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Calling someone a ‘Zionist’ is anti-Semitic and abusive, say British lawmakers

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British lawmakers have said the word “Zionist” as a pejorative “has no place in a civilised society” and recommended considering a victim’s feelings when deciding if a criminal investigation into anti-Semitism should be launched, according to an annual report on anti-Semitism published last week by a cross-party group in Parliament.

While the report confirms there is no surge of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom and most of the incidents are carried out by culprits adhering to extreme right-wing views, it chiefly focuses on the actions of the center-left Labour party and their efforts to squash internal anti-Semitism.

By Britain’s count, left-wing perpetrators account for less than 25 percent of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, the report found opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who ordered his own internal investigation into anti-Semitism in Labour earlier this year, was too soft on hate-speech. Parliamentarians blasted him for fostering a “‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.” A section of the report criticised Corbyn for his handling of a row in the spring of this year that ended in the suspension of Labour parliamentarian Naz Shah and ex-mayor of London Ron Livingstone. 

Both Shah and Livingstone have apologized for Shah’s 2014 circulating a meme on Facebook (before she was in office) where the state of Israel was pictured inside of an outline of the U.S. with the note “Solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, relocate Israel in the United States.”

In response to parliament’s latest accusations of welcoming anti-Semites into his party, Corbyn charged a double standard was at play. The report, issued annually, previously dealt with anti-Semites of all political stripes. Yet this one only discussed the actions of Labour, and was published a few months after Corbyn’s inquest was made public. 

This view seems to be shared by Brits during the report’s investigation period. In one survey included in the report, 55 percent of the British public “agreed with the notion that antisemitism is ‘not a serious problem at all, and is being hyped up to undermine Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel,’” the report noted.

Still, the poll also found 87 percent “believed that the Labour Party is too tolerant of antisemitism among its MPs, members and supporters.”

A prominent issue in contemporary anti-Semitism in Labour, the report said, has to do with the word “Zionist” as a slippery-slope for anti-Jewish speech. In particular, the word “Zionist” used in name-calling on Twitter.

One such example listed as anti-Semitism is the tweet made to a Jewish parliamentarian: “why don’t you admit you’re a Zionist”—a statement where if the word “Zionist” was replaced by “Jew” would clearly become anti-Semitic, thus the report confirmed this remark passed the threshold of hate speech.

“Zionist” as a pejorative, lawmakers said, “has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts.”

“If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise ‘the Israeli Government’, and not “Zionists’,” the report recommended.

Yet, “‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel,” the report stated, although it did not make clear when it meets that standard.

If that test for online comments were applied to the academic works of the late Edward Said who wrote at length about the Palestinian view of Zionism, he would fail just as the internet troll did.

“Zionism was premised on the evacuation of Palestine by its majority native inhabitants,” Said wrote in Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims, “There is no minimising this stark truth, and every Zionist leader of note has faced it squarely.”

Campaigners for Palestinian rights have long opposed mixing the definitions of “Zionism” with “Israel” and “Zionist” with “Jew”– but reached the opposite conclusion to the British parliament, inasmuch as they advise using the word Zionism. 

The role of Zionism in anti-Semitism is an old conversation among campaigners for Palestinian rights. In a different report on guarding against anti-Semitism published last year by Jewish Voice for Peace, the human rights group advises institutions to “avoid policies that conflate the state of Israel with Judaism or the Jewish people.”

The group argued doing so “risks furthering the anti-Semitic claim that Israel and Zionism and Jews are one and the same and places Israel in a uniquely protected category as a state.”

This view contradicts the British parliament, which seeks to combine criticisms of “Zionists” and “Jews” into one.

British Jews seem to oppose that change. They view the terms “Zionists” and “Jews” as holding meaningful and different definitions. Parliament noted 41 percent who identified as Jewish do not identify as a Zionist.

An additional change to the legal definition of anti-Semitism in the UK recommended by lawmakers allows for a victim’s “perceptions” of events to be taken into consideration when determining if a criminal investigation should be launched.

“The perceptions of Jewish people—both collectively and individually, as an alleged victim—should be the starting point of any investigation into antisemitism,” the report said, qualifying for a conviction, “It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence.”

Commentators in British publications have pointed out in hate-speech cases for other groups, the victim’s feelings have no legal weight, making this change unique to anti-Jewish hate speech cases.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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32 Responses

  1. Bumblebye on October 25, 2016, 3:54 pm

    Ex mayor of London KEN (not “Ron” – d’ye ken?) Livingstone!

    aka Red Ken

  2. amigo on October 25, 2016, 4:21 pm

    The Zionist tentacles reach far into British Democracy.What amazes me is that certain British pols are so bent on destroying Israel by supporting zionism .Seems to me they , just like all the other bought and zionist paid pols around the globe form a greater threat to the survival of Israel , (not that I give a rodents posterior about that.) than the combined efforts of every BDS,er/Pro Palestinian of whatever religion or persuasion or real anti semites on this planet.

    Sorry , am I being AntiZiometic or should that be , “AntiZionismism”.

    • btbLondon on October 26, 2016, 8:24 am

      This is the latest outrage in a concerted campaign to both outlaw criticism of Israel and undermine Jeremy Corbyn (an advocate for Palestinian rights and socialism) as leader of the Labour Party. The campaign against Jeremy, although it has the vocal support of the Conservative Party and most of the UK media is led by elements inside the Labour Party who oppose this move to the left and the attack on growing inequality.

      Th eurgent need to oppose this campaign led to the formation of the Free Speech on Israel group. Its website has insightful commentary on these attacks (full disclosure, I wrote some of it)

      • amigo on October 26, 2016, 1:40 pm

        Hi btbLondon, thks for the response. One might be forgiven for wondering why so much effort is given to this witch hunt at a time when the pound is spiraling south and the “Kingdom” is falling apart –see Scotland/Wales and NI meeting with TM jn the last few days and the possibility of a hard border reappearing and Merry olde England returning to it,s less “glorious” past.

        Looks as if the realm is riddled with more than it,s share of meddling Israel firsters.

        Thanks also for the link.I will follow it in the future.

  3. oldgeezer on October 25, 2016, 5:22 pm

    Interesting statistic on the number of people who feel that being Jewish and zionist have different meanings.

    It doesn’t directly contradict Sachs (or other zionists) claims about 95% perecent of Jews seeing themselves as zionists but it sure casts a large cloud over it. The two aren’t mutually exclusive but the odds would that like most zionist claims it is fictitious.

    • annie on October 25, 2016, 6:02 pm

      the report noted, in the UK, 41% who identified as Jewish do not identify as a Zionist.

      • oldgeezer on October 25, 2016, 7:00 pm


        Quite right. Speed reading is not always ones friend. It does directly contradict the claims made by sachs.

      • Stephen Shenfield on October 26, 2016, 6:15 am

        Most people do not know what Zionism is. They never use the term. They rely on the mass media for their political knowledge and the mass media never explain what Zionism is. So polls that ask them about Zionism are useless. What can the pseudo-statistics generated by such polls tell us? Probably they tell us whether respondents feel that “Zionism” is a nice word or a nasty one, that’s all.

  4. Egbert on October 25, 2016, 5:39 pm

    Dear British political geniuses.

    Zionism is a political ideology like conservatism or socialism.

    Not all Zionists are Jews
    Not all Jews are Zionists.

    Stop degrading the meaning of the term anti-semitic.

    Yours, in contempt,

    A voter.

  5. annie on October 25, 2016, 6:12 pm

    this attempt to ban the usage of the term zionist in a negative way is merely a silencing stunt. it demands zionism be recognized either approvingly or not at all.

    it reminds me of frank luntz’s “‘Zionism’ is now a dirty word” propaganda study in which the results indicate people have a negative reaction to the word:

    so now, little less than 2 years later, we’re not supposed to use it. phfff

  6. HarryLaw on October 25, 2016, 7:04 pm

    This is getting hysterical, there is far more Islamophobia in the UK than Antisemitism, In another thread I quoted Professor Jonathan Rosenhead on Antisemitism I think it is worth repeating.
    “In response to a moral panic about Left antisemitism seemingly expanding without limit, the group Free Speech on Israel coalesced in April out of a loosely-knit band of Jewish Labour Party supporters. Some 15 of us got together at a couple of days’ notice for the inaugural gathering. We found that over our lifetimes we could muster only a handful of antisemitic experiences between us. And, crucially, although in aggregate we had hundreds of years of Labour Party membership, no single one of us had ever experienced an incident of antisemitism in the Party.

    Some time in May the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was interviewed on Radio 4 about the antisemitism ‘crisis’ by now gripping the nation. Helpfully his interviewer invited him to share some of his own personal experiences of antisemitism. His response, from memory ran rather like this: “Well….actually I have never experienced antisemitism myself. Which is odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.
    There are ten times more Christian Zionists than Jewish ones, could I be prosecuted for calling a Christian clergyman a Zionist?

  7. bugmenot on October 25, 2016, 7:11 pm

    Israel … jews… just dont like the truth..

    UN Declares Israel As Having World’s Worst Human Rights –

  8. lonely rico on October 25, 2016, 8:26 pm

    “Zionist” … has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts.
    WRONG !
    Zionist/Zionism has been tarnished by –
    The criminal racism at its heart,
    involving the cruel murderous dispossession of the Palestinians,
    who had done the Zionists no wrong.

    Jews, Christians and others who chose to defend this ugliness live failed lives of hate,
    reduced to bandying about charges of “antisemitism” at those who defend the values of justice and peace.
    A foolish and dangerous game.

  9. Citizen on October 26, 2016, 4:13 am

    Zionism |ˈzīəˌnizəm|
    a movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.

    • pabelmont on October 27, 2016, 11:02 am

      Def is a bit wrong. Although Zs may SAY they wanted merely “a” Jewish nation (or state) in Palestine (as it was called in 1947), they didn’t mean “a” Jewish state but “a big” Jewish state. Also they meant (by a “Jewish” state) a state with a very high percentage of Jewish residents, hence the ethnic cleansing which was an integral part of the 1947-50 war.

      And today there is no hint that Israel would agree to split Palestine 50-50 with the Palestinians who are of about equal size numerically (counting Jews who live in Israeli-held lands and counting Palestinians wherever located. Even though a 50-50 split would provide them with “a” Jewish state. Nor will they agree to allow the return of the Palestinian exiles from the 1947-50 war (plus progeny), which shows that the Jewish Agency lied when it said that they accepted the UNGA’s partition proposal of 1947, which called for leaving all populations in place and with rights in the lands described in the partition.

    • echinococcus on October 27, 2016, 1:52 pm

      It doesn’t have to be “in what is now Israel”. It can be anywhere.
      Hint: there is no empty land anywhere that they wouldn’t need to cleanse of Goys in order to assure the now-racial-now-religious-now-tribal supremacist nature of the state.
      “Re-establishment” is purest, analytical-grade BS. It falsely implies some continuity.
      “(now) development/protection” falsely implies that there any settled situation occurred.
      1897 was not the “establishment” but just the 1st Congress.

  10. Citizen on October 26, 2016, 4:18 am

    Nothing about the political principles in the above bare bones definition.

    • Mooser on October 26, 2016, 12:05 pm

      “Nothing about the political principles in the above bare bones definition.”

      Precisely. The definition gives us the ends, and the means, well, that’s open for all possibilities.

  11. inbound39 on October 26, 2016, 6:37 am

    Well….the British Govt can be made a bunch of fools by Israel but it won’t stop me or hundreds of thousands of other British Subjects from calling a Zionist a Zionist. If the word is illegal then ban Zionism….which is an even greater insult to humanity and a greater cause of Anti semitism than some settler feigning insult to get the upperhand just because he doesn’t like being called what he is. Ridiculous.

  12. Talkback on October 26, 2016, 8:15 am

    “British lawmakers have said the word “Zionist” as a pejorative “has no place in a civilised society””

    I understand them. Who wants to be called a Zionist after all that has been done and is still being done in the name of Zionism. But for the same reason it should read: “A Zionist has no place in a civilised society”.

  13. charlesfrith on October 26, 2016, 1:23 pm

    So how does one compliment a Zionist on their Zionism?

  14. amigo on October 26, 2016, 2:15 pm

    It seems that certain of the zionist fraternity object to being referred to as zios. Personally , my favorite is “Zionistas ” .Well whoopsie doo , Do they object to the abundant use of the term “Pals or Palis” or do only Zionists deserve respect .

    And they wonder why they are not loved and fawned upon. Will someone rid us of this scourge.

  15. Ossinev on October 26, 2016, 3:25 pm

    Looking forward to the first prosecution or law suit alleging the use of “Zionism” in a “pejorative way” against an individual Jew , a Jewish institute or organisation or indeed against the Jewish State in the Levant as being “Anti – Semitic”. I think I will have a long wait as the Zionists pejoratively speaking would be swatted like flies in any courtroom debate and will not be prepared to air the filthy linen of their philosophy in public and reveal the propaganda machinations orchestrated by JSIL here in the UK.

    BTW I am becoming bored s…less by the constant “Anti – Semitic” allegations in the right wing UK press. It is akin to being forced to watch endless repeats of your least favourite TV show . Yesterday would you believe The Times having no newsworthy “story” to pin the Anti- Semitic scam to resorted to a full page report in the Sports Section (FFS !) detailing allegations of guess what in English football.

    As for the word itself it has been flagellated to death and I have to repress a yawn each time I hear it ,read it or refer to it as above. I think I will give myself a break (perhaps long term) by referring to hatred of or victimisation of Jews by what should be the correct term = Anti-Judaistic or Anti Judaism. As much as anything it shows respect to all millions of non- Jewish Semite people out there in the Levant.

  16. RobertHenryEller on October 27, 2016, 7:35 am

    What fools these Zionists be. They will ultimately turn anti-Zionism into real anti-Semitism, by interfering with democratic societies like the U.S. and the U.K., and undermine Free Speech, and get citizens of democracies in trouble for exercising their Constitutional and legal rights.

    Zionists can pull that crap all they want in Israel, if they think they can get away with it.

    But if they continue to try to suppress Constitutional and legal rights of free expression is democracies like the U.S. and the U.K. they will bear the consequences of the blow back, with no one to blame but their stupid idiot selves. What a bunch of idiots Zionists are.

    • Mooser on October 28, 2016, 2:15 pm

      .” They will ultimately turn anti-Zionism into real anti-Semitism,”

      Gotta wonder, at what point does a re-consideration of Jews in a social context as a result of the awareness and reaction to Zionism (such as it is today) become “real anti-semitism”?

  17. RobertHenryEller on October 27, 2016, 7:46 am

    “Then we are stupid and we will die.” – Pris, “Blade Runner”

    An appropriate response to watching idiot Zionists stoke real anti-semitism by abusing the free speech rights of citizens in democracies.

  18. RobertHenryEller on October 27, 2016, 7:47 am

    How did the U.S., Jews and Zionists once tolerate American Nazis marching through Skokie Illinois, the home once of many Holocaust survivors?

    • echinococcus on October 27, 2016, 8:14 am

      The Nazis weren’t targeting, opposing or criticizing Zionism.
      They agreed on the racial definitions.

  19. Talkback on October 27, 2016, 9:33 am

    What the parliament of the former colonial empire actually means is:

    It is an act of hatred if you criticize settler colonialism as such or its supporters. You are only allowed to criticize how the settlers deal with the natives.

  20. Mooser on October 28, 2016, 2:28 pm

    “Jews sans frontieres” is also covering this and well.

  21. Rashers2 on October 29, 2016, 4:30 am

    Earlier in the year, when the Chakrabarty Report was published, I foresaw something like this in the offing; and it makes me extremely angry. The Chakrabarty Report was, I suspect, commissioned by Corbyn only in an attempt to stem a rising tide of spurious pro-Zionist, pro-Israel innuendo and accusations of anti-Semitism against his party and him in particular. In turn, this present tide can probably be traced to Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband’s, mild parliamentary rebuke to Israel for the use of disproportionate force during its 2014 attack on Gaza, the risibly-named “Operation Protective Edge”. Corbyn’s own criticisms of Israeli policy have added fuel to the Zionist lobby’s fire.

    My “take” on the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report is that it has (probably wilfully) overlooked or elided several key points:

    • “Hate speech” against those of a particular racial group or adherents of a particular (legal) religious faith or denomination is unacceptable and it is legitimate for a civilised society to criminalise it;
    • Jews as a whole in society, whether in Britain, Israel or anywhere else, are not members of a specific or identifiable ethnic group. There are white, black, brown and yellow Jews. The issue as far as anti-Semitism goes is thus not one of ethnicity;
    • Jews are, however, a societal group which is defined by faith or, if not currently practising Judaism, by ancestral faith. For this reason, Jews qualify for and are deserving of protection against “hate speech” directed at them qua Jews, along with Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians, etc. and along with Afro-Caribbeans, Rom, South Asians and any other identifiable ethnicity or ethnic sub-grouping, whose members are attacked by virtue of belonging to a faith or grouping;
    • All “hate speech” MUST be treated equally and even-handedly under the law: the tests to determine whether an accused’s words constitute “hate speech” and therefore whether the speaker/writer may have committed a crime through their utterances MUST be the same. They must also be objective tests;
    • The introduction of a singular, unique and subjective test in the case of alleged anti-Semitic “hate speech” would be wholly unacceptable and would, inter alia, tend to bring any law which enshrined it into disrepute;
    • Zionism is neither a religious persuasion or affiliation nor is it an ethnicity or ethnic grouping;
    • Zionism represents a set of political beliefs, ideals and objectives. It is correctly noted by others here that not only aren’t all Jews Zionists but not all Zionists are Jewish;
    • Zionists collectively CANNOT per se constitute a group of individuals in society which qualifies for legal protections against alleged “hate speech”;
    • By extension, therefore, the originators of such speech cannot be the objects of criminal sanctions under these laws;
    • To grant Zionists protection against “hate speech”, to categorise all anti-Zionist views as “hate speech” and to criminalise the alleged originators would be ridiculous, unjust and the consequences of so doing could be virtually infinite, leaving it open to any political movement, by complaining of “hate speech”, to claim protection from the free expression that runs contrary to its own views, which might include vilifying such movement and/or its aims.

    I hold no brief for the Labour Party and particularly not for its more leftward wing personified by such as Livingstone. It is not an axiom, however, that their views on all subjects are mistaken or maliciously inspired; and certainly not that their views on I/P are informed by any genuine anti-Semitism.

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