antisemitism upside down

Stephen Sedley, FSOI and the PSC, getting antisemitism all mixed up

Stepehen SedleyAs 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:

Mike Cushman

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:


Tapash Abu Shaim

And then Elleane Green:

Elleanne 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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29 thoughts on “Stephen Sedley, FSOI and the PSC, getting antisemitism all mixed up

  1. I’ll p[ay…. three examples of antisemitism huh.

    Desecrating Jewish headstones ?

    Targeting Jewish businesses because they are Jewish businesses ?

    Baiting Jewish children on the school bus ?

    I can’t understand why anyone has had difficulty with your challenge

    1. David, your inevitable respondent raises an interesting question with his remarks. In asking why anyone has had difficulty with your challenge speaks to the question of motivation amongst those with whom you debate as the questioner knows. For many it seems that there can be no concession whatever to the legitimacy of any claims by Jews and the tactic must always be to shout loudly and consistently in order to drown out any response and deflect any question that would move the debate away from their party line. They simply have no interest in exposing the fragility of their positions through reasonable and civilised discourse. It is probably as worthwhile asking a Holocaust denier “If Hitler didn’t kill 6 million then how many did he kill?” or an anti-Zionist ” if Israels territorial claims are illegitimate, over which territory is their claim legitimate?” To have to start to discuss that some Jews were killed by the Nazis or that Israel is entitled to some land would feel too much like a negotiation to them and that would be wholly unacceptable. I am sure your perpetual poster understands this.

      1. That’s an interesting point Ian..

        It seems to me that it is David that is getting ” antisemitism all mixed up”.

        That is he is confusing it with attitudes to a nation state and with attitudes to a basket of political ideologies. People are left dumb struck by David’s challenge because there is NOTHING you can say about Israel or Zionism that is antisemitic.

        For example, I think that Israel is a crappy, racist, kleptomaniacal basket case. I guess that is just about as uncompromising as it gets. That isn’t antisemitic. This doesn’t mean I am not antisemitic. I might have reached this conclusion via the attitude ” because it’s full of fucking Jews. ” Anti Zionism and antisemitism may coexist in the same body but they are NEVER the same thing. One might have come to be via the other and may be motivated by the other, but to repeat, they are NEVER the same thing.

        As for this bullshit ” definition”. I am not panicked by it as David suggests. It doesn’t apply to me because I have not adopted it. I remain ” adopted” to the most widely accepted definition. The definition that gives us the meaning of the expression in the English language.

        You see if you stood on a random street and stopped 1000 people and asked what they understood by antisemitism you would be lucky to get a single mention of Israel. I am with the people here. David’s attempt at linguistic fascism means nothing to me. Enjoy what is left of the long weekend.

        1. Thank you Stephen for playing. And of course for labeling me a ‘linguistic fascist’. Given the dumbed down insults I regularly face from my anti-Zionist friends, it is a pleasure to be mentioned disparagingly by someone who actually had an education.

          As we both know, you only used half of the question to build your answer, because as you clearly say you believe ‘anti-Zionism and antisemitism’ are never the same thing. I don’t believe I argued that they were, although clearly one can be driven by the other.

          The question then isn’t whether they are the same, but whether sometimes, when the antisemitism drives the anti-Zionism, you can identify it. That is, the action or comment makes no sense (or almost no sense) in a purely anti-Zionist context. ‘Zionists control the banks’, for example. This of course carries into the antisemitic tropes of the conspiratorial Jew, 9/11, 7/7. Charlie Hebdo and so on. None of this has anything to do with Jews having a right to self determination, nor of course Palestinian welfare.

          Another example is currently happening in Aberdeen. Three shops are selling Dead Sea products in one Aberdeen shopping mall. The boycotters are only picking on one. The Jewish one. All done under the label of anti-Zionism of course, but then why are the other two shops free from such action?

          My post is not to suggest the IHRA definition is perfect, but merely to point out that if anti-Zionists have an issue with it, then they should help perfect it. They don’t of course. They do what you do and refuse to acknowledge that the anti-Israel cause is riddled with hard core antisemitism. After all, which army willingly lets go of its most motivated troops?

        2. Of course you are panicked by it , otherwise you and your ilk wouldn’t be whistling up tame QCs to offer an acceptable opinion. The reality is you don’t get to define what is or isn’t antisemitism but as David said ‘thanks for playing ‘

          1. And you are right Harv. I don’t get to define antisemitism and nor do you. Rather the meaning of the expression is established by the sum force of the uses of the expression by the approximately 1,5 billion speakers of the language. Though I guess there is little hope of an EDL eulogising rickshaw hustler coming to understand that.

          2. Harvey Garfield says……..

            ” the two state solution is an illusion. { on that much Harv and I can agree)

            Israel should not give up one metre of land

            That he…

            admires the full on ballsy approach of Roberta

            And that..

            “Jews tend to keep their heads down. It’s our nice middle class assimilated, yet conscious of our difference character which prohibits us from getting up close and personal with our enemies. There are exceptions to this rule. Jonathan, Richard, Roberta and others.”


            “Roberta reminds me of one of the Bielski brothers, the red mist descending one. Good for her!!!”


            I don’t know much about the EDL (this after more than a year happily demonstrating alongside of them), and if you are still here Roberta figure you could go it alone if you were a mind to. It’s time to give it back to them 10 fold, let them know we are there at their Quaker/Methodist meetings. Their A1 soiree and university hate fests etc. The next Ahava/Tesco boycott and counter boycott is likely to be June 4th. Please endeavour to be there.

  2. I will respond more fully tomorrow. But in the meantime……

    ” Three shops are selling Dead Sea products in one Aberdeen shopping mall. The boycotters are only picking on one. The Jewish one. ”

    Is everything else equal ? If so then we can be excused for being suspicious and wondering if we might be in the presence of antisemitism.

      1. apparently Boots and T.K Max. As I understand it, three outlets are selling Dead Sea products in the same mall. Only one is boycotted.

        1. ok I am not looking for an argument here just to understand. There are dead sea products and there are dead sea products and what are the circumstances. Look I am not here to defend or promote BDS but there are so many questions here. You know ?

    1. Saving comments for years . Scary stalking Stephen . No doubt it’s relevant in your odd world , but for the life of me I don’t see why . Considering you and doyenne of oddballs Greenstein have been posting the same comments for years , I guess it’s remiss of me not to have the slightest clue why they should be so treasured . Dining off crumbs will leave you perpetually hungry Stephen.

  3. Signing a petition asking Radiohead not to perform in Israel “until apartheid ends” is deeply antisemitic, in that it accuses the government of Israel of something that is utterly alien to it, and to all Jews. Accusing Jews of racism is another facet of antisemitism. The signers of this ugly petition included “experts” such as Ricky Tomlinson (who smeared Luciana Berger when she was a candidate for parliament in Liverpool, no doubt because she is Jewish).

    1. Well maybe you should come with me for a stroll down the Jordan Valley. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone and we don’t necessarily have to hold hands, however pleasant I might find that.

  4. You clearly can’t read if you think that is what I was saying. Apartheid was INSTITUTIONALISED racism. The accusation of Apartheid against Israel is the modern equivalent of the blood libel.

  5. Always a bit creepy when people screenshot your social media.
    I am totally against Israel goverment as it stands because of the unfair treatment of Palestinians. I wish there was a solution that is fair to all in this turbulent world.
    The holocaust is no excuse for taking people’s land and treating others badly because they are in your way but it’s something that should never be forgotten.
    Anti-semitism accusations are thrown about too easily. We need to have a light shone on the real cases so that their voices can be heard.

    1. A bit odd that, the social media comment. My social media content is all public and it is the way I communicate with the world. If someone wants to ‘quote’ me using social media, what better way than a share or a screenshot. ‘Sharing’ off the platform can only be done by a screenshot. You are more than welcome to screenshot mine, but then as I hate all forms of racism, believe in equality, love animals, believe I am not a sexist, and tend to reach out to other human beings to build bridges rather than burn them, I am not concerned about where you share those messages.

      But seriously Michelle, you don’t think that suggestions Jews are behind 9/11, ISIS and Charlie Hebdo are real cases of antisemitism? Fascinating. Tell me, what do you think an antisemite would think of Israel?

    2. I’d add a question. Do you really believe the Jews took the Palestinians land because of the Holocaust? Is that really how you believe the history unfolded?

    3. I agree with the comment that “accusations are thrown around too easily”. With this in mind please may I ask you to clarify to whom you refer when you say “Palestinians”. You may be aware that in 1977, in an interview with a Dutch newspaper a leading member of the PLO gave this quote; ” “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians,Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.”

      With this in mind perhaps you could consider which land has been taken, from whom and by whom. You are correct in saying that ” we need to have a light shone on the real cases” so perhaps, having identified the land to which you believe Israel is not entitled, you may clarify the land to which you believe that it is, specifically when set against the quote above. Many thanks in anticipation.


    In the name of ‘free speech’, Sir Stephen Sedley wants to remove much of the protection given to Jews – especially Jewish students – by a definition of antisemitism which recognises that Zionism and Judaism are two sides of the same coin.

    Again – It is the fundamental right of a minority to decide what offends it. Sir Stephen and for that matter Hugh Tomlinson QC (who was asked by four anti-Israel organisations including the PSC and (surprise surprise) produced a critical assessment of the IHRA Definition) do NOT have the right to tell Jews what they should find offensive.

    1. Since when did antisemitism mean “what some Jews find offensive” ?

      1. And of course prior to Zionism there was a one sided coin. What an absolute idiot you are Hoffie.

  7. Stephen Sedley challenged the idea that denying Jews the right of national self-determination is anti-Semitic because it assumes that the Jews are a race.

    It is not a question of whether the Jews are a “race” or not, but of whether they are a people. It’s always been part of Jewish identity that Jews regard themselves as such. The sense of exile from their ancient homeland is part of Jewish consciousness and Jews pray daily for a restoration to their homeland.

    Judaism is not merely a religion. Religion was originally a Christian category, applied only to Christian belief. Liberal Christian theology considered it appropriate to other cultural practices, including that of the Jews. We now accept Judaism as a religion, but the concept does not fit comfortably. Christianity is creedal religion, Judaism is not. It makes little sense for an atheist to call himself a Christian, but you no not have to believe anything to be a Jew. Jews share a way of life and a sense of identity with other Jews. “Judaism” as a religious belief system is not even a Jewish concept; “Jewishness” and “the people of Israel” are.

    So, to say that Judaism is a religion, different from Zionism, which is political, and that Jews are distinct from Israelis, is to misunderstand what being a Jew mean. Hostility to Jewish national aspiration is hostility to a central aspect of Jewishness.

    Anti-Zionists like to point to anti-Zionist Jews. There are assimilated Jews who have no fellow feeling with other Jews, left-wing secular Jews and strictly Orthodox anti-Zionists. But these are exceptions. The latter are few and the former are barely Jewish in any meaningful sense.

    Sedley’s argument is to a large extent about words rather than things. The philosopher Brian Klug made a similar point. It’s undeniable that “anti-Semitism” means something different from “anti-Zionism”. We must expect lawyers and philosophers to argue about the meaning of words in this way. And, in the real world, it’s possible to be anti-Zionist, to the extent of thinking that the state of Israel should not exist, without feeling any hostility to the Jewish people. But in practice hostility to Israel shades in to hostility to Jews, hostility to Jews expresses itself in anti-Zionism, and anti-Zionism is used as a cover for anti-Jewish hostility.

    I’m not sure that the concept of anti-Semitism is any use anyway. It was invented by an avowedly anti-Jewish party in Vienna in the 19th century. For the first half of the 20th century no-one felt any shame in disliking Jews. But after 1945, when pictures of Belsen appeared in the papers, anti-Semites kept their mouths shut. No-one now wants to be considered an anti-Semite whatever he thinks about Jews. Hence the common idea that you can’t be an anti-Semite if you don’t think about Jews the way that Hitler did.

    As for anti-Israel criticism, it has a wide gamut: from hostility to the prevailing right-wing nationalist establishment, to opposition to the occupation, to the promotion of a one-state solution in which Jews will be a permanent minority, to the idea that the Jewish state should be destroyed by force of arms. And in that gamut political criticism tends to become more anti-Jewish.

  8. So you’re prepared to defy logic and demand the employment a definition that fails the first test of a definition – that it’s indefinite. And a “working” definition at that. One you now wish to set in stone. What is, “a certain perception” and what does, “may” mean?

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