LA City Council adopts definition of ‘antisemitism’ to better understand what it looks like

The move came two weeks after the draping of antisemitic banners on the405 freeway and racist comments in a leaked audio of a conversation among some city councilmembers.

The 405 freeway is viewed from above in Carson, California (photo credit: REUTERS)
The 405 freeway is viewed from above in Carson, California
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 1, adopted a definition for “antisemitism” to help city officials, employees and city contractors better understand what antisemitism looks like following recent hate incidents including the draping of antisemitic banners on the 405 freeway two weekends ago and racist comments in a leaked audio of a conversation among some city councilmembers.

Also on Tuesday, the council took its final vote on an ordinance prohibiting pregnancy service centers from providing false advertisements and misleading information to pregnant patients about their options, which include abortions. In addition, a councilmember reintroduced a motion to consider establishing an anti-corruption office in the wake of the latest of several City Hall scandals.

The most recent scandal, in which three current and former councilmembers were heard in a 2021 secret recording making racist comments while attempting to manipulate last year’s city redistricting process, continued to bring protesters to City Hall this week to demand the resignations of City Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León for their roles in the incident.

Tuesday’s council meeting was briefly delayed at the start when rowdy protesters once again called for the councilmen’s resignations and disrupted the proceedings with noisemakers and chants. They were ordered to clear the room and left without incident after about 10 minutes as about 20 police officers, many in riot gear, stood around the Council Chamber, and as some ushered the protesters toward the exit.

Another day at City Hall. Rowdy protesters were pushed back/out of the chamber by police when they started disrupting the start of the meeting. Some officers, standing by, were in riot gear. No physical confrontation. Whole thing lasted about 12 minutes. pic.twitter.com/P9FBnzTo5K— Linh Tat (@Linh_Tat) November 1, 2022

After councilmembers returned to the chamber to resume the meeting, they heard about two hours of public comment before voting unanimously to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of “antisemitism.”

How does IHRA define antisemitism? 

Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Dr. Emily Haber, German Ambassador to the US and Michael Herzog, Israeli Ambassador to the US watch as Lufthansa Group Executive Board Member Christina Foerster signs the IHRA antisemitism definition on Sep. 15. (credit: Cliff Owen)Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Dr. Emily Haber, German Ambassador to the US and Michael Herzog, Israeli Ambassador to the US watch as Lufthansa Group Executive Board Member Christina Foerster signs the IHRA antisemitism definition on Sep. 15. (credit: Cliff Owen)

The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. 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 is non-legally binding, but proponents of the council resolution said it’s critical for the city to call out antisemitism when it occurs. The definition has been adopted by 37 United Nations countries, including the United States, as well as 22 US states and several cities, including Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who authored the resolution, said antisemitism isn’t always overt and may look different today than when his father fled Nazi Germany. But, he said, “the Nazis didn’t call themselves anti-Semites, and those who engage in modern forms of antisemitism are no different.”

Matthew Friedman, senior associate regional director for Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles, who spoke in support of Koretz’s resolution, said hate crimes against Jews have been on the rise in L.A. and nationally.“While our city reels from an increase in assault, these heinous acts of harassment, vandalism and propaganda all cause a ripple effect, with perpetrators seeking to instill fear among not just the Jewish community but all marginalized communities,” he said. “This is something we cannot and will not tolerate.”According to the resolution, the Anti-Defamation League counted 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. last year, a 34% increase from the year before and the highest number on record since 1979 when the league began tracking such incidents.

The resolution also stated that the number of reported hate crimes statewide rose 32% between 2020 and 2021 and are at their highest level since 2001. Among hate crimes involving a religious bias, anti-Jewish incidents were most prevalent, with a 32% increase statewide in 2021, it said.While the vast majority of speakers during the roughly two-hour public comment spoke in favor of IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, a few raised concerns that by adopting it, the city would stifle the free speech rights of individuals critical of the Israeli government.

Jeff Warner, a coordinator for LA Jews for Peace, told the council that the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism “blurs the distinction between antisemitic speech and legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism.”“This causes confusion while de-legitimizing the voices of Palestinians and others, including Jews like me, who criticize Israel and Zionism,” Warner said. “None of this helps to combat antisemitism.”In the end, the council voted 11-0 to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism.The council’s vote came on the same day that the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a resolution denouncing antisemitism.

Abortion rights

Also Tuesday, the L.A. City Council took its final vote on an ordinance prohibiting pregnancy service centers from providing misleading or false information to patients. The vote was 11-0.

The ordinance — a response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had offered a federal constitutional right to an abortion — means the L.A. city attorney’s office can now impose fines of $10,000 per violation and allow victims to sue if they feel they were misled about their options.In June, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert warning of the “limited and potentially misleading nature” of services provided by crisis pregnancy centers.“Crisis pregnancy centers often work to attract pregnant Californians into their facilities through vague claims about the information and services they offer,” Bonta said at the time. “While crisis pregnancy centers may claim to offer comprehensive reproductive health care services, their mission is to discourage people from accessing abortion care.”On Tuesday, City Attorney Mike Feuer said the issue “is so consequential right now” because across the country, states are limiting or banning abortion rights. He cited a UCLA study that said thousands of women are expected to travel to L.A. “to seek to exercise their full range of reproductive choices.”

“When they come here, they have to get accurate information so they can make the choice that they want to make for themselves,” he said.Instead, he continued, some crisis pregnancy centers falsely advertise that they provide abortion services or referrals. Then when a patient shows up, staff at the center attempt to dissuade the woman from having an abortion.“Here is the thing: We all know that women confronting this most sensitive, difficult, personal question — they have not a second to lose,” Feuer said. “Every moment counts because it has an effect on the choices that they can, in fact, make.”

Anti-corruption office

The City Council also voted Tuesday to once again consider establishing an Office of Anti-Corruption and Transparency in response to the City Hall racism scandal that led to the resignation of City Council President Nury Martinez.The council first looked at establishing the office in 2020, but the motion expired after the City Council failed to act on it for more than two years.

This week, Koretz introduced a motion to reactivate the process, following the latest City Hall scandal.The original motion was introduced by former Councilman David Ryu, who at the time cited a sweeping FBI and Department of Justice probe into corruption around real estate development and the abuse of land use power. That probe led to the arrests of Councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander. Ryu’s motion focused on oversight of land use development and construction processes and approvals, but Koretz introduced an amendment on Tuesday to potentially expand the scope of the office to other areas such as ethics.

(Daily Breeze/TNS)