Don't allow antisemitism to be normalized - adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism
December 2, 2022
The following article was submitted to and was published in the Orlando Sentinel on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Orlando. The JCRC, a standing committee of Shalom Orlando, is the leading advocate for the Greater Orlando Jewish community, engaging in important public policy discussions and ensuring that our voices are amplified.
The term “antisemitism” was first used in print in Germany in 1879 as a scientific-sounding term for Jew-hatred, and this has since then been its use. Despite being only 1.8 percent of the American population, the FBI ranks hate crimes against Jews to be the highest number of incidents motivated by religion by identity of victims. Frighteningly, as hate crimes increase all around, Antisemitism is becoming more normalized in America.
Some of the normalization of antisemitism is thanks to a few particular celebrities, most recently Ye (formerly Kanye West) and Dave Chappelle, who, knowingly or unknowingly, promote antisemitic content on a mass scale. Films promoting conspiracy theories that today’s Jews are “imposters” or that the Holocaust wasn’t real are antisemitism. The claim that Jews control the media or form a cabal to manipulate events is classic. These are all falsehoods that, to the antisemite, justify hatred against Jewish people. The false and exaggerated claim of Jewish power, despite Jews being a tiny minority while also being historically marginalized, requires vast conspiracies and other delusional thinking.
We have unfortunately learned from experience that the normalization of these antisemitic narratives often leads to violence against Jews. From Nazis rallying in Orlando to vandalism promising “no mercy for Jews” in Maryland, from the mass distribution of antisemitic messaging in Jacksonville to a spate of assaults against Jews in Brooklyn, Jewish Americans are on edge. We see how one celebrity’s Antisemitic tweets inspire “protests” over highways around the country. This makes a recent monologue on the country’s most venerated comedy show so hurtful.
The most recent episode of Saturday Night Live featured an opening monologue in which the host made light of antisemitism. The host said it’s reasonable to believe that Jews control Hollywood because there are so many Jews in Hollywood, but it would be crazy to say that out loud. Doing so would violate “show business rules.” This clearly insinuates it is “the Jews” collectively running show business and making the rules, a common Antisemitic trope. He directly said Jews shouldn’t blame the terrible things done to them all over the world on Black Americans, implying that they do, which seems to be a novel accusation. All of this minimized antisemitism and further normalized it. It is indeed painful seeing a beloved comedian incorporate various antisemitic tropes broadcast nationwide with a laugh track.
It is also frustrating as so many non-Jews debate what is or is not antisemitism. Take the word of Jews and Jewish organizations telling you that these things are antisemitic. But for those who are genuinely willing to learn, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which the United States is a member, adopted a working definition of antisemitism as follows:
“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 IHRA definition of antisemitism has been adopted by the U.S. Department of State, numerous universities worldwide, and municipalities across the country. The definition has already been adopted by some Florida municipalities as well. As antisemitism increases and continues to be normalized in mainstream American society, there is a real danger of people being oblivious and indifferent to the dangers facing Jewish Americans. It would be helpful for at least everyone to operate on the same page when it comes to understanding what antisemitism is. A good starting point would be for the various municipal governments of Central Florida to adopt the IHRA definition as well. Although we firmly support any individual’s right to free expression and do not wish to “cancel” anyone, we are hopeful that there is an opportunity for constructive dialogue and understanding that these antisemitic tropes are harmful.