We are all painfully aware of mounting concerns about the spread of religious-based hate crimes throughout the United States, and of the disturbing percentage of those crimes that are against Jews. We have recoiled in horror at the deadly shootings and attacks that have targeted institutions and individual members of the Jewish community. According to ADL, 60% of religious-based hate crimes last year were against Jews, even though the Jewish community comprises less than 2% of the nation’s population.
Many of us think that the problem exists in other areas of the country and not in our backyard. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In our own Montgomery County, where the Jewish community accounts for some 10% of the population, the annual County Police bias survey reports that a whopping 85.3% of religious-bias incidents in the county were against Jews. Swastikas and other antisemitic symbols have been spray painted on numerous buildings in the county, and there are multiple reports of antisemitic taunting in our neighborhoods and bullying
in our schools.
The Montgomery County Council has an opportunity to help address the problem. Under a resolution introduced by District 1 Councilmember Andrew Friedson, and with the support of several Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the County Council has been asked to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, as an expression of communal values and as an educational tool in the fight against antisemitism. In passing the resolution and adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the County Council will be joining the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union the Obama, the Trump and Biden administrations, 26 states and 51 local governments that have already done so.
What is important to understand is that the resolution is not a binding law. It is a statement that defines what is and what is not antisemitism. Those who cross the line can be called out, but the resolution cannot be used to prosecute anyone. Critics have claimed that the resolution stifles free speech and turns legitimate criticism of Israel into antisemitism. That is simply not true. Indeed, the IHRA definition makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The fight against antisemitism is part of the broader battle against hate and bias. And just as we expect our elected representatives to support the rights and safety of all members of our multicultural community, we expect our elected representatives to help support and protect the rights and safety of our Jewish community. We call on all members of the County Council to support the Friedson resolution for the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and encourage our readers to make their voices heard by contacting County Council members and urging support of the resolution.