This fall, my hometown of Great Neck, New York was one of several Long Island communities that adopted the working IHRA definition of antisemitism. With a concerning rise in antisemitic incidents in cities across the United States and university campuses, the IHRA definition is an incredibly useful tool to help city officials, law enforcement, and academic administrations understand antisemitism and undermine those who seek to do harm and spread bigotry.
A few significant examples denoted by the IHRA definition include “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion, accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews, or accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, and 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”.
Although in my own personal experience, I am lucky that I have not been targeted by the disease of antisemitism growing up, I credit that to the high Jewish demographic of my hometown and Long Island as a whole. As I got older and attended a university outside of local areas, I began to comprehend the existence of antisemitic notions often demonizing the state of Israel and misconstruing facts to illustrate self-motivated ideas regarding Israel’s self-defense.
Students for Justice Palestine, a group present at Binghamton announces on their website that they advocate for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). A campaign that targets Jewish people’s rights to self-determination, a goal that directly violates IHRA guidelines. The quote states: “This organization intends to campaign for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against politicians, institutions, and corporations that support Zionism and fund the State of Israel”. A recent bipartisan US House of Representatives resolution stated that BDS “leads to the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students and others who support Israel.” The fact that age-old antisemitism is currently featured on a Binghamton-affiliated student group is appalling, and such hate should be addressed immediately when it surfaces.
Furthermore, the letter stating that the US Department of State targets solely non-violent human rights campus organizations is almost contrary to reality. To start, there have been countless instances of self-proclaimed human rights groups which unfairly use their power to pressure pro-Israel students on campus.
For example, Students for Justice in Palestine, a national network of pro-Palestinian support groups which spread anti-Israel propaganda often laced with provocative rhetoric, has repeatedly illustrated their willingness to demonize Zionism and harass pro-Israel activists. At an SJP-sponsored event in March 2018 at Eastern Michigan University, a speaker claimed that “Zionism is a hateful, racist ideology”. Additionally in March 2018, Columbia University’s JVP and SJP groups featured ardent anti-Israel speaker Steven Salaita, parroting the same rhetoric alleging that “racist violence is based on the ideology” of Zionism. Furthermore, in May 2019, SJP at Brandeis University vandalized a Hillel art seminar for Israel’s Independence Day with the phrase “Free Palestine”. These are some of the thousands of incidents that portray supposed human rights groups using their influence to repeatedly target pro-Israel and pro-Zionist activists. The attempts to equate plain harassment and demonization of students supporting Israel truly demonstrate the necessity of the newly established IHRA definition of antisemitism.
In conclusion, we as representatives of free speech on campus have a responsibility to protect it when it becomes threatened. Unfortunately, it is abundantly clear that antisemitism incidents on campus have risen tremendously, reaching an all-time high in 2019. As clearly illustrated above, powerful student groups are unfairly demonizing pro-Israel activists. Thus, our response, as future leaders of democracy, should be to put our support behind the new working IHRA definition of antisemitism. By doing so, we will build a path toward healthy and productive discourse.
Eden Janfar is a 2020-2021 CAMERA Fellow at Binghamton University.