Speaking at a meeting with the Conservative Friends of Israel yesterday, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK is formally adopting a definition of anti-Semitism agreed to earlier this year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (henceforth IHRA). She added praise of Israel, describing it as a state that “guarantees the rights of people of all religions, races and sexualities.”
The significance of her statement cannot be underestimated, in light of the serious problems that the IHRA definition poses, in its vague language, as well as its conflation of critique of Israel with actual anti-semitism. As Jewish Voice for Peace noted, such definitions could be construed to silence any criticism of Israeli policies.
The text of the IHRA definition is a near copy of a 2005 draft document first circulated by a European anti-racism agency, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (henceforth EUMC), which was drafted with the help of pro-Israel groups, yet abandoned by the European Union since 2007. When the EUMC was replaced with another body, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, all non-official documents were removed from the new agency’s website – including the working definition. The agency has in fact officially disavowed the document several times (2010, 2013), with the spokesperson clarifying that “creating definitions” is not even “part of its mandate”, which instead pertains to providing “evidence-based advice on a wide range of fundamental rights, including anti-Semitism.”
Partisan outlets such as “Honest Reporting” praise the EUMC definition in no uncertain terms and note that even the US State Department regards it a “useful framework,” but the State Department’s reliance on the language is not appreciated by many others, including Jewish Voice for Peace, which complained in an official letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials last year that “the so-called “State Department definition” includes clauses about “demonizing,” “delegitimizing,” and “applying a double-standard to the state of Israel,” prohibitions that are so vague that they could be, and have been, “construed to silence any criticism of Israeli policies.”
The EUMC definition of Anti-Semitism is also the basis upon which British members of Labour were ‘trained’ during the recent attempt to straighten out the ranks and banish any signs of alleged or supposed anti-semitism. The initial outrage concerning Labour’s supposed ‘anti-Semitic problem’ focused upon Member of Parliament Naz Shah’s criticism of Israel in a 2014 Facebook post suggesting the Jewish state should be relocated to the United States, as well as former London mayor Ken Livingston saying that ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism’. (Norman Finkelstein provides a perspective on both cases, as well as noting Livingston’s ‘more or less’ accuracy here.)
In one of these ‘trainings’ organized by the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, leftwing Labour activist Jackie Walker complained the definition was not something she could work with. “In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of anti-Semitism,” Walker said. “This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community.” This suggestion, together with statements such as “in terms of Holocaust Day I would also like to say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all peoples who have experienced holocaust?”, only seemed to further infuriate Walker’s Zionist opponents, and resulted in her second ousting from Labour’s Momentum group.
–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.– 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.
Let’s look at them one by one:
– “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.”
Well, if you look at critique even by Israeli Jewish journalist Gideon Levy, this even extends further – into how US Senator “ignoramuses” are “enabling destruction” by increasing military aid to Israel, money that “is being spent on maintaining a brutal, illegal occupation that your country claims to oppose”.
This funding surely wouldn’t come out of the blue if it weren’t for the ceaseless pressure of well-funded Israeli lobby organisations working for conservative Zionist interests. Sometimes it’s at the level of pathetic, how people such as Kerry complain about giving more than half of the global aid to Israel, but then Israel “doesn’t listen” to American warnings… Levy states that the current situation could be regarded as “the United States of Israel”.
Or what about Jewish comedian Jon Stewart’s blasting of Netanyahu’s Congress speech last year, where Netanyahu spoke against a sitting Administration’s foreign policy on Iran? Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker Boehner without prior notice to the White House in a clearly partisan and offensive move. Stewart called the 26 standing ovations the “Longest Blowjob a Jewish Man Has Ever Received”.
Are these really Jewish anti-Semites, self-haters (I’m sure some will hurry to say “yes!”), or are they really criticizing a political issue? And how can one separate between “Israel” and “Jewish” when Israel is officially “the Jewish State”? We’ll return to that later.
– “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.
Israel regards itself a democratic State. In fact, often boasting of being “the only democracy in the Middle East”. This is in itself a rather contentious claim (or at least it should be), in that close to 5 million Palestinians under its effective occupation can’t vote in any meaningful way. Not to mention, that from the outset in 1948, the ‘democracy’ was conditioned to support a Jewish State, by ethnic cleansing of about 85% of the Palestinian population. Nowadays, Israeli leaders warn of ‘Arabs’ coming to ‘vote in droves’ as Netanyahu said last year, whilst some, such as Coalition Whip David Bitan prefer that they not vote at all.
That’s all very “special”. I don’t know, for example, of another ‘democracy’ that is being allowed to continue, indefinitely, with a military belligerent occupation for half a century, and to avoid any scrutiny of its nuclear program and arsenal – and it does this with the systematic protection by the United States through UN Security Council vetoes and shared policy of ‘ambiguity’. By the EUMC and IHRA defintions, the USA would appear to be quite anti-Semitic. In fact, American leaders seem to be getting in line to NOT be neutral on Israel, when it’s about garnering support from the conservative Jewish-Zionist-Israeli (take a pick) lobby. Hillary Clinton demonstrated this quite clearly this year when speaking to the Israel lobby group AIPAC. I will not make a similar quip to that of Jon Stewart, but it could easily be applied here, in inversion. Clinton made use of Donald Trump’s comment that he would be ‘the neutral guy’ in regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and mocked the idea of ‘neutral’ in this respect. “That’s why I feel so strongly that America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival.”
It is completely uncontroversial today to note, that USA has a ‘special relationship’ with Israel, and that ‘special standards’ apparently must apply.
– “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis”.
Ok, fine, no comment there.
– “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Oh, this is quite big. These comparisons are something that Jews often do. And this includes the most prominent leading intellectuals. The late Israeli Orthodox Jewish professor and philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz basically coined the term ‘Judeo-Nazis’. Former President Ezer Weizman hailed him as “one of the greatest figures in the life of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in recent generations,” adding that he was “a spiritual conscience for many in Israel.” Leibowitz used the term “Judeo-Nazi” even in reference to a Supreme Court judge (Landau) who at the time (1987), legalized torture: “The State of Israel represents the darkness of a state body, where a creature of a human form who was the president of the Supreme Court decides that the use of torture is permitted in the interest of the state”, he added. In fact, in that very interview he regards the discussion of Israeli democracy as “sterile” and labels Israel as “the only dictatorship in the enlightened world.”
Even Holocaust survivor and celebrated author Primo Levi drew such analogies, with considerable contemplation: “I feel indignant towards those who hastily compare the Israeli generals to Nazi generals, and yet I admit that Begin draws such judgements on himself”, he said, reflecting upon the 1st Lebanon War.
Such comparisons of Israelis and Israeli actions to Nazis date all the way back to the first days of Israel’s existence. “Now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being has been shaken” said the leftist Mapam leader Aharon Zisling in a party meeting, in reference to the recent reports of the Dawaymeh massacre, the single largest massacre in the 1948 Nakba. (In Tom Segev, 1949, The First Israelis and in Benny Morris, Righteous Victims). I had written several times about this particular massacre, here and here.
Were all these people who compared Israeli actions and policies anti-Semites?
– “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”.
Now, this is very tricky, when Netanyahu goes around the world saying he represents the “entire Jewish people”, don’t you think? “I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people” he said last year, in the wake of the Paris attacks.
What are people supposed to think? That the Jewish State is NOT the Jewish State, that Jews all over the world are NOT represented by that Jewish State when its leader says they are?
Is Netanyahu then an anti-Semite?
I think these examples show clearly that the EUMC and IHRA definitions are rather meaningless. Scrutiny of the critical points here reveals that they are even rather absurd.
This suggests that the real purpose of these definitions is “to silence any criticism of Israeli policies”, as the Jewish Voice for Peace Advisory Council had noted.
In other words, UK and PM Theresa May have officially jumped on the conservative Zionist bandwagon, demonizing critics of Israel and Israeli policy as anti-Semites.