We Can’t Let Antisemitism Be Weaponized to Criminalize Solidarity With Palestine

A part of the Sequence

Wrestle and Solidarity: Writing Towards Palestinian Liberation

As Jewish college students and anti-Zionist organizers, we all know that it’s under no circumstances antisemitic to assist the combat for Palestinian liberation. False accusations of such shouldn’t be used to silence Palestinian solidarity activists. That’s why we have been glad to see the Division of Training’s Workplace for Civil Rights ditch a deceptive and discredited definition of antisemitism in its latest reality sheet on defending college students from discrimination.

Whereas the Workplace for Civil Rights resolution marked an vital victory, the Biden administration is at present leaving the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism on the table for potential adoption in December 2023. The wrestle just isn’t over but.

The Workplace for Civil Rights resolution got here after anti-Palestinian foyer teams pressed for the Division of Training to formalize Donald Trump’s 2019 executive order, which asks authorities companies to contemplate the discredited and disputed definition of antisemitism promoted by the IHRA when assessing discrimination costs at public faculties and universities.

Fortunately, the Workplace for Civil Rights declined to undertake the IHRA definition in its most up-to-date fact sheet, which outlines protections for Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist college students, with out suppressing the Palestinian liberation motion.

Adopting the IHRA definition would have been dangerous as a result of reasonably than addressing the roots of antisemitism in Christian hegemony and white supremacy, the definition acts as if criticism of Israel is the supply of antisemitism. The truth is, 6 out of 10 examples of antisemitism supplied throughout the IHRA definition contain speech that’s important of Israel. As an example, it suggests {that a} main instance of antisemitism entails “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The IHRA definition’s hurt is twofold: First, it weaponizes the thought of antisemitism as a device for criminalizing the speech and advocacy of Palestinians and people working in solidarity with them; and second, it obscures what precise antisemitism is definitely about. And in doing so, it wrongly and dangerously pits Palestinian liberation in opposition to Jewish security.

Defenders of the Israeli authorities have already weaponized the IHRA definition to legally goal or threaten classroom discussions, visitor lecturers, movie screenings and pupil organizing in assist of Palestinian freedom. These assaults threaten the core mission of universities: to advertise important inquiry and freedom of expression to ensure that us to be taught. The IHRA definition has been used to aim to close down educational events, and a few have even advised attaching criminal penalties to it — all for attempting to confront Israel’s historic and ongoing practices of settler colonialism, ethnic cleaning and land dispossession.

The IHRA definition additionally obscures the identities of anti-Zionist Jews similar to ourselves, who reject the thought of a Jewish nation-state. With a long history of Jewish opposition to Zionism, we see anti-Zionism as an important a part of our Jewish values and central to our Jewish identities. As such, we refuse to permit the willful misrepresentation of our Judaism with the intention to goal our Palestinian friends. The IHRA definition is a main instance of how this misrepresentation has been disseminated into establishments. It is a actuality that we’ve witnessed firsthand on our campuses.

In three years of organizing with The George Washington College’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, we’ve witnessed and been instantly implicated in our college’s intentional conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

This previous fall, George Washington College professor Lara Sheehi was baselessly accused of antisemitism by StandWithUs, a notoriously anti-Palestinian and right-wing activist group, for voicing political beliefs that critiqued Zionism when discussing Israel with a class of doctoral students. StandWithUs filed the authorized criticism instantly with the Division of Training. It is a foremost instance of why the Workplace for Civil Rights resolution to reject the IHRA definition is significant; had it been institutionalized, the claims in opposition to Sheehi would have authorized standing. Regardless of this, the college’s administration has legitimized the targeting of Sheehi by conducting an independent investigation, deviating from their customary of inner processes and thus, instantly discriminating in opposition to Sheehi.

This is only one instance of George Washington University’s incessant pattern of anti-Palestinian discrimination, a lot of which operates below the guise of preventing antisemitism and defending Jewish college students. What’s dishearteningly ironic about George Washington College’s involvement on this case is that it doesn’t defend anybody. As an alternative, the college’s permittance of a nonaffiliated right-wing group to focus on considered one of their very own professors additional perpetuates anti-Arab discrimination, suppresses educational freedom, and makes their college students and school extra susceptible to exterior threats.

At Berkeley, Legislation College students for Justice in Palestine invited pupil organizations to undertake a bylaw in opposition to internet hosting Zionist audio system in solidarity with the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The following backlash was intense. Media retailers parroted false narratives that the boycott was inherently antisemitic, resulting in doxxing, harassment and focused threats in opposition to primarily college students of coloration. The truth is, Ken Marcus, a Trump Workplace for Civil Rights appointee and main proponent of the IHRA definition, was accountable for fabricating a declare that the bylaw led to “Jewish-free zones” at Berkeley Legislation. After Marcus’s article went viral, multiple organizations sent trucks to our campus that blasted college students’ names and branded them as antisemites. Drivers of the vans harassed Muslim college students strolling to class and even adopted members of Legislation College students for Justice in Palestine to their houses. School canceled courses to guard college students’ security.

Like at George Washington College, this harassment unsurprisingly did not make Jewish students feel any safer. It solely incited violence in opposition to our friends. If adopted, the IHRA definition would supply authorized credibility to the focused harassment confronted by Palestine solidarity organizers at campuses like Berkeley and George Washington College. Anti-Zionist Jewish college students may doubtlessly be accountable for “discriminating” in opposition to our personal neighborhood. Even Kenneth Stern, the important thing architect of IHRA, opposed its adoption by federal companies, emphasizing that IHRA is just a working definition that was “never intended” to restrict campus speech.

Extra broadly, the IHRA definition misrepresents and fails to fight the roots of antisemitism. It overwhelmingly defines antisemitism as mere particular person prejudice — “hatred toward Jews” — which obfuscates how antisemitism is fueled by white nationalism and global capitalism. Isolating antisemitism, reasonably than understanding its place in the identical methods that uphold racism and xenophobia, will solely place each Palestinian and Jewish college students in additional hazard.

This intentional deviation from the collective combat in opposition to institutional oppression will inherently depart different communities of scholars — college students of coloration, disabled college students, queer college students — behind. In an effort to guarantee Jewish college students’ security, we’ve to combat for all college students’ security. It is a principal perception that’s integral to political struggles at universities throughout the nation, which embody those we manage with on our respective campuses. In an effort to dismantle antisemitism, we have to construct security by means of solidarity with actions on and off campus which might be resisting white supremacy, capitalism, policing, settler colonialism and militarism.

Whereas we have a good time the Workplace for Civil Rights resolution in opposition to codifying the IHRA definition into regulation as a motion victory, the combat isn’t over but. Zionist organizations will proceed to stress the Workplace for Civil Rights to make IHRA into regulation below the guise of preventing antisemitism. Whereas the Biden administration considers the IHRA definition, it’s extra important than ever to take care of collective stress throughout all ranges. This contains holding particular person campus directors accountable, petitioning your college pupil associations and calling for fellow organizers to publicly resist efforts to silence the Palestinian freedom motion. At George Washington College, Berkeley, and all universities throughout america, it’s essential that we as Jews, as college students, and as organizers within the collective combat towards liberation, proceed to problem the marginalization of scholars.

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