TAA Statement on Palestine: “A Call for Palestinian Liberation”

TAA Statement on Palestine: “A Call for Palestinian Liberation”

The following statement was written and approved by the general membership of the TAA on November 15th, 2023.

A Call for Palestinian liberation

WHEREAS The Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA; AFT [American Federation of Teachers] Local 3220) recognizes that the Zionist Israeli state is a reactionary tool of Western imperialism, funded for their own cynical aims. Israel can accurately be described as an apartheid state, as documented by many human rights experts and organizations, including UN officials, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International agree with this description.

WHEREAS Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack has been indiscriminate and disproportionate violence toward Palestinians. As of November 13, 2023, Israel has murdered over 11,000 Palestinians, nearly half being children. Upon his recent resignation, the Director of the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, stated that Israel’s actions are “a textbook case of genocide.”

WHEREAS Israel’s bombing campaign has been carried out without regard for the lives of hostages, further exposing the cynicism of justifications based on the October 7 attack. Similarly, American liberal and progressive politicians continue to cry crocodile tears for the victims of Hamas and remain silent on the victims of Netanyahu.


WHEREAS Israel’s genocidal attacks are exacerbating the inhumane living conditions and mass unemployment in Gaza. The civilians of Palestine deserve fundamental human rights, including, but not limited to, security, freedom from foreign occupation, access to housing, clean water, healthcare, and employment. 

WHEREAS The October 9 press release from AFT National, titled, “US Education Leaders Condemn Hamas Attack, Stand with Israeli People,” and the resolution recently adopted by [American Federation of Teachers]–Wisconsin (AFT–W) inadequately condemn Israel’s colonialist regime and fail to acknowledge colonialism as the root cause of the current conflict. These statements fail to use the terms, “colonialism,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “genocide” to characterize Israel and its actions, which is out of step with several human rights experts/organizations and undermines the severity of Israel’s oppression. Furthermore, these statements fail to call on the US government to halt the sale and funding of arms for Israeli forces. Unless we address the core of this conflict and end our support for the Israeli offensive, the US will remain complicit in the occupation and genocide in Palestine. Given the status quo of US support for Israel’s oppression of Palestine, the shortcomings of AFT’s statements make them pro-Israel and anti-Palestine by default. Therefore, be it;

RESOLVED The TAA considers Israeli and Western imperialism ultimately responsible for the recent violence.

RESOLVED The TAA condemns Israel’s settler colonialism, apartheid, occupation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in Palestine. We condemn Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, which has been a death sentence for thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians and has displaced over a million more. This collective lethal punishment breaks international law and constitutes war crimes.

RESOLVED We call for the collective liberation of the Palestinian people from Israeli oppression. 

RESOLVED We stand in solidarity with the following people:

  1. The people of Palestine, who have suffered at the hands of US, British, and Israeli imperialism for over 100 years;
  2. Palestinian trade unions who have called on the international working class to take action in the face of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the mass killing of the Palestinian people;
  3. Israeli workers and unions who break with their ruling class to stand unconditionally on the side of the oppressed;
  4. The many Jewish workers around the world who condemn Zionism and stand steadfast with Palestinians;
  5. Victims of oppression on the basis of religion or ethnicity around the world including victims of rising islamophobia and antisemitism.

RESOLVED We demand the US government and the Biden administration use all available diplomatic means to end the genocide of Palestinians, including but not limited to ending all funding and arms sales to the Israeli government. We must immediately end our moral and material support for Israel’s human rights abuses and war crimes.

RESOLVED We condemn the US veto of a ceasefire resolution brought forward by Brazil to the UN Security Council to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. We are appalled that the US was the only country to veto the resolution. Although a ceasefire doesn’t go nearly far enough, this is the bare minimum that we expect from the UN.

RESOLVED We call on workers in the US to organize to halt any production and shipment of weapons to Israel. Organized action and the building of mass movements by the international working class will be necessary to end the occupation. We should take inspiration from the two Intifadas, as well as the American workers who have already physically obstructed the shipment of arms to Israel from ports in the Northwest.

RESOLVED We demand that the University of Wisconsin system direct the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) to divest the ~$512 million (as of 2021) that the UW system has invested in BlackRock, the massive US-based asset manager that owns large portions of weapon manufacturers and military contractors such as Boeing ($5.42 billion), Lockheed Martin ($5.13 billion), Northrop Grumman ($3.06 billion), and General Dynamics ($2.47 billion). These US companies manufacture the weapons, jets, and surveillance systems that the Israeli government uses to kill Palestinians.

RESOLVED We demand that AFT retract its endorsement of genocide enabler Joe Biden for US president in 2024 given his administration’s complicity in war crimes. He is a particularly ruthless cheerleader of Israeli war crimes, even among the American ruling class. The same should be done for all endorsements of anti-Palestine politicians.

RESOLVED The TAA action commits to the following actions:

  1. Mobilize our membership to participate in rallies, protests, and marches in support of Palestine, including but not limited to: hosting events, amplifying Palestinian voices (including by supporting SJP events and by supporting the demands of the BDS movement in a reiteration of the TAA’s existing position), and to contact representatives in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and for collective liberation for the Palestinian people.
  2. Continue to recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that the American working class will never be free while Palestine is in chains;
  3. Refuse to support politicians and parties that oppose Palestinian liberation;
  4. Call on the labor movement as a whole to mobilize its resources to fight American imperialism on all fronts.
  5. Protect and support all workers and organizations (such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Madison for Palestine) who face retaliation due to their support for Palestinian liberation.



















Bowing to BDS pressure

Update: G4S to divest completely from apartheid Israel

Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), June 1, 2023

In a major win for human rights activism against corporate complicity, the world’s largest private security company Allied Universal, which owns G4S, has decided to sell all its remaining business in apartheid Israel. This follows years of an effective #StopG4S campaign waged by the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.


This victory comes after human rights campaigns caused G4S serious “reputational damage” and some lucrative investments and contracts. Along with the BDS movement, several other human rights campaigns have also targeted G4S over its long, violent record of human rights abuses against prisoners, migrants, and other communities worldwide, including the UK, South Africa and the US. 

The BDS campaign against G4S was launched by Palestinian prisoners’ rights and human rights organizations in 2012 to support the major hunger strike waged then by Palestinian political prisoners. This pressure led to high profile divestment from G4S by the Church of Sweden, the United Methodist Church, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a Kuwaiti investment fund, UN agencies, trade unions, universities, restaurant chains, among others, compelling the company in 2016 to divest from Israel’s prison system, military checkpoints and illegal settlements. 

Yet, the #StopG4S campaign kept up the pressure to get G4S to divest from its remaining stake in the consortium that operates Policity, Israel’s police academy, given the well documented war crimes and grave human rights violations perpetrated by Israeli police over decades. Allied Universal, which acquired G4S in 2021, is now finally selling this share in Policity to the Israeli company G1 that is notorious for its complicity in human rights violations. The sale is pending approval by the Israeli authorities.

The final straw that compelled Allied Universal to end its complicity in apartheid Israel’s human rights abuses against Indigenous Palestinians seems to be the strong position taken by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), which manages the funds of the Quebec Pension Plan and other public pension plans. Trade unions and BDS campaigners, led by BDS Quebec and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have been pressuring CDPQ since Allied Universal’s acquisition of G4S, raising the issue in direct conversation with the fund and with members of parliament. 

CDPQ became the largest shareholder in Allied Universal in 2019, and supported the company in its bidding for the takeover of G4S, in direct violation of its commitment to ethical and socially responsible investment. When a Quebec lawmaker earlier this month criticized CDPQ’s investment in Allied Universal in a parliamentary committee, saying that “cases of [Israeli] torture against Palestinian political prisoners, including children, are widely documented by human rights organizations,” CDPQ’s CEO replied: “I completely agree with you. This is not the kind of activity we endorse at all.”

Given apartheid Israel’s rising economic and financial troubles, especially the drying up of investments in high-tech, we may see an increasing number of multinationals divesting from it.

The BDS movement, with its intersectional partnerships worldwide, calls for intensifying pressure on other corporate criminals to make them respect their human rights obligations and stop profiting from oppression and injustice. Despite the enormous financial, legal and propaganda resources that multinationals have wielded against us, and despite the support they have received from Israel and its partners in crime, mainly the US, EU and UK, our strategic and collective pressure over the years has brought many of them to their knees, forcing them to divest from apartheid Israel. 

They try to sear into our consciousness the impossibility of prevailing over them, but we have prevailed. With the growing support from racial, economic, climate, social and gender justice movements worldwide, we surely can prevail in many more corporate accountability struggles in pursuit of freedom, justice and equality.

Jewish doctor denied payment for refusing Israel pledge

Dr. Steve Feldman, pictured on a trip to the West Bank. Feldman was denied payment from the state of Arkansas for refusing to sign a pledge promising not to boycott Israel. (Courtesy of Steve Feldman)


Dr. Steve Feldman, a dermatologist, delivered a Zoom lecture to University of Arkansas at Little Rock medical students in February, for which he was entitled to a $500 honorarium from the state. But Feldman said that the state is withholding payment because he refused to sign a pledge, required for public contractors under Arkansas law since 2017, to commit to not boycotting Israel.

“They have a law in place that makes contracts with Arkansas dependent on your agreement not to boycott Israel, which I think is wrong,” Feldman, who is a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “To me, growing up Jewish, the very strong lesson of the Holocaust that I learned is it’s wrong to mistreat other people.”

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that have passed laws aiming to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. The laws either bar the state from investing in companies that boycott Israel or, as in Arkansas’ case, mandate that state contractors promise not to boycott the country. Most of those laws have been struck down by courts, but Feldman’s lecture took place the same month the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Arkansas’ law. His case is the latest example of how such laws are affecting what would otherwise be ordinary state business transactions.

Feldman has close relatives who live in Israel. But he said the pledge conflicted with his religious and moral views. In addition to his medical work, he is a pro-Palestinian activist who created the online-only Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience. The website says that the Jewish commitment to fighting injustice should lead Jews to stand up for Palestinian rights. Feldman said he does support boycotting Israel. 

“I think the only thing that will lead to Israel allowing Palestinian families to return to their homes, so that everybody can live together peacefully, will be some kind of boycott,” he said.

While the Arkansas law, passed in 2017, applies only to contractors earning more than $1,000 from the state, Feldman said he was still refused his $500 payment. The justification, he said, was that being added to the state’s vendor system would make him eligible for future assignments that could add up to more than $1,000.

Feldman told JTA he is exploring his legal options and wouldn’t rule out a lawsuit against the state as a means of advocating for Palestinian rights and challenging last year’s federal Eighth Circuit Court ruling that the law was constitutionally protected. “I would love to sue and have the Circuit Court either retract what they said, or go to the Supreme Court in order for people to see things that they didn’t know,” he said.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, a Republican, has said the law combats discrimination on the basis of nationality. Following the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he works to “ensure that taxpayers aren’t required to pay for anti-Israel and anti-Israeli discrimination.”

Feldman’s story was first reported by the Arkansas Times, a publication that has itself become entangled in the state’s anti-boycott law. The paper’s publisher, Alan Leveritt, challenged the law in court after he was asked to sign the anti-boycott pledge so that the paper could run advertising from a state university. The suit, which is the one that reached the Supreme Court, argued that the law was a violation of the publication’s First Amendment rights and attracted support from progressive Jewish groups, as well as opposition from some pro-Israel groups. Leveritt argued that he doesn’t have strong feelings about Israel boycotts but that his paper does not take political positions in exchange for advertising. 

Since the inception of state-level laws prohibiting Israel boycotts, some state lawmakers have used them as a template for legislation barring other types of divestment campaigns, such as those targeting fossil fuels or the firearms industry. 

Feldman mused that he could have signed the pledge, taken the money and then engaged in an Israel boycott to see how the state would react, but concluded, “I can’t lie on a form. That also goes against my Jewish moral character.”

Israelis, welcome to BDS

Though not named as such, BDS tactics have been central to Israel’s anti-government protests. And the hypocrisy is not lost on Palestinians.

Israeli protesters clash with police on horseback while blocking Ayalon Highway during an anti-government demonstration, March 16, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Israeli protesters clash with police on horseback while blocking Ayalon Highway during an anti-government demonstration, March 16, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

Amjad Iraqi, +972 Magazine, March 19, 2023

This article originally appeared in “The Landline,” +972’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe here.

It took only two months for Israelis to shatter one of their biggest political taboos in the fight against the far-right government. Riled by the coalition’s relentless power trip, Jewish opposition parties have pledged not to participate in the Knesset’s final votes on legislation aimed at overhauling the judiciary. Israeli diplomats and envoys are quitting their posts in protest. Army reservists are objecting to service en masse, affecting every unit from combat troops to the air force. Tech companies and venture capital firms are relocating abroad and transferring out hundreds of millions of dollars. Artists, writers, and intellectuals are calling on world leaders to shun meetings with senior Israeli officials, including the prime minister.

None of these groups will admit it, but this is, by all accounts, one of the most impressive BDS campaigns ever witnessed.

In the topsy-turvy Israel of today, boycotts, divestments, and sanctions — though not explicitly named as such — have become central strategies of the Israeli protest movement. Large swathes of society are not just distancing themselves from the government’s agenda, but are actively pursuing nationwide disruption and international intervention to stop it. The economy, security, and day-to-day life are all necessary sacrifices in the name of saving “democracy.” At this scale, the movement has gone beyond merely ending public complicity; it is, in effect, a civil revolt.

Ironically, these methods of civil resistance are being encouraged by figures who spent years undermining those who used them. Yair Lapid, the Knesset opposition leader and former prime minister, is continuing to call for mass demonstrations and strikes, and has urged municipalities not to cooperate with certain government ministry units, later describing such political expression as part of Israelis’ “deep democratic instinct.” This is the same Lapid who accused Israeli anti-occupation groups of “subversion” for exposing military abuses; oversaw the outlawing of Palestinian human rights NGOs as “terrorists”; and demanded American anti-BDS laws be used to punish the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s for not selling products in illegal West Bank settlements, blasting the divestment as a “shameful surrender to antisemitism.”

Activists carry a BDS banner during a protest calling for the liberation of Palestine and to protest the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, Paris, May 22, 2021. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)
Activists carry a BDS banner during a protest calling for the liberation of Palestine and to protest the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, Paris, May 22, 2021. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israel’s own anti-boycott law, enacted in 2011, now technically hovers over all these new dissidents, enabling any citizen to sue the protesters for causing “financial or reputational harm” to the state and other entities under its control. The Israeli Supreme Court — the institution that the protest movement has been fighting so hard to defend — enthusiastically approved the anti-democratic law in 2015, calling boycotts a form of “political terror,” “bigoted, dishonest, and shameful,” and an attempt to “annihilate” the Jewish state. Israeli politicians, including from the center and center-left, saw the price tag on civil rights as necessary not just to stifle Palestinians, but to deter Jewish Israelis from boycotting the settlements. Now, if the right chooses so, the anti-government movement could be made to pay a literal price for its sedition.

‘We told you so’

The cognitive dissonance of this moment is not lost on Palestinians. In the two decades since the BDS movement was launched, Palestinians and their allies have been smeared, censored, and attacked for calling on citizens, companies, and governments to use nonviolent tactics to pressure Israel into ending its human rights abuses. Its demands, explicitly rooted in international law, are to achieve equality for Palestinians in Israel, end military rule in the occupied territories, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland — basic rights which, in any other country, would not be so controversial.

However, far from even respecting the right to challenge Israel, BDS has been aggressively denounced as “counterproductive” at best and “antisemitic” at worst. A slew of U.S. and European laws and policies are effectively criminalizing the movement and defining it as a form of racism. Even liberal American Jewish groups — some of whom entertain the idea of conditioning military aid to Israel, and last week called for revoking the visa of Israel’s finance minister — still adamantly insist that they neither support nor participate in the BDS movement.

That distancing is, in many ways, a cop out that reveals the hypocrisy and racism at the heart of the debate around BDS. It is perfectly reasonable, it seems, to shun Israeli officials, cut off financial ties, and disrupt public spaces when mainstream Jews call for it. But when Palestinians living under Israeli oppression demand the same, their calls are to be scrutinized, rejected, even punished. It is also telling that BDS tactics are currently being legitimized in the name of helping Jewish Israelis protect a status quo ante in which racial supremacy and military occupation were the norm, albeit wrapped in more democratic clothing; using BDS in the name of equality, freedom, and justice for Palestinians, though, is an existential threat.

The speed at which many abroad are suddenly embracing harsher language and policy ideas against the Israeli government, including members of the U.S. Congress, shows how even well-intentioned groups are still acting as gatekeepers to what Palestinians are allowed to say, do, and have. The discrediting of Palestinian voices, the conditioning of their rights on Israeli diktats, and the refusal to hold the “only Jewish state” accountable to international law, is precisely what has bought Israel the time and impunity to arrive at its latest fascistic stage.

It is therefore very tempting for Palestinians to tell the world “we told you so.” But for now, in the hope that this moment may serve as a lesson, perhaps it is best to simply say to all of Israel’s new BDS activists: welcome.

Amjad Iraqi

Amjad Iraqi is a senior editor at +972 Magazine. He is also a policy analyst at the think tank Al-Shabaka, and was previously an advocacy coordinator at the legal center Adalah. In addition to +972, his writings have appeared in the London Review of Books, The Nation, The Guardian, and Le Monde Diplomatique, among others. He is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, based in Haifa.


D.C. Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Israeli Boycott

Court dismisses claims arising from 2013 Boycott Resolution as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), siding with Steven Salaita and others

March 2, 2023, Washington, D.C. – The D.C. Superior Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) and some of its former leaders for a 2013 resolution endorsing the academic boycott against Israel. The court found that the claims primarily arose from advocacy on an issue of public interest and were not likely to succeed. Those targeted by the suit included Dr. Steven Salaita, an advocate for Palestinian rights represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which secured dismissal of all the claims against him under a D.C. law to deter SLAPPs, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. 

“I welcome the judge’s decision to dismiss this long-running lawsuit as a waste of time and money,” said Salaita. “I am happy to finally be freed of this burden and hope that the ruling will deter pro-Israel outfits with no means of winning a debate beyond harassment and defamation from trying to impoverish those of us committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian people.”

In 2013, two-thirds of ASA members voted to join a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as part of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to generate opposition to Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. Four professors originally sued the ASA and some of its leaders in federal court, claiming that the vote had violated the group’s by-laws and that its officers had breached their fiduciary duties. In 2018, they amended the suit to add several defendants, including Salaita, even though he had joined the ASA board two years after the vote. 

A federal court dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, and the plaintiffs promptly filed a nearly identical complaint in the D.C Superior Court. The court initially denied the anti-SLAPP motion, but in response to an appeal by Salaita and the other defendants, the D.C. Court of Appeals ordered the court to reanalyze the case, resulting in yesterday’s ruling.   

The purpose of anti-SLAPP laws is to deter lawsuits that target people who speak out on matters of public concern. Often, the goal of plaintiffs in such cases is not to win in court but simply to harass and intimidate advocates. Under the D.C. anti-SLAPP law, once the defendants show that the lawsuit is based on protected advocacy, plaintiffs must show that they are nonetheless likely to prevail in court; if they cannot, the suit is dismissed as it was in this case, and defendants may collect attorney’s fees from the plaintiffs. 

“This ruling should send a clear message to those trying to silence advocates speaking out against Israel’s human rights abuses: boycotts are legally protected, and attempts to stifle such advocacy through the misuse of courts will not be tolerated,” said Astha Sharma Pokharel, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “These lawsuits will face strong opposition that will only grow the movement for justice and freedom in Palestine.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights also represented Salaita in his case against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which unlawfully fired him in retaliation for his criticism of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The lawsuit against him and the other academics is part of a broader nationwide effort to suppress speech critical of Israel, advocates say. The Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have documented censorship efforts on college campuses and at other institutions. 

Defendants Lisa Duggan, Curtis Marez, Neferti Tadiar, Sunaina Maira, Chandan Reddy, John Stephens, and the American Studies Association were represented by Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P., and defendants J. Kehaulani Kauanui and Jasbir Puar were represented by Mark Allen Kleiman and Richard Renner.  

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page


Victory! ABA removes controversial definition of antisemitism

Proposed resolution targeted Palestinian rights advocacy

In January, we sent letters urging the American Bar Association (ABA) to remove its reference to the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism” in its proposed Resolution 514, explaining that rather than fighting antisemitism, the controversial IHRA definition is used to silence Palestinian rights advocates. In a victory for human rights and free speech, the ABA decided to drop the definition in passing its resolution.

Meanwhile, we continue to fight the use of IHRA as it is being pushed through in various arenas to suppress Palestinian voices. Virginia legislators are considering HB 1606 which would adopt IHRA, including its contemporary examples related to Israel, as a tool and guide for recognizing and combating antisemitic discrimination and hate crimes in Virginia. We joined Palestine Legal and other groups in a letter to legislators explaining the dangers of the definition, and how it has widely been used to suppress criticism of Israel, not to combat antisemitism. The bill passed out of committee on Friday, and the fight continues.


Virtual Discussion on Corporate BDS Organizing

I am writing to invite you to join Omar Barghouti and me for a virtual discussion on corporate BDS organizing this Thursday, January 26 at 11 am ET/10 am CT/6 pm Palestine. 

Adalah Justice Project has played a key role in campaigns to compel corporations like Ben & Jerry’s to withdraw their complicity from Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people. This webinar gives us an opportunity to reflect with Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, on what these campaigns have accomplished and what more we can do together to advance BDS wins.

This event is hosted by our friends at Al-Shabaka and will be moderated by Al-Shabaka’s Nadim Bawalsa. 

We hope you will be able to join us this Thursday, January 26.

You can register for the webinar here.


Sandra Tamari
Adalah Justice Project


U.S. Palestinian Rights Group in Federal Appeals Court 

Confronts Challenge to Human Rights Advocacy


Last week a U.S.-based Palestinian rights organization asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Jewish National Fund and several U.S. citizens who live in Israel. Citing the speech and expressive activities of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, including its support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, the lawsuit  had argued that the group provided “material support” for terrorism. 

In dismissing the suit in March 2021, the lower court said the arguments were, “to say the least, not persuasive.” The suit is part of a broader effort to criminalize and silence the political activities of supporters of Palestinian rights, advocates say. 

“The worldwide movement for Palestinian freedom is growing,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “USCPR’s work to advocate for Palestinian human rights is a critical part of that freedom struggle, or else right-wing forces allied with the Israeli government would not be repeatedly trying to silence us. All the more reason to keep up our work to build toward justice for all.”

Visit our website to learn more.

Distorted Definition: Redefining Antisemitism to Silence Advocacy for Palestinian Rights

One of the primary tactics opponents of the movement for Palestinian freedom have used to silence political debate is the branding of all support for Palestinian rights as anti-Jewish. Roughly half of the incidents of suppression Palestine Legal responds to each year include false accusations of antisemitism, totaling 895 incidents from 2014 to 2020.   

In an effort to add legitimacy to this tactic, Israel lobby groups have employed distorted definition of antisemitism that encompasses virtually all criticism of Israel and have attempted to entrench this definition through policy changes and legislation. 

This page tracks the evolution of the cynical ways Israel lobby groups have abused the definition and the definition’s impact on advocates for Palestinian rights.

We invite you to explore the following components:

2004 – 2008

Origins of a Politicized Redefinition

After decades of attempting to smear Palestine advocacy with false antisemitism accusations, Israel lobby groups develop a new Israel-centered definition of antisemitism. It is adopted by an EU body, and the U.S. State Department cites it in a report.

  • The European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) begins working with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other Jewish and Israel advocacy groups to expand the definition of antisemitism. The AJC encourages inclusion of criticism of Israel in this redefinition.

    At the same time, Israeli politician Natan Sharansky creates the “3Ds Test” which defines “delegitimizing,” “demonizing” or “applying double standards” to Israel as examples of antisemitism.

  • The EUMC publishes a “Working Definition of Antisemitism,” which includes criticism of Israel and the “3Ds Test.” The body posts the definition to its website as a “practical guide for identifying incidents,” but never formally adopts it. After the EUMC, now renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency, quietly drops the definition from the agency website in 2013, a spokesperson explains that the agency never viewed the document as a valid definition.

  • The U.S. State Department uses the EUMC redefinition in a report, but states that some international approaches to defining antisemitism would violate the First Amendment if used in the United States. The report states that the State Department “does not endorse any such measures that prohibit conduct that would be protected under the U.S. Constitution.”

2008 – 2014

Pro-Israel Groups Unsuccessfully Target Students in the U.S.

Lawyers affiliated with pro-Israel groups attempt multiple times to abuse U.S. civil rights law to claim that campus advocacy for Palestine is antisemitic, filing federal complaints against three University of California campuses and Rutgers University.

The complaints use similar language attempting to redefine antisemitism including the “3Ds Test.”

All of the complaints are dismissed.

  • The Department of Education opens an investigation into the
    University of California, Irvine following a complaint by the right-wing Zionist Organization of America that advocacy for Palestinian rights created an antisemitic climate. The complaint alleges among other claims that the university failed to discipline students for “distribut[ing] flyers attributing, allegedly falsely, an anti-Israel statement to Nelson Mandela” and for wearing t-shirts that say “UC Intifada: How You Can Help Palestine.”

  • Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of another right-wing Israel advocacy group AMCHA Initiative, files a complaint alleging that the screening of the documentary “Occupation 101” and a teach-in called “Understanding Gaza” created a hostile environment for Jewish students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Department of Education opens an investigation into the complaint in 2011.

  • This lawsuit argues that the University of California, Berkeley failed to stop speech and activity for Palestinian rights on campus, such as theatrical mock checkpoints and events critical of Israel’s policies, creating a hostile climate for Jewish students. After the case is dismissed by the court because it targeted First Amendment protected activities, the lawyers file the claims in a complaint to the Department of Education.

  • The Zionist Organization of America files a complaint against Rutgers University alleging that advocacy for Palestinian rights created an antisemitic climate. The complaint focuses primarily on an event sponsored by student groups that featured stories of Holocaust and Nakba survivors.

  • The Department of Education dismisses three complaints against Palestine advocacy at the University of California’s Berkeley, Irvine, and Santa Cruz campuses, emphasizing that this political activity is protected by the First Amendment.

  • The Department of Education dismisses a complaint by the Zionist Organization of America against Rutgers University, finding that the political activity complained of is protected by the First Amendment and that there is no evidence to support the allegations made in the complaint.

  • Despite continued efforts by the Zionist Organization of America and the AMCHA Initiative to push their theory that criticism of Israel is antisemitic, the Department of Education definitively denies two appeals challenging the dismissals of civil rights complaints filed against University of California campuses at Berkeley and Santa Cruz.

2015 – 2018

Efforts to Adopt Distorted Definition Fail in U.S., Gain Steam in Europe

After the Department of Education dismisses complaints against universities, pro-Israel groups seek official endorsement of the redefinition of antisemitism.

These efforts gain little traction with Congress, state governments, and universities.

Student governments, including at Indiana University, San Diego State, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison adopt the redefinition following lobbying by Israel groups.

2018 – 2021

Trump Administration Weaponizes Definition

Trump appoints a key player in efforts to use the redefinition to silence Palestine advocacy as head of civil rights at the Department of Education.

States begin to adopt the redefinition, but efforts in Congress remain stalled.

Trump eventually imposes the definition on federal agencies in a controversial executive order, leading to a rapid uptick in federal complaints and investigations against campus Palestine advocacy.

Following the exit of the Trump administration, advocates for Palestinian freedom and pro-Israel groups face uncertainty as to whether the Biden administration will extend Trump’s adoption of IHRA as a censorship tool.

Various state and local governments adopt the distorted definition, including Texas, Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island, and Sharon, Massachusetts.

An Israeli government official tries to pressure a public university to cancel a course on Israel/Palestine using the definition.

A right-wing group seeks to punish Ben & Jerry’s after they announce they will no longer sell their ice cream in settlements, claiming that respecting international law is discriminatory under IHRA.

Student governments, including at CUNY City College, Florida State
University, and Stanford adopt the redefinition following lobbying by Israel groups.

  • Despite opposition from civil rights groups and after months of delay, the Senate approves redefinition lobbyist Kenneth Marcus as head of the Department of Education’s
    Office for Civil Rights

    Within weeks, Marcus reopens a seven-year-old complaint against Palestine advocacy at Rutgers University. In a letter announcing the reopening, Marcus states that the
    redefinition is in use
    by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

  • A provision tacked onto the state’s
    budget bill requires South Carolina public colleges and universities to consider the redefinition when investigating allegations of discrimination. Lawmakers in Tennessee also propose a bill to adopt the redefinition.

  • Florida adopts the redefinition for use in the state’s public schools. Under the new law, applying a “double standard” by, for example, “focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel” constitutes antisemitism. Lawmakers in
    Tennessee and New
    also propose bills to adopt the redefinition, but these bills fail to pass.

  • Trump signs an executive order that directs government agencies, including the Department of Education, to consider the distorted definition of antisemitism when investigating civil rights complaints. The order attracts widespread criticism.

  • In the weeks after Trump’s executive order, three federal complaints are filed against Palestine advocacy on campus, all citing the order.

    The Lawfare Project files a federal complaint against Columbia University for allowing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to hold events, art installations and engage in other speech activity advocating for Palestinian freedom. A second complaint is also filed against Columbia within a week.

    A third complaint is filed against Georgia Tech by the right-wing, Christian evangelical American Center for Law and Justice after a student group successfully appealed a punishment they faced for refusing to allow a Hillel employee to disrupt their event on Palestine.

    In January 2021, the Hillel employee agrees to drop the case in exchange for Georgia Tech recognizing that under Trump’s executive order, the Department of Education considers the IHRA definition of antisemitism when evaluating intent in cases of discriminatory harassment.

  • Bills incorporating the distorted definition are introduced in Arizona, Illinois, and several other states. All of these bills fail to become law. The bills call for adopting the distorted definition, including the examples encompassing criticism of Israel, for use in hate crimes reporting and sentencing (Arizona), by state entities investigating acts of discrimination (Iowa), or by public schools and universities (Illinois, Tennessee, South Carolina). Some of these bills describe investigating Israel’s human rights abuses as an example of antisemitism.

  • Republican members of Congress cite Trump’s executive order when urging the Department of Education to investigate and potentially cut funding to Middle Eastern studies departments at the University of Arizona, University of California, Berkeley, and Yale because students and faculty at these universities support boycotts for Palestinian rights. Another Republican congressman had made a similar demand for investigation of Middle Eastern studies at Georgetown University in late 2019.

  • The student government at Florida State University adopts the IHRA definition following a state-wide
    political witch-hunt
    against FSU Student Senate President Ahmad Daraldik over social media posts Ahmad, a Palestinian-American, made as a child criticizing Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. The IHRA resolution comes after a failed attempt to remove Ahmad from office through a vote of no confidence.

    Following the IHRA resolution, pro-Israel students seek to remove Ahmad from office yet again, claiming his past posts constitute antisemitism under IHRA.

    Another student government leader is accused
    of antisemitism
    after arguing against the adoption of IHRA and explaining that Palestinians talking about their oppression is not antisemitism.

    FSU president John Thrasher later announces that the university would “recognize” the IHRA definition, including its contemporary examples.

  • Over 120 pro-Israel groups lobby Facebook to label criticism of Israel as hate speech under the IHRA definition. The Zachor Legal Institute, a pro-Israel group that engages in legal bullying, also lobbies Twitter and YouTube to use the IHRA definition and remove content critical of Israel.

  • The Department of Education closes an investigation at New York University (NYU) that was launched after the NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) received a school award for their on-campus organizing and coalition building. As part of a resolution agreement, NYU commits to prohibiting antisemitism in its policies and anti-discrimination trainings. The agreement refers to the IHRA definition in Trump’s 2019 executive order but excludes the IHRA contemporary examples, including those regarding Israel.

  • The Zionist Organization of America and StopAntisemitism.org file a federal civil rights complaint against CUNY after the latter organization targeted a Palestinian law student and activist with a cyberbullying campaign based on misinformation and false accusations.

    The student was subject to attacks by Zionist groups after she posted an old video of herself waving a lighter as a joke while criticizing a friend for wearing a T-shirt promoting the Israeli military.

    Act.il, an app with deep ties to Israeli intelligence and military, falsely claimed that the video depicted a violent threat against a fellow student on the basis of apparent nationality and provided a script for hundreds of people to call for CUNY to discipline the student.

    The student’s friend was neither Jewish, Israeli, nor a CUNY student and was filmed years before the student enrolled in law school. There was no violent threat involved.

    StopAntisemitism.org later named the student its ‘antisemite of the year’ based on these false and distorted accusations.

  • A spate of IHRA resolutions pass in local governments, including at least five across Florida and at least three in Long Island outside of New York City between 2020 and 2021. The New York measures and some of the Florida measures are driven by the American Jewish Committee, which helped craft the Israel-centric definition in 2004.

  • The State Department reportedly plans to designate three prominent advocacy groups as antisemitic due to their criticism of Israel’s violations of international law, claiming that the human rights activities of Amnesty
    , Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam International meet the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The plan does not materialize before the Trump administration leaves office.

  • Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo releases graphics on social media stating that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” and announces plans to identify and target organizations that support BDS. The department does not announce a list prior to the end of the administration.

  • Following Donald Trump’s electoral defeat, pro-Israel groups lobby the Biden administration to continue Trump’s policy of using the IHRA definition. Progressive and liberal Jewish organizations come out against Biden maintaining the policy.

  • Having failed to pass a similar bill in 2020, Illinois lawmakers
    reintroduce a bill to amend the state’s Human Rights Act to adopt the IHRA definition for use in investigating acts of discrimination in public schools and universities. This bill describes investigating Israel’s human rights abuse as an example of antisemitism.

  • Student governments, including at Brooklyn College, Syracuse University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Texas, Austin adopt the IHRA definition.

  • In June, Texas joins Florida and South Carolina in adopting the distorted definition. Texas is the first state to explicitly say it is adopting IHRA, compared to FL and SC which used text similar to IHRA.

    Meanwhile in Arizona, lawmakers actually removed the IHRA definition from a bill on Holocaust education in the state’s public schools, recognizing that it’s possible to educate people on antisemitism without it.

  • Liberal and progressive democrats urge the Biden administration not to use the IHRA definition, including a coalition letter led by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to Secretary of State Blinken encouraging use of alternative definitions.

    Responding to the Schakowsky letter in June, a Biden admin rep calls IHRA a “gold standard” and indicates the State Department will continue to use IHRA.

  • Member of Congress Lee Zeldin (R-NY) urges the New York City Department of Education to enforce Trump’s IHRA executive order for the purpose of suppressing growing support for Palestinian rights and freedom following Israel’s May 2021 attacks on the Gaza Strip.

  • An Israeli consul pressures the University of North Carolina to remove a graduate student lecturer from teaching a history course on Israel/Palestine after claiming the instructor’s criticism of Israel was antisemitic under the IHRA definition.

  • Critically acclaimed Irish author Sally Rooney faces false accusations using the distorted definition of antisemitism after she declines to sell translation rights to a publishing house with ties to the Israeli government and announces that she is open to partnering with a Hebrew translator that is compliant with the institutional boycott principles established by Palestinian civil society.

  • Rightwing pro-Israel group StandWithUs accuses Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company Unilever of “corporate antisemitism” under the IHRA definition after the ice cream company announced it will no longer sell its products in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements starting in 2023.

  • Pro-Israel groups launch a campaign to push state governors to adopt and promote the distorted IHRA definition as part of Hanukkah celebrations.

    Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine writes a letter to the state’s 111 college and university presidents urging them to create a culture…that does not tolerate “anti-Israel sentiments.”

2019 – 2021

The Movement Pushes Back Against the Definition

Advocates from North America, Europe and Palestine/Israel begin more coordinated work to pushback against the redefinition as a censorship tool targeting Palestinian freedom.

The definition faces pushback on campuses and defeat by student governments across the country due to the definition’s use as a tool of political suppression.

At Butler University, the IHRA definition is defeated after the only two Palestinians in student government were initially excluded from participating in discussions about the measure.

Fifty thousand people join a global campaign demanding that Facebook stop labeling Palestine advocacy as hate speech.

An explosive Oxford University report reveals that the leadership of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance knowingly misled and neglected to correct the public perception about the scope of the IHRA definition’s adoption in the EU.

  • Independent Jewish Voices in Canada launches a transnational NoIHRA Campaign in 2019 and publishes a report on IHRA’s impact on colleges and universities in 2020.

  • Hundreds of academics in Canada sign an open letter opposing the redefinition.

    Over 150 Jewish Candian scholars issue an additional statement opposed to IHRA.

  • Students at Santa Monica College successfully push to remove Israel-related content from an antisemitism resolution proposed in student government.

  • Dozens of scholars urge Facebook not to adopt the IHRA definition, after the social media company is lobbied by pro-Israel groups.

  • Students at Butler University succeed in defeating a student government measure to adopt the definition as a way of silencing Palestinians and their allies on campus.

    During the initial debate, members of student government exclude the only two Palestinians in student government from participating in discussions.

    The student leaders, both Palestinian women, are unable to share the direct impact the resolutions would have on Palestinians and Palestine activism on campus.

    Butler student groups, Indianapolis community organizers, and Palestine Legal push back against the campaign to vilify and silence student activism.

    After hearing from students and community advocates about the harmful impact these anti-Palestinian measures would have, the student sponsors withdraw the resolution.

  • A coalition of organizers hold an educational panel titled “Israel as a Racist Endeavour: Unpacking IHRA” to directly challenge the redefinition.

  • Over one hundred Palestinian and Arab scholars and intellectuals issue an open letter challenging the legitimacy of the definition.

  • Hundreds of British students sign an open letter opposing efforts by UK Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to force UK universities to adopt the definition.

  • The academic board at the University College London
    rejects the IHRA definition adopted by UCL in 2019, calling on the university to “retract and replace [the] IHRA working definition with a more precise definition of antisemitism.”

  • A coalition of civil and human rights groups launches a
    campaign against Facebook labeling Palestine advocacy as hate speech. The tech giant is considering a policy that would treat criticism of “Zionists” as attacks against Jewish people, and therefore subject to censorship under their hate speech policies. The campaign’s petition amasses over 50,000 signatures.

  • Several alternatives to IHRA are proposed within the span of one month, further undermining claims that IHRA represents a consensus definition.

    The Jerusalem Declaration rebuts IHRA’s conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but reinforces the structural problem of policing what Palestinians can say about their oppression.

  • Multiple student governments reject the IHRA definition in the span of a few weeks, including Michigan State University, Foothill College and Santa Clara University in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    At the City University of New York (CUNY), the Student Senate voted down IHRA following a vocal campaign from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Jewish Law Students Association (JSLA).

    The CUNY JSLA is the first explicitly anti-Zionist Jewish law students group in the country and issued an open letter calling IHRA “useless,” “overbroad,” “imprecise,” and “an attempt to silence Palestine-solidarity efforts by equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism.”

  • An explosive Oxford University report reveals that the leadership of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance knowingly misled and neglected to correct the public perception about the scope of the IHRA definition’s adoption in the EU.

    At a May 2016 plenary, IHRA’s decision-making body adopted a two-sentence working definition of antisemitism while excluding contemporary examples of antisemitism, including seven which focused on criticism of Israel, because multiple member states objected to the examples.

    The report finds that “Senior IHRA officials and pro-Israel groups have misrepresented the IHRA Plenary’s decision in order to smuggle into the Working Definition examples that can be used to protect Israel from criticism.”

    Israel and its allies, including US politicians, used the presumed adoption of IHRA’s Israel examples in Europe to promote their usage in the United States.

  • The Canadian Association of University Teachers votes against adopting the IHRA definition.

    The association, which represents 72,000 members, recognizes the “need to safeguard the rights of scholars to critique all states, including Israel.”


California cancels Palestinians

Weaponizing Anti-Semitism
to Silence Criticism of Israel


Israeli lobby groups redefine antisemitism to include criticisms of Israel as a means of stifling speech

A baseball cap with the words: Make Israel Palestine Again
Activists warn that the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism will stifle speech on Palestine. (Justin L. Stewart, ZUMA Press)

In September, the West Hollywood City Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

The council was following a global trend. Institutions around the world are increasingly adopting the IHRA definition which purports to be a tool for identifying and combating anti-Semitism.

In reality, it is merely the latest attempt to criminalize support for Palestinian liberation. Indeed, the West Hollywood City Council’s vote – and the public outcry it generated – provides valuable insight into the growing threat the adoption of this flawed definition poses to political activism and education.

The council’s actions were foreshadowed by the West Hollywood Public Safety Commission which, on 8 August, voted to recommend that the City Council adopt the IHRA definition. During that meeting, Public Safety Commissioner Tony Berger asked fellow commissioner Robert B. Oliver, who brought the proposal, what the purpose of a safety commission making such a recommendation would be.

“It’s not in our purview to do anything like this,” Berger said. “Aren’t we trying just to protect everybody?”

Oliver, who is currently running for West Hollywood City Council, said his proposal was to recommend to the City Council that the city adopt the IHRA definition as a “non-legally binding working definition to inform the different agencies of our city what anti-Semitism is.”

The West Hollywood move came after both Manhattan Beach and Beverly Hills city councils voted to adopt the IHRA definition. Oliver cited the latter as a reason for West Hollywood to follow suit.

During public comment on 19 September – when the West Hollywood City Counci eventually voted to pass the IHRA definition in accordance with the public safety commission’s recommendation – Palestinian West Hollywood resident Rami Kabalawi said he felt the IHRA definition silenced Palestinians and was concerned with prohibiting criticisms of Israel rather than authentically challenging anti-Semitism.

Kabalawi told the council: “If it’s codified, it will position Palestinian freedom of speech as explicitly anti-Jewish and create a situation of divisiveness that is fueled not about ending bigotry, but classifying our right to speak out as a form of it.”

Recycled language

Many fear that Kabalawi is right.

What is the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and why is its passage by the West Hollywood City Council such a troubling development?

The story behind the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism begins with a working definition of anti-Semitism conceived of by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenobophia – a European Union agency – in the early noughties.

While the EUMC working definition is uncontroversial, it features several alleged examples of “anti-Semitism” that are simply criticisms of the Israeli state. This working definition was never formally endorsed by the EUMC.

However in 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization formed in the late 1990s, adopted the EUMC’s definition of anti-Semitism as its own.

Despite its relatively unofficial status, the EUMC definition went on to form the basis for other non-binding definitions of anti-Semitism, such as that initially displayed by the US State Department on its website. The State Department now lists the IHRA definition on its website.

Recycled language conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism culled from this definition continues to be used in updated attempts to censor speech in support of Palestinian liberation. Just as Zionist organizations pushed for the University of California to adopt the so-called State Department definition of anti-Semitism in 2015, today there is a concerted push by Zionist organizations and individuals to ensure that governments and local councils adopt the IHRA definition.

The IHRA definition gives 11 examples of alleged anti-Semitism but seven of these are about criticism of Israel:

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • 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.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

As the rights organization Palestine Legal puts it on its website, Israeli lobby groups have consistently used the strategy of redefining anti-Semitism to include criticisms of Israel as a means of stifling speech, and each version of these redefinitions is “fundamentally the same.”

Rowan Gaudet writes that the IHRA definition, which has repeatedly been used as a cudgel to silence and stigmatize international activism for Palestine since its adoption in 2016, is a “dangerous weapon” and “a grave threat to the Palestinian solidarity movement the world over.”

Voicing dissent

Small wonder that organizers felt compelled to voice their dissent.

A member of the local chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), who has requested anonymity, said that upon hearing of the effort to adopt the IHRA definition, PYM immediately forged a coalition with SoCal Students for Justice in Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine at University of California – Los Angeles, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA to take action.

Akhil Gopal from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition told The Electronic Intifada that opposing the adoption of the IHRA definition was in line with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition’s work around opposing racist and discriminatory surveillance practices being implemented by government and police bodies throughout Los Angeles.

“The adoption of the IHRA definition is connected for us to the LAPD’s Providing Alternatives to Hinder Violent Extremism (PATHE) program or the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, because with the adoption of IHRA, the state is trying to weaponize existing bureaucracy and infrastructure used for civil rights or to maintain a ‘multicultural’ set of liberal values to stigmatize Palestinian resistance as a form of bigotry,” Gopal said.

According to the anonymous PYM organizer, the organization co-created a call to action along with the aforementioned organizations and reached out to the community to encourage individuals to call into the Public Safety Commission meeting to ask the commission to reconsider their recommendation and to explicitly denounce the IHRA definition.

On 11 September, JVP UCLA tweeted a message urging followers to oppose the West Hollywood City Council’s adoption of the IHRA definition. The tweet included a link to a digital toolkit explaining how individuals could express their criticisms to the council.

The Public Safety Commission moved forward with its decision, regardless and despite the fact that a majority of community members spoke out against the council’s potential implementation of IHRA during public comment.

Strikingly familiar

In doing research to prepare for the city council meeting, members of PYM discovered that the West Hollywood City Council seemed close with the Israeli American Civil Action Network (ICAN), a connection suggesting that anti-Palestinian groups wield an undue influence over the West Hollywood City Council

ICAN had endorsed councilmember Lindsey Horvath for LA county supervisor.

In its statement of endorsement, the organization said it had worked with Horvath to “oppose the discriminatory boycott movement targeting Israel, Israelis, and the Jewish community” and “urging the state of California to rewrite the ethnic studies curriculum to remove anti-Semitic content,” among other causes.

Since 2019, Zionist organizations have opposed the potential inclusion of material related to Palestine, boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), and Arab American studies in an ethnic studies model curriculum for the state of California as anti-Semitic.

In 2021, material about Palestine and Arab American studies was excised from the curriculum at the behest of these organizations.

ICAN chair Dillan Hosier also notably opposed the candidacy of Chelsea Byers for a seat on West Hollywood City Council due to “a long history of fringe and radical activism that, in our view, is anchored in anti-Semitic belief.”

Yet the examples listed by Hosier include opposing US funding for Israel and participating in a protest where “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was chanted. The chant is a protest standard about the inevitable liberation of all of Palestine from Zionist settler-colonialism.

On 1 August, West Hollywood mayor Lauren Meister introduced an item for the city council to co-sponsor ICAN’s “combating anti-semitism summit” later that month. Once funding was duly secured, council member Lindsey Horvath announced her intention to call on the city council to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism during that “summit.”

Other notable event co-sponsors included the Los Angeles branch of the anti-Palestinian Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The latter had previously criticized the United Teachers of Los Angeles’s potential endorsement of a BDS resolution. The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, the federation wrote in a statement, “is regarded by many as unjust and anti-Semitic because it denies Israel’s right to exist, demonizes and dehumanizes Zionists, Jews and Israelis, and it holds Israel to a moral and political double standard.”

The language used was strikingly familiar to that featured in the IHRA definition.

Organizing against vagueness

Learning about the West Hollywood City Council’s seemingly cozy relationship with Zionist organizations showed organizers that “we were up for a fight,” according to one PYM organizer.

And the council seemed more than willing to play dirty. Organizers said the council arbitrarily changed the terms for participating in public comment when it became clear that the majority of those in attendance were there to speak out against the adoption of the IHRA definition.

Benjamin Kersten from JVP UCLA told The Electronic Intifada that, “council members knew what they were going to say and really didn’t consider the voices of those of us speaking out against the IHRA definition.”

Kersten said comments from council members suggested the council was more intent on framing anti-Semitism “as a Jewish vs. Palestinian issue” rather than engaging with Jewish voices opposed to the adoption of IHRA.

The West Hollywood City Council eventually passed the IHRA definition but organizers are not discouraged.

However, the push to promote the IHRA definition elsewhere continues. On 1 November, the Los Angeles City Council also adopted the definition.

As the SoCal SJP organizer explained, “IHRA’s power comes from vagueness – the way we can beat it is by continuing to out-organize it, build relationships with the community and expose it.”

Omar Zahzah is a writer, poet and organizer.


Department of Education to investigate Berkeley Law School

Complaint from Israeli lawfare group prompts investigation over student group challenging Zionism


The Right to Boycott: Resisting the Crackdown on BDS

Join CODEPINK and Meera Shah of Palestine Legal on Zoom December 14th at 2pm ET/11am PT for an important and timely call on recent anti-BDS legislation and its impacts on movements for Palestine solidarity, and various forms of divestment.

Since 2014, U.S. legislators have introduced over 200 bills targeting boycotts for Palestinian rights – and the volume of these bills have only increased, with a huge wave of legislative attacks in recent months. What are the latest developments with these anti-boycott laws, and what do they mean? Join us as we explore the impacts these bills are already having on Palestine advocacy work, on other forms of divestment activism, and what we can do in this critical moment.

Meera Shah joined Palestine Legal in 2019. She supports the organization’s casework and public education and oversees the advocacy work on free speech, academic freedom, and the right to boycott.