After a charged seven-hour meeting with hundreds of community members in attendance in person and virtually, the ASUC voted Feb. 15 to indefinitely table SR 2022/2023-027, which would institutionalize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, definition of antisemitism.
Written by ASUC Senator Shay Cohen and co-signed by presidents of the campus organizations Chabad, Jews in Science and Engineering, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Challah for Hunger and Hillel Running Club, the resolution aims to establish a “clear” definition of antisemitism on campus in light of the national rise in antisemitic attacks, according to the bill.
The IHRA defines 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.”
The definition, adopted by 40 countries including the United States, is not legally binding and merely serves as a guide for institutions seeking to define antisemitism, according to IHRA’s website.
The controversy over the IHRA definition prompted the large turnout at the senate meeting. Opponents of the bill alleged that the definition interprets criticism of Israel as antisemitic depending on the context, citing the phrases “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” “applying double standards by requiring of (Israel) a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” and “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” from the IHRA definition.
Opponents of the IHRA definition alleged it would restrict the ability to criticize the state of Israel for its occupation of Palestine.
“If we criticize America, we would not be criticizing Christianity,” said Anne Garcia, a Jewish community member in opposition of the bill, during the public comment. “If we’re criticizing Israel, we would not be criticizing Judaism.”
Palestinian and pro-Palestine students such as Christopher Koury, Jamilah McMillan and Saeed Hassan voiced their fear of being silenced by the resolution, alleging that the IHRA definition is unclear about whether criticizing the state of Israel is antisemitic.
Palestinian community member Christopher Koury told the story of Omar Khumour, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy shot dead by Israeli forces.
“When I urge you to vote against the IHRA definition, I also urge you to think of Omar’s story because we don’t want Palestinians’ voices or suffering to ever be forgotten and this is exactly what the IHRA definition will do,” Koury said in opposition to the resolution.
Supporters of the resolution believe it will provide Jewish students with protections on campus in the face of rising antisemitism and allow them to define antisemitism for themselves, alleging that the resolution will make them feel safer.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish people are consistently the most targeted religious community in the United States.
“This is about the safety of Jewish students on our campuses and our communities,” said social media manager for Jewish on Campus Galia Wechsler in support of the resolution. “A majority of hate crimes on the basis of religion in the U.S. are targeted at Jews — a disproportionate 60% to the 2% of the population Jews make up. IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism provides us with a framework to combat antisemitism and hate speech while also championing free speech.”
Anti-Zionist Jewish students worry, however, that the resolution will conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism and “silence” Palestinian students.
“Hate due to someone’s religion is something that will never be tolerated,” community member Amira Haddad said. “As a Muslim, I know how scary it is when Islamophobic acts happen. This is not an oppression Olympics; yes, antisemitism exists, but anti-Palestinian hate does as well. It is not logical to be protecting a community by scapegoating and silencing another.”
Haddad recommended using a different definition of antisemitism, one that “does not harm” Palestinian students on campus.
Some Jewish students against the resolution also claimed it would provide “no real protection” against antisemitic attacks because the resolution would not require perpetrators to be adequately reprimanded for their antisemitic actions based on the definition, given that it is not legally binding.
“Antisemitism is on the rise in the U.S. but the threat is coming from white nationalists, not Palestinians and allies fighting colonialism abroad,” alleged Jewish community member Ysh Schwartz. “This resolution does nothing to protect me or my Jewish community. This false definition of antisemitism will not help us.”
Following the three-hour public comment on the resolution, the senate moved on to debate the resolution for nearly another three hours.
In response to other senators suggesting tabling the resolution, Cohen proposed amending it and creating a timeline for which the resolution could return to the working table.
“The IHRA definition allows you to criticize the state of Israel but I’m willing to compromise, to amend certain parts of this resolution because I believe it is still valuable to the many Jewish students who came and told you what it means to them,” Cohen said. “So don’t stand here and tell me that only one side should be heard and the other should not.”
After the debate period was extended five times, senators voted on the motion to table SR 22/23-027 indefinitely, with 13 voting yes, 4 voting no and 3 abstaining.
In a statement released after the meeting, Berkeley Bears for Palestine noted that the IHRA bill would “censor and silence pro-Palestinian and anti-zionist voices” and considered the senators’ motion to table a “victory.”