A Montgomery County Council resolution to define antisemitism that was set for a vote on July 26 was postponed until at least September at the request of three Jewish groups.
The resolution was introduced by Councilmember Andrew Friedson (District 1) in response to several incidents. They include the posting of antisemitic flyers in Kemp Mill, vandalism, and harassment of Jewish community members.
The proposed definition is the same as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism that has been adopted by the U.S. State Department and 26 states across the country. The working definition is non-legally binding.
The resolution would have also reaffirmed “the Council’s commitment to combat all forms of hate and extremism and reflects the Council’s strong support for and solidarity with Montgomery County’s Jewish community.”
During discussion before the vote, several members of council expressed concern that the resolution it was anti-free speech and that it might cast a chill over discussions about Israel.
Members of three Jewish organizations then asked that the resolution be pulled from the July agenda so that further discussions could be held.
“A growing coalition of local Jewish organizations, including American Jewish Committee, ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), and the JCRC of Greater Washington have requested that the Montgomery County Council address the antisemitism definition resolution, which includes important IHRA language, in September,” the three groups explained in a joint statement. “We believe additional time is needed to clarify to legislators and coalition partners the importance of passing this measure at a time of escalating antisemitism and hatred towards other minority groups.”
“They wanted to move it back,” Friedson said, so they could spend more time explaining the nuances and importance.
“We expect this to eventually pass,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. He added that the definition “does not negate one’s opinion on Israel,” adding, “The Montgomery County Council is not equipped to deal with foreign policy.”
“People just want to understand,” Halber said. “Why add something to the agenda that is complex for some people and not just take the time to explain it?”
He added, “We want to pass this in the least contentious way possible.”
The definition reads, “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.”
Meredith Weisel, regional director of ADL’s Washington office, said there just wasn’t time to explain the definition and need for it properly at the meeting. The July 26 meeting was the last council meeting before its August break, and there was a lot on the agenda.
The definition “can be a little bit nuanced,” she said. Therefore, representatives of the Jewish groups believed it would be best to take time, answer questions and clarify the details after the council returns in September.
“Let’s pause and clarify things. This is a really important resolution. It’s something that needs to be talked about,” Weisel said.
Upon learning that the resolution was postposed, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a press release welcoming the “shelving” of the matter.
CAIR’s Maryland Director Zainab Chaudry said in a statement, “We thank the members of the Montgomery County Council for holding this resolution. The adoption of the IHRA’s controversial definition of antisemitism as government policy — something that was not intended by the definition’s lead drafter — would stifle free speech and make it more difficult to criticize the Israeli government’s policies of apartheid against the Palestinian people.”
The Arlington County Board adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism in June.