The muzzling of Israel critics in European universities

on 17 Comments

If imitation is the best form of flattery, then the activists behind Israeli Apartheid Week have been paid an immense tribute. As students belonging to Palestine support groups across Britain held events to mark the annual March event, they learned of a rival initiative. A network of on-campus Zionist societies have declared their own Israeli Awareness Week over the same period.

The awareness week has relied heavily on gimmicks to try and counter impressions that Israel has a war addiction. Stalls staffed by visiting Israeli students have offered sugary delights labelled “Peace of Cake”; signatures have been collected for a “we support a two-state solution” petition.

When I spoke in Birmingham University a few days ago, the rivalry between the two efforts appeared relaxed. Yet there is a more sinister side to how on-campus Zionists are behaving. In Birmingham, the students Jewish Society has enjoyed considerable success in convincing university authorities to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. When Gaza was described as a concentration camp by Mike Prysner (a US army veteran) at a February debate organised by pro-Palestine students, an official investigation was triggered. Earlier this month, the Birmingham Guild of Students (the equivalent of the students unions in other universities) approved a resolution saying that visiting speakers must not saying anything that would fall foul of a European Union definition of anti-Semitism.

That definition was drawn up by an official EU body known as the European Union Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia in 2005. It was not the result of a serious scientific exercise but of a few consultations with representatives of the Israel lobby on both sides of the Atlantic, including the American Jewish Committee.

The definition was an extremely broad one. It cited comparisons between the state of Israel and the Nazis and any attempts to label the establishment of Israel as a racist endeavour as examples of anti-Semitism.

Although the Monitoring Centre’s director at the time Beate Winkler described the definition as a work in progress, it has subsequently become the EU’s de facto definition of anti-Semitism. As a result, it is routinely invoked whenever Zionist zealots wish to give a veneer of respectability to their efforts to make Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians a taboo.

The intimidation of Palestine-supporting students is happening across the English Channel, too. Earlier this month, I shared a platform with the Palestinian writer Azzam Tamimi in the Free University of Brussels (known by its Dutch-language acronym VUB). The event was denounced by the website Joods Actueel (Jewish News), which published allegations that Tamimi glorified terrorism. (Tamimi is a self-declared supporter of Hamas but has declared his opposition to the killing of civilians. He has also advised the party to drop references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fraudulent 1903 text purporting to be a plan for Jews to take over the world, from its founding charter).

The complaint against Palestinian students in the VUB went as high as the university’s rector, who told them they could only go ahead with the event if they had a third speaker making a case against the boycott of Israeli goods and institutions. Pascal Smet, the Flemish minister for education, has now been asked parliamentary questions about whether the event Tamimi and I addressed should have been banned.

I’d be interested in learning if students involved in other forms of political activities come under this kind of pressure. Do environmental campaign groups have to invite BP or other big polluters to their meetings about climate change? Do gay rights activists have to ensure that on-campus homophobes don’t feel uneasy with their work? I’d doubt it. Yet when it comes to Israel and Palestine, universities expect the views of the oppressor to be treated with deference and respect. Please explain.

·David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press (

17 Responses

  1. Potsherd2
    March 25, 2011, 3:10 pm

    I would say that someone needs to challenge that definition in a court case.

    • Erasmus
      March 27, 2011, 3:59 pm

      This AS definition has no official / formal status. It is “qualified” as a “working definition”. It is correct that this “definition” is only the result of few consultations with representatives of the Israel lobby on both sides of the Atlantic, including the American Jewish Committee. – No wonder that it covers nearly everything that only faintly smells of critizing Israel.

  2. annie
    March 25, 2011, 3:50 pm

    the Birmingham Guild of Students (the equivalent of the students unions in other universities) approved a resolution saying that visiting speakers must not saying anything that would fall foul of a European Union definition of anti-Semitism.

    one of the trolls here yesterday told me what i said was anti semitic according to the EU definition!

    • Citizen
      March 25, 2011, 5:40 pm

      Jeez, some Americans needs to challenge that EU definition. Does N America have a history comparable to Nazi Germany, or Vichey France, or any of the other countries occupied during WW2 that fielded a significant population segment directly supporting Hitler (or Stalin?)? How in any god’s name is the EU’s definition applicable here? Especially when the US is the key supporter of Israel’s conduct right or wrong, with the biggest chunk of its foreign aid going there? Besides, the conflation of being anti-Jew with being anti-specified policies of the nuclear armed state of Israel even in Europe is a shame and steeped in irony.

      • Hostage
        March 26, 2011, 6:23 am


        They might be pleasantly surprised if they asked me for some legal advice. Even the laws dreamed-up by the Israel Lobby are capable of novel applications. I’ve always thought that it was self-evident that the EU Framework Decision makes it a crime to publicly condone or trivialize illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian territory; or the illegal deportation or transfer of Palestinians out of the territory in order to imprison them on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute codifies Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Articles 85( 4)(a) and 85(5) of the 1st Additional Protocol. It says that these acts are a war crime:

        The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory;

        In 2004, a competent international court exercising its general jurisdiction determined that

        “since 1977, Israel has conducted a policy and developed practices involving the establishment of Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, contrary to the terms of Article 49, paragraph 6 [of the Fourth Geneva Convention], just cited. …The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law. …Article 49 reads as follows “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive. …Lastly, the construction of the wall and its associated régime, by contributing to the demographic changes referred to in paragraphs 122 and 133 above, contravene Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Security Council resolutions cited in paragraph 120 above.”

        Extracted from paragraphs 120-134 of the ICJ Advisory Opinion in the Wall Case.

        It was also contended that “Israel is under an obligation to search for and bring before its courts persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, grave breaches of international humanitarian law” in paragraph 145(3) of the ruling.

        The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics says that there are over 7,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. The Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) recently rejected a petition to order the State to refrain from holding Palestinian prisoners and detainees in facilities located in Israeli territory within the Green Line. The HCJ held that since national legislation overrides the provisions of international conventions to which Israel is party, including conventions that reflect customary international law, the petition should be rejected.

        Israel cannot adopt a statute that makes a war crime legal. The international courts have stated time and again that it is a universal principle of international law that a State cannot invoke its municipal law as the reason for the non-fulfillment of its international obligations (or a get out of jail free card). Any attempt to excuse non-fulfillment of an international obligation on the basis of municipal law constitutes a breach of those obligations. See for example André Klip, Göran Sluiter, Annotated leading cases of International Criminal Tribunals: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 1997-1999, Intersentia nv, 2001, ISBN 9050951414, page 134, paragraph 39

        The EU Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia actually says:

        “Each Member State shall take the measures necessary to ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable: …(c) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group;

        Publicly condoning, trivializing, or denying war crimes when they are committed against Palestinians is likely to incite them and their supporters. Publicly condoning, trivializing, or denying that those acts are illegal has resulted in violence against Palestinians in the form of forced transfer, deportation, and crimes committed by the settlers. The latter can be confirmed from open sources such as the Government of Israel’s inquiry into Settler Violence against Palestinians (aka “The Karp Report”(1982)); the reports of officials on mission for the United Nations including the UN Fact Finding Report on Gaza (aka The Goldstone Report); and newspaper accounts of “price tag” raids on Palestinian villages.

        If there is a “genuine dispute” about the material facts that could effect the outcome under governing law, a complaint against the Zionist societies probably would not be summarily dismissed.

        Sometimes a spoonful of your own medicine is the best cure….

      • Hostage
        March 26, 2011, 9:32 am

        The “Statement by Judge Eli Nathan, Head of the Delegation of Israel United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court” illustrates that he knew Article 8, Paragraph 2(b), sub-para. viii was a war crime and that it was applicable to the illegal situation that Israel had created through its settlement enterprise.

        At the time, about a 190 states were parties to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 – and 169 were parties to the 1st Additional Protocol of 1977. Nonetheless, the Judge still had the chutzpah to pretend that it was news to him that the other states at the conference considered colonizing another country at gunpoint and deporting or transferring its population to be serious war crimes.

        Since then, the Conventions of 1949 have been universally ratified; the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions declared the settlements illegal; the ICJ found Israel was violating article 49(6) of the Fourth Convention; the Rome Statute of the ICC has entered into force; and the EU Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia made it a prosecutable criminal offense in most cases to publicly condone or trivialize violations of Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC.

        P.S. the Framework criminalized Islamophobia, not just Antisemitism.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    March 25, 2011, 4:29 pm

    RE: “The muzzling of Israel critics in European universities” – Cronin

    ALSO SEE: The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics, by David Theo Goldberg and Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    (excerpt)…It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.” There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage…

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to

  4. seafoid
    March 25, 2011, 7:25 pm

    “The awareness week has relied heavily on gimmicks to try and counter impressions that Israel has a war addiction. Stalls staffed by visiting Israeli students have offered sugary delights labelled “Peace of Cake”; signatures have been collected for a “we support a two-state solution” petition.”

    These people are constantly let down by the folks back on the ranch in Israel.
    The Palestine Papers were devastating for anyone trying to tell the goys that Israel wants a 2 state solution.

  5. seafoid
    March 25, 2011, 7:38 pm
  6. justicewillprevail
    March 25, 2011, 8:00 pm

    There is obviously a concerted push to identify criticism of Israel and the occupation, or even support for Palestinians, as ‘anti-semitic’. Using the European definition of antisemitism, one designed to combat prejudice and racism, in order to protect the racist and illegal practices of Israel sums up the cynicism of modern Israel and its determination to use antisemitism as a barrier behind which they are free to commit any amount of crimes against Palestinians as well as the slow and determined ethnic cleansing of a once beautiful country. How sick that legislation designed to protect people from prejudice and hate is being used to by those people to protect their prejudice and hate.

  7. piotr
    March 25, 2011, 10:48 pm

    The “EU definition” I have found is pretty long, but the pertinent parts are here:

    Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

    * Denying the Jewish people their right to self­determination, 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.
    * Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
    * Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
    * Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

    However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

    [piotr again]
    I also checked a survey by a German foundation about the prejudice in Europe, and in anti-Semitism question, they asked in Israel is engaged in extermination of Palestinians (yes range from 38% in the Netherlands to 60+ in Poland; of course, it raises a question if the respondents are anti-Semitic, because they think that extermination is an Israeli policy, and it is bad, or anti-Islamic, because they think that this is an actual policy and it is good, and the survey had separate questions checking anti-Islamic bigotry).

    Perhaps one should make a useful vocabulary of “legitimate criticism”.

    1. Bad: extermination of Palestinians. Good: indiscriminate repressions, systematic uprooting.

    2. Bad: Gaza is a concentration camp. Good: open air prison.

    3. Genuine doubt: can one criticise Israel because IDF soldiers defecate on beds, floors etc. in homes of Palestinians? No other county was criticised for such behavior, so one has to build a case that would, say, Irish military engaged in such behavior, it would be criticised. I am a strong advocate for raising that point; what one side calls murder the other side calls self-defence and the necessary action for prevention of another Holocaust. Killing a group of women carrying white flags may SEEM criminal if we do not know split second decision that soldiers must make in a war zone… White phosphorus is a legal weapon… University in Gaza may have hidden weapons… NATO allies kill more civilians in Afghanistan than IDF does…

    But defense of defecation is trickier.

    4. BAD: Accusation of fascism. GOOD: coalition of Stalinists and theocrats bent on muzzling peaceful protests and dissent.

    5. This is not on topic, but Palestinians are criticised for “glorifying terrorists”, which I propose to put under “regional peculiarities”, with this example (from Wiki):

    In 2001, Shamir received the Israel Prize, for his lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel.[7][8][9] According to Israeli politician Ruby Rivlin, Shamir was “an honest politician who performed his duties with utter integrity.” Former head of Israeli Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, calls him a “remarkably honest man.”[10]


    As one of Lehi’s triumvirate, he authorized the murder of the United Nations representative in the Middle East, Count Folke Bernadotte

    • pjdude
      March 26, 2011, 12:26 pm

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

      this only goes to show the blatent favortism Israel and jews recieve throughout the world. the idea of that their is a jewish right to self determination even though the mere notion of such flies in the face of the very definition of the concept is telling. jews have no right to self determination as jews. the sooner the anti arab people in the world realize that the better off everyone will be.

  8. American
    March 26, 2011, 1:59 am

    Well since there isn’t actually a Jewish “People”, in the sense of some unique ethnic or racial group the whole ‘anti semitism’ thing seems absurd.
    Maybe to be accurate it should be ‘Anti Judaism”…since Jews are made of all kinds of various races and ethnics, not a special genetic group, or one in which they all share one nationality or any of the other normally defining measurements of a ‘people.’
    Then we could have a seperate “anti Israel” classification….along with also a EU ruling on being ‘anti Iran” or “anti Palestine” or the biggest on the hit parade -“anti America”.
    It does get ridiculous doesn’t it? LOL
    Every time the anti semitism censorship campaigns arise I think of a spider with a hundred legs who can ‘t get anywhere because it keeps getting tangled in it’s own hairy tenacles.

    The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand

    link to

  9. mig
    March 26, 2011, 8:07 am

    I think that this is some subcommittee to EU racism et cetera monitor center. Which has started by EU Israel firsters. Yes, we have those too……..omg

  10. Hu Bris
    March 26, 2011, 9:07 am

    a couple of interesting commentaries, regarding the so-called ‘EU Working Definition on Anti-Semitism’ –

    1) A letter from Dror Feiler, chair of European Jews for a Just Peace, (a network consisting of groups from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom) to Beate Winkler, Director: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)

    We are concerned about the process that gave rise to the Working Definition and we respectfully ask the EUMC to clarify and explain it. It is vital that the European public — especially those individuals and groups whose cooperation you seek — perceive the process to be transparent and above-board. Regrettably, this is not the case with your ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’.

    Some of the points in this second list are highly questionable and we must protest vigorously about them. For example:
    1) ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination’ assumes that all Jews equate self determination with Zionism. Not only is this not true today, it has never been true.
    There is a long and respected tradition in Jewish history and culture among all those who have wished or wish today for cultural, religious or other forms of autonomy falling short of a Jewish state; for a binational state in Palestine as did Martin Buber and others; or for a one-state solution today, whatever form it might take — a minority view in Israel today to be sure, but held by numbers of respected Jews. To make the assumption that all Jews hold the same views is in itself a form of antisemitism.
    2)‘Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’.
    This is a formulation that allows any criticism of Israel to be dismissed on the grounds that it is not simultaneously applied to every other defaulting state at the same time.
    As campaigners for a just peace in the Middle East we can affirm that it is thrown willy-nilly to stifle any and all but the narrowest criticism of acts of the Israeli government that are in prima facie breach of clause after clause of the 4th Geneva Convention. Or again, the democratic norm that all citizens in a state should be treated equally sometimes sits uneasily with some notions of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and it is not antisemitic to point this out or to suggest that Israel should, indeed, be a ‘state of all its citizens’.

    3) ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’. This is the flipside of a position, frequently expressed by Prime Minister Sharon and many Zionists, that refuses to make any distinction between the interests of Israel and those of Jews worldwide.
    Why it is permissible for them to make this elision but evidence of antisemitism when others do so is not clear. It might even be taken as evidence of double standards…
    . . . In reality it is all too often Zionist rhetoric which fuses the notion of Israel’s interests with those of Jews worldwide and thus fuels what the EUMC identifies (other things being equal) as a potential indicator of antisemitism

    2) Jews sans frontieres – Whatever happened to that stupid “working definition of antisemitism”?
    “You know the one, the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia Working Definition of Antisemitism. Well Richard Kuper may have the answer. Here he is on the JNews website:

    . . . This document has little to do with fighting antisemitism and a lot to do with waging a propaganda war against critics of Israel. It is time it was buried. . . .

    So the answer to the question, whatever happened to that stupid “working definition of antisemitism”? is that it has been quietly dropped. This doesn’t stop zionists across the media, not just “careless bloggers”, from citing it as a basis for their bogus allegations.”

  11. Hu Bris
    March 26, 2011, 11:17 am

    From Richard Kuper @JNews

    The document is riddled with problems; which perhaps is why, contrary to what the European Forum on Antisemitism claims, the ‘Working Definition’ was NOT adopted by the EUMC.. As Beate Winkler, EUMC Director, said at the time, it ‘should be viewed as “work in progress” … with a view to redrafting.’

    In fact, the document appears to be dead in the water as far as the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the successor body to the EUMC, is concerned. They recently told me that feedback on initial testing of the document ‘drew attention to a number of issues which impacted on its effectiveness as a data collection support tool.’ In other words, it wasn’t useful. ‘Since its development we are not aware of any public authority in the EU that applies it,’ the FRA official added.

    Moreover, ‘The FRA has no plans for any further development’ of the ‘Working Definition.’ (24 August 2010)

  12. piotr
    March 27, 2011, 4:34 am

    I just wonder if one can make an accusation of bias toward people and organizations that incessantly defend policies of Israel, totally ignoring all other ugly regimes that may need propagandistic help.

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