Newsom urged to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism

Twenty organizations are urging California Governor Gavin Newsom to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism, which they say is critical for the state to effectively counter antisemitism.

The campaign, led by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), commends Newsom for his past efforts addressing antisemitism and hate, and notes that the current climate compels further action.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism
“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.”

Jewish communities in California commend Newsom for convening an emergency meeting with Jewish communal leaders Nov. 7, and they express gratitude for his ongoing commitment to combating antisemitism amid escalating hostility.

They strongly believe that, for the state to effectively address antisemitism, the adoption of a clear definition is imperative. They advocate for the adoption of the IHRA definition as the sole definition used by the state of California in order to ensure a unified and comprehensive approach.

“Governor Newsom has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to combating antisemitism amid its rapid increase,” said Sarah Levin, Executive Director of JIMENA. “We are grateful for his leadership. Now, the state must formally define antisemitism so it can be more clearly identified and addressed. Adopting the IHRA definition as the sole definition will help in this critical fight.

“As one of the organizations that helped draft and shape the IHRA Working Definition, AJC believes it provides the clearest and comprehensive description of antisemitism in its various forms,” added Ted Deutch, CEO of the American Jewish Committee. “Its adoption by California would send a powerful message that state leaders understand the threat of antisemitism, which is the crucial first step in combating it.”

“There should no longer be confusion surrounding what is or is not antisemitism as it has been shamelessly revealed for all to see,” added Rabbi Meyer H. May, Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Inc., and Museums of Tolerance. “But for those who wish to obscure the truth, redefine or escape it, the IHRA definition of antisemitism provides the clear definition that belies all cynical attempts to deny it.”

The letter is signed by Alpha Epsilon Pi, Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Jewish Committee (AJC), B’nai B’rith International, California Israel Chamber of Commerce, Combat Antisemitism Movement, Hadassah, Hillel at Davis and Sacramento, Hillel San Diego, Hillel at UCLA, Holocaust Museum LA, Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), Israeli American Council (IAC), Jewish Federation of San Diego, JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, Progressive Zionists of California, Sephardic Education Center, Stand With Us, 30 Years After.

The letter notes
As Jewish organizations representing diverse communities across California, we are deeply concerned about the alarming increase in antisemitic incidents and the challenges civil servants and the general public face in understanding and identifying it. The California Attorney General’s Office’s statistics reveal that anti-Jewish hate comprises 62 percent of all religious-based hate crimes in California, an unsettling 24 percent increase in religious-based hate crimes targeting California’s 2 percent Jewish population. AJC’s 2022 State of Antisemitism in America report found that a quarter of Americans are unfamiliar with the term antisemitism and one-third of these individuals feel that antisemitism isn’t regarded as seriously as other forms of hate, despite its deadly consequences.

The IHRA working definition explicitly states that criticism of Israel in itself is not considered antisemitic, contrary to claims made by certain civil society organizations. It is worth noting that several governments, who have adopted the IHRA Working Definition and view it as a valuable tool, have been able to express strong criticism of Israeli policies and practices without infringing upon it. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that the IHRA Working Definition is non-legally binding and does not impose any restrictions on speech, even when it pertains to the most hateful expressions.

The IHRA definition has gained widespread international recognition and endorsement for its comprehensive and effective approach in identifying antisemitism. The definition was cited in President Biden’s landmark White House National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism as the most prominent antisemitism definition that the United States has embraced. More than 30 US states and 40 nations have adopted the definition, as have a multitude of civil society organizations, including the Global Imam Council – the world’s largest international non-governmental body of cross-denominational Muslim religious leaders.