Tackling the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism

Brian Klug introduced the session of the International Gathering of Jews Supporting Justice in Palestine on ‘Responding to the Misuse and Abuse of Antisemitism Definition’, held by Zoom on 3 October 2020. His presentation honed in on the ambiguities, internal contradictions and inadequacies of the widely proclaimed IHRA ‘definition’ of antisemitism. His address centred on five modest proposals for escaping for the quagmire created by the definition’s proponents.

His text is reproduced by his kind permission

Brian KlugMy brief is to address two questions: Why has the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism been so successful and what can be done about it? I am a little diffident about tackling these questions. You are the activists with experience in the field, and a strategy that works in one national context might not in another. I am merely an armchair philosopher. All I shall do, therefore, is offer a few modest suggestions that I hope will be helpful as you deliberate about action later today and after we have dispersed. So, here are five modest suggestions from the clouds.

To begin with, there is widespread confusion about what the IHRA Working Definition even is. This is something that has complicated the political battle in the UK.  I shall spell out what happened a bit more, as there might be an object lesson for activists in other national contexts.

In summer 2018, a firestorm broke out when the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party proposed a new Code of Conduct for Antisemitism.1 It was dismissed out of hand by many pundits on the grounds that Labour had written its own definition rather than adopting the IHRA’s. “Labour,” said Nick Cohen (for example), “has taken it upon itself to reject the [IHRA’s] definition of antisemitism.”2 Stephen Kinnock, himself a Labour MP, remarked: “The IHRA definition of anti-semitism is the only globally accepted one, and it truly beggars belief that the Labour Party thinks it can or should try to cook up its own.”3 Continue reading “Tackling the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism”

Theresa May’s antisemitism fraud

Mike Cushman

Theresa May misled the British public by pretending that the IHRA definition of antisemitism included the examples linking antisemitism to criticism of Israel and urging all public bodies to collude in this chilling of free speech.

A year ago, Theresa May urged all UK public bodies to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) document on antisemitism. The document contained a 39 word definition:

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

It also lists 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism, seven of them relating to Israel.

It has always seemed strange that the IHRA website contained no details of the document’s adoption and the only record of it is a press release from the Romanian chair. ECCP (European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine) has pressed hard to discover what lay behind this strange lack of documentation and has finally obtained confirmation from the IHRA secretariat that, while the 39 word definition was adopted, the examples were not. Continue reading “Theresa May’s antisemitism fraud”

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.

Continue reading “Expanding the Definition of Antisemitism Hurts Jews”

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.