By Jason Michael

SILENCING CRITICISM of the State of Israel with the threat of labelling critics ‘anti-Semites’ and the weaponisation of antisemitism in the service of political agendas are disturbing new trends which are having a profound and dangerous effect on national and international politics. The manipulative and imprecise use of the charge of antisemitism does considerable damage to the fight against real antisemitism, racism, and bigotry. Equally, the deployment of antisemitism as a smokescreen for the odious behaviour of Israel contributes greatly to the post-truth crisis – it legitimises the racists’ claim that antisemitism is a meaningless political weapon. In a world where everyone is an anti-Semite no one is an anti-Semite.

We can shoot out some platitude about it being a fine line between valid condemnation of Israel and antisemitism, but this would be pointless. There is no fine line. Some things are racist, bigoted, and anti-Semitic, and other things are not. Holding Jews responsible for the actions of the “Jewish State” or promoting the fiction of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy are examples of real antisemitism. Calling the idea of a Jewish ethno-state racist or its implementation an “Apartheid state” is not antisemitism. It is simply a case of holding Israel to the same standards, under international and human rights law, to which we hold other states.

In British politics today this distinction is being deliberately blurred in order to benefit a number of deeply problematic political agendas. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been under increasing attack for the apparent endemic antisemitism within the British Labour Party and he himself has been accused of antisemitism – not for anything he has said or done, but for what he has not said and done. We are to believe he is a racist because he has not spoken out against what Zionist groups, Conservatives, and the right-wing media are describing – wrongly – as antisemitism and because his party has not signed up to all the points of the IHRA definition.

As a committed Scottish independentista, there are few grounds on which I will go out of my way to defend the unionist Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn. But the truth is important. We can all get behind the political embarrassment of our opponents and the assassination of their characters, but basing this on lies benefits no one.

In May 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted the “working definition of antisemitism,” a definition first published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (EUMC) in 2005 “without formal review.” This was never adopted by the EUMC and was ultimately dumped in November 2013 and deleted from the agency’s successor organisation’s website in a “clear-out of non-official documents.” Even in the IHRA’s adoption of this flawed and controversial definition it describes it as a “non-legally binding working definition.”

Below we can look at the eleven point definition in detail, but before this it will be helpful to point out what was wrong with it in terms of its origin. In 2004 the then head of the Stephen Roth Institute at Tel Aviv University, Dina Porat, proposed a common definition of antisemitism at an NGO conference organised by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). In collaboration with Kenneth Stern and another Israeli academic, Yehuda Bauer, Porat set about drafting such a definition. The obvious problem here is that this is an Israeli definition supported by the openly politically Zionist AJC. Julie Katz, the Assistant Director of the AJC in Atlanta, made this clear in an article for the Atlanta Jewish Times in which she wrote:

Let’s stop pretending that anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism. You can criticize Israel and its actions just as much as you can criticize the United States and its actions, or China and its actions, or Mexico and its actions. But you wouldn’t say you hate the Chinese state or the Mexican state because that would be racist. Just like hating “the Jewish state” is glaringly anti-Semitic.

At the heart of this Israeli and Zionist definition is the deliberate conflation of Zionism – an ethno-nationalist state-political ideology – and Judaism, and, by extension, the conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. How useful to the State of Israel – Katz’s “Jewish State” – would it be had this definition been adopted officially by the European Union as it was by the US State Department last year? Doubtless, this is what the AJC’s Andrew Baker had in mind when he negotiated with the EU to have it adopted. Yet, more rational heads prevailed. Cambridge University law professor David Feldman, a former international judge of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thus concluded in January 2015 that the definition has “largely fallen out of favour.”

In the main, the eleven point IHRA working definition is good. No one can deny that Holocaust denial and “justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology” are examples of antisemitism – properly defined, but two of the definitions must raise our suspicions. “Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life,” it reads, “…taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:”

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.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Antisemitism is hatred of Jews because they are Jews, but neither of these points of the “non-legally binding” working definition is concerned with Jews as Jews. They are concerned with a state – Israel. The State of Israel, like every other state, does not have human rights. It has states’ rights. If accepted, this definition, as Oxford University’s Prof Brian Klug – a fellow of the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations – has argued, will make legitimate criticism of Israel’s appalling human rights record impossible by bringing criticism of Israel into the category of antisemitism. There is nothing “intrinsically anti-Semitic,” as sociologist Paul Igansky has said, about drawing parallels between Israeli state policy and that of the Nazis. Context is everything.

In reference to the UK government’s acceptance of the IHRA definition, Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley said:

Where [antisemitism] manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech it is generally illegal, lying beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and of action. By contrast, criticism of Israel or of Zionism is… generally lawful.

Criticism of Israel, even when – in the right context – this means comparing its policies to those of the Nazis, is protected by law. It is not hate speech and it is not antisemitism. In its illegal military occupation of the West Bank and its total blockade of Gaza, Israel is pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing in order to create a living space for ethnic Jews on a land that is not its own. It has closed Palestinian populations into what amounts to ghettos; shutting down the national economy of Palestine, controlling its supply of food and medicine, and limiting its access to water. Can this be compared to what the Nazis did in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia? Yes it can. It can because this is precisely what the Nazis did in their pursuit of a living space for ethnic Germans.

When the British Labour Party rejects this definition and when its leader stands by this decision they are doing the right thing. We may, for any number of reasons, dislike Labour and Mr Corbyn, but when we choose to support this politicised definition of antisemitism and in so doing use it as a political weapon against our political rivals we are endorsing the racist behaviour of Israel and its modern form of Apartheid. But more than this, we contribute to the weakening of the power of the charge of antisemitism; making it easier for real racists and anti-Semites to advance under the cover of the confusion calling everyone an anti-Semite creates.


‘Labour, Israel and Antisemitism’ with Norman Finkelstein and Barnaby Raine

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One thought on “Antisemitism and the Modern Apartheid State

  1. Nail struck firmly on the head.

    By the definition of anti-Semitism the Zionists wish us to use, my Jewish friend, born in Israel, is an anti-Semite. The fact that she renounced her Israeli nationality because of her absolute disgust (and refusal to serve in the Israeli military) at the actions of the Israeli state over 20 years ago (and those actions have only got worse in the intervening years) is probably enough to get her branded a Nazi.


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