Ilan Sinelnikov
Ilan Sinelnikov

Define It to Fight It !

After much planning and anticipation, I am thrilled, together with the Students Supporting Israel team, to be hosting the “Define It To Fight It” International Summit this upcoming Sunday, April 11th, 2021. The “Define It To Fight It” Summit is a day-long virtual event mostly targeting young, Jewish, and Zionist students, focusing the discussion on the working definition of antisemitim developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) organization.

The background to the summit relates directly to the activism of Students Supporting Israel.  When SSI first started, our exclusive focus was on promoting the pro-Israel cause on college campuses. However, we quickly came to realize how intertwined the anti-Israel movement was with blatant antisemitism. We had to fight back against the hostile antisemitism we saw being dismissed over and over again. In 2014, a Jewish student endured a barrage of antisemitic epithets, was physically assaulted and sent to the hospital for simply engaging members staffing an SJP promotional table during Temple University’s welcome week. A student at Berkeley was again physically assaulted on campus, while holding a sign which read ‘Israel wants a Peace.” At UCLA the student council voted on removing a Jewish student from their board because she was Jewish and active in her community, claiming she was incapable of objectivity because of her identity. Of course, the idea of removing any other minority because of their identity would be immediately and rightly recognized as racist, but when it came to Jews, this was not the case.

The examples above are not the only ones. If we were to list every antisemitic incident that has occurred, just on college campuses, which has been excused with the veil of “antizionism” we would be here for a long time, and this is why SSI began our fight against antisemitism in addition to its other Israel-focused programing. To quote the words of Harvard university law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, “Israel is the Jew among the nations, and to single out only Israel for delegitimization, condemnation, and demonization, is perverse and the current form of antisemitism.”

When IHRA created its working definition of antisemitism, we saw it being adopted by countries and governments, in addition to international bodies. We recognized its importance and how it could also make a big difference in the fight against anitsemitism on college campuses, and came up with the #DefineittoFightit project. The idea is that to start fighting a problem, we first need to define it. We began working to have the definition adopted as official policy by universities and within student governments themselves, as universities and college campuses have become a hotbed of pernicious antisemitism which is frequently overlooked. Universities are a necessary place for Israel activism and promotion of the Jewish community because it is the university which are molding and forming the minds of the younger generations. It is also here where the most virulent forms of antisemitism are arising because they are given the safety of ambiguity. Since the SSI campaign began, in just the 2020/21 academic school year we have been successful in pushing for the official adoption of the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism at 12 universities, most recently at the University of Minnesota together with campus partners, which was home to our founding chapter, and just this week at the University of Iowa. 

Even with all of the successes in promoting the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, there are still many people who misunderstand either the definition itself or the purpose of having an official definition of antisemitism and its implications. At the University of Minnesota, the most recent school to adopt the IHRA’s definition with the help of SSI, this proposition was met with intense pushback from anti-Israel campus groups, and we are seeing more and more pushback from students who raise misleading and inaccurate arguments trying to hinder and foil the adaptation of the definition. 

The facts of the argument of why the IHRA definition should be accepted are obviously on our side. Promoting the adoption of the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism is the Jewish community declaring for itself that we are the determiners of what is hateful to us. The definition of Antisemitism should not be decided by antisemites, or anyone outside of the Jewish community. Jews should never have to have their place in society threatened because of their identity.  However, no matter the facts of the situation, it is the forces which are most organized and knowledgeable in presenting their arguments that will be the winner at the end of the day. 

For that reason, we created the summit that will discuss many aspect of the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, and call for a united effort of activism towards the official adoption of this definition. The Summit will feature an impressive lineup of speakers and moderated panel discussions, all for the education and motivation of Jewish, pro-Israel, Zionist students and their allies on campuses across the world. All speakers are individuals who have worked and have experience within different aspects activism related to the fight against antisemitism, and we are proud for them to be present at the summit.

There may have been some successes and some setbacks with the efforts to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, but the momentum belongs to us. This does not mean that it is time for rest, but on the contrary, now is the time to push harder and turn the momentum into an irresistible force. Unfortunately, as in Israel the people commemorate the Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are reminded that our fight against antisemitism is just as pertinent today as it was before. 

About the Author
Ilan Sinelnikov is the Founder and President of the national Students Supporting Israel movement.
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