Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin on Monday signed a bill adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism (IHRA) during a ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Richmond.
“When we acknowledge that we live in a world where there is hate and where that hate is translated into despicable actions, we can stand up together and say there is no room for that. When we can clearly define hatred, as this bill does, then we can transform for the good and build a better future,” Youngkin said before Jewish and other civic leaders.
First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the IHRA definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by over 850 governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations. Over 30 countries have adopted it with support from lawmakers across the political spectrum.
In Feburary, Virginia’s legislature approved a bill, HB 1606, adopting the IHRA definition at the recommendation of a state commission created by Youngkin to study antisemitism in the state. The commission noted that while no antisemitic assaults have occurred in Virginia since 2018, 411 antisemitic incidents, including harassment and vandalism had occured in 2021, a 71 percent increase when compared to data for 2020.
Incidents cited by the commission included the graffitiing of a swastika on a Jewish family’s home in Burke and an Arlington student’s airdropping an image of a swastika to his entire class and proceeding to play an online quiz game “using a swastika and a racial slur.” Most notable, however, was an incident from five years ago, the Unite the Right Rally, which took place in Charlottesville in 2017 and led to death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed when a white supremacist attending the rally intentionally crashed into dozens of counter-protestors.
The commission recommended several steps for fighting antisemitism in Virginia, including a state law to adopt the IHRA definition, the establishment of an official process for receiving and investigating complaints of antisemitism in K-12 schools and universities, and new educational standards mandating comprehensive instruction in Jewish history for K-12 students.
The state has made progress in implementing the recommendations. In February, it established a state Task Force to promote education about antisemitism, as well as investigate incidents of it. In April, the Virginia Board of Education adopted new standards for the subject of history requiring students to learn about the Nuremberg Laws, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, and the effect of the Holocaust and antisemitism on the Jewish people and world history. A bill banning public universities from boycotting Israel, SB 1375, did not pass during the latest legislative session, however.
In addition enshrining the IHRA definition in state law, Governor Youngkin and the Virginia General Assembly have also declared May as Jewish Heritage Month, a decision applauded by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington in a statement issued on Monday.
“We especially appreciate our elected representatives in the Executive Branch and the General Assembly learning about the IHRA definition and engaging our communities about the rising problem of antisemitism,” the group said. We know that a definition alone will not erase antisemitism, but it is an important step affirming the Commonwealth will not tolerate anti-Jewish hate.”
Virginia Delegate Anne Ferrell Tata (R), who sponsored the IHRA bill and represents Virginia Beach, said its adoption by the state “is an important first step toward ending antisemitism in Virginia.”