Defining antisemitism

Defining antisemitism

New Jersey Senate panel advances bills to more clearly spell out its manifestations

Josh Lipowsky, left, and Hillary Goldberg
Josh Lipowsky, left, and Hillary Goldberg

Last week, after two days of hearings, a New Jersey bill that would establish a statewide definition of antisemitism based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, and another that would require that definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia be included in the state’s diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, cleared  a state Senate committee.

Josh Lipowsky of Bergen County is a senior research analyst for the Counter Extremism Project. The CEP’s goal is to create a central address where people can go to learn about all forms of extremism and become better equipped to combat the growing trend of extremism around the world, he said.

“We look at all forms of extremism, whether it’s Islamist, right wing, left wing, white supremacist, so we cover the entire gamut.”

Mr. Lipowsky’s work focuses primarily on antisemitism and on Iran-backed terrorism, including terrorism committed by Hezbollah, Hamas, and militias in Iraq. He has seen a significant rise in antisemitism in the United States in recent months. “Since Hamas’s attack on October 7 and the resulting war, we have seen an explosion of antisemitism in this country related to protests surrounding the war,” he said. “A lot of these protests are, at their core, focusing more on hating Israel than helping the Palestinians. At its core, it is largely being driven by antisemitism.

“There is certainly room for criticism of the Israeli government,” Mr. Lipowsky continued. “There is space, certainly, for calling for the protection of civilians, and the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy. But there is a line to be drawn. And what we see coming out of many of these protests is not calls for helping Palestinians, but rather calls for globalizing the intifada, for repeating the October 7 attacks. And many of these protests are specifically targeting Jews and Jewish institutions, as well as Jewish-adjacent institutions. That is crossing a line from anti-Zionism and opposition to Israeli policies into outright antisemitism.”

These protests tend to demand a ceasefire, Mr. Lipowsky added, and he sees that demand as further evidence that the protests are largely  driven by antisemitism. “If you look at the applicable facts on the ground, what we see is that a lot of the people calling for ceasefires are calling solely on Israel to cease fire,” he said. “On October 6, there was a ceasefire in place, and Hamas broke it. On November 29, there was another ceasefire in place that Hamas broke. And the Hamas leadership has repeatedly said over the past eight months that it is more interested in fighting Israel than in improving the lives of the Palestinians.

“The Hamas leadership has said it will repeat the October 7 attacks if it can. That is the goal. So calling solely on Israel to ceasefire does not mean Hamas is also going to abide by that. It does not mean Hamas is going to release the hostages, which is the reason for the war to begin with.

“It becomes antisemitic when Israel is singled out.”

And the Palestinians are not solely based in Gaza, he added. “There are Palestinians living in Lebanon and in Syria. There are Muslims living in China.” (Those are the Uyghurs.) “All of these groups have been targeted, and we are not seeing nearly as many protests. There have been predominantly Arab countries, such as Syria, that have targeted the Palestinian population, and we did not see the mass protests on the streets, or people attempting to shut down the George Washington Bridge, that we’re seeing now.

“I’m not saying that people should not be drawing attention to these other tragedies. They should be. These are all horrible things happening in the world. But for some reason it seems like this” — the war in Gaza — “is the only one that is grabbing attention. When Israel is held to a higher, or double, standard, that is when it crosses the line to be antisemitic. And when the demands are not to improve the lives of the Palestinians, but to eliminate Israel, to eliminate the Jewish state, to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian state — when that is the demand — it crosses into antisemitism.”

The IHRA definition of antisemitism is “one of the closest things we have to a global definition of antisemitism,” Mr. Lipowsky said. “That definition has been adopted by dozens of countries, including the United States, by hundreds of organizations, and by over 30 U.S. states.” The IHRA defines antisemitism and includes a list of examples to serve as illustrations, according to the organization’s website,

The IHRA resolution reads, in part: “Antisemitism is 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.”

“IHRA provides a singular definition of what is included in antisemitism and why,” Mr. Lipowsky continued. “It provides a roadmap for governments to determine when legitimate protest crosses the line into specifically targeting Jews.

“We have seen a lot of instances where Jews have been specifically targeted.  At universities, we have seen calls for Hillel and other Jewish organizations to be banned from campus. At the end of October, a student at Cornell allegedly threatened to stab and rape Jewish students and ‘shoot up’ the school.” A few weeks ago, someone boarded a New York City subway train “and shouted for all Zionists to identify themselves.

“What we see from this is an association of all Jews with Zionism. And we have seen this play out over the last several years at several different protests and demonstrations” about issues unrelated to Israel, “where Jewish symbols and Jewish protesters were excluded because they were associated with Israel.

“Not because of anything they actually said, just because they were Jewish.

“The IHRA definition provides a blueprint for law enforcement to move forward to investigate whether something was or was not actually a hate crime,” Mr. Lipowsky concluded. “The definition is internationally accepted by dozens of countries; it allows for everybody to be on the same page, and that will make it easier for authorities to identify and prosecute hate crimes.

“Unfortunately, prior to October 7, antisemitism was already at its highest levels in decades. But since October 7, we have seen an explosion. We see people being chased down the street, we see Jewish students being excluded on campus, we see protesters gathering outside hospitals because they have ties to Israel. At some point, this crosses a line from legitimate opposition to Israeli policies, to antisemitism. When you’re protesting a kosher restaurant, that’s not helping the Palestinians.

“It’s important to recognize antisemitism in all its forms;  and over the past few years, but especially over the past eight months, we have seen a wave of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. There is certainly room for legitimate criticism of Israel, and Israelis are often at the forefront of criticizing the Israeli government. However, when that criticism singles Israel out or holds Israel to higher standards than any other country, or that criticism is directed toward individual Jews or Jewish groups solely based on their religious affiliation, then it has crossed a line.”

Hillary Goldberg, a member of the Teaneck Town Council, spoke at the state Senate committee hearing. Ms. Goldberg also wrote the resolution condemning Hamas that the council passed in October. She feels that the bills, which still have to pass the state Assembly and Senate, are very important because  of a “blatant” lack of “understanding of antisemitism and what it is or isn’t,” she said. “And there’s really this non-understanding that what happens in Israel directly impacts Jews, not just because of our relationship to Israel, but because we get blamed for everything.”

The IHRA definition “really puts that into perspective and explains our experience as Jews and when we get targeted.”

Ms. Goldberg thinks it’s not a coincidence that the IHRA definition originated in Europe. She recently heard a speaker point out that “antisemitism is not understood in the United States. That the Jewish life experience has not happened in the United States,” she said. “So when we say we’ve been kicked out of everywhere, we have nowhere else to go, they blame us for everything, it doesn’t resonate in the United States.” But it does resonate in Europe, because “we know it has happened in Europe.

“And that’s why it’s important to pass this.”

There are definitions about what constitutes hate “against other races and religions and nationalities,” Ms. Goldberg continued. “It’s important that as Jews, we have the same protections. It’s important so we can really protect our residents and our students. We’ve seen in Teaneck that it’s gotten pretty bad.”

Ms. Goldberg “sees some symbolism” in the bills moving forward. “I think it makes Jews feel heard,” she said. “That their life experiences are being heard. And I think that they haven’t been heard for the last nine months, and I think this is really important.”

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