Antisemitism and the suppression of truth.
By Gilad Atzmon
Jewish power, as I define it, is the power to silence opposition to Jewish power. The scandal over the alleged antisemitism within the Labour party provides a perfect example. The Labour Party is accused of being “an existential threat to British Jews” (no more no less) because the NEC, its ruling body, defined antisemitism for the Labour party, without clearly including in its definition criticism of Israel.
In its definition for its own code, the Labour party adopted the problematic IHRA working definition of antisemitism but omitted the following ‘examples of antisemitism’ included with the IHRA:
§ Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country,
§ Claiming that Israel's existence as a state is a racist endeavor,
§ Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations, and
§ Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.
According to Labour’s ruling body, these examples may not be treated as anti -Jewish bigotry without clear evidence of anti-Semitic intent. This treatment is the proper one according to most reasonable minds.
Since some Diaspora Jews admit to being more loyal to Israel than to their home country, it would be a bit problematic to accuse a goy of hatefulness for repeating what many Jews openly declare. Since the new racist Israeli National Bill has been duly approved by the Knesset, it would be bizarre to accuse a Labour Party member of anti-Jewish bigotry for saying that Israel is a racist endeavour.
Although such an accusation may well be accurate, it runs afoul of the omitted examples in the IHRA definition exactly because the definition is designed to suppress criticism of Israel and its politics. Last week, the Guardian published an wide range of Jewish writers and their views of the IHRA definition in the context of the current Labour ‘antisemitism’ crisis. Some of the views expressed are insightful and deserve close attention.
Antisemitism, according to Stephen Sedley, a law scholar and a former judge, is “hostility towards Jews as Jews. This straightforward definition is at the disposal of any institution or organisation that needs it. It places no prior restrictions on the form antisemitism may take.”
Sedley comes to a conclusion that the IHRA definition with examples exists “to neutralise serious criticism of Israel by stigmatising it as a form of antisemitism.” Sedley’s view in this context fits nicely with the definition of Jewish power above.
Sedley points out that The UK government, which has adopted the “working definition” including the examples, was warned by the Commons home affairs select committee in October 2016 that in the interests of free speech it ought to adopt an explicit rider that it is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel …without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.” Sedley emphasises that this recommendation “was ignored.”
Geoffrey Bindman, a QC, solicitor and a legal scholar agrees with Sedley’s criticism. Bindman also refers to the recommendations of the all-party Commons home affairs select committee that the IHRA definition should only be adopted if qualified by caveats making clear that it is not antisemitic to criticise the Israeli government without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent. “Unfortunately the caveats were omitted when the definition was approved by the UK government.”
These men make clear that the IHRA definition is a faulty definition. The British government should reconsider its use of this definition. The other bodies and institutions that were pushed to adopt this non-universalist text would do well to drop it.
Sedley’s opinion is that even though the UK has adopted the IHRA definition, Brits are not forbidden by law from telling the truth about Israel’s being a racist state. This is because Britain also has the “Human Rights Act [that] enacts article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, guaranteeing the right of free expression.” According to Sedley “whatever criticism the IHRA’s ‘examples’ may seek to suppress, both Jews and non-Jews in the UK are entitled, without being stigmatised as antisemites, to contend that a state that by law denies Palestinians any right of self-determination is a racist state, or to ask whether there is some moral equivalence between shooting down defenceless Jews in eastern Europe and unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza.”
Geoffrey Bindman argues that the IHRA definition and examples are “poorly drafted, misleading, and in practice have led to the suppression of legitimate debate and freedom of expression. Nevertheless, clumsily worded as it is, the definition does describe the essence of antisemitism: irrational hostility towards Jews.”
Here Bindman opens Pandora’s box. If antisemitism is irrational hostility toward Jews simply for being Jews, then the IHRA definition together with its clauses treats even rational and reasonable opposition to Israeli politics as ‘irrational hatred.’ This presents a dangerous precedent and an Orwellian turn for British society. It suggests that Britain is a free country no more. In Britain in 2018, those who oppose a certain type of evil, racist politics are labelled ‘irrational haters’ (antisemites). Clearly Labour’s NEC attempted to fix this problem by requiring a finding of hateful intent at the core of certain so-called anti-Semitic behaviour. This reasonable requirement led to an irrational reaction by Jewish institutions and an aggressive response.
It is difficult to judge whether the Guardian’s choices to defend the IHRA were made as a genuine attempt to represent the Zionist side. Perhaps the Guardian was making a desperate attempt to provide its readers with some comic relief: like the British Chief Rabbi and 68 additional British rabbis who were upset by Labour ‘s slight deviation from the IHRA definition, Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner also expressed her dissatisfaction with the party of the workers.
“If the Labour party wanted to prioritise antisemitism by choosing a bespoke definition then it could have listened to the full diversity of the Jewish community,” Janner-Klausner wrote. But why does anyone need to follow the Rabbis or self-appointed Jewish ‘representative bodies’ for that matter? If antisemitism is racism, then we all ought to oppose antisemitism as we do any form of racism: universally. And if antisemitism is a piece of our universal concern with racism, then we all should be equally involved in opposing it. This is similar to the line of thought that was, I believe, at the core of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was a universal call that had a universal appeal. It aimed to protect the many not just the few. This is pretty much the opposite of the IHRA definition that is concerned with one people only.
In that regard, it is of note that Labour’s NEC was not attempting to define what antisemitsm means to Jews. NEC defined what antisemitsm means for the Labour party and in accordance with Labour values.
Keith Kahn-Harris, a London sociologist not known for his sophistication also contributed to the Guardian’s panel. He reiterated my definition of Jewish power, probably without realising it. “It’s certainly true that the IHRA definition does tightly constrain anti-Israel and anti-Zionist speech, but it doesn’t make it impossible.” I guess that Kahn-Harris is saying that IHRA definition allows support of Palestine as long as the speaker can successfully zigzag around Jewish sensitivities. Maybe you can talk about Palestinian suffering as long as you avoid mentioning Israel. “It might have been possible to see the IHRA definition as a challenge to pro-Palestinian activists to be more creative in their language: after all, whether or not you think Israel is acting just like the Nazis, saying so is predictable, lazy and cliched.” I would advise Khan Harris that living for 70 years as a stateless refugee in Lebanon or being imprisoned in Gaza by an Israeli siege is more than enough. Palestinians and their supporters do not need this ‘extra challenge.’ What they want is to make their plight known and to be able to talk truth to power. Even to describe, for instance, an equivalence between two nationalist, racist and expansionist political ideologies that were fermented around the same time and even collaborated for a while. And this is exactly what the IHRA is there to prevent.
To support Gilad's legal costs