In July, the Montgomery County Council postponed action on the proposed Resolution to Define and Address Antisemitism. This resolution was to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s re-definition of antisemitism. This new working definition seems pretty straightforward. However, it is accompanied by 11 examples, seven of which highlight criticism of Israel as markers of antisemitism. While antisemitism is a very real and present issue, this definition wrongfully and dangerously conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. This resolution threatens free speech and civil liberties by harmfully combining criticism of Israel with the very real threat of antisemitism. It is important that our leaders approach the issue of antisemitism and right-wing violence with diligence and care. This resolution does not do that. It undermines true security and safety and stifles free speech.
There is no reason why it should be considered antisemitic to criticize a country, point blank. If someone was critical of Saudi Arabia they wouldn’t be called Islamophobic. The IHRA working definition shields Israel from accountability. There are valid concerns that Israel could be criticized for, such as its treatment of the Palestinian people. As documented by B’Tselem, 10,227 Palestinians to date have been killed by Israeli security forces since September 2000. This is a matter of human rights. Re-defining antisemitism to include criticism of Israel is dangerous. It wrongfully silences those speaking out about the reality Palestinians face under Israeli occupation.
The IHRA definition comes along with other attacks on Palestinians and human rights advocates. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order similarly re-defining antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. The ACLU spoke out against it on the grounds that it suppressed freedom of speech. Jewish Voice for Peace has also opposed the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. A short excerpt from their statement says, “Make no mistake: Legislating the IHRA definition is not about Jewish safety. The only thing it secures is impunity for decades of violating international law and trampling on Palestinian human rights.”
Montgomery County should reject the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. It dangerously restricts free speech. It leaves room for human rights activists to be smeared and wrongfully labeled as antisemitic when they are, perhaps rightfully, criticizing a country’s actions. This definition is not in the best interests of the Montgomery County community and will not help stop the growing rise of antisemitism. I urge all readers to write to the County Council and tell the members to reject the IHRA working definition.
Katherine Head lives in Brookeville.
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