UGA Jewish Students Back Antisemitism Definition
Updated: Apr 26
Atlanta Jewish Times (April 13, 2021)
Jewish students Kara Litwin and Sarah Martynov are pleased that the University of Georgia will employ the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism when it evaluates claims of discrimination.
Litwin and Martynov, both third-year students and co-presidents of the campus group Students Supporting Israel, authored a resolution — unanimously approved in January by the Student Government Association— asking UGA to adopt the IHRA standard.
The 38-word definition states: “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.”
Litwin, a psychology major from Sandy Springs who grew up at Temple Sinai, said of the student government action, “We view this resolution as a proactive step for the Jewish community.” Martynov is an international major from Marietta and the daughter of emigres from the Soviet Union. She said, “We were surprised it passed unanimously and we are hoping that the university sees this as a push in the right direction.”
Looking forward, they would like to see the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to cover the 26 public colleges and universities that it oversees.
Gregory Trevor, UGA’s associate vice president for marketing and communications, told the AJT that the school “condemns antisemitism and discrimination in any form. . . . The University acknowledges the importance of the IHRA definition. This acknowledgment will be reflected in the Equal Opportunity Office’s consideration of the working definition in its evaluation of discrimination claims and during the development of training provided to the faculty, staff, and students.”
UGA forwarded the Jewish students’ resolution to the USG for review. USG’s vice chancellor for communications, Aaron Diamant, said that “it’s not uncommon for them [UGA] to consult with us on items like this, as well as their next steps, which did not require USG approval.”
Hillels of Georgia backed the resolution. “We’re very proud of the students who took this leadership role and felt very passionately about this and did what they thought was appropriate in making this resolution,” said Hillels of Georgia CEO Elliot Karp. He added that the organization is “considering how we can continue to move forward with the regents to embrace the IHRA definition and hopefully enact it as policy.”
The most recent publicized incident of anti-Semitism on the UGA campus occurred in November 2019, when a student visiting from another college drew swastikas on white boards outside the doorways of Jewish students in two dormitories.
According to its website, SSI is an international organization founded in 2012 with chapters on 50 campuses and 1,000 active members in the United States. In addition to UGA, there are chapters at Kennesaw State University, Mercer University, Middle Georgia State University, and Georgia State University. SSI lists UGA and Kennesaw State among 10 schools that have adopted the IHRA definition during the 2020-21 academic year.
In January, as part of a settlement with Hillels of Georgia, Georgia Tech said that it “recognizes” the IHRA definition. Hillel had filed a complaint in 2019 with the federal Department of Education, alleging that the school had “willfully ignored” anti-Semitic activity on campus.
The IHRA, of which the U.S. is a member, adopted its “non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism” at its 2016 meeting in Bucharest.
Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Dec. 11, 2019, requiring inclusion of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in enforcement of Title VI anti-discrimination clause of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Key to the IHRA definition are accompanying examples of what constitutes anti-Semitism. Those include accusing Jews outside of Israel of dual loyalty, comparing Israel to Nazis, calling Israel racist, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” and applying standards to Israel “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Critics contend that the IHRA definition — which has been adopted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — could be used to stifle debate, particularly around the Israel-Palestinian issue. In recent weeks, two alternative definitions of anti-Semitism have been published, offering examples of when their authors believe criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic.
One comes from “The Nexus Group,” scholars affiliated with the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. That statement’s examples of what is not anti-Semitic included: “criticism of Zionism and Israel, opposition to Israel’s policies, . . . contentious, strident, or harsh criticism of Israel for its policies and actions, including those that led to the creation of Israel, . . . Paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of antisemitism.”
The “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism,” drafted by an international group of scholars, included its own “examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic.” Among them were: “Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights, . . . Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, . . . Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. . . . Boycott, divestment and sanctions as a form of political protest.”
Mark Goldfeder of the American Center for Law and Justice, who represented Hillel in its complaint against Georgia Tech, rejected the argument that the IHRA definition silences speech and called it a tool to use “when analyzing motivations behind antisemitic acts.”
Goldfeder also has noted that when accepting federal financial assistance, institutions such as colleges and universities agree to follow policies that already require applying the IHRA definition when investigating alleged anti-Jewish discrimination.
What is happening in Georgia is part of a much larger debate over how to define anti-Semitism.
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