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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Defining antisemitism can help put an end to it

By Jordan Carlson


Antisemitism on Western’s campus is nothing new.

In spring 2016, President Sabah Randhawa created a task force aimed at preventing antisemitic behavior across campus. Speakers from all over the country have been invited to talk on the topic, and from these discussions it has become clear that putting a definition to the name is of utmost importance.

There is a lot of debate, however, surrounding how exactly to define antisemitism.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which it was discussed whether the Department of Education should consider a comprehensive definition to refer to when addressing complaints of antisemitic behavior towards Jewish students on college campuses. It’s still undecided whether Congress will advise the Department of Education to do so.

The bill, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, is an important step in informing campus communities across the nation that antisemitism is no exception for marginalized violence.

The definition that is so widely debated is originally known as the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, adopted by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005. A different version of the definition is used by the U.S. State Department in order to assess current problems of antisemitism.

Kenneth Stern, the author of the EUMC’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, wrote to the U.S. House of Representatives and cautioned against using the definition for American college campuses as its use was designed for data collectors and researchers.

A more comprehensive definition might solve this problem by tailoring the definition to the realities of attending a modern university as well as encourage a dialogue between campus community members in order to better understand the issue.

Introducing a definition of antisemitism won’t necessarily solve problems of antisemitism on campus, but it might help the campus community understand the impact of antisemitic statements and actions as well as any behavior that discriminates against marginalized groups.

The task force created by President Randhawa in 2016 was formed in response to several antisemitic incidents at Western that occurred relatively close to each other that year.

The scope, according to the final report and recommendations for the task force, includes, “Review of the impact of antisemitism in historical and contemporary contexts; review of best practices to prevent and respond to expressed concerns of antisemitism; consult with and seek input from various members of the Western community to inform recommendations.”

The task force followed up on some of its goals by bringing speakers from the greater community to talk about issues surrounding antisemitism, one of which was Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Weitzman from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization.

Weitzman said in his presentation that Western could be the first university to create and adopt a working definition for antisemitism. 

Not only is this great progress for Western, it’s a step in the right direction for universities across the U.S.

Western should continue to invite speakers to campus and encourage the Western community to attend in order to open a dialogue of understanding and knowledge about marginalized groups of people.


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