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March 30, 2021 4:34 pm

University of Minnesota Students Vote to Adopt Leading Definition of Antisemitism After Contentious Debate

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Students Supporting Israel and Reservists on Duty protests the SJP National Conference at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities / Source: SSI

University of Minnesota students voted in favor of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism on Monday, after a heated debate among student groups and in the wake of a series of antisemitic incidents on campus in recent years.

At the campus-wide referendum — submitted by Minnesota Hillel and Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and which took place on March 22 through March 26 — more than 1,700 students, or 58%, voted to adopt the IHRA definition, which has been adopted by 31 states around the world, including the US State Department, and a growing number of universities.

“United, the entire Jewish community — Minnesota Hillel, SSI at the University of Minnesota, Chabad University of Minnesota, AEPi — succeeded at defining antisemitism on our campus. We are proud and thankful for the support of this coalition of Jewish student organizations and the support of each and every single individual that voted “YES” in support of our cause,” SSI at the University of Minnesota wrote in a statement on Facebook. “SSI at the University of Minnesota looks forward to a safe and inclusive environment for all students at the University of Minnesota and is excited to see the way in which the IHRA definition of antisemitism will help to make this possible.

“I am so proud of everyone who helped work on the IHRA referendum,” Minnesota Hillel’s student president Kelsey Bailey wrote on Facebook. “Together we made the first step in fighting anti-Semitism on our campus.”

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A March 19 open letter opposing the referendum — authored by “a group of Jewish and allied students” and signed by over 180 University of Minnesota community members — claimed that the definition suppressed free speech and included an undue focus on criticisms of Israel.

“Regardless of Minnesota Hillel’s intentions in introducing this referendum, the IHRA working definition will cause more harm than good and not alleviate antisemitism,” the students wrote.

In a Facebook post, SSI President Ilan Sinelnikov charged students opposed to the referendum with chalking a number of ugly messages on campus during the voting period, including, “IDF and pigs go hand and hand,” “As a Jew, I say to you Zionists go home,” and “Free Palestine, liberation now, censorship never vote no to IHRA.”

Ahead of the vote, senior representatives of the Hillel Student Board, Chabad Student Board, the SSI and other Jewish student groups wrote in an op-ed that some Jewish students at the university had been “aggressively questioned on the basis of their religious beliefs and ostracized from social groups.”

“Many of our peers hide away Jewish identifiers like their Star of David or yarmulke, a skull cap, to escape inevitable harassment. Passing the IHRA Definition of antisemitism is the first step in a long road to eradicate anti-Jewish hatred and will signal to Jewish students — and other minority groups — that the University of Minnesota will not stand idly by in the face of rising hate and discrimination,” the Minnesota Daily column read.

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