Expanding the Definition of Antisemitism Hurts Jews

Testimony of Professor Barry Trachtenberg to the United States House Judiciary Committee about proposed speech codes on November 7, 2017

Barry Trachtenberg is the Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History and the Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Wake Forest University.

First published in the Forward and reprinted by permission of the author

It is increasingly common to hear reports that a “new antisemitism” threatens to endanger Jews on a scale not seen since the second World War and the Holocaust. Studies from several major Jewish organizations have sounded the alarm that antisemitism is a “clear and present danger,” while a number of commentators have argued that yet another “war against the Jews” is upon us.

House Judiciary Committee
As much as these sort of statements try to call our attention to a looming catastrophe, they are motivated less by an actual threat facing American or world Jewry than they are part of a persistent campaign to thwart debates, conversations, scholarly research, and political activism (all of which often occur within the Jewish community itself) that is critical of the State of Israel.

 The truth is that the “old antisemitism” — such as we saw in Charlottesville this summer, where torch-bearing marchers carried Nazi and Confederate flags, chanted “You/Jews will not replace us,” and murdered a protester — is still alive in the United States and in many places around the world and requires vigilance and persistent resistance. It is a poor use of our time to distract ourselves by crafting legislation that dictates what can and cannot be said on college campuses regarding the State of Israel.
Barry Trachtenberg

Legislation such as such as H.R.6421-Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016 is not a genuine attempt to contend with actual antisemitism, but rather is more correctly understood as a means to quell what are in fact protected acts of speech that are vital and necessary both to the scholarly missions of educational institutions and to the functioning of democratic societies.

 It is a factual distortion to characterize campuses in the United States as hotbeds of new antisemitism. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University reported that while depictions of rampant antisemitism are reported widely in the press, they do not represent the actual experiences of Jewish students at the campus level. They discovered that campus life is neither threatening nor alarmist, and this corresponds to my own experiences with Jewish students.
In general, students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, feeling comfortable as Jews on their campuses. Based on interviews with sixty-six undergraduate students at five California universities previously described as strongly antisemitic, researchers did not find a single interviewee who characterized their campus in that way. The Stanford study concludes:

Much of the testimony you will hear today is likely to describe alleged incidents of antisemitism, and it may cite studies purporting to prove that antisemitism is at crisis levels. I urge you to be sceptical of such claims.

First, many of the stories that get wide circulation contain factual distortions and are misrepresented in the media. Second, many studies are based on a definition of antisemitism that de facto defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and which limit their interviews to a specific set of Jewish students who are highly identified with the state of Israel. Yet as within American Jewry as a whole, Jewish students hold a wide range of views concerning Israel, from unilaterally supportive to sharply critical.

Motivated by concern for human rights

Students who engage in speech critical of Israeli policy are largely motivated by their concern for Palestinian human rights. They are not motivated by antisemitic hate, but its opposite—a desire to end racial and religious discrimination of all kinds.

Legislation designed to curtail activity that is critical of Israel — be it political, scholarly, or simply conversational — most often rests upon a distortion of the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which is appropriated from the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia,” a definition that was created for the purpose of research and not government policy. As well-intentioned as the State Department’s concern for antisemitism may be, its understanding of antisemitism is both flawed and overly expansive, and should not serve as the basis for speech codes.

Indeed, so expansive is the State Department’s definition that some of the founding premises of Zionism would themselves be considered antisemitic. For example, the State Department insists that an example of antisemitism is “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.”

Of course, history tells us that quite often Jews’ citizenship in any particular country cannot so easily be taken for granted; this has been one of the factors behind the widespread belief among Jews that wherever they are in the world, they bear a responsibility to one another. The founders of Zionism consequently concluded that, regardless of where in the world they live, Jews have more in common with one another than they do with non-Jews.

Such arguments can be traced back at least to Theodor Herzl, who argued in his seminal 1896 book, The Jewish State, that antisemitism is an inescapable fact of modern existence and therefore Jews “…are a people—One people” and for that reason, “it is useless for us to be loyal patriots.”

Elsewhere, the State Department’s definition is far too broad and encompasses what in other contexts would easily be classified as protected political speech against a foreign government. While I agree that using “classic” antisemitic symbols and images is inappropriate (although not illegal), there is nothing necessarily wrong in comparing the actions of Israel to those of Nazi Germany.

In fact, comparisons of foreign leaders and countries to Nazism are made regularly. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush famously compared Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler (a comparison also made by President George W. Bush). Given that comparisons of foreign leaders and governments to Nazism occur regularly, creating a “special status” for speech concerning Jews and Israel would only reaffirm otherwise antisemitic claims that Jews are exceptional and therefore need to have a special category of laws that apply only to them.

Even among Jews, one hears such comparisons levelled with great frequency, coming from both the political left and right. In December 1948 (three and a half years after the end of World War II and seven months after the founding of Israel), Albert Einstein famously co-signed a letter published in the New York Times comparing the political party of the Israeli leader Menachem Begin (a precursor to today’s Likud) to Nazism. More recently, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman had to apologize during his nomination process for having once called liberal Zionists, “worse than kapos.”

Plurality of Jewish views

Finally, to say that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” is an example of antisemitism ignores the plurality of views that exist within the Jewish community. For one thing, it ignores the fact that for many Jews today and since its founding, the state of Israel is decidedly not an expression of Jewish self- determination, a concept which has often held cultural, religious, or ethical implications distinct from the idea of a Jewish state. For another, the question of Israel’s “right to exist” is not the same thing as that of its “right to exist as a Jewish state,” if that existence is predicated on the displacement and oppression of the non-Jews within its borders.

Given the flaws in the State Department’s definition of antisemitism, it must not form the basis of law or campus speech codes. As Kenneth S. Stern, the author of the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” has stated, “the worst remedy is to prohibit speech deemed offensive, disparaging or bigoted that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.” He further stated that the purpose of the definition that he formulated was for scientific study, and is not suitable as the basis of campus anti-speech codes.

“The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports about antisemitism in Europe,” writes Stern. “It was never supposed to curtail speech on campus.” As someone who began teaching at the college level nearly two and a half decades ago, I agree fully with Stern who has [elsewhere] stated, “Anti-Semitism – like all forms of bigotry – has an impact on some campuses. The worst way to address it is to create a de facto hate speech code, which is what this bill proposes to do.” Although discussions around Israel and Zionism may often be uncomfortable for Israel’s supporters and detractors alike (something that I witness in my classes most semesters), it is the responsibility of students and educators to foster dialogue and not limit it, to understand the historical implications of our speech, and to allow for the meaning and definition of fraught terms to develop and change as a consequence of informed deliberation and debate.

It is profoundly difficult to create a definition of antisemitism that can be used for legislative purposes. The root of current debates on antisemitism lies in a seemingly intractable problem of how to critique Jewish collective power in a way that does not immediately resonate with a long history of antisemitism. Throughout the last thousand years of European history, Jews were regularly characterized as an incommensurate and exceptionalist element that sought to undermine the established religious, political, or economic order. They were accused of being killers of Christ and of seeking to repeat this offense through the murder of innocent Christian children. Such accusations led at times to blood libels (the classic antisemitic allegation that Jews used non-Jewish children’s blood to make matza, the ritual flatbread of Passover) and pogroms (violent and often deadly mob attacks on Jewish communities).

In more recent centuries, Jews have been characterized simultaneously as usurpers of national identities, disloyal citizens, capitalist schemers, and revolutionary subversives. Such allegations led to discriminatory legislation, riots, expulsions, and physical violence. In the early 20th century, Jews were branded as a biological and racial threat and entire armies rose up to exterminate them. In each of these moments, Jews were imagined as a united group that possessed power and authority far beyond their actual numbers.

Yet, in 1948, with the founding of Israel as a solution to antisemitism, the situation changed dramatically. For the first time, a significant number of Jews – identifying as a national group – gained actual, not imaginary, power. Today, the state of Israel has borders, police, courts, a military, a nuclear arsenal, political parties, and a (mostly) representative and (somewhat) democratic system of government.

Like all other states, its actions are — and must be permitted to be — a matter of public debate and discourse both within the Jewish community and outside of it. Yet speech that is critical of Israel still strikes many as inherently antisemitic. The problem, quite simply, is that we still are learning how to talk about Israel’s actual political power and repeated claims to represent Jews all over the world in ways that do not immediately echo much older and antisemitic depictions of imaginary Jewish power. This is not only on account of the long history of anti-Jewish hatred in the West. It is also because, as we see in legislative initiatives such as this, to characterize any speech that is critical of Israel as intrinsically antisemitic has been a highly effective tool employed by those who uncritically support every action of Israel and seek to stigmatize all critics.

Considering the multiple — and constantly shifting — forms of antisemitism that have emerged since the term “Antisemitism” first appeared in Germany in the late nineteenth century, it would be ill-advised for Congress to establish legal authority on a definition of antisemitism that is so deeply contested. To insist that Israel cannot be protested or objected to, to mandate that collective Jewish power cannot be analyzed or debated, or to conclude that Jews, because they were once victims of one of humanity’s greatest genocidal crimes, are somehow immune from becoming perpetrators of acts of violence against other peoples, would only reinforce the antisemitic belief that Jews are a fundamentally different people.

Moreover, and perhaps most dangerously of all, attempts to broaden the definition of antisemitism to encompass phenomena that are clearly not anti-Jewish can only make it more difficult to recognize, isolate, and oppose actual antisemitic hatred when it does appear.

 

 

 

 

 

Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism

Deborah Maccoby

Review of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, Routledge 2017

David Hirsh, besides running the Engage website, which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel, is a lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London; and his book claims to be a work of objective academic scholarship. In the penultimate chapter — entitled “Sociological method and antisemitism” — which is an odd mixture of autobiography and methodology, he writes of undertaking sociological investigations “employing methodological rigour from the traditions of ethnomethodology and discourse analysis”. Yet underlying this very thin veneer of scholarly objectivity is a passionate rage which makes the book more readable than many other academic tomes and even gives it a certain entertainment value (hence the two stars on Amazon rather than the one that it really deserves). Contemporary Left Antisemitism is essentially a temper tantrum couched in sociological jargon. Continue reading “Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism”

Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

A debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (May 31) exposed pro-Israel lobbyists as the natural allies of far-right Islamophobes supporting a definition of antisemitism designed to defend the state of Israel.

Ostensibly about a motion on “Combating Antisemitism”, the discussion in fact revolved around one clause calling for institutions of the EU and all member states to adopt the controversial “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism.”

This document, based on an earlier “working definition” abandoned by the now defunct EU monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia (EUMC), broadens the widely understood concept of antisemitism as hostility towards Jews, to include criticism of Israel.

In Thursday’s vote, 101 MEPs voted against its inclusion in the motion, but 479 voted in favour while 47 abstained. The motion including the contentious clause was passed.

Continue reading “Far-right Islamophobes unite with pro-Israel lobbyists in European Parliament antisemitism debate”

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Press Release from Free Speech on Israel and BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine)

for immediate release – 29th May 2017

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Support for Palestinian professor denied entry to Israel

Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation which defends the right to criticise Israel, and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which campaigns for academic and cultural boycott of Israel, today welcomed the vote by the University and College Union (UCU) to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Motion 57, submitted by UCU branches at the University of Leeds, Goldsmiths, and the University of Brighton, along with two strengthening amendments from Queen’s University Belfast and London Retired Members Branch, was carried overwhelmingly in the closing minutes of UCU’s annual Congress in Brighton.  Only one delegate spoke against the motion.

UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism
UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism

UCU had previously, in 2011, rejected the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  The IHRA definition strongly resembles the EUMC version.  Today’s vote strengthens UCU’s existing policy. Continue reading “UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism”

Israel Lobby and the Anti-Semitism Hoax

Reprinted from Tikun Olam by permission

First, let me begin by saying that anti-Semitism in itself is certainly not a hoax.  There are centuries of evidence supporting the existence of virulent Jew-hatred.  Anyone with a Twitter account knows that such anti-Semitism exists.  I’ve recently highlighted it at Mint Press News, a publication to which I contributed for over a year.  So anti-Semitism, though largely an enterprise of the far-right, exists on the left as well. Fighting anti-Semitism is a laudable goal.

But here’s where I part company with the institutional Jewish community. If you were to poll Jews about their priorities in life and issues that most concern them, anti-Semitism would be very far down the list.

Of course, members of all religions react with great concern to threats to their co-religionists.  That is understandable.  But Jews aren’t the only religion under threat: true, Jews have been attacked by Islamists in Europe and places like Turkey.  But Coptic Christians were attacked by ISIS in Egypt this week and Rohingya Muslims have been ethnically cleansed by Burmese Buddhists for several years.  Jews in today’s world don’t have a monopoly on victimhood.  But the organized Jewish community acts as if it does.  As if they own the field of religious hatred and are the only victims, or at least the only ones who really matter, because of our past suffering in the Holocaust.
Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood
Exaggerating the significance of anti-Semitism also tends to distort Jewish life and identity.  If you define yourself as a Jew as someone fighting against anti-Semitism, rather than fighting for a rich, positive, substantive Jewish identity–you don’t have much substance on which to base your Jewishness. That’s a significant part of my quarrel with groups like the ADL and AJC, whose existence and financial wherewithal is predicated on anti-Semitism.

Jews obsessed with anti-Semitism do offer what they see as a positive model of Jewish identity: Israel.  I wrote about this in the essay, The Closing of the American Jewish Mind, my contribution to the newly published Israel and Palestine: Alternative Models of Statehood.  There I noted that Israel has become a substitute for the Jewish culture, traditions, art, and even religious practice that used to be at the heart of Diaspora Jewry.  Wealthy Jews like Sheldon Adelson, Michael Steinhardt and others have bet hundreds of millions of dollars that while Judaism may wither on the vine, Israel will not.  That’s why they’ve funded Birthright as their primary response to assimilation.

But what happened to Torah, Talmud, religious ritual, Biblical prophecy, Kabbalah, Zohar, Yiddish culture, language, and song, among many others?  If you posit anti-Semitism and Israel as the sole arbiters of Jewishness, it leaves nothing of what sustained us over centuries and even millenia.  It is a poor substitute for what we’re losing.  And I can’t say that I blame any Jewish youth who rejects this tepid porridge they’re offered as a substitute for Jewishness.  This also explains why the Pew poll found that the younger generation is rejecting their parents’ generation and its single-minded near-obsession with Israel to the exclusion of almost all else.

jewish voice for peace anti semitism israel

Jewish Voice for Peace protest UC Regents proposal to define criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic

It goes without saying that if you offer Israel as the New Jewish Religion, that you view any threat to Israel as a threat to the Jewish people.  That is why the Israel Lobby has worked so diligently to insinuate criticism of Israel as a primary tenet of anti-Semitism.  That is why the current far-right Israeli government repeats the smear that BDS is not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic.

These are, of course, radical revisions of the traditional definition of anti-Semitism as expression of hatred toward Jews.  If you believe there is no difference between Israel and Jews, then this may make some sense.  But if you conflate the two then you fall into a morass of internal contradictions.  If you reject the notion of dual loyalty, then how do you combat the claim by anti-Semites that Diaspora Jews must be disloyal to their homelands because they retain sole loyalty to Israel?  How do you stand against acts of terror by Islamists aimed at Jews, when the terrorists believe that in attacking Jews they are also attacking Israel?  How do you embrace the claim by the Likudist far-right that Iran aims to destroy not just Israel, but the entire Jewish people?  Especially when the Iranians have never made such a sweeping claim?

Which brings me to the current efforts by legislators in the U.S. and UK to legislate a radical revision in the definition of anti-Semitism.  Recently, the U.S. Senate passed almost unanimously the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which employs the following definition and examples:

  •  Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
  • Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
  • Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation

Few will have any argument with the first two definitions, but the second two are so vague and broad as to be meaningless.  Under this problematic rubric, reporting that Israeli Jews kill Muslims because of their religion is anti-Semitic.  Criticizing Israel for fomenting political discord in the Middle East also appears anti-Semitic.  And criticizing Israel before criticizing every other democracy which engages in bad behavior is also anti-Semitic.  In fact, such an approach makes most Jews themselves anti-Semites because most American Jews are critical, some highly critical of Israel and its policies.

Such definitions have one major goal: to silence, rather clumsily, political speech regarding Israel.  They are intended to “box in” the BDS movement and other forms of “delegitimization” by defining legitimate political discourse as off-limits.  Such efforts must be seen for what they are: bald-faced attempts to stifle debate and suppress dissent.  Democracies are antithetical to such notions.  They are strong precisely because they permit, even encourage the free flow of ideas.  That is how the best ideas develop and how we keep such societies strong and vital.  Suppressing speech, as the Israel Lobby seeks, is anti-American and anti-democratic.

The British parliament stands ready to pass an equally noxious anti-Semitism bill which the media have largely misreported as a milquetoast affirmation of the basic decency of Jews in the face of mindless hate.  This Christian Science Monitor report sounds innocent enough:

…The British government hopes the new definition will offer a more concrete and clearer notion of anti-Semitism, to be adopted in as many circles as possible. Proponents believe that the clarified definition will prevent vagueness that may lead to anti-Semitic crimes going unreported or unacknowledged. The definition is part of an international effort to end hate crimes against Jewish people as well as combat Holocaust denial in all its forms.

Until you read the fine print on the website of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which the Parliament relied on in crafting its own definition:

  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews
    worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence
    of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other
    democratic nation.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

These examples themselves are deeply problematic.  The State of Israel is racist.  It’s policies are racist.  The structure of its society is racist.  By noting and criticizing such racism prevalent in Israeli society I by no means “deny Jewish people their right to self-determination.”  In fact, I strengthen Israel in doing so.

The “double standard” theory is bogus as well.  Holding Israel to the standards of international law is not “applying a double standard.”  In fact, the three main demands of BDS (ending Occupation, return of Palestinian exiles, and offering fully equality to Israeli Palestinians) derive from the heart of democratic traditions.

As for the “Nazi analogy,” I’d be a lot more comfortable with this one if the Israel Lobby wasn’t so free and easy to call Israel’s critics and opponents Nazis and the like.  Not to mention that there are clear elements of Israeli policy that echo those of the Nazis, just as there are elements of Trumpism which do so as well.  Why should the former be labelled anti-Semitic?  A clear, carefully articulated analogy based on historical facts cannot be.

Finally, you can’t call “holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel” anti-Semitic if Israel’s leaders themselves refuse to make such a distinction.  You can’t have your cake and eat it.

These efforts to redefine anti-Semitism for the convenience of the Lobby and as a buttress against criticism of the noxious polices of the State of Israel are worse than a waste of time.  They are a radical departure from established consensus both among moral philosophers, historians and Jews themselves about the definition of the noxious concept of Jew-hatred. We are about to see such a radical departure from consensus here in the United States as Donald Trump takes office. It will lead to great ugliness and distortion of the great traditions of American democracy. Let’s not do the same to the concept of anti-Semitism.

International “definition” of antisemitism threatens to limit criticism of Israel

Free Speech on Israel                                                                                    

Press release         For immediate release

International “definition” of antisemitism threatens to limit criticism of Israel

Arabs to the gas chamber
Will using an image like this, or commenting on its resonance to the Nazi regime, be outlawed?
  • This ‘international definition’ has no international status
  • The ‘definition’ deliberately emphasises criticism of Israel and Zionism as likely to be antisemitic
  • The UK government’s proposed adoption of it threatens to obstruct or even criminalise free speech

The UK Government has announced that it will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is 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.”

Were the definition to stop at that point its adoption by the Government could be applauded. But the major part of the definition is given over to examples of actions that should be investigated as purported to show antisemitic motivation. Of the eleven examples given, seven relate not to Jews as Jews, but to the state of Israel and its actions.

This emphasis reveals the motivation of those who have been promoting this definition for more than 10 years. It will be all too easy for governments, or others via litigation, ‘lawfare’, to employ it to limit criticism both of: Israel’s repeated breaches of International Law and abuses of the Human Rights of Palestinians; and critiques of Zionism as an ideology used to justify and excuse Israel’s actions.

There are already many examples of attempts to illegitimately stretch the use of the definition to censor legitimate political and moral debate. A particular target has been the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – a mass non-violent civil society campaign to hold Israel to account. Already Israel’s UK supporters have rushed to pre-emptively interpret the Government’s announcement as shielding Israel and its foundational political philosophy of Zionism, rather than protecting Jews.

There is a simple option for the Government that will allay fears that this definition will be used to suppress free speech. This is to adopt just the 40-word definition cited above, but not the contentious, partisan, politically slanted examples that accompany it.

Free Speech on Israel also urges the Government to adopt an equivalent definition of Islamophobia and promote it vigorously since attacks on Muslims, both verbal and physical, are a far greater and more frequent threat to the safety and security of British citizens and residents than is antisemitism.

END

NOTES:

  1. Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. Their attacks form part of two highly orchestrated campaigns: one, to undermine the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, the first potential British Prime Minister to have a consistent record of supporting Palestinian rights; the other, to suppress the pro-Palestinian voices of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others of many faiths and none, campaigning for freedom, justice and equality for all.
  1. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is at https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/sites/default/files/press_release_document_antisemitism.pdf . It is virtually identical with the 2005 ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’ which according to an expert report to a Parliamentary inquiry “rapidly became a topic of controversy rather than consensus….. [and has] largely has fallen out of favour”. Kenneth Stern, the lead author of the EUMC definition has roundly condemned its use to limit debate in the United States.
  1. Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug has proposed a more straightforward and easier to apply definition of antisemitism as: ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’ Use of Dr Klug’s definition was recommended by Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism in his report commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism.
  1. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign was launched by Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 and has attracted worldwide support. It is the object of concerted attack by the Israeli Government and its supporters in other countries.
  1. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is not a formal international organisation. It is a loose alliance whose founding purpose is to ensure, through education, that new generations are informed about that tragedy.

 

Keith Vaz; the Home Affairs Select Committee Report on Antisemitism; and McCarthy

We have published a number of critiques of the Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism. This is a summary of the main points made.

Jeremy Corbyn under questioning by the Select Committee
Jeremy Corbyn under questioning by the Select Committee
David Plank, former Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Social Services Committee & former Local Authority Chief Executive slates the report for:
  • blatant political bias
  • bad statistical analysis and bad investigatory practice
  • pillorying leading personalities then them denying them the right of reply
  • exploitation of a discredited definition of antisemitism
  • distortion of the McPherson principle on investigation of racism
  • deliberate and hostile focus on the Labour party and its leader
  • summary dismissal of the Labour Party’s own report on antisemitism & exclusion of its Chair
  • the committee had no terms of reference – so they were free to follow their bias

Systemic weaknesses  of the report

Composition of the Committee

5 Conservatives, 3 Labour, 1 SNP, Chair. All, including the Chair, openly hostile to Corbyn, his supporters and policies. Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s questioning of Corbyn was abusive and disrespectful. Umunna was a leader of the no confidence vote against Mr Corbyn and promoted Owen Smith against him for the leadership.

 Submissions

The Committee ignored the submissions from Jewish groups and other organisations which contradicted the views of the Jewish establishment.

 Oral evidence

All the witnesses chosen were hostile to Corbyn (barring Ken Livingston, also under criticism)

Poor statistics

They use a self-selecting survey of Jews on Labour Party antisemitism. By definition such surveys are unreliable and are rejected by any self-respecting statistician.

Investigatory incompetence and bad practice
  • They dismissed the Chakrabarti report on the basis of innuendo and refused its author’s request to give evidence.
  • They gave overweening weight to the Board of Deputies of British Jews and The Jewish Leadership Council but ignored the views six UK Jewish groups with opposite points of view.
  • Despite identifying the vast majority of antisemitic abuse as being on social media – much from a US neo-fascist group – and not from the Labour party, they then studiously ignored this and devoted all their energies to attacking the Labour Party as the receptacle of antisemitism.
  • The Community Security Trust, the source of the figures justified ignoring the online abuse because it would “throw their statistics out of kilter” – in other words it would produce a different result to the one they wanted!
  • They observe police recorded antisemitic crime is almost non-existent, and conclude that the police should investigate this under-reporting, thereby inventing offences that do not exist.
  • Antisemitic hate crimes were just 1% of 52,000 police recorded hate the crimes for 2016
Flawed logic

They label the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as hard left (which demonstratively is not true) and as anti-the Israeli government, they then quote Jonathan Akush, President of the BoD, as saying their marches have fascist banners, so as to conclude it is the left which is antisemitic. They studiously ignored submissions by Jewish groups that Arkush took a minuscule display of 3-4 fascist banners (which were quickly removed) – to inflate the marches into being neo-fascist. They failed to note the presence of English Defence Leagues banners at many Zionist demonstrations.

Guilt by association

They go on to state that Corbyn attended these demonstrations to imply he is antisemitic. These are the tactics of McCarthyism; appalling practice for a Parliamentary Committee.

Attacks on individuals who had no right of reply
  • NUS President, Malia Bouattia, elected on a platform of Palestinian human rights;
  • Jackie Walker, a black Jew who stated her ancestors were slave trade merchants.
Use of the discredited EUMC draft working definition of antisemitism

The definition was drafted by the American Jewish Committee but was never adopted by the EU

“Antisemitism is 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.”

  • Thus criticising Jewish property (e.g. the settlements?) becomes antisemitic.
  • Criticising non-Jewish supporters of Israel (e.g. US Christian Zionists or Russian emigres) becomes antisemitic. This serves to insulate Israel’s unalloyed supporters from criticism.

They worsened the definition by incorporating into it the EUMC examples:

  1. ‘Criticism of Israel can be no harsher than of any other democracy’ – a card sharper’s slight of hand: there is not one person one vote for all those governed by Israel in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli Palestinian minority do not have civil rights equal to those of the majority, but to question Israel’s democratic status would be ‘delegitimisation’ and thus antisemitic.
  2. ‘Criticism of Israel as a racist enterprise is antisemitic’. Quoting Ben Gurion,’The cleansing of Palestine (is) the prime objective”,founding Zionist Weizmann “Not one village not one tribe shall be left” or the 50 laws which discriminate against israeli Palestinians become antisemitic.

c.Israel is the core of Jewish identity, so to act against it (e.g. Boycotts) is antisemitic. This gives Israel impunity in its extensive violations of human rights. But Israel is not core to the identity of many 100,000s of Jews. Stereotyping them in this way is, ironically, antisemitic.

  1. Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations. Note the word ‘citizen’ not ‘people’: this means such accusations of any Jewish group or even individuals could be antisemitic. And those groups that do put Israel first cannot be criticised for doing so because such criticism would be antisemitic. This is nonsensical.

Drawing comparisons between Nazis Germany and Israel is antisemitic.

But recently Ehud Barak, former Israeli President and Yair Golan, IDF Major General, have done just that. The Committee demands less freedom of speech in the UK than in Israel!

  1. Holding all Jews responsible for Israeli policies is seen as stereotyping and antisemitic – but it is the Jewish establishment itself which makes this very conflation of Jewish & Israeli identity. The Committee endorses this hypocrisy.
Distortion of Macpherson

The Macpherson principle has three components: (i) victims of racial abuse should be believed, (ii) their allegations investigated and (iii) if found credible to be referred to the CPS for legal action. The EUMC definition ignores (ii) & (iii) and guilt can be proved on the allegation alone.

 Glyn Secker

This paper has drawn on papers by

David Plank: HASC Report on antisemitism is a ‘partisan party political polemic’
Richard Kuper: Crying Wolf
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi: Zionists’ weapon of mass destruction against UK’s left
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead: Parliamentary Selective Committee Report
Tony Greenstein: Manufacturing consent on ‘antisemitism’

 

Zionists’ weapon of mass destruction against UK’s left

21 November 2016

Profile image Jeremy Corbyn

Baseless accusations of antisemitism are damaging to more than the British left and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Peter Nicholls/Reuters

From Blairite to far-right, the British political elite is relishing having discovered the ultimate weapon of mass destruction to try and block the growth of a movement of the left around Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

All it needs to do is fire off round after round of unsubstantiated assertions of antisemitism, deploying circular and often contradictory arguments.

The left, so the mantra goes, has always been riddled with antisemitism. To deny this is, by definition, antisemitic.

Corbyn is in denial, according to his critics. The ardent pro-Israel advocate Howard Jacobson has accused him of belonging to the “more un-self-questioning wing of British politics.” Those words are probably more applicable to Tony Blair, the former prime minister and Corbyn’s arch enemy.

Jacobson, a novelist and academic, graciously allows in a recent opinion piece that Israel may be subjected to “fair and honest” criticism but asserts, in the face of reams of historical evidence to the contrary, that the Zionism which created and upholds the state is a “dreamy” and idealistic national liberation movement of the Jewish people that has nothing to do with conquest or colonial expansion.

The clincher is Jacobson’s assertion – denied by a considerable body of Jewish opinion – that anti-Zionism is equivalent to repudiating Israel’s right to exist and is therefore “almost invariably” antisemitic.

Case closed. There really is nothing left to say.

“Open season on minorities”

Where does this leave the UK as a proudly democratic society that values freedom of speech? We value it so highly that just last month, the Independent Press Standards Organisation – the media regulator established by UK newspapers – ruled that Kelvin MacKenzie, a former editor of The Sun, was free to denounce Channel 4 for letting a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman, Fatima Manji, report on the Nice terror attacks.

Manji said this meant that it was now “open season on minorities and Muslims, in particular.”

It leaves us in an unpleasant place, following the vote to exit the European Union, where upsetting Muslims and other non-whites is fine. Upsetting friends of Israel is not allowed, however – especially, but not exclusively, if they are Jewish.

It’s also fine to upset Jews like me who are not Zionists. Wes Streeting, a member of parliament (not a Jew), called me a “massive racist” in a tweet about an interview I did with the radio station LBC during October.

But then I’m a pro-Palestinian activist who supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Streeting evidently believes I can be discounted as a self-hating Jew.

Just to be clear, I have no time for conspiracy theorists who see Israel as the root of all evil. I do not tolerate anti-Jewish racism, whether or not it is coupled with claims of supporting justice for Palestine, as it sometimes is.

Nor do my fellow campaigners in Free Speech on Israel. We demand justice and security for both Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, and we agree with the Arab-Jewish Forum’s Tony Klug who wrote in The Jewish Chronicle earlier this year: “While antisemitism is monstrous – and, like all forms of racism, should be vigorously dealt with – false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too.”

Disturbingly, the recent report on antisemitism in the UK from the Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons gives a free pass to those making false accusations.

Released on 16 October, the report performs a service by highlighting the role of social media – in particular Twitter – in facilitating deplorable abuse and threats to individuals. It also makes the important point, ignored by most media, that the far right is behind 75 percent of all politically motivated antisemitic incidents.

Its main thrust, however, is that antisemitism is rampant and tolerated in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere on the left and that a “new definition” of antisemitism is required so that we can halt this alleged scourge. It is a gift to the pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn brigade who welcomed it ecstatically.

Moral panic

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), an intensely Zionist group, tweeted, “We could not have written this report better ourselves.”

caa-tweet-screen-grab

Until the current wave of moral panic, people generally knew what bigotry was and what was specific about the anti-Jewish bigotry usually called antisemitism.

As the Free Speech On Israel website says, language or behavior is anti-Semitic if it expresses hatred of Jews, or inflicts or incites violence against them, because they are Jews; if it stereotypes Jews on the basis of alleged negative personal characteristics such as being mean, sly and avaricious; if it links Jews to conspiracy theories about world domination of media, financial or governmental institutions; if it suggests Jews were responsible for, or fabricated, the Holocaust.

Most people would also agree that it is antisemitic to implicate all Jews in the actions of the Israeli state or to accuse all Jews of embracing a single ideology – Zionism, for example.

Yet no one is more determined to suggest that all Jews owe loyalty to the State of Israel, and that Zionism is part and parcel of being Jewish, than Zionists like Jacobson and the CAA. It isn’t so long ago that Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s chief rabbi, declared that Zionism was a “noble and integral part of Judaism.”

A long list of Jews including well-known figures such as the filmmaker Mike Leigh, actor Miriam Margolyes and writer Michael Rosen put their names to a letter repudiating the chief rabbi’s version of their identity. Gideon Falter, the CAA’s chair, dismissed them as “a fringe assortment of British Jews” who had committed an “anti-Semitic slur” against his group.

Is it any wonder that some people outraged by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians may take the chief rabbi at his word and hold all Jews responsible for what is done in their name?

If only the report from the Home Affairs Committee had tackled this contradiction and affirmed that there are different forms of Jewish identity, different traditions to which Jews adhere, including radical traditions that have no connection with Zionism.

Instead the committee promotes a “new definition” of antisemitism that does everything Falter, Streeting and company desire. If imposed on all areas of public life, as the committee proposes, opposition to their partisan approach is at risk of being criminalized.

To start with, the committee exalts its definition of antisemitism as being “based broadly on the working definition of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).” That falsely gives the impression that the definition favored has already been approved by the European Union.

The so-called working definition appeared on the EUMC website as a discussion document that was found wanting and dropped. It was originally drafted more than a decade ago by Zionist lobby groups, which have pushed it relentlessly since then.

The home affairs committee report lists some of the obvious characteristics of antisemitism but muddies the waters by introducing Israel into the equation.

We already have extensive evidence of how this will be used to censor debate – an academic conference canceled, a theater director pilloried, school children denied involvement in a literary festival.

It is not only Jewish Zionists who are guilty of this kind of censorship. In the three cases mentioned, non-Jewish Conservative cabinet ministers were actively involved.

The Home Affairs Committee’s “new definition” offers myriad opportunities for conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism. As I write, Israel’s CAA friends are filing a complaint against the School of Oriental and African Studies in London for allowing writer Tom Suarez to lecture about the violent origins of the Israeli state.

These are some of the more problematic examples given in the “new definition”:

Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

If this is antisemitic, then Jewish organizations that uphold loyalty to Israel – as most do – will be immune from criticism for doing so. Dissenting Jews, or anyone else who wonders aloud why the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which claims to represent all Jews in the country, persists in supporting Israel right or wrong, will be silenced.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

This clause is particularly pernicious. Rights attach to human beings, not states. Asserting the right to self-determination does not give any group a right to suppress others in its name. Palestinians also have rights, including the right to protest at the injustices inflicted upon them in the name of Jewish self-determination. It is not antisemitic for them to do so, nor for anyone else to support them.

Nor is it antisemitic to identify the racism present in the origins of the Israeli state. Jacobson may call its creation an act of “dreamy” idealism – but it was almost by definition a racist endeavor since the intention was to conquer and occupy the maximum amount of land while ensuring that the fewest possible non-Jewish inhabitants remained on it.

Modern Israel offers multiple examples of racism, some of it extreme.

Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

In practice, what Israel’s defenders complain of is Israel being expected to abide by internationally accepted norms while other states behave as badly or worse. Israel’s critics point out that Israel is exceptionally favored on the international scene by being allowed to get away with breaches of international law and human rights conventions without facing any sanction. It is not antisemitic to call Israel to account for those breaches.

Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

The blood libel is a horrifying medieval superstition that led to the slaughter of innocent Jews accused of using the blood of Christian children in religious rites. Today’s pro-Israel censors frequently allege “blood libel” when anyone comments on the shedding of Palestinian blood.

Veteran cartoonist Gerald Scarfe found himself in the center of a diplomatic storm when he dared to portray Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, cementing bleeding bodies between the slabs of a wall. To call this a blood libel distorts Jewish history and, as one Israeli commentator argued at the time, is “not antisemitic by any standard.”

It is certainly antisemitic to allege, as used to happen to my mother when she was a young girl, that Jews bear the guilt of Christ’s death, or to suggest that Jews have a propensity to slaughter children. But it is not antisemitic to hold the State of Israel or its leaders responsible for the real deaths of real children caused by their forces.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

The study of history and politics requires us to make comparisons between different societies in different times. Nazi Germany has become the benchmark for a particularly horrifying form of racist totalitarianism. Sometimes people appalled at Israel’s behavior towards Palestinians, including Jewish Israelis, reach for the worst comparison they can muster and draw Nazi parallels.

It can be hurtful and may make productive debate difficult. But it is not antisemitic.

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

It is indeed bigoted to hold Jews – or any ethnic or religious group – collectively responsible for anything. But people can hardly be blamed for believing that Jews and Israel are indivisible when most mainstream Jewish organizations are solidly aligned with Israel and Zionism.

It would be far more beneficial for people who are confused about this to learn about non-Zionist Jewish traditions than to drum them out of the Labour Party for crossing a line laid down by pro-Israel partisans.

The Home Affairs Committee report calls for its seriously flawed pseudo-definition to be “formally adopted by the UK government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic.”

There is considerable danger in this.

Not only is the committee’s definition a threat to the possibility of holding intelligent, informed discussion about one of the great moral and political issues of our time, it is also a potential spur to anti-Jewish sentiment because it gives the impression that debate is to be censored at the behest of a Jewish collective acting on behalf of the State of Israel.

Unquestioning media bear much of the blame for obscuring the fact that many Jews are not Zionists and a great many Zionists are not Jews.

While many of us Jewish dissenters have been at the forefront of defending Jeremy Corbyn in his attempts to build a grassroots socialist movement, his enemies have united to undermine him, regardless of their faith backgrounds.

It is not too late to avert the threat to freedom of speech posed by the cynical political games afoot. We should start by rejecting the Home Affairs Committee’s phony definition of antisemitism.

 

Parliamentary Selective Committee Report

There have been people that I admired and respected – people who I saw as generally forces for good, examples to emulate. And then, sometimes, I discovered that they were not the paragons I had built them up to be. The revelation of clay feet is always distressing.

I used to feel that way, sort of, about Parliamentary Select Committees. Well perhaps I was a sad case. But, in the context of the hollowing out of democratic institutions and the progressive centralisation of power, the step-by-step strengthening of the committee system seemed a possible way of holding the executive more effectively to account. The most recent reform, a few years ago, was that committee chairs are now elected by MPs rather than appointed by the party whips. This greater independence was supposed to give Select Committees the independence to set their own agendas, and report without fear or favour. And indeed that does happen. Quite recently a critique by members of the Health Select Committee demolished the government’s false claims about the additional funding they said they were providing to the NHS.

The set up

And then there came the Home Affairs Select Committee report allegedly on Antisemitism in the UK, published in October. Admittedly expectations were not of the highest. It’s chair Keith Vaz had turned the committee’s hearings into a version of performance art with himself as star; and he was still in that role in September (prior to his departure under a cloud) when the committee heard evidence in public. Another member Naz Shah had excluded herself for this item, following her abject apology in response to accusations of personal antisemitism. The result was that by the time the report was issued there were only two Labour MPs left standing – David Winnick and Chuka Umunna.

Umunna had already distinguished himself (in a highly competitive field) for the consistent venom of his verbal assaults on his elected party leader. His willingness to inflict collateral damage has evidently not been dented by Corbyn’s massive re-election victory just ahead of the Report’s publication in October. As we will see the report constitutes a partisan attack on the left of the Labour Party rather than a sober account of the state and significance of antisemitism in the country.

The hearings

Concerns about the likely tenor of the Report were raised by the conduct of the Committee’s public hearings. They provided an opportunity for a further ritual humiliation for Ken Livingstone, and another failed attempt to rile or scare Jeremy Corbyn into saying something he would regret.

Jeremy Corbyn under questioning by the Select Committee
Jeremy Corbyn under questioning by the Select Committee

By comparison the representatives of Jewish community organisations (Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis  and high-ups from the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust) were treated with all the respect due to beings from a higher plane. Sample question: “Is there anything your excellency would care to share with us?”. The contrast between browbeating and toadying is still available for viewing at the links in this paragraph, for those with strong stomachs.

Although several organisations (Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Free Speech on Israel among them) had made written submissions around the distinction between Antisemitism and anti-Zionism none were called to give evidence. This despite the centrality of Israel/Palestine in the specific allegations of antisemitic discourse on the left. There was evidently no appetite to hear Independent Jewish Voices. What they wanted and got was Dependent Jewish Voices.

Taken in isolation this farrago might usefully stand as an object lesson for the future in how not to hold an Inquiry. (In this vein one of my academic colleagues used to give our masters students a really bad lecture, to demonstrate all possible mistakes in presentation.) But in the current fetid climate the critical faculties of many politicians and nearly all main stream media have been rigorously suppressed. With its claque of boosters (Howard Jacobson, Uncle Tom Cobley and all) in full cry, this document is in some danger of being treated as a serious study of the prevalence of Antisemitism in the UK.

Method

There is a method in the Select Committee’s madness. It is composed in unequal parts of bias, denial, denigration, distortion, exclusion, innuendo, partisanship, pejoration, and willful credulity.

Does this seem overdone? Doubters can consult an excoriating analysis by a former specialist adviser to a Parliamentary select committee for the full substantiated horror story. For starters he pointed out that this inquiry, uniquely, had no Terms of Reference, thereby giving the committee carte blanche to wander at will. It seems to have operated, in a highly complex and contested area, without expert advisers. It excluded swathes of witnesses and evidence, cited statistics of dubious provenance evidence without caveats, refused to hear witnesses whom it subsequently criticized, and as far as we can tell failed to show the report in draft to those it traduced for them to offer rebuttals. Oh yes, and quite unusually it dis-embargoed the report on a Sunday in a manoeuvre seemingly aimed at getting onto the Andrew Marr show.

This whole exercise bears the hallmark of a scheme whose end was already known at its outset, and whose process consisted of selectively including, excluding and if necessary tendentiously interpreting evidence to fit the template.

Seriously

A serious study of the issue of Antisemitism in the UK right now would array and carefully analyse the available statistics on type and prevalence of antisemitic incidents. It would put these in context – for example by comparative analysis with other countries, or other types of hate crime. It would discuss the range of potentially causative factors that could be driving the observed behaviour or indeed contaminating the data. This would permit judicious conclusions to be drawn about the seriousness of the problem, and how best to target it.

By contrast Antisemitism in the UK is almost a data- and analysis-free zone. Such data as is adduced it is not critically assessed. Here I will give just a few examples (with apologies to the non-numerate). Attitude surveys show that the UK is one of the least antisemitic countries in Europe, a somewhat inconvenient finding. The report counters this by saying that antisemitic incidents, as recorded by the Community Security Trust, are increasing. However, the case for this is shaky at best. The highest CST figures by far are for 2009 and 2014 – evidently related to Israel’s two most lethal attacks on Gaza. The report does manage to identify an increase in January to June 2016 (though still below those previous peaks); however, this coincides with the barrage of media publicity about alleged antisemitism in and around the Labour Party, whose effect on reporting rates can at least be imagined. But not by the Select Committee, who don’t even mention it as a possible factor.

The glitches continue, and all in one direction. The report cites a survey’s finding that an astronomical 87% of British Jews believe that the Labour Party is too tolerant of antisemitism. But this was a ‘self-selecting survey’; ie the respondents are the people who felt moved to write or click in, certainly unrepresentative of the whole. The sort of caveat that any statistician would expect (at this point I flaunt my masters degree in the subject) against taking this number as meaning anything at all is simply absent.

It goes on. If we stop talking relative increases and start to talk real numbers, the statistical manipulation stands out. The actual number of incidents reported by the Community Security Trust for January through June 2016 is 557. The number of antisemitic hate crimes reported by police in England and Wales for the whole of 2015 was 629. The total number of hate crimes (of all sorts) recorded by the police in 2014-5 was over 52,000. This moral panic is based on just 1%.

One of the more creative aspects of the report is its response to the fact that “police-recorded antisemitic crime is almost non-existent in some parts of England”. The conclusion is obvious – the National Police Chiefs Council should investigate the causes of this under-reporting, and “give support to police forces with less experience of investigating antisemitic incidents”.

Just one more. The Select Committee’s report reproduces figures from the CST indicating that 75% of politically motivated antisemitism comes from the far right. Yet its coverage of the political dimension of antisemitism, in pages, in paragraphs, in recommendations, is overwhelmingly about the Labour Party, and its leader. This focus dominates the later sections of the report, which doesn’t bother to disguise the fact that the preceding material is just there to set up an attack on Corbyn.

Adjectives

Some way back I offered various characteristics of the Select Committee report’s: bias, denial, denigration, distortion, exclusion, innuendo, partisanship, pejoration, and willful credulity. So far I have dealt only with bias, distortion, exclusion, partisanship and credulity. That leaves denial, denigration, innuendo and pejoration to go. The targets of this type of enfilading poison-tipped sniper fire were almost without exception Labour Party members and supporters who had made political criticisms of Israel, or those who had allegedly failed to stop them from doing so.

For fuller details on these transgressions against reasoned debate you will need to consult the detailed critique which I mentioned earlier. But a few examples will give a sense of the style and tone employed:

  • the allegations of antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) are treated as gospel, despite the expulsion of one of the complainants and the discrediting of the other
  • the Select Committee criticises Shami Chakrabarti’s report on antisemitism and other forms of racism for not taking account of the Royall report into OULC – but fails to mention that Baroness Royall was a Deputy Chair of her inquiry.
  • the report says that when Jeremy Corbyn was giving evidence to the Committee “he was supported by Ms Chakrabarti, who passed him notes throughout the session”. Shock! Outrage! But while we are on the subject, why did the Committee turn down Chakrabarti’s request to be called as a witness herself?
  • the report relates that ‘during one of the Gaza campaigns, there were “huge marches” in London at which people held placards that read “Hitler was right”’. And Jeremy Corbyn was there!
  • of the now infamous walkout by Ruth Smeeth MP from the press launch of the Chakrabarti Report (her claim to have experienced antisemitism there is refuted by the video evidence) the report says “We have received no confirmation from Mr Corbyn that he has subsequently met with Ms Smeeth to discuss this event.”

The report is littered with other examples of egregious bias either too small to be worth citing (one person ‘agrees’, another merely ‘claims’); or too long and complex (e.g. the innuendo over Chakrabarti’s peerage). This report needs a full-time partiality checker the way that Donald Trump’s campaign needed a fact checker. But we must move on.

The recommendations

In an honest investigative study, the recommendations, subject of course to some constraints, are derived substantially from the facts uncovered and their analysis. From a report as intellectually dishonest as this one is, one gets as recommendations for action exactly what the authors had decided in advance. The recommendations drive the shoddy analysis.

Some of the minor recommendations will do no harm if implemented, and may even do some good – ideas like having a dedicated single police officer in each force as point of contact for all allegations of hate crime. There is also some trenchant criticism of Twitter for its laid-back attitude to the monstering of all sorts which it facilitates on-line.

Going downhill from there we find impertinent lectures to various organisations on how they should conduct their internal affairs. The National Union of Students, for example, is told to let the Union of Jewish Students select the Jewish member of its Anti-Racism, Anti-Fascist (ARAF) Taskforce. Universities UK is told it should prepare briefing packs to, in effect, present the Israeli case on Israel/Palestine in order to balance the potentially baleful influence of Israel Apartheid Week. Note the blurring of the line between racism (antisemitism) and politics (anti-Zionism).

The Labour Party is told how to structure its disciplinary procedures, not to have a statute of limitations on offences, and that it should have specific internal antisemitism training, rather than general anti-racism education. All of this is in direct contradiction of the Chakrabarti recommendations, which were based on clear terms of reference and a rigorous approach.

The big one

Undoubtedly the great thudding motor powering this whole exercise is the recommendation to install an official definition of antisemitism. Not just any definition but a particular one.

The process leading here started off in 2004 when European and US Zionist organisations achieved control of a working group set up by the EU’s European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). The working group produced a celebrated definition of antisemitism that is known as the ‘EUMC working definition’ – because the EUMC itself never accepted it. Indeed, the EUMC’s successor body the Fundamental Rights Agency has deleted all reference to the definition from its website. However, the definition was promptly picked up and promoted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism under its chair (then MP, subsequently disgraced) Dennis MacShane.

The definition’s chief author was the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on antisemitism and extremism, attorney Kenneth Stern. Stern’s main concern is with what he calls “politically-based antisemitism, otherwise known in recent years as anti-Zionism, which treats Israel as the classic Jew. Whereas the Jew is disqualified by antisemitism from equal membership in the social compact, antisemites seek to disqualify Israel from equal membership in the community of nations.”  In other words, according to Stern, if you are opposed to the Zionist political project, or indeed advocate a boycott of Israel, then you are an anti-Semite.

The EUMC working definition is the grand-daddy of the definition to which the Select Committee wishes to give legal force. But why, suddenly, do we need an elaborate definition at all? It is not too difficult to say what antisemitism is. Oxford’s Brian Klug managed it in 21 words: “Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. The EUMC version takes 514, most of which are taken up with providing examples of what might constitute antisemitic acts, and most of these examples concern views that might be expressed, not about Jews, but about Israel. One might say, and it has been said, that the whole definitional exercise has had the aim of extending the meaning of a well-understood concept, antisemitism, to provide at least a partial shield against criticism for the state of Israel.

The india-rubber definition

The EUMC definition and its descendants has proved Hydra-like in their ability to survive what seem like mortal blows. More heads grow to replace those struck off. The EUMC version was first publicly attacked in the University and College Union, where it had been used to support a (failed) accusation of antisemitism against a member. As a result, the UCU resolved that the definition should henceforth have no role in its disciplinary processes. When in 2012 a UCU member sued his own union for subjecting him to antisemitic experiences, one of his 10 complaints was about the passing of that resolution. All of the complaints without exception were dismissed as without merit by the tribunal judge. And when the successor to Dennis MacShane’s Committee convened in 2015 (under John Mann) it ostentatiously did not repeat the call for the EUMC definition to become official. Instead it commissioned a report from Professor David Feldman (later a Deputy-Chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry) – which critiqued that definition, and came down decisively for a definition based on Klug’s formulation.

And yet the heads keep growing back. The US State Department has more than once made positive reference to it. Last year it was discovered that the UK College of Policing includes a version of it in its guidance to police forces. And In May of this year the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a version that is essentially the EUMC definition. And in turn it is the IHRA wording that the Select Committee urges the government to enact into law, though with a couple of minor wording tweaks.

The threat

The Select Committee report recommends that their definition “should be formally adopted by the UK Government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic”. That is, a law should be passed to change the meaning of a well-understood word, and to back it up by criminal sanctions.

How far are we down the slippery slope? Less than one month after the release of the Select Committee report, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education has ordered Sheffield Hallam University to pay compensation to a student for, among other things, failing to engage with the student’s suggestion about adopting the EUMC definition of antisemitism.

Antisemitism is serious

I am writing this soon after having taken a short break on either side of the French/Spanish border. At Collioure I saw an exhibition on the hardship inflicted there and thereabouts in 1939 on refugees from Franco’s Spain, including many thousands of Jews. In Gerona at the Jewish Museum in the heart of the old Jewish quarter I saw the evidence of the persecution of what had been a flourishing Jewish community, eventually faced by the Inquisition with the choice between forced conversion or sadistic execution. And on my return I went on a Dave Rosenberg walking tour in East London which took in the site of Cable Street’s massive resistance to Mosley’s fascist marchers.

To see the very real and historical thread of antisemitism, still as always a threat, demeaned by such a blatant calculation of political advantage is almost breath-taking.

This is a discreditable joke of a report. But the last laugh could be on those who value free speech.

Jonathan Rosenhead

EU High Representative affirms the right to BDS

Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, condemns attacks on human rights defenders and affirms the rights of European citizens to freedom of expression and association, including through participation in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

FSOI says, this is a firm rebuke to all those, such as the Home Affairs Select Committee, who attempt to use the discredited EUMC working definition on antisemitism to outlaw criticism of Israel

Federica Mogherini
Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs

In response to a question on whether the EU commission will commit to defending BDS activists’ right to exercise their democratic freedom of expression, put forward by MEP Martina Anderson, the EU High Representative stated:

The EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is applicable on EU Member States’ territory, including with regard to BDS actions carried out on this territory.

Mogherini also affirmed that “Freedom of expression, as underlined by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, is also applicable to information or ideas ‘that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.”

Having failed to hinder the growing support and impact of the BDS movement in the mainstream, Israel has launched an unprecedented anti-democratic campaign to silence Palestine rights activism and outlaw BDS.

The Israeli-induced attacks on the BDS movement include pressure on governments, legislators and officials to fight BDS activity through implementation of repressive measures that pose a threat to civil and political liberties at large.

When asked about the Commission’s assessment of statements made by Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz that ‘targeted civil elimination’ should be carried out against Palestinian and international leaders for the BDS movement, the EU High Representative stated that “The EU firmly condemns threats and violence against human rights defenders under all circumstances.”

Riya Hassan, Europe Campaigns Officer of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society that leads the global BDS movement, commented:

We welcome the EU’s belated defense of the right of European and other citizens to stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights, including through BDS tactics. But Palestinian civil society expects the EU to respect its obligations under international law and its own principles and laws by, at the very least, imposing a military embargo on Israel, banning products of companies that do business in Israel’s illegal colonies, and suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement until Israel fully complies with the human rights clause of the agreement.

A letter signed by more than 30 MEPs had called on Federica Mogherini, to take measures assuring freedom of expression regarding the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for justice and equality and recognising Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, as a human rights defender.

This letter echoes growing European political and civil society calls for protecting the freedom of expression of activists and organisations involved in BDS activity for Palestinian rights under international law.

More than 350 European human rights organizations, trade unions, church groups and political parties, have called on the European Union to defend citizens and organisations right to boycott Israel in response to its occupation and violations of Palestinian rights.

Representatives of the Swedish, Irish and Dutch governments have publicly defended the right to advocate and campaign for Palestinian rights under international law through BDS.

Republished from: European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)