Where is a Condemnation of Antisemitism?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Antisemitism has existed for centuries in many forms including blood libels of the Middle Ages, pogroms of the 1800’s, and genocide of the Holocaust in the 20th century. Antisemitism has taken new forms in the 21st century including intimidation on social media, scrawling of antisemitic messages including swastikas on public and Jewish properties, as well as isolated physical attacks on Jews. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic attacks are on the rise again with a 35% increase year over year for 2021 and 2022, and it continues to rise. In 2022 there were over 3,650 antisemitic incidents in the United States or about 10 incidents per day.
Clifton is not spared from this hate and discrimination. Posts on Clifton Facebook pages include remarks such as “those people,” “they don’t follow the laws,” “taking over the town,” and “cheating on taxes" as well as overt antisemitism in the form of hate messages scrawled on the park and ride and Jubilee Park in the Allwood section, and swastikas scrawled in Dunney Park.
In light of these incidents, at the June 20th Council meeting it was suggested that Clifton adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA first approved the working definition in 2016. The definition is a non-binding resolution that governments and other entities can adopt to guide their values and stop antisemitism. To date, over 40 countries including the United States, the European Union, individual states, cities, and towns, as well as many other non-government entities, have ratified the definition.
The IHRA definition was placed as a resolution for the July 5th council meeting. At that meeting, many Jewish people came out and described their experiences with antisemitism in Clifton and their support of the IHRA definition. At the suggestion of Councilwoman Pino, the resolution was tabled pending more information. At the July 20th meeting hundreds of Clifton residents of Palestinian heritage and others came out in opposition of the resolution as they felt it would interfere with their ability to advocate for Palestinian freedom and the right to self-determination. Based on this and not wanting to draw Clifton into international politics, I and other Jews agreed with the council to withdraw the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
The IHRA definition is the most comprehensive and universally accepted definition of antisemitism. Furthermore, the IHRA definition does not infringe on Palestinians’ right to advocate for their homeland. All the definition states is that there is legitimate criticism of Israel like any other country in the world. However, charges of genocide, ethnic cleansing, comparing Israel to the nazis, or criticism not leveled against other countries is a form of antisemitism.
While I and other Jewish residents agreed with the council’s decision to withdraw the IHRA definition, we did not withdraw our request for the council to condemn, in the form of an official resolution, antisemitism. Yet here we are six weeks and several council meetings later and there has been no official condemnation of antisemitism or resolution adopting a definition of antisemitism.
This is a failure of leadership on the part of the council; the seas got rough, and they bailed. Instead of using this as a learning moment, to understand the dangers of antisemitism and the need for a working definition, the council folded and moved on as if nothing had happened. The council took the position that they don’t get involved with international politics and caved regarding antisemitism. Yet when a resolution in honor of Ukrainian independence that included language criticizing Russia was brought up, and getting involved in international politics, the council approved it. This inconsistency was pointed out by a group of residents. The residents weren’t against Ukraine in its battle for liberty and freedom in the face of Russian oppression, they just wanted to point out that the council was not being honest with themselves. An alternate neutral resolution was proposed and given to council, yet the original politically charged resolution was passed at literally the 11th hour. The council should not get involved in international politics across the board, no matter what the issue is or what nationality the issue concerns.
The question remains where the condemnation of antisemitism from the council is. It is time for a leader to stand up and propose a resolution defining and condemning antisemitism.
Avraham lives in Clifton with his wife and four kids. He has been involved in local politics for the last several years and ran for City Council last year. He works as a nurse practitioner, splitting time between his private practice and the emergency room.