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Nevada regents vote to define antisemitism, cite Jewish students’ concerns

Antisemitism will be officially defined in the Nevada System of Higher Education handbook, the state’s Board of Regents ruled Friday, a move supporters said was much-needed as campus protests continue across the country.

In its quarterly meeting in Reno, which spanned Thursday and Friday, Regents approved the handbook revision in a divided 7-6 vote Friday during a lengthy discussion that followed an even lengthier spirited public comment session.

The newly adopted language was created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2016, and 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 resolution comes at a time when protests about the Israel-Gaza war has roiled campuses across the country. Students have also filed lawsuits against schools over their handling of the recent protest sparked by the war, which began on Oct. 7 after Hamas-led terrorists killed more than 1200 and took 250 people hostage.

At UNLV, a number of peaceful pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests have taken place. At a rally against antisemitism that was also in support of Israel, UNLV students spoke of being subjected to what they said was an increase in antisemitism in the months since the attacks.

Tenfold increase

“The IHRA definition is a critically important tool that governments, educational authorities (and) civil society institutions use in order to identify and understand the complex ways in which antisemitism can manifest today,” said Nevada’s Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Jolie Brislin.

Brislin said that since the Oct. 7 attacks, reports of antisemitism at college campuses have increased tenfold.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights — which has authority over Title VI investigations — issued a reminder to American higher education institutions about their obligations “to ensure nondiscrimination based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics,” according to NSHE.

The agenda item was brought forth by Regents Byron Brooks, Stephanie Goodman and Joseph Arrascada. They said Jewish students had expressed concern for their safety on campus. They voted to approve the measure, as did Lois Tarkanian, Patrick J. Boylan, Susan Brager, and Jeffrey S. Downs.

Opposing regents argued that further discussion was needed to learn more and involve professors who are on summer break.

Regent Carol Del Carlo said she needed more time to evaluate the proposal.

“I just don’t know what’s fact and what’s myth,” she said. “I just don’t feel qualified to even vote on this today without more information or education.”

Regents Heather Brown, Amy J. Carvalho, Michelee Cruz-Crawford, Carol Del Carlo, Donald Sylvantee McMichael Sr., and Laura E. Perkins voted against approving the measure.

Official policy

The board of regents previously adopted the definition in 2022 for anti-bias training, but its new inclusion in the rulebook makes it official policy across the state’s higher education system.

Numerous speakers lobbied to reject and approve the proposal.

UNLV student Brooke Wingate said the university had taken “missteps” addressing antisemitism on campus.

“The people who are here today to oppose the IHRA definition of antisemitism are the same people who have caused my community great discomfort … by not doing anything about it,” she said. “You all are violating my civil rights as a Jewish American.”

James Woodbridge, an associate professor at UNLV, said examples referenced by IHRA could be taken as “indisputable instances of antisemitism threatening to incriminate all forms of anti-Israel speech or protest.”

Woodbridge said he was concerned professors discussing reports from human rights organizations could be targeted.

“Through a simplistic matching process, these examples can be weaponized to accuse someone of antisemitism,” Woodbridge said.

University of Nevada, Reno student Jessica Bosch, denounced the Israeli government’s action in Gaza and questioned the need to act on the definition.

“It is perplexing that we can swiftly mobilize to muddle the waters with nebulous definitions intended to stifle student voices, yet remain inert when it comes to addressing critical issues, such as the exorbitant costs of higher education,” she said.

In a letter posted on X, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada lobbied NSHE to delay the vote to clarify how it intended to use the policy. The ACLU said policies to address antisemitism already exist.

“While NSHE previously used the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism for purposes of providing anti-bias training, using the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism to establish evidence of discriminatory intent is legally problematic for a number of reasons,” the letter said, “namely that it conflates protected political speech with unprotected discrimination and without conduct related considerations that would make such speech unprotected.”

Regents Lois Tarkanian, Arrascada and Goodman also criticized opponents who spoke during public comment.

“This feels in a way like a proxy vote for something bigger,” said Carvalho. “We’re just regents. As much as I would love to end the violence there, I can’t.”

She added: “But what I can do is make sure that our campuses are safe and our students and our employees feel safe on our campuses.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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