By Lizzy Savetsky
Dallas’ city council just took the incredibly important and necessary step of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism by unanimous vote on April 26. As someone who has been the target of vile antisemitism, I understand how important the IHRA definition is in preventing the skyrocketing hatred plaguing Jewish Americans.
Jews compose 2% of the population, yet we are the targets of the vast majority of religious hate crimes, more than all other religions combined, in fact. And things are getting worse. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last year tracked more antisemitic incidents than any year to date. Dallas showed critical leadership in adopting what has become the gold standard in recognizing and addressing growing antisemitism. This definition has been adopted by over 40 countries, 29 states and dozens of county and municipal governments, including the state of Texas.
While you might know me from my national activism, I grew up in the vibrant Dallas-Fort Worth Jewish community. The reality of modern antisemitism was shockingly brought home to our community on Jan. 15, 2022, during the brutal attack on the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, a Dallas suburb, by a British-Pakistani gunman named Malik Akram, who took synagogue-goers hostage. Akram cited antisemitic stereotypes during the attack, apparently believing that a random collection of Jewish worshippers had the power to fulfill his obsessive personal cause, the release from prison of a Pakistani woman who had been convicted of trying to kill U.S. troops. Belief in antisemitic stereotypes endangers the safety of Jewish people and can even get them killed.
Just weeks ago, and standing in stark contrast to the Dallas city council’s leadership, the student senate at one of the city’s most prestigious institutes of learning, the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), passed an alarming resolution sponsored and pushed by the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) calling for UTD’s investment management company to divest from certain companies that do business with Israel. The resolution wore a thin veneer of misdirection, targeting U.S. defense contractors and described by its author, student senator Nidaa Lafi, as “opposed to militarism… a resolution against war.” However, the text of the resolution makes clear that it is a highly targeted anti-Israel weapon, aligned with the goals of the nefarious and antisemitic ideology known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel (BDS).
The ADL notes that BDS has a stark history of antisemitism, finding that “In practice, the global BDS movement doesn’t seek to create a Palestinian state but rather aims to dismantle the Jewish state and end the right to Jewish national self-determination on any portion of this contested land.” Community members from the Dallas area expressed some of these concerns at the UTD Student Senate meeting that adopted the resolution, which was enacted by the body in a closed session. One resident of the local municipality of Richardson, urged the senators: “I encourage you to take a moment to think about how Jewish students will be impacted and how they’ll be ostracized.” Sadly, his call and the others like it went unheeded and the under-informed student senate recklessly passed the misguided BDS resolution.
Those who care about protecting the fast-growing Jewish community of Dallas, one of the largest in Texas, should turn their eyes to the brave stance of the city’s leadership. The city of Dallas, in passing IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, set a strong example that UTD should take heed of. Both the Student Senate and the UTD administration should follow the Dallas city council’s lead in adopting the IHRA definition to protect Jewish students from antisemitic targeting, harassment and abuse.
Lizzy Savetsky works with numerous nonprofit and philanthropic movements as an outspoken advocate for Israel and the Jewish people.