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Camden is first NJ county to adopt antisemitism definition

Jewish Community Voice

By Ezra Solway

October 4, 2023

On September 21, Camden became the first county in New Jersey to adopt a working definition of antisemitism. The seven members of the Camden County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to adopt the working definition of antisemitism first created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. The forum was also livestreamed on Zoom.

Earlier this summer, newly retired StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic Executive Director Paula Joffe reached out to Camden County Commissioner Jeff Nash about adopting the IHRA definition for the county.

“He had asked me to put together a group of speakers that would come and speak in support of it,” said Joffe. “I think I created a very robust and diverse group of people who offered different perspectives on why it’s so important.”

The non-legally binding IHRA definition reads: “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.”

The delivered remarks of support for the resolution by eight Camden County residents were both moving and personal. In addition to Joffe, speakers were Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Vice President and Israel Advocacy Initiative (IAI) Co-chair David Bross; longtime former JCRC Board member Harold Cohen; retired Education Director at Cong. Beth El Yaffa Fuchs; Gloria Back of the Jewish Leadership Project; Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME); Rabbi Steven Lindemann, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Sholom; and Chris Katulka, assistant director of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

Fuchs, whose parents survived the Holocaust and whose father fought in the Jewish resistance, shared how grateful she is that Israel exists and how Zionism is inextricably linked to Jewish identity. Rabbi Lindemann indicated how, due to the rise in antisemitism, the first thing he has to do before giving his High Holiday sermon is alert congregants where the exits are. Katulka, host of the popular radio program, “The Friends of Israel Today,” spoke about the disgrace of antisemitism from a Christian perspective and how hatred toward Jews should be prevented at all costs. Romirowsky shared his perspective having to help ostracized students and faculty around the world because they’ve expressed pro-Israel sentiments. Bross spoke to the fact that the IHRA definition of antisemitism doesn’t curtail free speech or silence criticism of Israel.

According to data by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) released this year, antisemitic incidents in 2022 rose by 10 percent in New Jersey, reaching 408 total incidents. It’s the highest number ever recorded by ADL in the state and the third highest in any state across the country last year.

So far, 31 states and the District of Columbia have adopted IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. It’s used by various government and law enforcement agencies in monitoring, training, and education, including the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. New Jersey, while in the process of adoption, has yet to formally recognize the definition.

“It was a no brainer on our part that this was something that we would adopt,” said Commissioner Melinda Kane. “Having the speakers really added to the importance of people understanding the depth of antisemitism within the United States and worldwide.”

Commissioner Nash added that this definition could serve as guidance for governing bodies and law enforcement to lean on and hopefully start a rippling effect. “Raising awareness and educating people are two of the primary goals of Camden County and providing a foundation from which we can understand what antisemitism is, and the rise of it.”

“I was awed by the depth and brilliance of the other speakers’ remarks. It was clear to me that both an emotional and intellectual impact was made upon the Commissioners,” said Bross.

Beyond providing a framework for law enforcement, Joffe noted that having these guidelines could help schools, as well as agencies in the hiring process. “It helps when it’s mandated as part of diversity, equity and inclusion, which up until now, it’s not. It can also help libraries in their selection of books and when they’re creating programs.”

JCRC Director Sabrina Spector offered that “We’re just really excited that this first step was taken for our community. We’re really looking forward to using it as a springboard to get other townships and counties to sign on.”

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