Philadelphia City Council Voting on Resolution to Condemn Antisemitism

Councilman Mike Driscoll introduced the resolution condemning antisemitism. (Courtesy of the Philadelphia City Council)

In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 antisemitic incidents of harassment, vandalism or violence. That was the highest number since the ADL started releasing its annual tally in 1979. This year, the number of incidents is at a similar pace, according to ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Also in 2022, a Republican, Doug Mastriano, ran for governor of Pennsylvania in part by joining the same social media site, Gab, which provided a safe space for the Tree of Life synagogue shooter four years ago. Later in 2022, rapper and fashion designer Ye (Kanye West) and NBA star Kyrie Irving became the latest celebrities to make antisemitic comments in public. Ye said he wanted to go “death con 3” on Jewish people, and Irving tweeted a link to a film that denied the Holocaust and quoted Adolf Hitler.

In response, the Philadelphia City Council is considering a show of support for its Jewish residents.

Ten council members, or more than half of the 17-person body, are introducing a resolution that would “unequivocally” condemn “the rise in antisemitism and all forms of hate in the City of Philadelphia,” according to its title. Those other forms of hate include racism and homophobia.

Councilman Mike Driscoll, who represents the Sixth District, which includes Northeast Philadelphia and river wards like Port Richmond, introduced the resolution. Councilmembers Katherine Gilmore-Richardson, Brian J. O’Neill, Mark Squilla, Helen Gym, Cindy Bass, Kenyatta Johnson, Kendra Brooks, David Oh and Isaiah Thomas have signed on as co-sponsors.

With the recent resignation of Allan Domb from the city council to run for mayor, none of the remaining members are Jewish. Nonetheless, Driscoll expects unanimous approval on Dec. 1 when the resolution comes up for a vote. He has not heard any opinions to the contrary, he said.

“I believe that the Jewish people are being singled out once again,” Driscoll added. “In 2021, we had more incidents since the ADL started tracking harassment and vandalism and violence. It’s getting worse.”

The councilman was a state representative for his Philadelphia district in the Pennsylvania General Assembly four years ago when the Tree of Life shooting happened. After 11 Jews were killed in Pittsburgh in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history, one of Driscoll’s colleagues from western Pennsylvania brought survivors to the state house in Harrisburg. As Driscoll remembered it, “We prayed together, we worshipped together and we did resolutions condemning antisemitism and applauding people of all faiths who came together to support one faith.”

The day stuck with him. He thought about it in October when the anniversary of the shooting arrived and when Mastriano campaigned for Pennsylvania’s executive seat. Around the same time, Ye had his Instagram and Twitter accounts locked for alluding to the conspiracy theory that Jews control powerful institutions, while Irving was suspended for five games by his NBA team, the Brooklyn Nets, for promoting a Holocaust denial movie and refusing to apologize.

“It became fresh in my mind, and I said, ‘I want to speak out,’” Driscoll recalled.

But for Steve Feldman, the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, speaking out is not enough. The city needs to act. Feldman would like to see Mayor Jim Kenney’s office or the council explain “the Jewish people’s history and its connection to the land of Israel.”

On Nov. 29, Kenney’s Office of Immigrant Affairs sponsored an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” at the Municipal Services Building on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. The rally was a local version of a United Nations-organized event. Its promotional poster featured the flags of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a group that opposed the Jewish state of Israel upon its founding in 1964.

The council did not host the rally. Either way, to Feldman it showed that the resolution was not enough.

“At best, it’s meaningless and, at worst, it’s hypocrisy,” he said.

Gilmore-Richardson, the first councilmember to sign on as a co-sponsor, did not see it that way. She said the resolution counted as policy because it would be voted on by the council and become part of Philadelphia’s historical record. She also said it’s vital to call out antisemitism and hate whenever and wherever you see it.

The councilwoman is Black and a descendant of slaves and sharecroppers. She said she looked at the resolution from that perspective.

“If it’s happening to them, it can happen to you, too,” Gilmore Richardson concluded. “Silence means you agree.” JE


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