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Cincinnati adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism

Cincinnati Council Member Mark Jeffreys (center left) introduced the resolution to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of Antisemtism.
Becca Costello
Cincinnati Council Member Mark Jeffreys (center left) introduced the resolution to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemtism.

Cincinnati City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt an internationally recognized definition of antisemitism.

"This is about continuing to make a statement that we are a welcoming city that is inclusive and respectful, a city where hate of any kind is not welcome," said Council Member Mark Jeffreys, who introduced the resolution.

He says it will help guide law enforcement on dealing with complaints and will be an educational tool for greater awareness.

Jeffreys says the American Jewish Committee regional office in Cincinnati approached him about strengthening the city's definition and suggested the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.

"At a time when antisemitism is on the rise and Jews continued to be the victims of most religiously based hate crimes across the country, having a uniform definition is an important educational tool because we cannot fight what we cannot define," said Justin Kirschner, regional director of the AJC Cincinnati Office.

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."

Why this specific definition? Jeffreys says it's internationally recognized and has been adopted by over a thousand entities around the world, including 22 countries and cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

"It provides clear guidance on how to identify various manifestations of antisemitism, including hate speech, discrimination and violent attacks against Jewish people and institutions," Jeffreys said.

The IHRA definition includes several examples of situations that could be antisemitic, taking into account the overall context, including:

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

See more examples in the full resolution below.
The examples referencing Israel have caused some controversy in other parts of the world. Last October, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, E. Tendayi Achiume, issued a report saying the definition "is highly contested among world-renowned scholars of antisemitism and related academic fields."

Achiume said the IHRA definition is highly controversial and divisive "owing to its susceptibility to being politically instrumentalized and the harm done to human rights resulting from such instrumentalization."

The report recommends against relying on the working definition at the United Nations and its constituent entities.

Council Member Jeffreys responded to the criticism in a statement: "For something that has such a complicated and insidious history as antisemitism, it is important to start with a definition and work from there. We have been happy to work with our local community partners to adopt a definition that has been adopted in 29 states, the District of Columbia, dozens of municipalities, and many countries."

Kirschner says the IHRA definition is non-binding and is meant to serve as a guide to help community leaders understand antisemitism.

"It is a valuable resource for public officials, civil society groups, universities, social media platforms, reporters, and others who want to encourage civil discourse and prevent racist, antisemitic, and other intolerant actions," Kirschner said in a statement. "Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, have recognized the importance of the IHRA definition, as have dozens of municipalities. We are grateful Cincinnati has joined them.”

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.