29 March 2021

Why We Should Critically Welcome The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism [JDA]

 Unlike the IHRA Misdefinition of Anti-Semitism the JDA Makes a Clear Distinction Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism

The Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism, although flawed in parts and open to criticism, not least because of its unfortunate title, should be welcomed by all those concerned about seeing the fight against anti-Semitism being part of the fight against racism rather than being counterposed to it. 

The JDA should also be welcomed by those who are sick and tired of seeing ‘anti-Semitism’ weaponised on behalf of a ‘Jewish’ state that has just seen 2 Jewish Nazis elected to the Knesset, one of whom is likely to be made a government minister.

Unlike the IHRA which labelled opposition to Zionism and Israeli racism as anti-Semitism, the JDA makes a clear distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The JDA states that the following are not anti-Semitic:

Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, uni-tary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.13.Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state.

The difference between the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism and the JDA is the difference between night and day.

Of course the JDA should have been unnecessary. The idea that it is necessary to define anti-Semitism in order to oppose it would have been ludicrous but for the cynical attempt by racists and imperialists, anti-Semites included, to use the historic oppression of Jewish people in order to support not only the Israeli state but western imperialism and its wars in the Middle East.

It is no accident that some of the most virulent anti-Semites and White Supremacists, from Viktor Orban of Hungary, Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland and Donald Trump, have all supported the IHRA. Indeed no genuine anti-Semite could possibly take exception to the IHRA. What is there not to like about it if you are a racist?

Indeed one of the most vociferous campaigners in support of the IHRA, former Vice-Chair of the Zionist Federation Jonathan Hoffman, is a link person between the Zionist Right in Britain and fascist groups such as the EDL and Tommy Robinson's supporters. Hoffman is also one of the 'academics' who have signed the Zionist petition calling for the dismissal of Professor David Miller of Bristol University.

I remain of the same opinion as Justice Potter Stewart' in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio that I don’t need a definition of anti-Semitism to recognise it when I see it. When my father and thousands of Jews like him took part in the Battle of Cable Street in order to prevent Moseley’s British Union of Fascists marching through the Jewish East End in October 1936, they did not need a definition of anti-Semitism in order to understand what they were fighting. However we are where we are and today the primary benefit of a genuine definition of anti-Semitism is that it can be used to replace the bogus and fraudulent IHRA definition.

Unlike the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism, the JDA is concerned with anti-Semitism not tarnishing the struggle of the Palestinians and opponents of Zionism as ‘anti-Semitic’.

What is truly frightening about the IHRA is how many people of sound mind, people who consider themselves intelligent and in the normal world are intelligent, have nevertheless subscribed to a definition of anti-Semitism that was intellectually bankrupt, the academic version of the 3 card trick. The IHRA is embarrassingly incoherent, dishonest and internally contradictory. Indeed the IHRA is itself, by its own definition anti-Semitic when it says on the one hand that Israel is the collective representation of all Jews and then says that it is anti-Semitic to associate all Jews with Israel’s crimes.

The slogan on a large demonstration in Tel Aviv in support of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who shot a unconscious Palestinian in Hebron in the head, murdering him. 'Kill them all' means kill all Palestinians.  According to the IHRA to describe this as Nazi-like is itself antisemitic!

The IHRA’s vagueness and obfuscation was itself demonstrably dishonest. It was deliberately opaque. Indeed a 500+ word statement cannot, by anyone’s imagination, be called a definition and, as Stephen Sedley wrote, the IHRA cannot be a definition because it is indefinite.

The 38 word IHRA definition, leaving out its 11 Israeli centred examples, is nothing if not slippery and vague. The IHRA was an exercise in intellectual dishonesty and it was eagerly grasped by racists such as the British representative to the IHRA, Lord Pickles, as a way of smearing and demonising anti-racists. Anyone who genuinely believed it was a definition of anti-Semitism can only be classed as intellectually bankrupt. And the IHRA rested on the assumption that the State of Israel was a normal, democratic state. As such the IHRA took sides in the battle between Jewish supremacy and Zionism on the one hand and anti-Zionism on the other.

The 38 word core definition of anti-Semitism at the beginning of the IHRA states that:

“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.”

Although we are told that anti-Semitism is ‘a certain perception of Jews’ we are never told what that perception is. We are told that anti-Semitism ‘may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’ without saying what else it might be expressed as. In raising the bar of anti-Semitism to the level of hatred the IHRA missed out all sorts of examples of anti-Semitism which are hurtful or discriminatory but which are not derived from hatred.

It is perfectly possible for someone to inflict violence on someone because they are Jewish, not because they hate them but because they despise them or fear them. According to the IHRA they are not anti-Semitic! Likewise someone who objects to their son or daughter marrying a Jew, not because they hate them but because they believe Jews are dishonest and untrustworthy, to say nothing of being mean and stingy, is not anti-Semitic according to the IHRA. The IHRA has but one function.  To protect the Israeli state and Zionism not Jews.

The first advantage of the JDA is that it formulates a clear and easily understood definition of anti-Semitism: ‘Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).’ The latter 5 words could have been omitted but based as it is on the Oxford English Dictionary definition ‘hostility to or prejudice against Jews’ it is infinitely preferable to the IHRA definition.

We now have a very clear and useful definition of anti-Semitism that clearly distinguishes between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The JDA does not attempt to police political speech in the way that the IHRA did.  It does not for example suggest that if someone criticises Israel without at the same time criticising every other country that abuses human rights (‘double standards’) that they are anti-Semitic.

This slogan is daubed on the walls of Hebron's Shuhada Street by the Jewish settlers - the IHRA says it's 'anti-semitic' to mention this!

The JDA does not describe comparisons between the Israeli state and its policies and that of Nazi Germany as anti-Semitic. It is clear that there are many comparisons today between Israel and Nazi Germany as the walls of Shuhada Street in Hebron, which are daubed with settler slogans ‘Arabs to the gas chambers’ testify.

As Neve Gordon and Mark Levin point out, under the IHRA two of the greatest Jewish personalities of the 20th century, both of them refugees from Nazi Germany, Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, have to be classified as anti-Semitic! In 1948 when Menachem Begin, the leader of Herut visited the United States they signed a letter with other Jewish personalities, to the New York Times claiming that Herut was:

“closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.”

Another piece of graffiti on the walls of Hebron - this betrays the mentality of the religious Zionist settlers in Israel

In particular Guidelines 10-15 are welcome. They are a clear statement that support for BDS has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with a non-violent protest against Israel. The statement that evidence based criticism of Israel cannot be anti-Semitic is to be welcomed. Similarly that support for a unitary state of Palestine (and by implication opposition to a Jewish state) is not anti-Semitic.

However there are many criticisms that can also be made of the JDA. Firstly it lacks any Palestinian perspective or input.  Given that the JDA came about as a result of the attempts of the IHRA to silence free speech on Palestine it should have been a given that Palestinians might have an input into the JDA. Unfortunately the drafting of the JDA was an all-Jewish affair despite the fact that it has a whole section B ‘Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are antisemitic’.

Although it has been created in opposition to the IHRA the JDA focuses far too heavily on the Israeli narrative and concerns. Although, given the context, this is understandable, the authors fight shy of saying outright that the main threat from anti-Semitism comes from the far-Right and fascist groups, not from the Left. Perhaps this was too much for people like Professor Feldman of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. He and Brian Klug, another member of the drafting committee see themselves as above divisions of left and right, occupying as they do the ivory towers of Birkbeck College and Oxford University!  However we need to say it loud and clear that the main threat to Jews today comes from people like Donald Trump and his White Supremacist neo-Nazi supporters.  Historically the left has always fought anti-Semitism. In Nazi Germany the opposition to anti-Semitism and Nazism came almost exclusively from the left.

This is especially pertinent since the so-called Campaign Against Anti-Semitism  includes the statement that ‘In 2019, Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics had surpassed that of the far-right.’ This was based on fraudulent ‘research’ carried out by Dr Daniel Allington of King’s College and others.

The CAA’s 2019 Anti-Semitism Barometer introduced 6 absurd new questions about anti-Semitic attitudes which were based solely on one’s attitude to Israel and Zionism. This redefinition of what constitutes anti-Semitic statements had but one purpose – to brand opponents of Zionism and the Israeli state as anti-Semitic. From now on Israeli zealots could claim that the real enemy of Jews was not their neo-Nazi friends but those on the Left.

For example if you are not comfortable spending time with Zionists then that makes you an anti-Semite! I confess I didn’t find the company of supporters of Apartheid in South Africa  particularly congenial but I never considered that that made me a racist! Below are the 6 new ‘anti-Semitic’ statements that Allington, Hirsh and company devised:

1.      “Israel and its supporters are a bad influence on our democracy.

2.      “Israel can get away with anything because its supporters control the media.”

3.      “Israel treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated theJews.

4.      I am comfortable spending time with people who openly support Israel.”

5.      “Israel makes a positive contribution to the world.”

6.      “Israel is right to defend itself against those who want to destroy it.

What are the problems with the JDA?

However the JDA is not unproblematic and should not be seen as the final word on what is and is not anti-Semitic. For example Guideline No. 5:

‘Denying or minimizing the Holocaust by claiming that the deliberate Nazi genocide of the Jews did not take place, or that there were no extermination camps or gas chambers, or that the number of victims was a fraction of the actual total, is antisemitic.’

is no longer true. When in 1974 the National Front pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die by Richard Verall came out then it was possible to say that holocaust denial was anti-Semitic in itself and inspired by neo-Nazis who wished to deny that which they desired to repeat.

However one of the achievements of Zionism and the State of Israel has been to harness the memory of the Jewish victims of the holocaust to the Zionist chariot. So much so that many people, especially in the underdeveloped world, think that if they deny the holocaust they will deny Israel’s legitimacy. They are of course wrong but their intention is not to repeat the holocaust like neo-Nazis but to undermine the Israeli state. That is stupidity not anti-Semitism.

More problematic are the examples under B ‘Israel and Palestine: examples that, on the face of it, are antisemitic’

Guideline No. 6, ‘Applying the symbols, images and negative stereotypes of classical antisemitism to the State of Israel’ is closely allied to the IHRA’s 9th illustration : ‘Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.’

The logical fallacy here is to substitute ‘Israel or Israelis’ for Jews. Israel is not a Jew.

One of the traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews in medieval Europe was poisoning the wells of non-Jews. Another was the murder of non-Jewish children in order to bake Passover bread. These are undoubtedly anti-Semitic.

However these examples refer to Jews not Israel. It is a fact, confirmed by archival evidence, that Israel poisoned the water supply of Acre in the 1948 war of expulsion. It is also a fact that Israeli settlers have regularly poisoned the water and wells of Palestinians in the West Bank. This is what settlers do to the indigenous population, regardless of the religion of the settlers or their victims. It cannot be right to characterise factual assertions, based on evidence, as anti-Semitic. Nor can it be right to associate traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews with a racist state which treats Palestinians as the Untermenschen.

Israel has tested poisoned gas and chemical weapons on Palestinians. It is not anti-Semitic to state this. It is a fact that Israel has harvested stolen body parts of Palestinians. The Chinese government uses the body parts of those executed. Such an accusation is not racist.

Guideline No. 8 ‘Requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism (for example, at a political meeting).’ is also not anti-Semitic. It is understandable, given that the Zionist movement makes the claim that they speak on behalf of all Jews (except us self-haters!) which reinforces peoples’ confusion between being Jewish and being a Zionist.

It cannot be anti-Semitic for non-Jewish people to fall for Zionist propaganda and further it is reasonable for a Palestinian to ask that Jewish people distance themselves from the Israeli/Zionist assertion that to be Jewish is to support the oppression of Palestinians. If there is any anti-Semitism it is on the part of the Zionists.

I also find Guideline 10 problematic:

‘Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.’

I acknowledge the right of Israeli Jews to live in Palestine/Israel. However I do not acknowledge that they have any collective rights as settlers and oppressors. The settlers are not oppressed and therefore the rights we should recognise are individual rights. I would therefore strike out the words ‘collectively and individually’.

However, apart from Guideline No. 6 these are minor disagreements.  The JDA is an overwhelmingly positive contribution to detoxifying the debate over anti-Semitism and the dishonest attempts of Israel’s anti-Semitic supporters to conflate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It should therefore be welcomed as a wholly positive contribution to demystifying the question of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

We should therefore feel free to use this definition and to propose that trade unions, universities and labour parties be encouraged to ditch the IHRA in favour of the JDA. We should be open and explicit.  The IHRA is a definition that anti-Semites support. The JDA is a definition for opponents of anti-Semitism.

We should ask hypocrites like Caroline Lucas MP, who professes to support the Palestinians, to put her money where her mouth is. If Lucas supports the Palestinians then we need to keep asking her why she is supporting a definition of anti-Semitism which defines the Palestinian struggle as anti-Semitic. 

We know that racists like John Mann, Keir Starmer and Eric Pickles will cling to the IHRA as their main purpose is to sanctify western support for Israel and legitimise imperialism’s operations in the region. However we should demand that members of the Socialist Campaign Group adopt and endorse the JDA.  Likewise Momentum should abandon the IHRA and adopt the JDA. If these groups refuse to break with the racist and imperialist consensus over Zionism then they should be ostracised as enemies of the Palestine liberation struggle and as racists.

Tony Greenstein

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Tony Greenstein, for your work for anti-racism and for justice in general. Here's an article about the misuse of the antisemitism slur to silence anti-racists: https://www.redressonline.com/2021/09/wider-still-and-wider-the-holocaust-alliances-void-for-vagueness-definition-of-anti-semitism/


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