Turning the Tables

David Rosenberg writes the second of our responses to the JDA, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. David points to the importance of the JDA in dislodging the IHRA definition from its status of being THE definition and opening the space for debate and challenge. David Rosenberg is a member of the Jewish Socialists Group

This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is reproduced by permission of the author.

David RosenbergI once heard Tony Benn giving a speech at Conway Hall in which he revealed the “most dangerous word in the English language”. Only three letters long, but it had the power to elevate one perspective, and dismiss, reject, and encourage vilification of all others on the subject being discussed. The word was “THE”. Nowhere, in recent years, has Benn’s claim been so powerfully illustrated than In the controversies surrounding definitions of antisemitism.

A poorly-worded “working definition” of antisemitism, plus examples of what 21st century antisemitism might look like, were first developed for the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005, by the American Jewish Committee’s researcher, Kenneth Stern. According to Tony Lerman, former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Stern’s document was signed off by just five people, one of whom was Mike Whine, long associated with the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust. Continue reading “Turning the Tables”

The JDA is to be welcomed but also debated

Mike Cushman discusses the strengths of the recently issued Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and also the areas for further debate. FSOI regards the production of the JDA as an important step in the constant endeavour to understand how antisemitism manifests itself in order to combat it most effectively. It is the result of intense intellectual debate among scholars who have spent their lives enquiring into antisemitism. We regret that its publication has been almost entirely ignored by the national media, the Government, political parties and mainstream Jewish organisations. Their reluctance to engage with a serious and carefully crafted document casts doubts on their motives in raising issues of antisemitism so strongly in the recent past.

This article is the first in a series of pieces we will be publishing to advance the debate on the JDA which is taking place with intelligence and passion among thoughtful Jews and anti-racists.

Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA)I find the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) statement a valuable stating point for any consideration of the recently published Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (the JDA) as it identifies many of the main issues even though I differ with them on some of their analyses. Continue reading “The JDA is to be welcomed but also debated”

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. 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.