The University of Georgia Student Government Association passed a resolution on Jan. 26 to request the university fully accept its official definition of antisemitism in order to warrant protection for Jewish students against harassment and discrimination.
SGA, with help from Students Supporting Israel and Hillels of Georgia, unanimously passed the decision to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
UGA does not currently have an official definition of antisemitism on the Equal Opportunity Office’s website. This resolution would provide a basis to discipline people who commit acts of antisemitism on campus by IHRA standards.
The resolution was written by SSI Co-Presidents Sarah Martynov and Kara Litwin. SGA President Pro-Tempore Ciera Thomas and Senator for Access and Opportunity Allison Fine helped pass the resolution with little to no debate from other members, Fine said. After accepting the resolution, SGA sent it to UGA President Jere Morehead and the Equal Opportunity Office for further action. UGA has yet to endorse the resolution. The University System of Georgia must endorse the resolution state-wide for it to be implemented at UGA.
Taking the first step
Fine said she was eager to get involved in addressing the resolution and wanted to help in any way she could.
“Last year, [SGA] passed a few resolutions regarding religious discrimination that was sparked by incidents that had happened towards Jewish students. As a Jewish student in the Senate, that obviously hit home for me,” Fine said. “When Sarah and Kara reached out to me with their own written resolution and brought it to our attention, it proved that this was a problem and we needed to take action as an organization.”
In November 2019, a visiting student from a different college engaged in acts of antisemitism by drawing swastikas on white boards on doors of Jewish students’ rooms in both Creswell and Russell Hall. Although the SGA passed a proclamation condemning antisemitism in response to the incident, Litwin and Martynov knew that having an official definition of antisemitism would allow for further protection in the future.
“Right now, we don’t have a definition of antisemitism that aligns with how the Jewish community identifies and defines it,” Thomas said. “I think that makes it really hard to adequately address situations that involve antisemitism. … This is a great step to take when it comes to protecting minority groups on campus.”
Litwin and Martynov’s main objective was to create a safe campus environment for Jewish students. Litwin believed adopting the IHRA definition was the best platform to do so and promote awareness of antisemitism.
“This resolution was about addressing hate speech and hate crimes because by defining what they are — it lets everyone know what is and isn’t okay,” Litwin said. “It’s important to call stuff out when you see it and acknowledge things that are discriminatory. … Hopefully this resolution will make students more aware.”
Litwin and Martynov wrote the legislation on their own, needing few revisions from SGA before placing it on the desk of the university president.
“I’ve been in SGA for three years, and we rarely receive student-written legislation, so this was really exciting for me to see because this is such an influential piece,” Thomas said. “[SGA] is here to represent the students, and we want to make sure we are actually doing that.”
Martynov, Fine and Litwin are all active within Hillel UGA, a Jewish organization that collaborates frequently with SGA.
Roey Shoshan, the executive director of Hillel UGA, said he is hopeful this resolution will not only work to protect the Jewish community at UGA and other campuses in Georgia, but also unite different co-cultures and groups.
“We want other religious and ethnic groups to get to know us … so we can all educate each other,” Shoshan said. “I believe hate only comes from not being educated about a topic, so I think this resolution will help frame the conversation differently and help put things in perspective for others.”
In order for UGA to officially accept it, the Board of Regents of USG must also institute it state-wide at every university, a representative from Hillels of Georgia said in an email to The Red & Black.
UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor also said the resolution has been sent to USG.
“The University of Georgia denounces anti-semitism in the strongest terms. All forms of bigotry have no place on our campus. This resolution has been referred to the Equal Opportunity Office, the Office of Legal Affairs and the University System of Georgia,” Trevor said.
Fine, Litwin and Shoshan each said the university administration has consistently supported the Jewish community.
“It makes me really proud to be Jewish and to go to UGA to know that the university supports us, and to know that they’re open to hearing what we have to say,” Litwin said. “The way we prevent hate speech and hate crimes from occurring is by defining what they are, and I was so happy to see the support we received.”
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article did not specify that the student who drew swastikas on white boards in Creswell and Russell Halls in November 2019 was not from UGA. This student was a visitor from a different college.