To the editor:
Katherine Head’s Oct. 15 letter to the editor calling on the Montgomery County Council to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism demonstrates a lack of understanding about antisemitism, anti-Israel rhetoric, and constitutionally protected free speech. Ms. Head inaccurately states that the IHRA definition “wrongly identifies criticism of Israel as antisemitic.” In fact, the definition clearly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” The definition allows for vigorous criticism of Israel’s government and polices; however, it veers into antisemitism when critics deny or delegitimize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington unequivocally supports the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland of Israel; that is Zionism. And as the latest Pew studies reflect, the vast majority of American Jews consider Israel an important part of their identity. The JCRC also supports a two-state solution that realizes the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Ms. Head disingenuously conflates our county’s much-needed fight against antisemitism with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nothing in the IHRA definition labels Palestinians or their allies antisemitic or silences pro-Palestinian activism.
The JCRC, as the umbrella group for over 100 synagogues and other Jewish institutions in the greater Washington, D.C., region, is committed to ensuring that hate has no place in Montgomery County. The spike in antisemitic and other bias incidents in our backyard is astounding and requires a strong response by our elected leaders. IHRA is a gold standard definition, used by the U.S. State Department, the European Union, and over 50 states, cities, and counties across the United States. It is one tool in a toolbox to help wipe out this age-old scourge against the Jewish people. Now is not the time for the County Council to remain silent, but rather to forcefully stand up against those who seek to foment hatred and bigotry in our community.
Deborah Miller is the director of Maryland government and community relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington in North Bethesda.
To the editor:
Katherine Head’s letter to the editor states that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism “wrongfully and dangerously conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism.” This is absolutely false and alarmist. Ms. Head should be ashamed of herself for falsely characterizing the issue and stirring up antisemitism with her words. Bethesda Beat should be ashamed of itself for failing to do even rudimentary research and acting irresponsibly by publishing Ms. Head’s piece.
The IHRA website states categorically: “However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Applying a double standard to Israel is 100% a form of antisemitism. In a piece ostensibly about a county resolution, Bethesda Beat gave Ms. Head a platform and space to level out-of-context, agenda-driven accusations against Israel, illustrating perfectly the need for a resolution and much more serious work to fight the scourge of antisemitism. Ms. Head’s lip service to that need notwithstanding, her piece is a perfect example of why the resolution is necessary and why publishers should be held accountable for providing a platform for such hate-mongering.
Andrew Boltax lives in Rockville.
To the editor:
Missing from Katherine Head’s Oct. 15 letter opposing Montgomery County’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is any evidence that any of her conclusions are remotely true. Her baseless accusation that seven of the examples in the definition would stifle legitimate criticism of Israel cannot withstand scrutiny. Not only does she leave out that the IHRA definition specifically states the exact opposite: “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” but she also did not even list the seven examples of antisemitism she states would cause so much harm. If she listed them, her predictions of harm not only to “free speech” but to “civil liberties” would collapse. The seven examples are:
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
These examples, which include Holocaust denial, collective Jewish punishment, accusations of Jewish disloyalty, and using classic symbols and images of antisemitism are some of the things she failed to tell readers were part of the examples she objected to being included in the definition of antisemitism.
Which one of these seven, as she states, would lead to not being able to “rightfully, criticiz[e] a country’s actions”? Instead of making that argument, she makes the unsupported conclusion that the definition is “dangerous” and a threat to free speech. -She even attempts to associate the IHRA definition to Donald Trump. It’s time Montgomery County took a stand against fear and hate and adopt a resolution to define and address antisemitism that includes the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
David Marks lives in Bethesda.
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