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LA City Council adopts working definition of antisemitism

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The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-0 on Tuesday, Nov. 1, to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, following a recent rise in antisemitic incidents and comments.

The definition, which was recently adopted by the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, states that: “Anti-Semitism 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 definition is not legally binding.

“Our society generally accepts that each community gets to define its own definition of antisemitism,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who introduced the motion. “Our society generally accepts that each community gets to define its own oppression. One gender doesn’t get to tell the other what is sexist.”

Last week, an antisemitic hate group hung a banner over the San Diego (405) Freeway that read, “Kanye is right about the Jews,” following antisemitic comments by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.

Former Council President Nury Martinez also made antisemitic remarks in a leaked 2021 conversation with two other council members and a top county labor official that led to her resignation.

“There is no monopoly on antisemitism,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said. “It comes from the far right, the far left, Islamic extremist groups, even from our former council president. Sadly, it is one of the oldest and most enduring forms of hatred.

“Because it comes in so many forms, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what it is and call it out when people are engaging in it.”

Koretz and Blumenfield stressed that the definition doesn’t preclude people from criticizing Israeli policies.

“I have criticized Israel policies,” Blumenfield said. “Everyone should feel free to criticize Israel. The definition will not change that.”

It would be antisemitic, however, to single out Israel because it is a Jewish state or apply tropes and stereotypes, Blumenfield added.

Several local Jewish leaders spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting in support.

Richard Hirschhaut, director of the American Jewish Committee Los Angeles, said in a statement that many antisemitic incidents are “misidentified, unaddressed or underreported” because those who understand antisemitism as it appeared in Nazi Germany may not recognize how antisemitism appears today.

“Adopting the IHRA definition will make our city government more informed, and help government leaders, law enforcement, educators and the media properly identify antisemitism and take appropriate action,” Hirschhaut said.

Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Israel education organization StandWithUs, said that the resolution was a “victory against hatred and ignorance.”

“The Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers,” Rothstein said. “It began with vicious hateful words. That is why we need IHRA, a clear and widely accepted definition that will make our city government better educated and equipped to fight bigotry against Jews.”

The definition has been adopted by 37 United Nations member countries and 320 non-federal government entities, including 22 states and several cities, according to Koretz’s office.

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