LB debates antisemitism definition

LB debates antisemitism definition

Emma Salomon, Staff Writer

Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) met on Tuesday with members of IfNotNow to discuss their proposed resolution to change Macalester’s definition of anti-semitism and continued their discussion with President Suzanne Rivera and Provost Anderson-Levy following the student sit-in on November 3rd.

Gabe Karsh ’25, Sophia Sahm ’22 and a student who has chosen to remain anonymous due to safety concerns ’25 represented IfNotNow, an organization promoting the movement of Jewish people to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine and transform the American-Jewish community. IfNotNow drafted a resolution petitioning the college to implement the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism (JDA) definition of anti-semitism and reject its current one, which comes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). 

The IfNotNow members discussed why they think this change is necessary in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict and Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. They also laid out the need for this at Macalester due to the rise in anti-semitic hate crimes; swastikas have been found  drawn across campus in 2016, 2017 and 2018. 

The IHRA definition was adopted by St. Paul’s current mayor Melvin Carter, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey, the University of Minnesota, and President Donald Trump in 2017. IfNotNow believe its adoption is harmful to Jewish people, saying the definition focuses too heavily on Israel and equates criticizing Israel with anti-semitism. 

The proposed new definition does not conflate opposition to the Jewish state of Israel and antisemitism. It recognizes Palestinians’ human rights and allows criticism of the state of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. 

“[The JDA] recognizes that criticisms of Israel are not inherently antisemitic … it serves to both protect Jewish communities and Palestinians from both racism and anti-semitism,” the anonymous student said. 

After IfNotNow presented, MCSG president Shreya Nagdev ’22 recommended that the LB not vote on the resolution tonight, and rather take time to discuss and ask questions, emphasizing that this discussion should not be rushed. 

While various members expressed support for the resolution, first year representative Micah Hansonbrook ’25 stated her disapproval of adopting the new definition. 

Hansonbrook said she agreed with their sentiment and opposed Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, but thought adopting the new definition was not the best way to go about making a positive change. As a Jewish person, Hansonbrook said she felt that the political entrenchment of the IHRA definition, having been adopted by more than 30 countries and having bipartisan support in the US, was a reason to keep it. 

Hansonbrook also asked IfNotNow what effects the IHRA definition’s implementation had on the Macalester campus; she said that IfNotNow students had previously told her in an email that the definition had had no effect at Macalester. 

IfNotNow members attempted to address each grievance that Hansonbrook brought up.

“We are merely arguing that the adoption of JDA is going to inhibit institutions like the Department of Justice from silencing Palestinian voices.” Sahm  said. “The way that you have your right to express your opinion, is not granted to other students such as Palestinian students and other anti-Zionist organizers.”

In response to Hansonbrook’s argument that there have been no consequences of the definition on campus, IfNotNow said that the IHRA was adopted very recently in 2017 in the US and only last spring in Minnesota, and so there has not been time to see the effects yet. However, in Europe, the IHRA is more entrenched and its effects on freedom of speech and limiting criticism of Israel can be seen more clearly. 

Community Engagement Officer Ayana Smith-Kooiman ’22* also responded to Hansonbrook’s argument that the IHRA definition should be maintained because of its wide support. 

“Laws, no matter how widely adopted, are not necessarily the right thing, just because they are entrenched on our laws or what is adopted internationally does not mean it’s necessarily correct,” Smith-Kooiman said.

Jonah Wexler ’23**, who sponsored this resolution in MCSG along with Joel Sadofsky ’25, said that every Jewish and Palestinian organization on campus has already supported this resolution. Wexler also expressed his frustration with the hypocrisy of Macalester in this regard.

“We can’t sit here and do a land acknowledgment and talk about decolonization and talk about liberation and talk about aggressive and persistent settler colonialism and then actively support these regimes that support a definition that furthers aggressive and persistent settler colonialism in Israel … we have to stand up against that everywhere,” Wexler said. 

The discussion was so time-consuming that the LB voted to extend the meeting time by ten minutes. 

Nagdev ended the meeting by encouraging MCSG representatives to reach out to their constituents about their thoughts on the resolution so they can vote with their constituents in mind in the near future.

If the resolution is passed, MCSG will support the new definition and call on the college to adopt the JDR definition. IfNotNow mentioned they have already tried to talk to senior staff about it but were sent back to MCSG to get the resolution passed. 

Before IfNotNow presented, President Rivera and Provost Anderson-Levy joined the LB for the second meeting in a row to answer students’ questions. Questions covered remote teaching and international students and their options if travel bans restrict them in the spring. 

Rivera and Anderson-Levy emphasized that they too were unsure of the future, and thus had not made any concrete plans for remote teaching or accommodations for international students. 

Multiple members of the LB asked about opportunities for students to talk with senior staff about their concerns. The Provost discussed the conversations happening within departments but admitted to a lack of conversations between different departments and with individual students. 

Rayan Abubaker Ahmed Hamid ’22, the organizer of the sit-in on Nov. 3, asked Rivera and Anderson-Levy about their plans for engaging with students who are burnt out and don’t check their emails for updates about international housing, remote learning, COVID updates and more. 

Anderson-Levy said the senior staff struggle with this, too, and are open to suggestions. Rivera ended by taking her mask off — to show her sincerity, she said — and saying how difficult it is to handle all of the students’ concerns in a global pandemic and that as soon as they make decisions in the following weeks they will convey them to students. 

“I am just trying to be totally honest with you, this is hard,” Rivera said. “It is really hard work to take care of 2,000 people who have all different family circumstances and different kinds of needs and then have a global situation change the game board every few weeks.”


*Ayana Smith-Kooiman is a Web Editor for The Mac Weekly

**Jonah Wexler is an Opinion Editor for The Mac Weekly