December 10, 2019

Jewish Groups, Students Criticize GWU Student Senate for Passing ‘Watered Down’ Anti-Semitism Resolution

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

StandWithUs, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and GW for Israel board members each criticized George Washington University’s (GWU) Student Association (SA) Senate for passing a resolution containing a “watered-down” definition of anti-Semitism on Nov. 18.

The resolution, titled “The Anti-Semitism Condemnation Act,” adopts aspects of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism stating that equating Israel to the Nazis, accusing Jews of dual loyalty to Israel and applying double standards to Israel are anti-Semitic, as is “denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination.” 

It also supports the establishment of a task force to combat anti-Semitism on campus.

However, according to the GW Hatchet student newspaper, the SA Senate removed “clauses that claimed the state of Israel is a ‘racist endeavor’ and that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state after students voiced concerns that the resolution did not represent all Jewish students who have differing views on Israel.”

In the Facebook livestream of the meeting, a student argued against the language affirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, saying that the focus should be anti-Semitism on campus.

“I don’t see why the SA needs to affirm a state far away when we have clearly laid out that defining anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism has provided demonstrable harm to Jews on this campus,” she said. “We have been called fake Jews, we have been stalked, we have been harassed, we have been called tokenisms.”

Also during the public comment session, student and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) member Rebecca Lewis said that JVP “members are often isolated from the Jewish community and have been labeled as anti-Semitic for criticizing Israel,” according to the Hatchet.

 StandWithUs Executive Director of Campus Affairs Rena Nasar said in a statement to the Journal, “It is unacceptable that the SA changed a definition of anti-Semitism supported by the vast majority of the Jewish community. Only those directly affected by anti-Semitism should be the ones to define it. This watered-down condemnation must be followed by concrete action to combat all forms of hatred against Jews on campus, including when it is related to Israel.”

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in a phone interview that had the language regarding Israel’s right to exist not been removed, the resolution would have been “an important step forward for George Washington University in dealing with anti-Semitism.” However, he argued that there shouldn’t be any sympathy given toward those who don’t want to see Israel exist as a Jewish state.

“Every nation has the right to pursue its identity and national destiny except for [Israel]?” Cooper said. “Well, that double-standard obviously is anti-Semitic, even if it’s spouted by a group that has the word ‘Jew’ right there in the title. It’s irrelevant.”

He added that advocating for the end of the Jewish state is “aiding and abetting the goals of Iran, and groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and al-Qaeda.”

GW for Israel Vice President Noah Shufutinsky denounced the SA Senate in a Facebook post for removing the language “that specifically addresses how we as students face anti-Semitism on campus through anti-Zionism. You made it clear tonight that appeasing racists and anti-Semites for a sense of belonging is more important than listening to your constituents.”

In a subsequent Facebook post, Shuftinsky shared a statement from GW for Israel Executive Board Member Lizzie Irwin.

“To deny the recognition of the state of Israel but somehow uphold that Jews have the right to self-determination frankly makes no sense and shows inherent anti-Zionism, which in it of itself is anti-Semitism,” the statement read. “By denying the recognition of the Jews’ self-determined land in their ancestral homeland is a textbook definition that was manipulated at tonight’s SA meeting.”

Irwin later added: “As a Jewish student on this campus, condemning anti-Semitism at its fullest means including hate speech against the existence of the physical homeland that binds my people together, not just now, but over a millennia as we have faced genocide, pogroms, and all other exclusionary measures that failed to eradicate the most persecuted minority history has ever known. To not recognize Israel as the only safe haven that Jews have ever known and to disregard it because you do not agree with its contemporary politics shows a privilege I will never be able to wrap my head around.”