Kentucky Becomes First U.S. State to Adopt IHRA Antisemitism Definition

Advocates for the definition say having a clear definition of anti-Semitism is helpful in identifying Jew-hatred, but its critics say it stifles free speech

JTA
Philissa Cramer
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Kentucky's state legislature meets in the Capitol Building in Frankfort.
Kentucky's state legislature meets in the Capitol Building in Frankfort.Credit: Timothy D. Easley/ AP
JTA
Philissa Cramer

For the first time, a U.S. state has officially adopted a definition of antisemitism that has ignited debates worldwide over the extent to which criticism of Israel should be considered antisemitic.

Lawmakers in Kentucky voted to adopt the definition developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association, known as IHRA, on Wednesday as part of a broad resolution aimed at condemning antisemitism.

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The hearing and vote, which was unanimous, came as a surprise to the state legislature’s only Jewish member, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. But state Sen. Karen Berg quickly signed on as a co-sponsor.

“The desecration of Jewish cemeteries and congregations and community centers — it’s increasing,” Berg, a Louisville Democrat, told the newspaper. “And everybody knows it’s increasing. It’s part of the whole hate that we got to put away.”

Rabbi Shlomo Litvin of Chabad of the Bluegrass told the newspaper he helped craft the resolution as a response to what he said were “disturbing incidents here in Kentucky.” Chabad of the Bluegrass has reported multiple incidents at its Lexington building, including an assault during Hanukkah.

The resolution does not make clear what force the adoption will hold, if any, in the state. Advocates for the definition, which was first published in 2016, say having a clear and common definition of antisemitism is helpful in identifying Jew-hatred. But its critics say it stifles free speech by identifying some forms of Israel criticism as antisemitic.

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