The Montgomery County, Maryland, council passed a resolution — a nonbinding statement — designed to combat antisemitism.
But the measure, which passed unanimously, came only after a sometimes raucous council session, in which some council members were interrupted by people in the audience who complained about the language in the resolution and the process that led to its adoption.
The crux of the issue was based on the adoption of the definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which included language that some community members felt would chill free speech by conflating criticism of the government of Israel with antisemitism.
Council member Andrew Friedson, who sponsored the resolution, adjusted the language and included a clarification that stated, “criticism of Israeli government policies or actions does not constitute antisemitism.”
The resolution does include a statement that criticism of Israel can be considered antisemitic if it employs antisemitic tropes or denies Israel’s right to self-determination.
During Tuesday’s discussion of the vote, Council President Gabe Albornoz acknowledged what he called “great deal of emotion” in the council chamber.
“We see it, we feel it,” he said. Albornoz added the resolution “should not be construed to limit anyone’s right to free speech or political debate.”
Before the council vote, several council members addressed the crowd. Friedson said antisemitism is “undeniably on the rise” and added that Montgomery County has seen a jump in bigotry and hatred targeting the Jewish community.
“Here in our inclusive, welcoming community, 85% of religious bias incidents target Jews,” despite the fact that Jewish residents make up just 10% of the population, Friedson said. He referenced incidents in which Jewish residents of Montgomery County were harassed, and said “children report being afraid to openly identify as Jewish, even here in Montgomery County.”
Council member Will Jawando told the crowd he would be voting in favor of the resolution, but said, “I want to express my dismay in the process that led us to today’s vote.”
Jawando explained that while the council generally doesn’t hold public hearings on resolutions, “I believe we missed an opportunity here to find common ground.”
The resolution, said Council member Nancy Navarro, “doesn’t preclude us from also engaging in conversation regarding other members of our community that have different points of view or that have different experiences. It adds to that.”
When it was time for Council Vice President Evan Glass to speak, he said that as a gay, Jewish man, he said he understood “the amount of hate that is out there,” and as he continued to explain his position, he was interrupted repeatedly.
“We are talking right now, right here, about how to make everybody feel safe in our community,” he said, before a member of the audience shouted, “You refuse to listen!”
After the unanimous vote, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, issued a statement calling the resolution “flawed and divisive.” Zainab Chaudry, with Maryland CAIR, called the version of the resolution passed on Tuesday “an improvement over the original version,” but that it still contained an element of the IHRA definition that the group calls “deeply divisive.” The group also called the process undemocratic because a public hearing wasn’t held.
Members of a coalition of groups, including CAIR, Peace Action Montgomery, Maryland 2 Palestine, and other groups, held a news conference outside the council building in Rockville on Monday to outline their concerns.