On the evening of Nov. 13, 2022, the treasurer of Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG), Adam Hoffman, proposed that the USG Senate sponsor a referendum supporting the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.
That proposal, which needed nine votes to become a Senate-sponsored referendum and appear before the student body for a vote, failed after public opposition from USG U-Councilor Judah Guggenheim, a Jewish undergraduate.
As a proud member of Princeton’s Jewish community, I put pen to paper today to vigorously oppose Guggenheim’s efforts and affirm the necessity of adopting the IHRA definition at Princeton, a definition that has been affirmed by a growing list of countries around the world.
The definition states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
After the formal definition, it lays out a long litany of examples of antisemitism, ranging from Holocaust denial and charges of dual loyalty aimed at Diaspora Jews to the denial of the Jewish “right to self-determination.”
Guggenheim said that he would support the IHRA definition without the provision that labels “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” as antisemitism.
“I wouldn’t say that arguing against that right is antisemitic,” he told listeners at Sunday’s USG meeting.
The IHRA definition does not in any way delegitimize criticism of specific actions or policy initiatives pursued by any sitting Israeli government. It makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” thus allowing for open and honest dialogue regarding actions undertaken by the State of Israel. It does, however, draw the line when individuals attempt to undermine the fundamental premise of Zionism, denying Jews their historical and religious right to their indigenous and ancient homeland.
In the words of Dina Porat, head of the Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Racism at Tel-Aviv University, “Antisemitism is involved when the belief is articulated that of all the peoples on the globe (including the Palestinians), only the Jews should not have the right to self-determination in a land of their own.”
Guggenheim’s rhetoric echoes U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3379, which declared that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” The resolution characterized Zionism as racism, not a specific action or policy decision associated with the Zionist movement or the State of Israel—but the movement itself.
The resolution charged Zionism with being inherently racist—inherently flawed. In doing so, it challenged Israel’s right to self-determination. Jewish nationalism spanning two millennia of exile, expressed through Zionism, was and is the basis for the State of Israel’s establishment and continued existence. Without this foundation, there is no legitimate state. Guggenheim attempts to make the same claim today, arguing that questioning Israel’s right to exist—which he seems unwilling to do in regard to any other nation—should not be considered antisemitic.
Immediately before Resolution 3379 was passed, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Patrick Moynihan rose to condemn the decision, declaring that “the United Nations is about to make antisemitism international law.” Moynihan and others, among them Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Chaim Herzog, refused to stay silent. While their voices seemed lonely outliers in a hostile world, the truth eventually won out, and the resolution was revoked in 1991.
I implore Princeton’s USG Senate not to permit a repeat of Resolution 3379 on the Princeton campus. USG must reconsider its decision and follow in the footsteps of the 38 countries and over 30 U.S. campuses that have already adopted or endorsed the IHRA definition.
Though often under-reported, antisemitism is still sadly alive and well in this country. Jews have been the targets of almost 55% of religiously-motivated hate crimes across the nation, despite constituting a mere 2.4% of the population.
As Bret Stephens trenchantly pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, the blatant presence of antisemitism is too often overlooked because “Jews are excluded from inclusion and included in the excluded.” The Jews’ minority status, with the bias and hatred that come along with it, is overlooked, just as “contempt and ostracism is becoming increasingly accepted.” As Stephens rightly notes, that contempt often takes the form of attacks on the State of Israel. Not attacks on its policy decisions, but attacks on its most basic right to exist.
Stephens asks, “Is the Jewish state so uniquely evil that, alone among 193 U.N. member states, it has no moral right to exist? Or is it the unique evil of antisemitism that directs this kind of obsessive hatred at one state only—while generally ignoring or downplaying the endless depredations of regimes in, say, Caracas, Ankara, Havana and Tehran?”
That question needs no answer.
Anti-Jewish bigotry has proven remarkably protean in its manifestations over the centuries, and I have no doubt it will continue, like most viruses, to mutate again with the passage of time. But despite donning a new cloak from a seemingly bottomless wardrobe, it is, at its core, the same malicious, irrational hatred bent on erasing the “Jew.” We cannot allow any of the malignant forms antisemitism chooses to take at any given moment to insinuate itself into acceptable norms of public discourse—within the gates of Princeton and beyond. USG has the power to act honorably to stand against it.
Alexandra Orbuch is a freshman at Princeton University from Los Angeles, California hoping to study Politics. On campus, she writes for The Princeton Tory, the university’s journal for conservative thought, and the Princeton Legal Journal, the university’s undergraduate Law review.
This article was originally published by The Jewish Journal.