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Youngkin antisemitism commission issues final report

Gov. Gleen Youngkin Speaks at a podium with microphones
Crixell Matthews
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with reporters outside of Virginia's Executive Mansion. In a report released Monday, a commission created by Youngkin detailed a rise in antisemitism in Virginia and across the nation. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A final report released Monday from a commission created by Gov. Glenn Youngkin documents a rise in antisemitism in Virginia, from the 2017 Unite the Right violence in Charlottesville to flyers spread in a number of cities by far-right groups this year.

The 21 solutions proposed by Youngkin’s Commission to Combat Antisemitism, led by former U.S. Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, focus on blunting perceived attacks on Israel in Virginia’s education system, doubling down on Holocaust education and strengthening discrimination protections for Jews.

“Antisemitism is not just present among the societal fringes and faceless, nameless corners of the internet; antisemitism is increasingly present among visible, elite sectors of American society, and in America’s colleges and universities,” wrote Rosen, who served as acting AG for roughly a month at the end of former President Donald Trump’s term.

Critics, however, say that while some of the recommendations are commendable, particularly surrounding Holocaust education, others infringe on freedom of expression. Kristopher Goad, an activist who closely monitors the far-right and is best known by the online handle “ Goad Gatsby,” said they fail to address violent antisemitism’s roots in far-right ideologies, illustrated vividly during the 2017 Unite the Right rally.

“None of these people got into antisemitism because of their criticism of the government of Israel,” Goad said. “They got into antisemitism because they got into right-wing politics.”

There’s little disagreement that the problem is serious. The Anti-Defamation League collected reports of antisemitic flyers in more than 100 Virginia cities and towns since January. (ADL is a nonprofit that focuses on identifying antisemitism and extremism and says it supports "a secure, Jewish and democratic state of Israel.")

The report focuses heavily on antisemitism in education, with a particular focus on student and faculty activism against Israel that it contends is antisemitic.The commission suggests the General Assembly prohibit “partisan political or ideological indoctrination in classrooms” in K-12 schools and state-funded higher education, though it provides no evidence that is happening in the commonwealth’s schools. It also recommends teaching students that the creation of Israel was the culmination of a 50-year quest to “recreate” a Jewish homeland without referencing the displacement of Palestinians who occupied the majority of the territory at the time.

“This is not a trivial matter,” said Nancy Weir, a member of Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine, in an email. “It is teaching false history.”

The report encourages lawmakers to bar state entities from doing business with companies that participate in boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel — described at one point as a “hate movement.” It also recommends Youngkin issue an executive order prohibiting academic boycotts of Israel. And it says Youngkin and the legislature should affirm a definition of antisemitism that critics worry could squelch criticism of Israel. The report included an image of a poster saying “Zionists F— Off” as an example of antisemitism.

Other recommendations are less likely to ignite controversy, including:

  • Creating better training for law enforcement on antisemitism
  • Strengthening Holocaust education 
  • Ensuring Jews are protected through the commonwealth’s existing hate-crime and anti-discrimination laws
  • Setting up a publicly accessible database for reporting antisemitic incidents in K-12 schools and higher education institutions 

The report quickly dispatched the elephant in the room: Trump’s dinner last week with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, both of whom have a history of antisemitic rhetoric. It noted an unnamed former president “recently met with two notorious antisemites” and asserted that “public officials from both political parties have made a variety of antisemitic assertions.”

Including even that oblique reference to Trump sparked debate at the commission’s final meeting last week. Julie Strauss Levin, a lawyer who is married to conservative commentator Mark Levin, said she “vehemently” opposed adding the sentence. She equated Trump’s dinner to comments made by progressive members of Congress criticizing Israel.

Retired lawyer Bill Kilberg, who was on the commission, disagreed.

“I don't think you can compare it to some other things that have happened,” Kilberg said.

Several days before the Youngkin commission report was released, the Republican Party of Virginia drew criticism for describing George Soros — a Jewish philanthropist and Democratic donor who has been a U.S. citizen since the 1960s — as a “foreign ultra left-wing billionaire” in a now-deleted tweet. Virginia Democrats condemned the tweet, noting it appeared to lean into from false and antisemitic conspiracy theories that place Soros at the center of various insidious international plots.

Youngkin drew similar criticism from U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-2nd) and others during his campaign when he accused Soros of a secretive campaign to place “operatives” in local school boards. Youngkin’s spokesperson at the time dismissed Luria’s criticism as “ridiculous partisan nonsense.”

In its conclusion, Youngkin’s commission praised the Republican governor and said its recommendations “merit rapid adoption,” though any legislative proposals would have to win approval in the divided General Assembly. It also advised Attorney General Jason Miyares to create a taskforce to implement all 21 recommendations.

“Hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism have no place in Virginia,” Youngkin said in a statement announcing the report’s release.


Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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