May 30, 2023
Contact: Sarah Stern
EMET Expresses its Wholehearted Support for the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, and Applauds the White House for Beginning the Conversation, but Feels It Did Not Nearly Go Far Enough
(May 30, 2023, Washington, DC) –
On Thursday, responding to the unfortunate and dramatic rising tide of antisemitic incidents across the United States, the Biden administration released its long-awaited report on antisemitism. The report acknowledges that although Jews represent just 2.4 percent of the population they are, according to the FBI, the object of 63 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes. Many Jews throughout the country are feeling harassed, threatened, and unsafe when they openly exhibit expressions of Judaism or of their solidarity with the state of Israel. This is occurring at a greater and greater frequency on streets throughout our nation, (most specifically in New York within the visibly Orthodox community, where Jews are often physically assaulted and harassed), and has stealthily been invading our nation’s boardrooms, Hollywood, our athletic fields, within academic admissions committees of our nation’s elite universities, and most abundantly and unimpeded within our nation’s college classrooms and campuses
The American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) 2023 State of Antisemitism in America report revealed 26 percent of American Jews have been personally targeted by antisemitism in the past 12 months, 4 in 10 American Jews changed their behavior at least once out of fear of antisemitism, 89 percent believe antisemitism is a problem in the United States, and 82 percent feel it has increased in the past 5 years;
On the one hand, the White House certainly deserves credit for, at the very least, attempting to address this problem. As we all know, awareness of a problem is the fundamental first step toward solving it, and the White House has begun this much-avoided conversation. The White House Task Force on Antisemitism is attempting to address it through its four pillars of
1.) Education, with an emphasis on the sheer evil of antisemitism that culminated in the Holocaust;
2.) An interagency effort including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and The Department of Justice, and a request for an additional Congressional appropriation of $55 million to protect the safety and security of Jewish houses of worship, schools, and other institutions;
3.) Taking steps to prevent the pernicious normalization of antisemitism, particularly online, where unchecked antisemitic statements remain rampant and have gained into the mainstream;
4) Educating all academic institutions on their obligations to protect students from discrimination based on “shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
However, the White House does not go far enough. It, like so many other institutions, feels compelled to expand to all populations, from the enormously painful and uniquely tragic specific aspects of antisemitism – targeting specifically Jews and Jews alone – to include all hatreds. As much as we do not in any way, any shape, or any form condone any sort of racism or hatred, the universalization and abstraction of the ancient hatred that is uniquely endured by the Jewish community seem to, most frequently, get generalized to other groups. This does not occur when other groups are under attack.
The irony of this is encapsulated in the fact that, particularly, when Hamas levels attacks on the state of Israel, the American Jewish community is uniquely singled out for attack. Yet groups such as CAIR (Council for American Islamic Relations), which has widely and vociferously endorsed Hamas attacks on Israel, have been consulted for this task force.
In an age when there is an increased and heightened sensitivity to the rights of nearly every other minority group, Jewish students on college campuses throughout the country are made to feel singled out because of their very identity, No other group has to endure chants analogous to those which are nearly ubiquitous on US campuses “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free”. This rampantly heard chant leaves absolutely no room for the state of Israel. This is not concerning a particular policy statement coming from one government of the state of Israel. It is about its very existence.
This creates an unhealthy attitude for many Jewish students throughout college campuses because it involves an assault on their very personal identities. In a recent survey, (February 2023), more than one-third of current American Jewish college students or recent graduates reported feeling uncomfortable or unsafe on their college campus, so much so that they have felt it necessary to conceal their Jewish identities. Our Jewish students have been subjected to exclusion by their peers from student clubs and college governmental organizations and to having been singled out – often derided or judged by a different standard – by their professors.
Take for example the Teaching Assistant (T.A.) at John Hopkins who had publicly tweeted: “ethical dilemma: if you have to grade a Zionist student’s exam, do you still give them all their points even though they support your ethnic cleansing? like idk.” Attached to the tweet was a poll that included two choices: “yes rasha. be a good ta,” or “free palestine! fail them.” This occurred in 2020, there were no known repercussions to the T.A. I would like to offer you a simple thought experiment: Imagine if, rather than “Zionist students” she had written “Black students.”
At Columbia University, a student was called out of a T.A.’s study session and taken to the dean for opprobrium because he had been speaking “language imperialisms”, (i.e., Hebrew). When he tried to get recourse for the administration, he was offered psychological or theological services, minimizing, and diminishing the legitimacy of his complaint.
At the State University of New York, New Paltz, two girls were raped. They, therefore, established a Sexual Assault Awareness Club on their own campuses. When it was found out that these students were Jewish, they were barred from the very club they had established.
Stories like this are ubiquitous. Many Jewish students have felt that they have no recourse, what-so-ever, and remain intimidated by their peers and academic bullies.
The issue at hand is that every single academic institution, stemming from kindergarten through 12th grade, up until our nation’s universities and graduate schools, needs one clear definition of antisemitism. They need to know where to draw the line between appropriate freedom of speech and hate speech on campus.
We at EMET believe that there is a clear distinction between the hate speech that is allowed in the town’s square under the first amendment, and the sort of speech that is permissible to make our nation’s educational institutions healthy places for each individual student to learn – where their very identity is not attacked at its core, making a student feel conflicted, ashamed, and emotionally and sometimes physically, harassed.
Under the guise of free speech, Jewish students, alone, are systematically subjected to harassment and intimidation by their peers and professors for any loyalty to the state of Israel or the Jewish people.
That is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is so critically important, today. It allows for the First Amendment right of freedom of speech regarding a particular policy of the state of Israel. It does not allow for the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, or comparison with the state of Israel to the Nazis.
That is where it differs from the Nexus definition, which, among other things feels it is permissible to oppose the very existence of Zionism and the state of Israel, including even criticism of the very creation of the state of Israel.
Our State Department employs the IHRA definition to lecture other governments on how to behave toward Jews. 51 of the 53 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations have endorsed this definition. Our own State Department has used this IHRA definition for years, as has 42 independent nations including the United Kingdom, Austria, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and France. It is only the radical fringe that has rejected this definition.
The IHRA definition remains the gold standard. Including the Nexus definition is simply bowing to the radical, antisemitic, uber-progressive wing of the Democratic party.
Says Sarah Stern, Founder and President of EMET. “We, as Jews, always first express a “Hakarat HaTov”—an acknowledgment of the good and are grateful for much of the good in the White House Commission on Antisemitism. Unfortunately, however, including the Nexus definition as part of the report has invalidated much of that good. We need one, unambiguous standard definition that will be able to help identify the problem at its core. That is the necessary and fundamental first step in providing for a solution.”
About The Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, EMET is a pro-American, pro-Israel, and pro-human rights, foreign policy think tank and policy shop in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.emetonline.org
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