Stopping antisemitism starts with understanding it. Understanding it starts with a definition.
In Montgomery County we are not immune to rising antisemitism. Our synagogues have been defaced, our religious services Zoom bombed, we walk by armed guards to attend synagogue, and because of harassment related to Israel, our children have become afraid of openly identifying as Jewish.
Montgomery County works hard to recognize and fight hate. Our police department records hate incidents and we have a Committee Against Hate/Violence that reviews these incidents monthly. Its mission is to eradicate acts of hate and intimidation through community education, advocacy, collaboration and legislation. We also have a Racial Equity & Social Justice Policy passed by the County Council. This document defines racial equity, social justice and structural racism. Stopping antisemitism supports this effort. The Southern Poverty Law Center says we will not eradicate anti-black racism in this country until we eradicate antisemitism because antisemitism is the thread that unites all racist groups.
Antisemitism manifests in many ways and to stop it you have to be able to recognize it.- That is why the County Council has introduced a resolution that reaffirms its commitment to counter antisemitism, discrimination and hate. – To provide guidance, the resolution adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA). – A resolution is not a law. The definition is non-binding guidance for the community.
The definition affirms that it is guidance with the words that it uses. It defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” -It gives 11 examples of what antisemitism “might” look like or “could” look like and it says that we should take into account the context in which antisemitism occurs.- It is easy to recognize a swastika as antisemitic.- But many people do not know that shoving a student on the playground and calling them a Zionist because they are Jewish is antisemitic. –Attacking a Jew because of what Israel does is bigotry, plain and simple, and should be recognized as such.
The IHRA definition has been in use in various forms in the U.S. for 15 years. In its original form, it was first adopted by the State Department during the George W. Bush administration and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2007, and it has been affirmed in some form by every presidential administration since.
Opponents fear it will chill criticism of Israel. That is a misconception. The First Amendment protects our right of free speech and the definition itself says “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” In the United States we have robust debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nothing about the definition limits that debate.
The IHRA definition is the most widely used definition of antisemitism worldwide. It has been accepted in 38 countries (some of whom are known critics of Israel), 27 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 800 smaller governmental entities, universities and corporations. It has also been adopted by the European Parliament and the Organization of American States. It is supported and promoted by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which represents 51 of America’s largest and most important Jewish organizations.
In Montgomery County, 85% of religiously motivated hate incidents target Jews despite our community accounting for only 10% of the population. -And in Maryland, there are more incidents against Jews than any other minority except Blacks.
Passing this resolution will foster the community that Montgomery County strives to be where the broad diversity of residents are welcome, safe and at home.
Next week marks the fourth anniversary of the deadliest shooting of Jews in the United State’s at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It would be a good week for the county to pass this resolution.
Susan Stolov is a former television reporter, a resident of Montgomery County and a volunteer vice president of the American Jewish Committee Washington DC Regional Office. In that capacity, for the past three years she has led a group of volunteers who share information about antisemitism with government, corporations and interfaith organizations as part of inclusion programs.
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