On November 14, Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick (SJP) published a response to a past resolution passed by the Rutgers University Student Assembly, which recognized a specific definition of antisemitism.
The Assembly adopted the definition from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which uses this non-legally binding definition to oppose antisemitic remarks and actions.
"Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews," according to the IHRA’s statement. "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 14th Assembly, which convened during the 2020-2021 academic year, unanimously passed Resolution 14S21-05, which recognized the IHRA’s antisemitism definition on April 1, 2021.
In the resolution, the Assembly said that since Rutgers has one of the largest Jewish populations on an American college campus, it is critical to adopt the IHRA's definition and prevent antisemitism.
The criticism from SJP concerning the definition came after an Instagram story was shared by the Assembly on October 27 publicizing the definition adopted in the resolution and providing ways to discourage antisemitism.
SJP’s statement called attention to how the hyperlink to Resolution 14S21-05 on the Assembly's website was malfunctioning. The link led to outdated Assembly meeting minutes, most recently being from the Spring 2020 semester.
SJP could not confront the legislation sooner due to this error and said it was not aware of the bill until the aforementioned Instagram story was posted.
In a statement from SJP, the organization said it supports the Jewish population at Rutgers but disagrees that the Assembly's adoption of the IHRA's definition will decrease the risk of antisemitism on campus. The definition will silence Palestinian voices that do not support the Israeli state, the statement said.
"SJP and pro-Palestinian scholars and activists globally recognize that the IHRA definition incorrectly and dangerously conflates antisemitism with anti-Zionism and just criticism of the state of Israel," SJP said in a statement to The Daily Targum.
SJP said the Palestinian community at Rutgers feels worried and uncomfortable about its inability to disapprove of the treatment of Palestinians without being called antisemitic.
The IHRA’s definition criticizes fair Palestinian rebuttal to Israel and likens the definition to current laws that renounce the Boycotting, Divestment and Sanctioning (BDS) of Israel, SJP said.
"Palestinians should not be denied the right to speak out against a state that steals and desecrates land, hope, and Palestinian lives," SJP said. "The IHRA definition directly impedes our right to speak against these injustices."
The implementation of this definition stifles SJP’s assessment of the Israeli state, specifically statements of scrutiny toward the Israeli government, according to SJP’s statement to the Targum.
It does not allow SJP to hold Israel responsible for its violations against Palestinians or issue its call for the University to divest from Israel as a state, SJP said.
SJP also proposed a petition alongside its response to the Assembly to retract Resolution 14S21-05. The petition has 37 co-signing organizations and currently has more than 1,900 signatures.
The Assembly has been in contact with SJP and is aware of its call for the repeal, according to Assembly president Allison Smith, vice president Lara Fougnies and other members of the organization's executive board. The two organizations plan to meet after winter break to discuss misunderstandings between them, they said.
The current 16th Assembly could not speak on why the resolution was passed since the previous members who passed the bill are no longer serving, Smith, Fougnies and other members of the Assembly executive board said. Though they said certain clauses in the resolution may be the reason the previous assembly passed the bill.
They said the Assembly is currently updating the hyperlinks with which the public can view the organization's archived documents. Currently, individuals can contact the Assembly's secretary to address concerns with the organization and view past documents, they said.
"We have already, and continue to, provide interested student organizations with the appropriate and relevant procedures that can be used to change any legislation, such as adopting a new definition of antisemitism to replace the current definition, if desired by the student body," they said.