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Glen Cove adopts definition of anti-Semitism for educational purposes

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At the Nov. 24 City Council meeting, the council voted in favor of adopting the non-legally bonding intergovernmental organization International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

The IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes 11 contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life, media, schools and the work place (see sidebar).

“The City Council will ensure that the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism is available as an educational resource for the police department and other agencies responsible for addressing anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination,” said City of Glen Cove Mayor Tim Tenke.

Glen Cove is the first municipality in New York state to adopt this working definition, said Andrea Bolender, chair of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove, which, in a meeting initiated by the American Jewish Committee, had requested that the city adopt the definition.

“We are within the city’s limits and we approached them and said, ‘How can we fight anti-Semitism if we haven’t even described it?’” Bolender recalled. “’How do we fight something if we don’t know what it is?’ The IHRA definition actually gives us the definition of what anti-Semitism is and it’s a working definition of how to indentify if something is anti-Semitic or not.”

The working definition of anti-Semitism from the IHRA reads as followed:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

As anti-Semitism is on the rise, Bolender said, it’s especially important to take a leading role in combating it. At the Nov. 17 Pre-Council meeting, Tenke brought up some current statistics from the American Jewish Committee surrounding anti-Semitism, such as the fact that nearly half of American adults are unfamiliar with the term “anti-Semitism” and 82 percent of Jewish adults believe that anti-Semitism has increased over the past five years, while only 43 percent of the general population does.

“Seventy-two percent of the general public says it makes no difference whether a Jewish person or organization considers an incident anti-Semitic and lastly 37 percent of Jews have been targets of anti-Semitic incidents over the past five years, yet three-quarters did not report it to authorities,” Tenke said. “So, we really want to make sure that people understand what that means, especially in these times.”

Several countries have adopted the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, Bolender said, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Austria, Romania and Germany. The U.S. State Department also began using the working definition in 2016 and the U.S. Department of Education has adopted the definition for domestic use.

Councilman Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews said that he is hoping that Glen Cove, as the first municipality to adopt the working definition in New York, inspires other municipalities to do the same.

Stevenson-Mathews added that the resolution should include how proud the city is to adopt this definition.

“We could be a leader and the fact is that we have the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in our city limits,” Tenke said,

Time last year, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County was subject to acts of vandalism. “This ugliness may be able to be physically cleaned off . . .  the hurt and fear will remain,” then HMTC Chairman Steven Markowitz said in a news release at the time.

This working definition should give the Glen Cove Police Department and other departments within the city a reference on how to identify anti-Semitic crimes. “When you’re looking at a criminal activity or a swastika that’s drawn or wording, [the definition] gives people a guide post on whether it’s anti-Semitic or is it not anti-Semitic,” Bolender said.

“We’re proud that Glen Cove, which is probably one of the most diverse communities on Long Island, was so willing to work with us,” she said.

Ronny Reyes contributed to this story.