explained.
Even the lead author of the IHRA working definition, Kenneth Stern, takes issue with the way it has been implemented, especially in schools. “The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports on anti-Semitism in Europe,” he wrote in a 2016 article. New York Times editorial. “It was never meant to restrict speech on campus.”
Despite these criticisms, hundreds of entities around the world have adopted the definition. In 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that the Biden administration “enthusiastically embraces it.”
Anti-Semitism used as justification to push the definition
The Montgomery County vote came amid nationwide calls for groups to step up their opposition to anti-Semitism. In recent weeks, rapper Kanye West, former President Donald Trump and NBA star Kyrie Irving have all made anti-Semitic comments or stirred up anti-Semitic material. Last month, the hate group Goyim Defense League hung a banner on the Interstate 405 freeway in Los Angeles that read, “Kayne is right about the Jews,” a reference to West’s recent anti-Semitic comments. Some of its members gave Nazi salutes as cars passed.
In response to incidents like these, two members of the Los Angeles City Council called on the city to adopt the IHRA definition. “As we continue to deal with the latest wave of anti-Semitism in Los Angeles, we must expand the tools we have to combat it.
bigotry,” said Council Member Bob Blumenfield in a statement. “There are very powerful voices fanning the flames of hatred against the Jewish people and it is imperative that those of us who believe in an inclusive Los Angeles unite in this fight and make it clear that the rhetoric, anti-Semitic demonstrations and attacks will not resist. .”
The Los Angeles City Council quickly adopted the IHRA’s working definition in another unanimous vote. “As the son of a Holocaust survivor who has placed ‘never forget’ at the heart of my personal mission to lead with compassion and treat all others with dignity, I am incredibly appalled that growing discrimination and hate propaganda against Jews is rearing its head in today’s world day and age,” Council Member Paul Koretz said after the vote. But the color of anti-Semitism is not still overt and doesn’t necessarily resemble the anti-Semitism that my father experienced, yet.
“For the first time, having this working definition provides a tool to educate, identify and challenge language and behavior that leads to violence and has been swept under the rug for too long,” he said. continued.
shraim said Mondoweiss that, while frustrated by the Montgomery County vote, the organization will have effects in the community beyond this single setback. “The work of this coalition is not finished,” she said. “We plan to stay connected and unite once again against divisive initiatives in our county. We will remain the watchdogs of this Council and of future Councils. »
“While we are extremely disappointed with the Council’s decision to adopt such a controversial resolution, we know that it was our pressure that led to the amendments to the resolution in the first place. The reason the IHRA definition has been adopted in other jurisdictions across the country so seamlessly is that how the definition is weaponized is not obvious at first glance. We will continue to advocate throughout Maryland to ensure that the IHRA definition does not continue to be adopted unnoticed.
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