November 14, 2022
Re: RUSA’s Adoption of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
On October 27th, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) released a statement via Instagram story promoting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Rutgers University hosts the largest Jewish campus population in the country and as such, the antisemitism in our community must be addressed and taken seriously. We are in full support of any meaningful action that can be taken by RUSA and the administration to combat antisemitism on campus. The IHRA definition of antisemitism which RUSA has adopted, however, does not lessen threats of antisemitism and instead obstructs political and academic freedom by conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
While the definition begins by explaining antisemitism as hatred towards Jews, it goes on to describe criticism of Israel, including identification of Israel as a racist state, as antisemitic. By directly associating criticisms of Israel with antisemitism, the IHRA definition seeks to silence advocates for Palestinian human rights and justice against Israeli apartheid. On Rosh Hashanah this year, Jewish community spaces were egged in the third incident of the past two years, and in previous years campus locations were vandalized with swastika symbols. To holistically combat antisemitism on campus, an official definition should capture it as genuine racial, ethnic, or religious bigotry against Jewish people that is not conflated with justified calls for Palestinian sovereignty. As explained by Jewish-American scholar Judith Butler, it is of the utmost importance that struggles for Palestinian liberation are not misconstrued as antisemitic, because “if the charge of antisemitism is used to defend Israel at all costs, then its power when used against those who do discriminate against Jews – who do violence to synagogues in Europe, wave Nazi flags or support antisemitic organizations – is radically diluted.”
We are further troubled by the lack of transparency which has prevented us from addressing this issue until now. While RUSA is expected to inform the public of its operations via their website, they have neglected to do so for the past two years. The most recent meeting minutes available are from Spring 2020, and many links to legislation, including the one which should provide information on RUSA’s adoption of IHRA, are broken. RUSA also adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism without consulting the Palestinian community or the Students for Justice in Palestine, for whom it has direct implications. We have always welcomed RUSA and other organizations to consult us on campus issues or to learn about the Palestinian struggle for liberation; despite this, RUSA has never communicated such an interest to us. Given its impact on our community, RUSA must retract bill S21-05 and adopt a definition of antisemitism which does not attempt to malign the Palestinian struggle. With this retraction as a starting point, we hope RUSA will begin to actively engage with the Students for Justice in Palestine on initiatives concerning the safety and security of the Palestinian community on campus, as is the bare minimum for their role as a student governing body.
Despite constant opposition and attempts to silence our calls for justice, the Students for Justice in Palestine will continue to advance our initiatives against Zionism and Israeli apartheid. We invite campus and community groups who would like to learn more about our work and Rutgers University’s complicity in Israeli apartheid to reach out to us, as we would be happy to organize an educational workshop with your organization. Additionally, we will be hosting a panel discussion to address Rutgers University’s endowment investments in Israeli apartheid and our current campaign for an ethical endowment fund on November 18th, and encourage those who would like to learn more about these issues to attend.
The Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers – New Brunswick
This statement is co-signed by:
All Marxist-Leninist Union
American University Students for Justice in Palestine
American Muslims for Palestine New Jersey
Drew University Students for Justice in Palestine
Endowment Justice Collective
Palestinian American Community Center
Temple University Students for Justice in Palestine
US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)