Groups gearing up for Montgomery Council antisemitism vote

The phrase ” Zero tolerance for antisemitism ” drawn on a carton banner in hand. A girl holds a cardboard with an inscription.

Suzanne Pollak | Special to WJW

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington has launched a campaign urging the Montgomery County Council to adopt a resolution that opposes antisemitism.

On July 26, councilmembers had planned to adopt a resolution that specified the definition of antisemitism that is used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, according to which certain criticism of Israel is considered antisemitism. The resolution also reaffirmed the county’s opposition to Jewish-targeted hate crimes.

That resolution was pulled after the council received numerous objections. Currently, there is no timetable for the resolution’s adoption.

The JCRC, ADL of Washington, D.C., and the AJC Washington Regional Office all supported the original resolution but agreed to set it aside temporarily while the nuances of the resolution were worked out.

The three organizations now are calling on the council to “overwhelmingly pass this resolution to address the alarming rise of antisemitic incidents in Montgomery County.”

The organizations ask “Jewish MoCo residents and their allies” to ask their councilmembers to support the resolution. The resolution “provides guidelines for, and commits our County to, combating the scourge of antisemitism,” it states in a JCRC Facebook post.

The JCRC sent out a sample letter to its supporters that they hope will be sent to members of council. It begins, “I am writing to urge you to vote for the resolution before the Council to reinforce the County’s commitment to combatting antisemitism, which uses the gold standard International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as its framework.”

The letter also states, “As a member of the Montgomery County Jewish community, I am very concerned about the rising tide of antisemitism here in Montgomery County and across the United States. I strongly believe that our local government has a responsibility to lead the way in fighting this hatred and defending and protecting Montgomery County’s Jewish residents and institutions.”

In July, Council President Gabe Albornoz said, “We received a lot of correspondence and contacts from people who were concerned that the resolution conflated criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.”

Allowing people to speak their mind about Israel “was a deep concern with residents. But also of deep concern is the rise of antisemitism,” he said.

“Therefore, we decided to hit the pause button.” Albornoz said, noting that the responses came from rabbis, faith-based organizations and residents.

Councilmember Andrew Friedson, who introduced the original resolution, agreed to pull it so that councilmembers could speak with all concerned and fine tune the wording.

Albornoz stressed that the council strongly opposes all hate crimes but said that freedom of speech is important.

“We are working right now, ensuring that there is language” that addresses both antisemitism and free speech, he said. The council “will do all we can to push back on antisemitism while also recognizing this is a complex resolution.”

Under the original resolution, the definition of antisemitism was: “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.”

The JCRC in its Facebook post stressed, “Opponents of this resolution falsely claim that its passage would infringe upon free speech and prevent criticism of Israel. These concerns are unwarranted.”

The JCRC also noted, “Furthermore, freedom of speech and political debate are constitutionally protected rights that can’t be impacted by a local resolution.”

The resolution would not be legally binding but rather would be used as a tool to combat antisemitism locally.

Friedson said he proposed the resolution as a response to the antisemitic flyers in Kemp Mill and other instances of antisemitic graffiti, vandalism and harassment against Jewish community members.

An antisemitic flyer with a swastika was hung at the bus stop on Lamberton Drive by Arcola Drive in Silver Spring June 2. The bus shelter is across from Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington.

According to the 2021 Montgomery County annual police bias report, of the 34 incidents motivated by bias towards religion, 29 were considered anti-Jewish. Jews make up 10% of the county’s population.

That annual report also noted that the most frequent type of vandalism/graffiti reported was racially motivated while in previous years the swastika and other antisemitic phrases and statements were predominant.

The IHRA definition has been used by the Biden, Trump and Obama administrations, as well as 28 states and 53 cities and counties, including Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va.

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