Apr 12, 2021 | Freedom of Religion and Belief | HRWF
France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia ‘’deeply’’ regretted the decision of the City Council of Strasbourg, France, to vote against adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, despite a surge of antisemitic incidents in the city over the last year.
At a meeting of the City Council on 22 March, the left-wing Green Europe Ecology Party (EELV), refused to endorse the IHRA working definition, which was adopted by France in 2019 at President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative.
According to Strasbourg councillor Jean Werlen, the Council’s objection to the IHRA definition stemmed from its inclusion of examples outlining how the demonization of Israel and Zionism can be antisemitic.
“First, there is a Strasbourg tradition of never importing foreign conflicts into local religious communities. Second, it is out of the question to deny citizens the right to criticize a state, even a foreign one. We must condemn antisemitism, but we must be able to criticize a state and this definition prohibits any criticism of the policy of the State of Israel,” he declared.
The IHRA working definition of antisemitism clearly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” while also recognizing that manifestations of antisemitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
The definition has been adopted by dozens of governments and municipalities around the world, including Paris.
One Strasbourg Councillor who voted in favor of adopting the definition declared himself “dismayed” by the decision, emphasizing that Strasbourg had been plagued by antisemitic outrages during the last year.
“The city of Strasbourg needs this definition because in recent months there have been several notorious antisemitic acts,” said Pierre Jakubowicz, who is a member of the opposition Les Republicains party.
Among the incidents cited by Jakubowicz was an assault last August on a young Jewish graffiti artist who was jostled and showered with antisemitic abuse before the assailant grabbed one of his paint canisters and sprayed offensive slogans on the ground, including “forbidden to Jews” and “bitch.”
He also recalled the scandal in January involving two drivers working for food delivery service Deliveroo in Strasbourg, who refused to serve Jewish customers.
He suggested that the real reason for the council’s rejection of the IHRA definition was “the fact that some members of the city council majority openly support boycott campaigns against Israel.”
Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said ‘’the European capital has knowingly decided to show neither heart nor common sense.” Strasbourg is one of the two seats of the European Parliament.
Daniel Saada, Israel’s Chargé d’Affaires in France, sent an open letter to Strasbourg Mayor Jeanne Barseghian in which he expressed his “deep concern”.
“39 voices, including yours, Madam Mayor, have sent a message of moral bankruptcy, at a time when the urgency is to mobilize all democrats, a signal of renunciation while the manifestations of the revival of anti-Semitism in all its forms are multiplying every day,” he wrote.
In another letter to the Mayor, Shimon Samuels, International Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center deplored that Strasbourg ‘’is the only city to reject IHRA antisemitism definition on “anti-Zionist” grounds.
‘’Madame Mayor Jeanne Barseghian, In representing the Green Party (EELV), you must be sensitive to the environment. You would thus be aware of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp nearby, where in 1943, a gas chamber was built for 80 Jewish prisoners at the request of Strasbourg’s University Institute of Anatomy. Their skeletons were to be used to prove “Jewish racial inferiority.” This example of antisemitism should be sufficient evidence of historic environmental poisoning.’’
On Tuesday, 350 academics from around the world signed a letter of support of the IHRA definition. More than 15 Jewish groups from around the world will post the letter.