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February 4, 2022 2:39 pm
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Duke University Student Government Adopts Leading Definition of Antisemitism

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Duke University. Photo: Ilyse Whitney / CC BY 2.0.

The Duke Student Government (DSG) has adopted the leading definition of antisemitism, a campus newspaper reported Thursday, months after the body drew national outrage when it denied recognition to a pro-Israel student group.

“The hostage situation on January 15, 2022 at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, is further evidence that the Duke Student Government must take a timely stand in solidarity with the Jewish community and condemn global antisemitism,” the Wednesday resolution said. “The Duke Student Government supports the use of the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] Working Definition of Antisemitism as an educational tool to define and condemn antisemitism in its various forms.”

The DSG also resolved to “committing to ongoing efforts in solidarity and collaboration with Duke students and student groups” to prevent antisemitic harassment and discrimination. It cited several antisemitic incidents on campus, as well as a 2019 civil rights complaint over the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies’ conference on Gaza that featured a rap performance flagged for the performer’s antisemitic lyrics.

“Given the sheer prevalence of antisemitism, globally and across-campus in the United States, we feel that it is necessary for Duke Student Government to take a timely stand,” DSG Senator and sophomore Nicole Rosenzweig, who co-sponsored the resolution, told The Duke Chronicle yesterday.

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In November, recognition of new Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter on campus was vetoed by the DSG, over a social media post responding to a student critic of the group’s activity.

Duke University President Vincent E. Price later announced that the university had “identified options for SSI to secure financial and programmatic support” in lieu of formal recognition by the senate, and that it was investigating whether the move was motivated by antisemitism.

On Wednesday, the national Students Supporting Israel organization praised DSG for adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism — a step taken by at least 30 universities and college in the US — and renewed calls for its Duke chapter to be formally recognized.

“This is a step in the right direction of REINSTATING SSI at Duke University,” the group said on Facebook. “Having a definition which recognizes the right to defend oneself against antisemitic slurs (and tweets) — as defined by DSG — is crucial. The IHRA definition defines SSI at Duke’s obligation to call out antisemitism as acting in the BEST of faith. Time to reinstate SSI at Duke.”

The working definition states, “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 DSG resolution made no specific mention of the working definition’s illustrative examples of antisemitism, which says that “manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” among other examples.

The resolution followed DSG’s recent participation in a training session on antisemitism, and came as a group of Jewish Duke faculty issued an open letter calling the university “a vibrant and hospitable place for Jewish life.”

“We feel safe, welcomed, embraced, and valued. We feel comfortable expressing our individual views on religion, politics, and the Israel/Palestine Conflict with each other and those around us,” said the letter, signed also by Provost Sally Kornbluth.

It continued, “We do not consider criticism of Israel to be inherent expressions of antisemitism. Most important, we are proud to be Jewish at Duke, and we revel in sustaining and growing the warm and supportive community that exists for all Jewish faculty, staff, and students. We reject any characterization of Duke — its administration, faculty, student body, campus leadership — as antisemitic.”

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