Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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University of Minnesota Palestinian Students Upset Over School Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

The Minnesota Hillel is asking University of Minnesota students to vote for a definition of antisemitism during the annual all-campus election referendum.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which consists of delegates from 34 countries, established the working definition of antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Hillel’s usage of the IHRA working definition, particularly portions which classify some critiques of Israel as antisemitic, has drawn backlash from University community members who are concerned with free speech suppression.

A number of other colleges and universities, such as Arizona State University and the University of Georgia, have adopted the IHRA definition in the 2020-21 school year.

After garnering 850 student signatures last week, Hillel was able to successfully bring the question of defining antisemitism to the University’s all-campus elections ballot. The signature benchmark to get a question on the referendum is 800.

Students can vote on the definition, along with several candidates for student government, in the all-campus election from March 22 to March 26. If adopted, the definition would reflect the student body’s opinion rather than be legally binding.

series of antisemitic incidents have taken place at the University over the past few years, where fliers with swastikas could be seen plastered around campus. In 2017, the University of Minnesota Police Department arrested an 18-year-old University student for allegedly vandalizing a desk in the 17th Avenue Residence Hall with a swastika.

Hillel student president Kelsey Bailey said her friends have experienced Holocaust jokes from University professors. According to Bailey, the University should be doing more to address antisemitism on campus.

“I’m hoping that there’d be some form of action from the administration, whether that’s education for student government or professors or students on antisemitism and like what it actually is and how it happens on college campuses,” Bailey said.

“The IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition is currently the most widely accepted definition, providing an educational tool for various governments, organizations, and universities around the world,” said Hillel assistant director Mackenzie Litt in an email to the Minnesota Daily. “Adopting this definition would provide the U with a compass.”

According to IHRA, a manifestation of antisemitism includes targeting the state of Israel. An example of an antisemitic act could be “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.” However, the IHRA states that criticisms of Israel that could be applied to other countries are not antisemitic.

Secretary of Students for Justice in Palestine, Kenza El Abdallaoui said associating antisemitism with critiquing the Israeli government dilutes real antisemitism. “It puts Palestinians and it puts their allies in a position where they either have to choose between their human rights or being labeled an antisemite, and that is not a position that anybody should be in,” El Abdallaoui said.

To voice support for the referendum, members of Hillel and other student groups submitted their own OpEd to the Minnesota Daily, discussing the rising tide of hate crimes against minorities, including Jews. According to the letter, accepting the IHRA definition would “signal to Jewish students — and other minority groups — that the University of Minnesota will not stand idly by in the face of rising hate and discrimination.”

“Over and over again, we have witnessed the dangerous intersection of white supremacy and hatred of minorities,” the letter stated. “For many of these hateful individuals, anti-Jewish animus, constructed on wild conspiracy theories, forms the foundation of their hatred.”

In response, Bailey, the Hillel student president, said the main focus of the definition was not Israel, but to help University community members understand what antisemitism can look like.

“This referendum is about antisemitism. … The definition of this is dealing with antisemitic acts on campus, it’s rhetorical and physical manifestations for the Jewish and non-Jewish community,” Bailey said. “This definition, with this example that relates to Israel — it’s intended to distinguish between legitimate, valid criticism of Israel and what might be otherwise thinly-veiled forms of antisemitism. So, [for example] accusing Jews of dual-loyalty, comparing Israeli politicians to Nazis and collectively holding all Jewish people responsible for the actions of Israel.”

Anna Casey, Hillel’s vice president of campus affairs, said the reason why Hillel chose to use the IHRA definition over others was that more than 30 countries, including the United States government, have accepted the definition.