King County should not adopt antisemitism definition used to censor speech

Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News

By Liora R. Halperin |  The Seattle Times | Jan 23, 2023

King County’s adoption of this working definition would embolden those who continue to use its reasoning to target and intimidate those concerned about Palestinian rights.

This week, the Metropolitan King County Council is considering a proclamation adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. This definition has already been included in a proclamation by the Bellevue City Council and some states and municipalities elsewhere in the country.

I wholeheartedly support efforts to understand and combat antisemitism, which has grown sharply amid a resurgence of xenophobia and white nationalism in our country. But I believe that adopting the IHRA definition is the wrong way to assure Jewish communities that our elected officials have our backs.

Council members should know that the IHRA is a source of deep division and controversy, across and beyond Jewish communities, because, as deployed in practice, it primarily serves to police political speech about Israel while doing little to stop antisemitic violence.

I know this from firsthand experience. I am a professor of Jewish history and the history of Israel/Palestine at the University of Washington, where I teach about, among other topics, the long history of antisemitism. I connect regularly with diverse communities concerned, as I am, about its contemporary spread.

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