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February 25, 2022 4:47 pm
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Move to Condemn Antisemitism Definition at UT Austin Withdrawn After Campaign by Jewish Students

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Main Building of University of Texas at Austin. Photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

Jewish groups and students at University of Texas, Austin lauded the withdrawal of a resolution aimed at reversing a student government’s decision last year to adopt a leading definition of antisemitism.

“Texas Hillel is proud of the students who organized and advocated on this issue, articulating how antisemitism manifests in their lives on campus and addressing the challenge the resolution presented for Jewish students head-on,” said Maiya Edelson, Executive Director of Texas Hillel.

“With the increase of incidents of antisemitism nationally and incidents we’ve seen here in Texas in the past year alone,” she continued, “awareness and education on this issue is vitally important in ensuring our campus and our communities are inclusive, safe, and welcoming environments for Jewish students.”

In March 2021, the University of Texas Student Government (UTSG) unanimously passed a resolution to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which included a pledge to “support for better Jewish inclusion and protection” and monitor antisemitism on campus. At least 30 universities in the US have adopted the working definition.

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But in February, the UT Palestine Solidarity Committee, working with several student government representatives, authored a resolution condemning the IHRA definition as a constraint on free speech and pro-Palestinian activism.

“The IHRA definition has notoriously been harmful to the speech and rights of pro-Palestine advocates on campuses,” the PSC resolution said. “It is problematic to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism … From the victim’s point of view, Zionism continually oppressed brutalizes, and displaces indigenous Palestinians from their homeland.”

The IHRA definition states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples that range from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” the IHRA definition states.

PSC’s resolution prompted a response by the Jewish community on campus, including a petition to preserve the student government’s commitment to Jewish students that drew over 3,000 signatures.

The UT Austin administration later expressed its own concerns about the resolution to the UTSG, according to senior Adina Traub, who supported the schools’ embrace of the IHRA standard.

“The administration basically said that if this bill passes, which student government has no right to do, it will not be associated with the university and not represent the larger university as a whole,” Traub told The Algemeiner. “That says to me that maybe the people who were for this resolution happen to be in student government but do not represent how the wider university thinks, and to me, that’s progress.”

Neither the University of Texas at Austin nor the UT Palestine Solidarity Committee immediately responded to requests for comment from The Algemeiner.

Jordan Cope, a UT Austin alum who helped pass the original IHRA resolution, commended Jewish students for their “unwavering resolve and tireless activism.”

The endorsement of the IHRA definition was symbolic and thus could pose no danger to free speech on campus, Cope told The Algemeiner, calling the campaign against it one based on a “false premise.”

“All plaudits are due to the Jewish students and their allies who amassed thousands of signatures, engaged their respective student leaders, and rallied their community members to send the clear and strong message that the Jewish community reserves the right to define antisemitism, and that in the face of festering antisemitism, adopting the IHRA definition is the path forward,” he said.

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