As I researched for an article about the demonstration and counter demonstration at SOAS on 27 April, I came across an essay on antisemitism by Stephen Sedley. Sedley is a former appeal court judge and the essay was just published in the London Review of Books. The essay dealt critically with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
The building block for the IHRA definition reads:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
The definition was adopted by the UK government in December 2016, as part of an ongoing war against increasing levels of antisemitism. The IHRA definition logically accommodates a defence against ‘Israel as Jew’ manifestations of antisemitic activity. In turn anti-Israel activists, accused the government of ‘weaponising antisemitism‘.
What seems to be true is that antisemitism is being viewed as a serious battle and improved definitions are being deployed to fight against a defiant and flexible disease. So what on earth are some people doing trying to undermine these efforts?
The Sedley article is just the latest of a recent tsunami of attempts to discredit a newly deployed working formula. It is time to cast an eye on this dangerous strategy.
Sedley and a topsy turvy world
To understand the problem, you do not have to engage with more than the very first sentence of the Sedley essay:
“Shorn of philosophical and political refinements, anti-Semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews.”
Using such a simplified definition is dangerous. It casts aside the entire discussion of mistaken ‘perception’. If Jewish people are just people, then any hostility towards a ‘people’ is not about how they actually are (in reality as Jews), but rather, how the antisemite perceives them to be. Or to be precise, any definition of antisemitism must also include ‘hostility towards Jews as something that they are not’.
Jew hatred is not rational, it is not built on science, but rather the fantasy of those who adhere to antisemitic thought and propagate it. It is why I am uncomfortable with legal minds using definitions of antisemitism as a battlefield for political expediency. When Sedley uses such a weakened definition as a method of protecting elements of anti-Israel activism, it turns antisemitism almost on its head.
The Sedley essay was not the first past the post though.
Protecting Jew hatred
As the government announced its adoption of the IHRA definition, you could almost hear the scrambling of the anti-Israel groups clamouring to discredit it. As part of this panic, Hugh Tomlinson QC was instructed by ‘Free Speech on Israel, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’ to ‘provide an opinion‘ on the IHRA definition.
So on the 27 march, Free Speech on Israel, published Tomlinson’s comments on their website. Yet just 20 days prior to this on 7 March, the same website, had published a misguided Mondoweiss article. A piece that attempted to discredit my own research into antisemitism in the PSC. The same PSC that had also instructed Tomlinson. And here we are faced with a problem. My research into antisemitism avoided the Israel / Arab conflict and focused solely on classic antisemitic tropes and Holocaust denial. Yet, Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) were as rabidly eager to discredit my research into antisemitism as they were shown to be ready to discredit the IHRA definition.
So we are therefore left questioning whether anti-Israel activists are seeking to discredit the IHRA definition of antisemitism because they feel it needs refining, or they are simply discrediting any accusation of antisemitism regardless of how vicious the antisemitic attack?
Let us look at Mike Cushman’s post promoting the Mondoweiss article:
Cushman of course is from ‘Free Speech On Israel’. Notice also the two names we see as ‘liking’ the article, Tapash Abu Shaim and Elleanne Green. I have come across them both before. Let us deal with them one at a time. First Tapash:
And then Elleane Green:
Tapash is (or was) a top table member of the PSC and apparently helped run the PSC stall at last year’s Labour Party Conference. Elleanne Green is also highly active. So what on earth is going on, that we have a marriage between ‘anti-Zionist Jews’, who seek to discredit all accusations of antisemitism, and who stand in unity alongside people such as this; actually defending them.
The essence of foolishness
Given there is a problem with Jew hatred, and given that Jews, like any minority, should be protected from those who seek to set them apart, society must takes the necessary action to shape that protection. This in essence is what the drive to find and support a working definition is all about.
So we therefore have three possible ‘pullers’:
- One is those that may attempt to over-use antisemitism, to ‘play the antisemitism card’. It is possible that political expediency might cause some groups to over-flex their muscles. This is an accusation that the Jewish community must take seriously.
- Then there are those who seek to fine tune understanding of the lines between ‘antisemitism’ and ‘not antisemitism’. To gain a greater understanding of the disease and to sharpen the weapons provided to fight it.
- Finally there are those who seek to belittle or deny all antisemitism, either as antisemites, through an essence of foolishness, or for political expediency.
It seems that the Jewish anti-Zionists are part of the third group, and are strengthening a very dangerous camp. Unless you can explain through some other reasoning, why so many hard-core antisemites have aligned themselves with the anti-Zionist cause, then *you have* to accommodate for the morphing of antisemitism into some anti-Zionist dialogue.
Please sir, please let us hate the Jews
If you fail to accept that antisemitism can morph into anti-Zionism, you enter the world of the absurd. Why on earth wouldn’t it? If like Stephen Sedley you remove ‘Israel as Jew’ almost entirely from the equation, then you blatantly fail to protect Jews from those that hate them. So groups like ‘Free Speech on Israel’ end up standing in front of Jew haters, protecting the antisemites. They even align with infested groups such as the PSC, to try to find legal minds that will attempt to legitimise this action.
I have often engaged with anti-Israel activists and I give them a simple challenge: I ask for three examples of antisemitism involving Zionists or Israel. Rather than have them telling me what is not antisemitism, I have asked them to provide examples of what is. Despite asking this on scores of occasions, I have yet to receive a single reply.
So people who associate with these groups, who provide them cover, who promote their arguments, need to explain why it is that these ‘Jewish anti Zionists’ cannot answer a simple question.
Until they can provide examples, and appear willing to address the blatant antisemitism that clearly exists within their camp, they should stop trying to unravel the attempts of others to fight Jew hatred.
Anti-Israel activism, currently ignores antisemitism, ignores Holocaust denial, and ignores most of the classic antisemitic tropes directed towards Zionists. Some would even say anti-Israel activism thrives and recruits on them.
If this is that case at what point does anybody think we should take attempts from within that movement to belittle the definition of antisemitism seriously?
They can all stop writing about it and stop talking about it. It is simply as if they are saying ‘please sir, let us hate the Jews’. Attempting to turn antisemitism upside down, so as to strengthen and empower the enemies of the Jews. We must understand this and fight against it.
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