The mixed message of the IHRA definition of ‘antisemitism’

Anti-zionism and opposition to the fascist activities of Israel must not be conflated with antisemitism.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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After a protracted public dispute, the Labour party’s national executive committee (NEC) has decided to adopt the ‘internationally recognised’ definition of antisemitism, as put together by the zionist pressure group, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

For around two years, the media have pushed the lie that there is an ‘antisemitism problem’ within the Labour party, particularly around Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and the party has finally buckled to this pressure. 

Despite an NEC now dominated by Corbyn allies, Corbyn’s own 500-word caveat to the definition was rejected by his colleagues at the meeting. This caveat attempted to make explicit the criticisms of Israel and zionism that would still be allowed under the definition. The NEC rejected this move by the party leader, instead adding the shorter caveat of members’ right to freedom of speech.

This was a spectacular failure of strategy by the NEC. Its members gambled that their amendment would placate the noisiest of Labour’s zionist critics. Instead, however, they have gone too far in placating the zionists for pro-Palestine members, whilst not going far enough to actually placate zionist members and critics. In trying to play to both sides, they have pleased neither.

Of Corbyn’s rejected add-on to the definition, particular criticism has been made of the following sentence: “Nor should it be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies, or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

According to the Times: “John Mann, the Labour MP and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, told the Times: ‘What was he thinking of, after all we have gone through, to try and create another almighty row? It would have been turmoil if his proposal had been accepted.’

“Jennifer Gerber, the director of Labour Friends of Israel, said the proposed statement was ‘contemptible’ and that it was ‘utterly unsurprising that Jeremy Corbyn prioritised and fought for the right of antisemites to describe the world’s only jewish state as racist in a meeting supposedly about combating antisemitism’. She added: ‘It is now even more clear that Jeremy Corbyn is part of the problem not the solution.’

“Dame Margaret Hodge, who has been at the centre of the row after accusing Mr Corbyn of being an ‘antisemite and a racist’, said: ‘Two steps forward and one step back. Why dilute the welcome adoption in full of the IHRA definition of antisemitism with an unnecessary qualification?’

“She said that the acceptance of the definition had been ‘sullied’ by the ‘get out clause’. ‘Absolutely this is not over,’ she told the BBC’s Today programme.” (Jeremy Corbyn slapped down by allies over antisemitism, 5 September 2018)

That such an obviously true statement as Corbyn’s was has been seized upon and attacked can only reinforce the aggressive push by the zionists to stifle all and any criticism of Israel, however mildly expressed. They clearly seek to redefine ‘antisemitism’ as meaning ‘any criticism of Israel’s existence or policies’, and, to date, they have been rather successful in this endeavour.

Another ex-Labour party figure some time ago smeared with the antisemite label, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, has defended Jeremy Corbyn and the party.

“Mr Livingstone said: ‘No one should have any worries about this stuff. Antisemitism is about people who hate and loathe jews. It’s not about criticising the Israeli government’s policy towards the Palestinians. People who hate jews, blacks or homosexuals are never going to join the Labour party because we have always been defending the rights of people like that.’” (The Times, 8 September 2018)

There is some truth to these words. Antisemitism is most definitely about hatred of jews; it does not concern criticism of Israeli policy, nor of the ideology of zionism. We may disagree that the Labour party has a spotless record on defending the rights of minorities – it is quite as racist as the other main parties of imperialism – but it is certainly not more racist than the other parties.

Nor is antisemitism more prevalent in the Labour party than in the other parties, or than in society generally, where it is, in fact, at an extremely low ebb. The idea that Corbyn himself is an antisemite is laughable.

Despite support from the likes of Livingstone, Corbyn and Labour have been hammered by a well-coordinated zionist assault.

“Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: ‘The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition and all of its examples should have been accepted in full today, no amendments, no caveats. We all believe in freedom of speech and this framework does not stifle that.

“‘Why is it that the Labour party feel that they are different or above anyone else when looking at this issue? Thirty-one countries including the UK government have adopted it.’

“Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said that the adoption of IHRA and its examples in full was the right decision but ‘very long overdue’. She said it was ‘regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to jews what constitutes offence against us’. Ms Van der Zyl maintained that ‘Jeremy Corbyn needs to apologise for past antisemitic comments and affiliations’.” (The Times, op cit)

Unsurprisingly, Van der Zyl entirely misses the point. Whether jews or anyone else is offended is neither here nor there. Offence is not relevant, and cannot be used as an excuse to close down all argument.

Just because someone is offended does not make them right. Increasing numbers of people have joined the prevailing fashion, built into the bourgeois individualism of identity politics, of taking offence at anything and everything, from disability to support for this or that football team.

But feeling offended makes no difference to whether one’s point is in any way valid or logical. In the words of Richard Dawkins (of whom we are no fans, but with whom we are, on this point, in full accord):“offence is the last straw the faith-heads clutch when they run out of rational arguments”.

And whilst zionists may claim that the ‘internationally-recognised’ (ie, heavily pushed by imperialism and its zionist stooges) definition of antisemitism is universally accepted, in fact just 31 countries accept the definition. That is, the overwhelming majority of states do not accept the so-called ‘international definition’.

What, then,does theIHRA’s definition consist of? Far from sticking to the simple statement that ‘antisemitism is the hatred of jews as jews and for no other reason’, the IHRA sets out a far more lengthy ‘definition’, complete with examples, which we reproduce in full below. With most of the examples we would agree, but, as they say, a spoonful of tar spoils a barrel of honey.

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward jewish or non-jewish individuals and/or their property, toward jewish community institutions and religious facilities. 

“To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:

“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame jews for ‘why things go wrong’. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

“Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

– “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

– “Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about jews as such or the power of jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world jewish conspiracy or of jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

– “Accusing jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-jews.

– “Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (eg, gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the holocaust).

– “Accusing the jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the holocaust.

– “Accusing jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

– “Denying the jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

– “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

– “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (eg, claims of jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.

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

– “Holding jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, jewish or linked to jews.

“Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.” (Working definition of antisemitism, 26 May 2016 – offending paragraphs highlighted)

Despite the fact that the IHRA text contains the following sentence: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”, it is clear from what follows that this is exactly the right the zionists are trying to abolish – the right to criticise Israel.

Having been unable to prevent the worldwide spread of sympathy for the cause of the dispossessed Palestinians or of disgust at the barbarity and hypocrisy of the Israeli state in any other way, they are attempting to use the power of the imperialist media, political and legal machinery to terrorise the public into submission by smearing all critics as racists, liable to imprisonment for ‘hate crimes’. In this way they hope to put Israel, its policies and its existence above all criticism and beyond the reach of free speech.

But truth will out. The increasing drive to criminalise criticism of Israel and outlaw any discussion on the subject is having the opposite effect than that intended. Outraged by the use of such sledgehammer tactics, many people are starting to look more closely at the reality and to find out for themselves the truth of the statements that the definition specifically tries to ban – that Israel is indeed a racist state, and that the zionists did in fact collaborate with the Nazis in the build-up to and even during the jewish holocaust.

Finally, it is worth noting the point that the IHRA does not want jews to be collectively blamed for Israeli policy. We quite agree with the authors on this point. However, it is perfectly clear that their wish will only be brought to fruition when Israel itself stops claiming to represent all jews.

So long as Israel is ‘the jewish state’, claiming to represent international Jewry, so long will there be people who wrongly blame jews as a collective for Israeli policy. This is a situation of the zionists’ own making, and the remedy is in their hands.