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Camden County adopts definition for antisemitism

Its meaning wlll mirror that established in 2017 by an influential Jewish group

Emily Liu/The Sun
Jewish community members and county commissoners gathered recently to recognize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s meaning of antisemitism.

Camden County Commissioners have unanimously approved a resolution that recognizes the definition of antisemitism crafted in 2017 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

It reads 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.”

“We felt it was necessary to adopt this definition of antisemitism because when fighting against hatred, you need to use every tool available,” Commissioner Melinda Kane said. “This definition is used by various government and law-enforcement agencies nationwide and it will help Camden County progress in combatting the poison that is antisemitism.”

Camden is the first county in the state to recognize the new definition. During public comment and for close to an hour at a recent commissioners’ meeting, speakers representing the Jewish Community Relations Council, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and other organizations spoke in favor of it.

Paula Joffe, the former mid-Atlantic executive director for “Stand With Us,” emphasized the difference between free speech and hate speech while reflecting on recent antisemitic incidents and how a standard definition can further understanding of the difference between the two.

“This action put in place a critical metric for the township and the county and all businesses to measure what acts constitute this oldest form of hatred,” Joffe noted.

Other speakers shared stories on how antisemitism has impacted their communities. Among them were making congregation members aware of exits following the Tree of Life Synagogue murders in Pittsburgh; and swatting, which involves hoax callers making false threats. That happened in August at Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees. School was not in session, but Camp Gan Israel members there were safely evacuated, according to the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey.

Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) board Vice President David Gross addressed the meeting about JCRC’s upcoming March of Remembrance on Sunday, Oct. 8. It is a rally against hate and antisemitism, he explained, then mentioned opposition to the new definition.

“Critics have incorrectly suggested that it silences critics of Israel,” he said. “In fact, the IHRA definition states explicitly that ‘criticism of Israel, similar to that level against any other country, cannot be regarded as antisemetic.’

“The IHRA definition is merely a definition,” Gross continued. “It explains what antisemitism means; it does not in and of itself prohibit or punish any speech. Rather, it identifies hateful activity that others may choose to address in various ways depending on context.”

Speakers also cited statistics from an FBI investigation that while American Jews account for only 2.4% of the U.S. population, they are the victims in 63% of religiously motivated hate crimes.

The resolution acknowledges antisemitism as a “persistent, pervasive and disturbing problem in American society” and that “Camden County has a responsibility to protect citizens from acts of hate and bigotry, including antisemitism, and must be given the tools to do so.

“While there can be no exhaustive definition of antisemitism, because it can take many forms, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition … has been an essential definitional tool to determine contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, and includes useful examples of discriminatory anti-Israel acts that cross the line into antisemitism,” the resolution reads.

” … The board of commissioners of the County of Camden hereby recognizes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of antisemitism and remains committed to the principle of non-discrimination and human rights.”

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