‘As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist’

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Despite Theresa May’s claims that the Conservative party had adopted the full definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), thei party rulebook mentions neither antisemitism nor the IHRA’s definition.

A worldwide coalition of 40 Jewish groups from 15 different countries has issued a joint statement condemning attempts to stifle criticism of Israel with false accusations of antisemitism. The statement has been published in the Independent.

The statement is timely, as the UK Labour Party is currently facing pressure to adopt the full guidelines accompanying a definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Labour adopted the 38-word definition long ago.  They include two controversial examples of antisemitism, which are directly connected to criticism of Israel. 

The guidelines have already been used to target organisations campaigning for Palestinian rights. Supporters of Israel have called on government to stop the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” on university campuses on the grounds that it breaches the IHRA. The guidelines suggest that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” could itself be racist. Secondly, it’s claimed that “applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected of any other democratic nation” is potentially antisemitic. 

However, antiracist principles must surely permit us to legitimately criticise Israel for its  discriminatory policies, whether its segregated road network, its dual justice system, or the “Jewish nation state” bill passed on Wednesday, which entrenches ethnic inequality in law.

Maliciously or perversely labelling critics of this ethnic-based discrimination as “antisemitic” also silences Palestinians who object to Israel’s historic and ongoing commandeering and occupation of their land, and who are experiencing violations of their fundamental human rights as a consequence.

One of the key principles of the IHRA guidelines is that it is the victim of racist (or antisemitic) words and behaviour who has the right to say this is unacceptable and must stop, not the perpetrator. The problem is that has given rise to people insisting that they have experienced antisemitism, when it has been quite clear that they haven’t. On more than one occasion, the alleged perpetrator has not been given space to defend themselves against individuals who have used this principle in malice.

Palestinians have collectively called for solidarity through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement  until their fundamental human rights are observed and upheld, including the right of return for refugees to their homeland. 

Supporters of Israel have already used the idea of “double standards” to attack the BDS movement. Supporters of Israel claim that unless all nations that violate human rights are boycotted, there must be some antisemitic intent underpinning calls for BDS. Of course this isn’t a reasonable argument.

The IHRA definition states that holding Jewish people collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel is antisemitic. I agree. However, this at least recognises the potential for a state to act in ways that may attract international criticism, such as ethnic discrimination.

The “double standards” clause, however, and some interpretations of “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” – bearing in mind that Israel has expanded beyond internationally agreed boundaries – may be used to exempt Israel from international norms and human rights obligations.

There is a world of difference between denying Jewish people “the right to nationhood” and recognising that Israel is systematically denying Palestinians the right to nationhood. We must ensure that antiracism guidelines are not used to permit and excuse other forms of racism, too. Human rights are, after all, universal.

Another problem is that our own government offers military, financial and diplomatic support to Israel and are therefore deeply complicit in Israel’s human rights violations. Implementing a boycott strategy in the UK therefore is no different in terms of motivation as the boycott of South Africa was – on which BDS is modelled – which helped to bring an end to apartheid there.

In conclusion to their letter, the authors say: BDS is indeed working, as worried pro-Israel groups themselves acknowledged last year. Due to the success of the movement, a global response by Israel’s supporters is in full swing, with legislation to repress the boycott initiated in many countries.

“What is happening in the UK is but one example of attempts to redefine antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. In the US, the Antisemitism Awareness Act does the same.

“As Jews who support the BDS movement, which is based on universal human rights principles and opposition to all racisms, we find it distressing that some imply Jewish communities are unanimous in their support of the IHRA. 

On the contrary, we believe that by dangerously conflating opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies with anti-Jewish racism, IHRA politicises and harms the fight against antisemitism as well as the struggle for justice for Palestinians.

We take the threat of antisemitism seriously. Indeed, from our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly racist governments and political parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend.

“In such urgent times, it is more important than ever to distinguish between legitimate critiques of unjust Israeli policies and “hostility to Jews as Jews”, as leading expert Brian Klug defines antisemitism.

“It is profoundly wrong to label the Labour party “antisemitic” for refraining to adopt IHRA guidelines in their entirety. Criticising Israeli policies – or indeed the tenets of Zionism – must be allowed to be part of political debate. That’s why Labour’s national executive committee has found aspects of the IHRA guidelines wanting.

Leading lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC has criticised the IHRA on these grounds. Civil liberties champions Liberty recently cautioned public bodies that it could constitute a threat to freedom of expression. Tellingly, even US lawyer Kenneth Stern – a key figure in crafting early incarnations of the IHRA – has warned that it could “encourage punishments of legitimate expressions of political opinion.

“Last weekend, two Palestinian teenagers in Gaza were killed by an Israeli air strike. Since the beginning of the Great Return March protests on 30 March, more than 130 people have been killed – including 25 children. These are just the most recent examples of why we call for a non-violent boycott of Israel until it complies with international law.

With Jewish and Israeli organisations across the globe that have varying approaches to the BDS movement, we stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest.”

Authors: Richard Kuper, who co-founded the UK-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is director of US-based Jewish Voice for Peace.

 

Related

Marginalisation of left leaning Jewish groups demonstrates political exploitation of the antisemitism controversy by the right wing

Antisemitism and the Labour party – a deeper look (cont) – Jewish Voice for Labour.

The Conservative code of conduct does not at any point mention the word “antisemitism” or spell out a definition of antisemitism, IHRA-approved or otherwise.

 


16 thoughts on “‘As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist’

  1. Kitty, thanks again for informing me of stuff I wish I had the time to research, but don’t due to time,  but also sheer confusion. I have to admit I have become silent and withdrawn from this debate, but your work helps.

    I haven’t donated yet,  but Promise to soon,

    Liz

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  2. The majority of the Jews are not Semitic they are European. But who are these antisemites, I don’t know any and in my 75 years I have never met one. I watch Jews on TV on a daily basis and never complain. Some heroes of my younger days were Jews like Immanuel Velikovsky and Zechariah Sitchin.
    I’m willing to believe that there are nut job right wing extremists who hate Jews, but they also hate everyone else. In the UK such people do not exist.
    I think it may help if we look at who it is who is spreading the nonsensical Neo Liberal anti logic in the media and who are the men behind the curtain where government is concerned? I tend to think there may be a bit of anti-Zionism in the air. When you get the name right it makes so much more sense.

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    1. I think there is antisemitism in the UK, it rose to record levels in 2014. That was before Corbyn was leader. Antisemitism must be addressed on very level of our society. I have come across a group of Green party supporters who did make antisemitic comments, and I challenged them. They were mostly based on New World Order conspiracy theories about ‘Jews running the world’. There are probably a few people with similar views who are now LP members, because they are present in other parts of society.

      The outrageous part of this is the right leaning faction within the party, the right wing Jewish Communities, right media punters and colluding Tory MPs have tried to pin every single case of antisemitic abuse on Jeremy Corbyn – somone who spent his entire politial career fighting prejudice and social injustice.

      It’s the same as someone blaming me for abuse they get from a stranger on the grounds that the abuser said they support my page. There’s a difference between “allegations and claims” and “evidence”, but all we see dominating the media are the allegations and claims, that come from those ideologically opposed to Corbyn’s policies, emotive appeals designed to elicit emotional horror – such as Hodge, who was abusive to Corbyn, making unsubstantiated claims, discussing that her family were victims of the Holocaust – as if those emotional appeals were somehow linked to Corbyn’s actions. There’s a lack of coherence, reasonableness and evidence around the accusations aimed at Corbyn , they don’t seem to have any basis in fact.

      I agree that the Labour Party must ensure that Israel, like all other nation states, is not exempt from international scrutiny and criticism when it fails to uphold international norms and human rights. Anti-prejudice measures should not stifle the voices of other marginalised groups or trample their human rights.

      No other nation is exempt from criticism for its actions and to exempt any state sets a dangerous precedent. That’s why the NEC omitted two of the guideline definitions.

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  3. I agree with most of what you say, but protesting against Israel’s genocide is a completely different matter twisted into antisemetic propaganda. I’m amazed that otherwise intelligent people allow themselves to be abused by doublespeak.
    Also the New World Order is not a conspiracy it’s now called Globalism and Globalism is all about making the fat cats fatter.
    There is no ideological opposition to Corbyn unless money is considered an ideology. Those with the clout to make a difference are the ones who stand to lose the most. These just happen to be the ones to whom the Tories give support.
    It’s all about money. Neo-liberalism is all about money. The destruction of the NHS is about privatisation and making money, the slash and burn mentality that ultimately leaves the whole world desolate.

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  4. Talking about money, I am ashamed to say that I have only just realised that American and Israeli companies have been drilling for oil in the Golan, which they took from Syria after the Six Day War.

    On a more positive note, I have to say I really admire the efforts of Prof. Michael Rosen to diffuse the furore surrounding the NEC Code on antisemitism. He seems to to me be a fundamentally decent, honest and tolerant man. Mind you, he was also raised in my home town. 😉

    Shawn Lawson’s latest article for OpenDemocracy also impresses. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shaun-lawson/enough-of-these-disgraceful-slurs-against-jeremy-corbyn

    And I note that the members of the Irish Senate have approved a bill to boycott the import of goods from the territories occupied by Israel (in what was a very moving debate) and yet no one is accusing the Irish government’s upper house of antisemitism.

    The UK government looks like it is falling apart, and Brexit looks like it will be a disaster, so I imagine there will be yet more attempts to smear Corbyn. Bearing all this in mind, I think Paul Mason is right when he cautions everyone (in the face of all the nastiness, lies and hypocrisy) to ‘just be left, be radical, be Zen’.

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    1. Yes, Michael Rosen has integrity. Great man. I saw the Open Democracy article, it overlaps with this one a little. It’s good.

      Yes I remember writing about the oil issue on the Golan heights a couple of years ago. Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch and I think, Jacob Rothschild are all invested in it.

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  5. Thanks. As Deep Throat says to Robert Redford in the film ‘All the President’s Men’: ‘just follow the money’!

    Why, I wonder, was the government so keen to launch a missile attack on an empty bunker at Douma in Syria earlier this year? It always struck me as a PR exercise. There was never likely to have been any Sarin gas there. Had there been any Sarin, our missile attack would have caused it to spread out over a wider area, causing the very fatalities we said we were there to stop.

    And why is the West so keen to demonise Russia, Iran and Syria? I’ve heard it said that it has to do with plans by these countries to abandon the petrodollar, but I don’t really know.

    Going back to the Labour antisemitism smear, I see that it is now going full-throttle, and Corbyn stands accused of being in league with the KKK. Yesterday the right-wing MSM were encouraging everyone to denounce a holocaust survivor because he had compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of Jews. And yet the MSM seems to be giving a platform to the EDL. We live in strange times.

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