On Wednesday, September 20th, the German Cabinet announced that it had unanimously adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism used by the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA). In 2016, the 31 member states of the IHRA adopted their definition after a unanimous vote at a plenary session in Bucharest City. The IHRA was the first international body to formally adopt such a definition. Similar decisions to apply this working definition of anti-Semitism have been adopted by the governments of Romania, the United Kingdom, and Austria. The European Commission also, as of April 25th, has the working definition of anti-Semitism posted on its official website.
Following the announcement, the Minister of the Interior for Germany, Thomas de Maizière stated that “History made clear to us, in the most terrible way, the horrors of which anti-Semitism can lead.” The push to adopt the definition was spearheaded by the independent Bundestag Commission on Anti-Semitism, which has also urged the appointment of a federal commissioner for anti-Semitism affairs. This move for a federal commissioner has been championed by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) as well, with the director of the AJC, Deidre Berger, promoting it as essential for “fighting anti-Semitism as well as responding to current manifestations.”
Earlier this year, Romania pledged to apply the IHRA definition as well. The Romanian government asserted that “…Romanian society will be provided with an efficient guide that will contribute toward better understanding and definition of anti-Semitic actions as well as of the consequences deriving therefrom.”
In the United States, the U.S. State Department has a definition which is almost entirely that used by both the EUMC and the IHRA. This definition is, however, only used for international monitoring. In December 2016, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (AAA) was introduced to the U.S. Congress. The AAA would have required the U.S. Department of Education to use the State Department’s definition in evaluating intent of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. The AAA bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in December of last year, did not have a chance to be voted on in the House before the legislative session ended. Several states are currently in the process of drafting their own versions of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.
The adopting and application of a uniform definition of anti-Semitism in both Europe and the United States will help provide the tools to the governments and institutions of countries where resurgent anti-Semitism and bigotry threatens to undermine the progress made in fighting intolerance during the 20th century. Germany’s decision to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism is a wonderful step in the right direction, one that will inspire other countries to follow suit.
The new Chair of the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), the student government body at the University of Wisconsin – Madison (UW), formally apologized to the UW Jewish community for her actions last April. These actions included holding an ASM meeting on the Jewish holiday of Passover and pushing a BDS vote during that meeting, disregarding a request to not raise BDS at that meeting due to the fact that many Jewish students would not be on campus and a previous decision to table the issue of BDS indefinitely. This apology comes on the heels of a unanimously passed ASM resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.
Earlier this spring, the same student who issued this apology, Katrina Morrison, was part of group of students who decided to hold a vote regarding issues of BDS on Passover. This vote came in the wake of a highly contentious 14-page resolution entitled, “Social Responsibility and University Divestment from Corporate Human Rights.” More than half of this resolution sought to condemn Israel. The ASM voted to table this resolution indefinitely on March 29th, after a contentious six-hour debate. More than 50 students appeared before the open forum to discuss the controversial proposal. The next ASM meeting after that debate was, however, scheduled for April 12th, the second night of Passover. This was a night when many Jewish students who cared deeply about this issue would not be on campus due to the holiday. Then-ASM-Budget-Chair, Jewish student Ariela Rivkin, emailed then-ASM-Chair on April 7, requesting that the ASM not take up any legislation concerning “human rights mechanisms or transparency on investment policy” at the April 12 meeting. Because it fell on Passover, Rivkin stated, the vote precluded observant Jewish students from attending and providing input on an issue of importance to the Jewish community. Despite Rivkin’s email, the ASM introduced a different piece of legislation on April 12– a “Bylaw Change for the Creation of Financial Transparency and Ethics Subcommittee” – that addressed similar issues to the March 29 BDS legislation that was supposed to be indefinitely tabled. Furthermore, then-ASM-Vice-Chair Morrison motioned to suspend the rules to allow for an initial vote on this bylaw change to occur at the introductory meeting (even though legislation requires two votes). Concerns were raised that voting would exclude Jewish students. Morrison said it would be a “hassle” to schedule another meeting for the vote. The legislation passed.
The passing of this legislation led Rivkin to file a Student Judiciary suit against Morrison, alleging that many Jewish students would not have been able to attend due to their religious observances. On May 10, 2017, the Student Judiciary overturned the BDS bylaw change, ruling that, “Introducing legislation that members of the Jewish community had expressed interest in, when it was known that these members would not be able to attend due to religious observance, does violate the Constitution.” While this was a huge victory, prior to this decision, the ASM passed yet another BDS resolution at their April 26, 2017 meeting that also seemed to have violated ASM bylaws. This violation stemmed from the introduction of a bill that sought to divest from “private prisons, fossil fuel corporations, border walls, and arms manufacturers.” While the text did not initially include any mention of Israel, ASM members – in an orchestrated fashion – introduced several BDS amendments to this bill. In introducing these amendments, the ASM members, once again, failed to give the Jewish community any sort of notice. At the April 26 meeting, Jewish students reported feeling harassed and intimidated.
Following the April 26 vote, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank condemned the ASM for allowing this controversial divestment measure to take place. The Louis D. Brandeis Center wrote a letter urging further action be taken on this issue, specifically that UW’s nondiscrimination policies be upheld for all students. more »
Following years of disruptive behavior by the University of California at Irvine (UCI)’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), UCI announced last week that it has sanctioned SJP “with disciplinary probation for two academic years.” The university’s action follows steadfast action by several organizations that have spoken up for UCI’s Jewish and pro-Israel students, including the Louis D. Brandeis Center, StandWithUs (SWU), Students Supporting Israel (SSI), and the AMCHA Initiative.
This probation follows SJP’s May disruption of an on-campus discussion sponsored by UCI’s chapter of SSI. The May 10 SSI event featured five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists, appearing on behalf of “Reservists on Duty,” a group of Israeli reservists who attend campus meetings to discuss IDF policy. The SSI meeting was interrupted repeatedly by shouting, chanting, and other verbal disruption by the students affiliated with SJP. Several of the interruptions featured profanity, including the SJP members repeatedly screaming “F-you” at the IDF reservists. Videos of the exchanges were captured by Gary Fouse, a retired UCI instructor who has done much to chronicle anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity on that campus over the years.
In two strongly-worded letters sent in May and July, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, together with SWU and SSI, chronicled the abuses suffered by the students, and urged UCI to rectify the situation. The May letter insisted that “more must be done … to prevent SJP from engaging in this type of discriminatory and disruptive behavior again against Jewish and pro-Israel students.” LDB, SWU, and SSI reminded UCI of their obligations under federal law, as well as the UC Regent’s “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance,” which announced that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” The Brandeis Center also signed onto a letter organized by the AMCHA Initiative, signed by a total of 53 groups, urging further action.
After UCI Chancellor Gillman and Vice Provost Haynes acknowledged the severity of the disruption and professed concern for the safety and security of all students, LDB, SWU, and SSI sent a second letter in July outlining violations of the California Penal Code and UCI Policy and urging the UCI administration to take forceful disciplinary action. “It is unfortunate that UCI needed to be reminded of its legal obligations in this way,” LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “But we are glad that UCI is now signaling that it will protect its students from such outrages in the future. This new action is deserving of praise.” more »
Review of David Hirsh, Contemporary Left Antisemitism (Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2017)
The United Kingdom’s Labour party and its trade unions, like the University College Union (UCU), consider themselves progressive and “antiracist” spaces. As such, these arenas pride themselves on being free of prejudice in the form of sexism, racism, or otherwise. And, yet, these same institutions have come to tolerate, and perhaps promote, hatred in the form of anti-Semitism. David Hirsh set out to write his book, Contemporary Left Antisemitism, as a former member of the UCU and a leading activist, speaking out against the anti-Semitism present within this realm and current editor of the online journal, Engage. In the book, Hirsh explores how these “antiracist” spaces in the UK allowed for institutional racism to foster, and why it continues. While this book focuses primarily on anti-Semitism in the contemporary left of the UK, it draws a relation to the rise in the anti-Semitism from the left on a global scale.
On the left, individuals engage in anti-Semitism most when they talk about Israel – they do so in ways that demonize, delegitimize, or hold Israel to a double standard. Singling Israel out is, to many progressives, well-founded and not anti-Semitic; it is excused as ‘criticism’ against Israel and its policies. Should anybody speak out and call it what it is, anti-Semitic, the accuser is then discredited and accused of ‘bad faith’ and trying to ‘silence criticism against Israel.’ Herein lies the “Livingstone Formulation,” a term which Hirsh coined to explain the ways in which progressives deflect allegations of anti-Semitism. And, so, antisemitism is tolerated.
Progressive institutions went beyond tolerating it, though. They served as incubators for anti-Semitism to flourish. Because the so-called antiracist and progressivist left supposedly stands up against all forms of hatred, they see themselves as the warriors for the oppressed in the fight against oppressors. Such a mentality arose from what Hirsh calls a ‘campist mentality’ wherein we now engage in politics of position, regarding your position in the world, rather than a politics of reason. In terms of position, Israel and Zionists are thrown into the oppressor camp, as allegedly part of a larger white imperialist spirit that can be accused of all that is wrong in the world. Antizionism, then, becomes legitimized as a fight against the white oppressor.
Hirsh concedes that while some criticism of Israel is indeed wholly legitimate and not anti-Semitic, much of the hostility to Israel is anti-Semitic. Hirsh explains how people have come to conflate ‘Jew’ with ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’ such that criticizing Israel and Zionism is a route to target Jews. Individuals on the left (among others) will distinguish between antizionism and anti-Semitism, but Hirsh does not believe it is valid to distinguish them absolutely – there is some crossover. He draws upon historical tropes and stereotypes used against Jews throughout history, primarily medieval blood libel and conspiracy theories, and highlights how they are now being re-appropriated towards ‘Zionists.’ more »
“With the advent of the Internet, antisemitic messages are disseminated more quickly and widely than ever before, and often go unchallenged,” opens a new report from the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA) based out of Indiana University. The report, “Best Practices to Combat Antisemitism on Social Media,” was prepared for the U.S. Department of State as part of an effort between Indiana University and the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. The study, conducted in spring of 2017, utilized the same definition of anti-Semitism used by the U.S. State Department. The study saw the ISCA send out a survey to non-governmental organizations, who have worked against anti-Semitism, 17 of which took the time to respond. The NGOs represented were from more than ten different countries. The second part of the report revolved around searching social media platforms for anti-Semitic posts, with a particular focus on Twitter, then analyzed the background of the repeat offenders.
The study reports that, based on the surveys conducted, “traditional” or “classic” anti-Semitism is the most prevalent form of anti-Semitism found on social media platforms. Stereotypes include the idea that Jews control the financial world, media and Hollywood, and are engaged in an attempt to destroy traditional or nationality-centered societies. Many of the organizations that were surveyed also noted a rise in “what can be termed as the new antisemitism” directed against Israel, which attempts to portray Israelis or Zionists as the “new Nazis.” The study’s analysis of Twitter messages also revealed that the most influential disseminators of anti-Semitic messages are white nationalist individuals, many who “self-identified or [are] clearly affiliated [with the] alt-right.” The study further documented the patterns in anti-Semitic terminology, and discovered that the three most active posters of the term “Holohoax,” used to indicate a belief the holocaust is a fabrication, garnered between 4,884 and 18,265 followers. These numbers display the large pool of supporters that gather around these anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.
The study credits NGOs around the world with being at the “forefront of flagging anti-Semitic content” online, but points to the “vast quantity of anti-Semitic messages and accounts” as an obstacle to erasing this form of bigotry from social media. Another stated obstacle is the reluctance of social media platforms to block content or users for “ideological and financial reasons,” many of which revolve around issues of “free speech.” In European nations, governments increasingly pressure internet service providers and social media platforms to remove hateful content. In the case of the United States, however, this is rarely the case. Few NGOs are engaged in counter speech, or the stating of counter narratives by questioning and rejecting anti-Semitic logic, as it is believed that these counter narratives have difficulty reaching the “target audiences” and not granting anti-Semitic messages more of a platform than if they were never challenged in the first place. more »
The film, Whitewashed: Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, can be found online at J-TV, a YouTube channel dedicated to global Jewish interests and issues. A short documentary, it is a partner film to a book of the same title and these are part of The Whitewashed Project. The project was produced and self-financed by a group of individuals in the United Kingdom who are invested in the subject matter.
David Hirsh is the main narrator of the film. As a member of a trade union, a member of the Labour party, and as a Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London – all this while being Jewish – he was inspired to partake in the project.
Overall, the project can be seen as a direct response to the Chakrabati Report, a report written after Shami Chakrabati led an inquiry regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. In her findings, Chakrabati concluded that there was not systematic anti-Semitism to be found within the rank and file of the UK’s Labour Patrty.
Immediately after being published, the report drew criticism from many individuals in the Jewish community. Taking just two months to complete, the report appears to have been put together hastily and to have disregarded key content. Many submissions of written testimony by Jewish members of parliament (MPs) were cast aside, bypassed, or otherwise condensed to seemingly belittle the issues these submissions rose. This film is important in bringing the omissions to the public’s attention; a report which ultimately found there to not be an issue of anti-Semitism, was in fact anti-Semitic in dismissing many of the claims otherwise.
The issue with anti-Semitism in the Labour party is the same issue seen in many circles on the Left and that is that anti-Semitism in these spheres is manifesting itself in the form of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric. Many individuals who are the worst offenders in the Labour party have been excused as being merely critical to Israel. In fact, those alleging anti-Semitism are discredited by claims that they are “disingenuously trying to silence criticism” of Israel. However, as Dr. Eve Garrard clarified, while anti-Zionism “need not be anti-Semitism,” it “most often is” which is an important statement to distinguish the difference. The Chakrabati Inquiry erred in characterizing anti-Israel statements and anti-Semitism as two different things absolutely, ignoring the instances when the anti-Israel statements crossed the line.
Whether you are an MP or a concerned citizen, whether you are in the UK or otherwise, it is nonetheless important to watch this film. If anything, it should expose the viewer to concrete examples of modern-day anti-Semitism on the left, and how easily it is now being overlooked.
In response to the Co-operative Group’s boycott of Israeli goods, four U.S. states have banned investments in the company as a result of their respective anti-BDS laws: Arizona, New York, Illinois, and Florida. The New York State Office of General Services and the State Board of Administration of Florida placed the Co-Op Group in a list of institutions determined to participate in acts of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and both Arizona and Illinois included it in its list of “prohibited investments.”
The Manchester-based supermarket retailer initiated its anti-Israel policy in 2009 when it refused to stock products from Israeli West Bank settlements. The company then expanded its policy in 2012 to bar engagement with Israeli suppliers known to work with settlements. The boycott directly cuts ties with the four main exporters of Israeli fresh produce, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh, and Mehadrin, and severs contracts worth up to £350,000 under the pretense of “exceptional circumstances,” stating on its website that “this position does not constitute a boycott of Israeli businesses. We remain committed to sourcing produce from and trading with Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements.” However, Luke Akehurst, director of the We Believe in Israel, a grassroots group that campaigns against boycotts, declared, “The Co-op Group’s boycott of certain Israeli suppliers has done nothing to advance peace and coexistence or to help the Palestinians. All it has achieved is to alienate Jewish and other pro-Israel customers…”
The Co-op Group is the 5th largest retail grocery chain the United Kingdom, and the only major British retailer to boycott Israeli goods.The Co-op Group is also a major funder of the Co-operative Party, which holds an electoral pact with the Labour Party. Given the current balance of power in Britain, the company’s boycott does not come as a shock. The Labour Party has increasingly faced criticism for the anti-Semitic rhetoric of its party, with up to 50 members facing suspension for allegations of anti-Semitism between April and June of 2016. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has been quoted referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as his “friends,” and has faced severe backlash for his failure to adequately respond to anti-Semitism within his own party
Following the general election last month where Corbyn and his party scored a major electoral victory over the Conservative party currently in power, the American state’s anti-BDS actions are all the more significant. Banning the Co-op Group’s financial services and retail stores from their states serves as an act of defiance against a political climate that has increasingly alienated members of the British Jewish community. The action also represents a significant victory for efforts to ensure that state anti-BDS bills are being implemented. New York, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona’s actions follow stipulations within their respective anti-BDS resolutions that require the compilation of a list of companies that engage in boycotting activities against Israel, pursuant to each state’s definition of BDS.
On Thursday, June 27th, North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper signed an anti- Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) bill into law, making North Carolina the 22nd state to enact such a law or resolution. North Carolina joins states like Nevada and Kansas, which recently passed similar measures.
While not all anti-BDS legislation is identical, it all has the same goal of combating the BDS movement. The North Carolina bill calls for divestment from, and bars state agencies from contracting with, companies who have chosen policies to boycott Israel.
The North Carolina bill, entitled “Divestment from Companies That Boycott Israel,” saw a great deal of support throughout the North Carolina state legislature. Before coming to the Governor’s desk, it passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 96-19 and the state Senate by a vote of 45-3. Such widespread support is telling of North Carolina’s important relationship with Israel, a country that has “long been an important trading partner of North Carolina”, as highlighted by CEO of the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary, Carin Savel. Israel is indeed essential for trade in the state, affirmed by the astounding $140 million worth of exports and commerce North Carolinian businesses do with Israel every year.
Last week, the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) at Ryerson University, located in Toronto, Canada, officially printed a definition of anti-Semitism that the RSU had adopted in March 2017, as recommended by the “Ottawa Protocol.”
The Ottawa Protocol reaffirms the EUMC’s working definition of anti-Semitism – the EUMC now being recognized as the Fundamental Rights Agency (“FRA”). The EUMC working definition is similar to the definition used by the U.S. State Department. These definitions account for anti-Semitism that may hide under the guise of Israel criticism, among other forms. In addition to this affirmation, the Ottawa Protocol also advises that universities should use the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism and that “there should be zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.” According to the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs, a Canadian Jewish advocacy organization, Ryerson was the first Canadian University to adopt the Ottawa Protocol.
Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and StandWithUs Canada spearheaded this effort on Ryerson’s campus. The new definition came just in time, right after reports that the head of a university program “resigned over anti-Semitic tweets.” Setting a definition for anti-Semitism is an important step for a university to affirm its commitment to standing up for its students in the face of anti-Semitism. This sentiment was shared by RSU president Obaid Ullah, who wrote that “Jewish community members had lost faith in the RSU and did not feel supported” prior to this decision to create a definition.
In the United States, several schools’ student governments have passed similar resolutions. Such resolutions were accomplished by the student government’s at San Diego State University, East Carolina University (ECU), UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSB, Capital University, and Indiana University. As told by a member of the Student Government Association at ECU, the students had decided to “take a stand with the Jewish community at [ECU]” by passing a resolution to define anti-Semitism in line with the definition adopted by the U.S. State Department.
The State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has remained vacant since July 1 and the office remains without staff. The position, established by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, is responsible for, “U.S. foreign policy on anti-Semitism” and, “develops and implements policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism.” The Special Envoy is key for the US to remain a partner in staying on abreast of and combating global anti-Semitism. It is much like the EU commission’s appointed Coordinators, each focused on their respective communities.
Despite the importance of this position, rumors have long suggested that the envoy position might be eliminated altogether. While a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mark Toner, says that the Trump administration will appoint someone to fill the position of Special Envoy, current circumstances seem to challenge this notion.
The vacancy is especially extraordinary given recent efforts to enhance the role of the Special Envoy. A bipartisan bill , spearheaded by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), was introduced in the Senate, in June 2017, as a companion bill to one introduced earlier this year in the House. The bill, entitled a “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act,” would elevate the existing position to ambassador-level and ban the use of “double hatting” or giving the position to someone who already has another assignment.
The sponsors of this bill believe it is important to not only maintain, but also bolster this position. Sen. Gillibrand highlighted that “at a time of growing anti-Semitism across the globe and here at home, it is vital that we prioritize the fight against the scourge,” adding that “it would ensure that we have someone in that role who can raise the profile of this issue within the [State] Department and in all of our diplomatic affairs.” These views were echoed by Sen. Rubio when he said that “The United States must remain committed to combatting anti-Semitism in all its forms, wherever it appears.”
Former envoys, Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman, know firsthand how essential this envoy is. They emphasized that anti-Semitism has not subsided and that leaving the position vacant would be “a huge step backward.” Rosenthal has also noted how important the job was in defining what anti-Semitism is because, for people going to foreign posts, “[if] they don’t know what antisemitism is they don’t know what to report.”
The US State Department, home to this Special Envoy, uses a definition of anti-Semitism that is very similar to that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The European Parliament adopted the IHRA definition just last month. However, the US has yet to provide a government-wide definition for anti-Semitism to be used for domestic purposes. Indeed, Ira Forman, who formerly held the role as Special Envoy, pointed out that it is vital to “define anti-Semitism clearly to more effectively combat it,” while speaking at a conference in Europe in March 2016. Thus, the bill also joins other recent legislative efforts to bolster the fight against anti-Semitism such as the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act.