The City Council of Strasbourg voted against adopting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, despite a surge antisemitic incidents in the city over the last year.
At a City Council meeting held on 22 March, the left-wing Europe Ecology Party (EELV), refused to endorse the IHRA working definition, which was adopted by France in 2019 at President Emmanuel Macron’s urging.
Explaining his decision, Jean Werlen, a city councillor responsible for houses of worship in Strasbourg said: “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 criticise a state, even a foreign one. We must condemn antisemitism, but we must be able to criticise a state and this definition prohibits any criticism of the policy of the State of Israel.”
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 recognising that manifestations of antisemitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”
One council member who voted in favor of adopting the IHRA definition declared himself “dismayed” by the decision, emphasising 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,” opposition member Pierre Jakubowicz said on Wednesday.
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.”
The assailant was cleared in November 2020 of the crime of committing extortion aggravated by religious hatred and released.
Jakubowicz also highlighted the scandal in January involving two drivers working for food delivery service Deliveroo in Strasbourg, who refused to serve Jewish customers.
“To fight effectively against an evil, one must first know how to define it,” Jakubowicz observed. He also suggested that the real reason for the council’s rejection of the IHRA definition was “the fact that some members of the majority openly support boycott campaigns against Israel.”
“We are the first democratic assembly in a European state to reject this definition,” Jakubowicz emphasized. “This is the official definition of antisemitism adopted by 31 States, by the National Assembly, by the European Parliament whose seat is in Strasbourg, by the Council of Paris and by the city of Nice. Each time it is proposed, it is accepted, left and right.”