The West Hollywood City Council voted Sept. 19 to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. While this decision was unanimously accepted by the council, citizens from across West Hollywood spoke both in favor and against its adoption.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the definition reads. “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 definition has been adopted by the United States, as well 22 individual states and several cities. Prior to the council’s decision, the West Hollywood Public Safety Commission voted unanimously to recommend the definition’s adoption by the city.
“Understanding our city’s past and future depends directly on the possibility of each of us defining for ourselves how we want to be in the world and advocating for the respect and insight necessary to live authentically and safely,” Councilman John D’Amico said. “To me, this vote was about affirming for Jews everywhere that here in West Hollywood, we have an understanding of antisemitism and will not tolerate it in any form.”
“The latest statistics on antisemitism are clear: hate crimes, violence and discrimination targeting the Jewish community are all on the rise across Los Angeles,” Councilwoman Lindsey Horvath said. “Part of the challenge we face when confronting rising antisemitism is recognizing and understanding the multi-faceted identities of the Los Angeles Jewish community, many of whom are immigrants from Israel, Iran, all over the Middle East and the world. I was proud to lead the introduction of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in West Hollywood. This definition, which has been widely adopted around the world, is an important tool to educate and raise awareness among L.A.’s leaders to better understand our Jewish communities, protect their civil rights, and prevent antisemitic violence.”
“The city of West Hollywood has a long history of commitment to inclusivity and tolerance for all people,” Mayor Lauren Meister said. “Over the past several years, hate and intolerance, including antisemitism, have been a growing problem in California. The California Attorney General’s 2021 Hate Crime in California Report shows that, overall, hate crimes reported in California increased 32.6% from 2020 to 2021 and are at their highest level since 2001. Anti-Jewish bias events were the most prevalent and also increased 32.2% in 2021.”
The public comment portion of the meeting lasted over an hour. Some citizens shared their personal encounters with hate speech.
“As a member of the LGBTQ plus community, I choose to live in West Hollywood because of the city’s progressive values, and because of the safety it affords me as a queer person. However, that safety should not come at the expense of my safety as a Jewish person,” resident Matthew Nouriel said. “It is imperative that West Hollywood ensures that it is a safe space for all its residents and adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism will extend not only safety to our Jewish residents, but also ensure that it is a welcoming city for us.”
“My parents escaped the Iranian Revolution,” resident Chloe Levian said. “My family left Iran, the place where my great grandfather was stabbed to death for being Jewish, to give her children a better life and be able to practice their religion freely and safely. It was supposed to be different here in the U.S. but due to the spread of misinformation and antisemitic ideology, we are still facing this threat. Jews in West Hollywood are harassed and attacked because of their identity.”
Sharon Nik, chair of the Public Affairs Committee at the Iranian American Jewish Federation was one of several speakers who referenced a May 2021 antisemitic attack at a restaurant on La Brea Avenue.
“A caravan of protesters [were] driving around looking for people to attack, asking who was Jewish, and this ultimately led to the attack of innocent young Persian Jewish men who were out just having dinner,” Nik said.
There were also several residents who appeared in opposition to the definition, with most referencing the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“Our issue is not with a person’s worship, but with the 5.7 million displaced Palestinians and the 3,500 massacred 40 years ago and Sabra and Shatila,” resident Mohamad Almouazzen said. “I urge you to vote against the IHRA definition and stand with the with the ability and the freedom to criticize human rights abuses and stand for human rights.”
“I’m a Palestinian resident of West Hollywood and I’m saddened to be here in a position where advocating for my rights and freedoms is being framed as pro-bigotry or against combating antisemitism,” resident Rami Kabalawi said. “What I want to emphasize is that this year is the practical outcome of the IHRA definition. 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. A definition that is so sweeping and so Israel focused in its approach to antisemitism will not keep us safe in our streets here, and it will not challenge the white nationalism that fuels threats faced by Jewish Angelenos and Palestinian ones.”
Kabalawi added that there were “other ways to ensure that Jews in West Hollywood feel safe, secure and at home in our city without causing me and other progressive Palestinians, Arabs and allies to feel the opposite.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Sepi Shyne spoke to both sides of the issue directly during the meeting, first mentioning that she is a lesbian, Iranian American Muslim woman born in Iran.
“My life experience really helps me to see and really feel the fear on both sides of this issue,” Shyne said. “I support this definition. It is not a suppression of views against Zionism and is not a suppression of valid criticism of Israel. I criticize, as an Iranian woman, the Islamic government all the time, and I will continue to do so when they are wrong. And I encourage … all those who want to criticize Israel for many, many valid atrocious violations against the Palestinian people. But when they are valid.”
Shyne concluded that the “definition provides safety to Jewish community members, and they deserve that,” but invited the local Palestinian community to come to the City Council with a proposition of a resolution in support of their community.
Shyne’s comments led to a temporary outburst within the chambers, with several attendees seemingly directing ire at both Shyne and one another.
Councilman John Erickson said he believes the move speaks to the promise of the city.
“Everyone is welcome in the city of West Hollywood,” Erickson said.
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