An interview with Roshan Muhammed Salih for Press TV on the weaponisation of antisemitism together with Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics.
Jonathan is also chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine and executive member of Jewish Voice for Labour
How are anti-Semitism accusations being misused by the Israeli lobby?
The Israel Lobby has an impossible task defending the illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestine. Many liken the policies of Israel to a form of apartheid. The denial of Palestinian human rights and breaches of international law are flagrant and systemic. One way to deflect attention and silence criticism, is by seeking international acceptance of a broader definition of antisemitism that conflates antisemitism with anti-Zionism.
Antisemitism is generally understood to be “hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews.” It is a form of racism and should be repudiated unequivocally. However, Zionists insist Israel is a Jewish state and therefore claim criticism of Israel is synonymous with criticism of Jews and therefore is a form of antisemitism.
Identifying Israel as a Jewish state is problematic not just for its two million Palestinian citizens but also the further three million living under military rule in the Palestinian territories.
Antony Lerman traces the historical development of the ‘new antisemitism’ and draws out how the new definition differs from traditional descriptions.
“In a word, classical anti-Semitism is the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the rights of Jews to live as equal members of whatever society they inhabit. The new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the family of nations, with Israel as the targeted ‘collective Jew among the nations’.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, recently accepted by the British government, reads:
“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.”
The IHRA acknowledge “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” So what is wrong with equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism? Ben White cites several anti-Zionist Jewish campaigners:
“For Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group with more than 200,000 online members and 60 chapters across the US, “equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism obscures the long history of Jewish anti-Zionism and diasporism.” According to the UK-based group Jews for Justice for Palestinians, fusing “Jewishness/Israel/Zionism” enables antisemitism to become “a weapon for imposing conformity on dissidents within the Jewish community.”
Chicago-based Rabbi Brant Rosen has described how “growing numbers of Jews” identify as anti-Zionists for “legitimate ideological reasons”, motivated “by values of equality and human rights for all human beings.” His words chime with those of a former President of Edinburgh University’s Jewish Society, who recently wrote of “the growing frustration felt by many millennial Jews about the default positioning that support for Israel receives amongst Jewish civil society organisations.”
But what about the claim that, since Zionism is simply Jewish self-determination, anti-Zionism is anti-Jewish bigotry? This is also misguided; put simply, “self-determination does not equate to statehood.” As legal scholar Michael Kearney has explained, self-determination is “less understood these days as a right to one’s own exclusive state, and more as a right to non-discrimination and to democratic participation in society.”
Israel’s supporters, however, are deliberately conflating terms such as ‘homeland’, ‘home’, ‘state’, and ‘self-determination’. The concept of a Jewish homeland is one thing; the creation and maintenance of a ‘Jewish state’, in Palestine, at the expense of its non-Jewish inhabitants, is another. The right to self-determination is never a right to colonisation, whoever is doing it.
Finally, to maintain that anti-Zionism is antisemitism is to deny the historical and contemporary reality of the Palestinians’ experience, and to dehumanise them as a people. For the Palestinians, Zionism has meant violent displacement, colonisation, and discrimination – are they ‘antisemitic’ for refusing to cheer their own dispossession? By extension, as orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor Charles H. Manekinput it recently, labelling Palestine solidarity activists as antisemitic is to imply that “the Palestinians have little justified claim to sympathy.”
Frances Webber of the Institute for Race Relations raises another concern.
“This conflation of anti-Israelism with anti-Semitism has a history … but what particularly concerns us here is the way that the definition of anti-Semitism is moving from deed to thought, from the objective to the subjective, from action to attitude.
The IRR has always maintained that it was important to distinguish between prejudices – the subjective – and the acting out of those prejudices – the objective – in discriminatory acts, physical attacks, government edicts etc. Penalising people for racist feelings or attitudes leads to thought-policing, whereas racist acts are measurable and therefore prosecutable before the law if needs be. And there are specific laws relating to incitement to race hatred, the committing of racially-motivated crimes, discrimination in provision of goods and services whether direct or indirect. But, recently, emanating in part from cultural/identity studies in academia, a kind of victimology, a subjectivism is creeping into policy. Anything that is said or might be said that upsets people, gives hurt, merely makes them uncomfortable, is becoming equated with outright discrimination and liable for a prohibitive ban.”
Webber emphasizes that causing office is not synonymous with racism.
“The conceptual flaw underlying Pickles’ definition is to equate racism with anything that gives offence. For while racism is offensive, not everything which gives offence is per se racist. Objections to cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist or paedophile are made not on grounds of their offensiveness – although they undoubtedly are – but on the grounds of the use of crude racist images to depict a religious minority as quintessentially evil. Although it might cause offence to some, it is no more inherently racist to attack Israel’s policies than it is to demand that ‘Rhodes must fall’ or to denounce US or British imperialism or these states’ complicity in torture. So Pickles’ definition not only appears to make an exception of Israel but also to close down on freedom of speech and of expression when it comes to defining what it is permissible to say about a particular country.”
What then is wrong with the new definition of antisemitism?
“Critics of the concept argue that it conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism, defines legitimate criticism of Israel too narrowly and demonization too broadly, trivializes the meaning of antisemitism, and exploits antisemitism in order to silence political debate.”
Antony Lerman goes further, arguing that perversely, the new definition actually provokes antisemitism.
“The de-coupling of the understanding of antisemitism from traditional antisemitic tropes, which thereby made criticism of Israel in and of itself antisemitic, necessarily made the opposite – support for Israel – into a touchstone for expressing sympathy with Jews. This opened the door to the phenomenon of Jewish support for far right, anti-Islam, anti-immigrant parties keen to whitewash their pasts and sanitise their anti-Muslim prejudice by expressing support for Israel and seeing the country and its Jews as the front line against Islam’s ‘incursion into Europe’. It is not surprising, therefore, that acceptance of the ‘new antisemitism’ theory has contributed to the exacerbation of tensions between Muslims and Jews in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe). There is, however, mutual pre-existing misunderstanding and mistrust, while negative images of Jews unrelated to the Israel-Palestine conflict are common among some Muslims.”
The children’s story of Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling in when a leaf fell on his head is pertinent. The danger is that by broadening or diluting the definition of antisemitism, people could easily become complacent and immune to genuine antisemitism and when it rears its ugly head not resist it. Brian Klug argues,
“When anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing—the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance.”
Antony Lerman adds,
“Given the misery and murder that antisemitism has caused over the centuries,” … “one might expect pro-Israel groups to be more circumspect before using it indiscriminately as a political tool.” … “not everything that offends Jewish sensibilities is antisemitism”, and by labelling BDS as antisemitic, Israel advocates “are draining the word of any meaning.”
Ben White concludes,
“This politicised redefining of antisemitism should worry us all: it dehumanises Palestinians and delegitimises solidarity, imperils the fight against real antisemitism, and constitutes a much broader attackon our democracy and political freedoms.”
What is the agenda behind these accusations (against the Labour Party)?
In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are repeatedly being accused of antisemitism. Zionists know that a Labour government under Corbyn will introduce major changes to British foreign policy. Jeremy Corbyn would recognise the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders, (like most of the rest of the world – 136 out of 193 countries in 2015), and likely introduce sanctions against Israel and punish international companies profiting from the occupation.
Ben White cites Richard Kuper, spokesperson of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) as saying,
“there is clearly also a coordinated, willed and malign campaign to exaggerate the nature and extent of antisemitism as a stick to beat the Labour party”
Ben White observes,
“The Labour Party has more than 400 MPs and peers at Westminster, in addition to almost 7,000 local government officials and some 390,000 members. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ has involved half a dozen individuals, most of whom have either never held, or no longer hold elected office. Corbyn himself has repeatedly condemned antisemitism since becoming leader, while according to Party General Secretary Iain McNicol, everyone reported for antisemitism has been suspended or excluded.”
Ironically, a March 2018 You Gov survey found that Conservative supporters were more likely to hold racist views than Labour supporters and that evidence of antisemitism has declined in the Labour party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader.
How can pro-Palestinians counter these attacks?
- Repudiate all forms of racism including antisemitism, unequivocally.
- Repudiate the small minority of antisemites using the Palestinian cause for their own agenda.
- Cooperate with Jewish organisations committed to both repudiating antisemitism and Zionism. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP). The Israeli Committee Against House demolitions (ICAHD). Natura Karta. Women in Black.
- Remain determined to hold Israel accountable to international law for its racist policies toward Palestinians.
- Continue to draw parallels between Zionist settler colonialism with the way native Americans were treated in the USA, Blacks in South Africa, the Aborigines in Australia, etc.
Are these attacks a sign of the success of the pro-Palestine lobby?
Yes. The attempt to broaden the definition of antisemitism is paralleled by the attempt to criminalise the BDS movement. This is because non-violent, peaceful activism poses the greatest threat to the Zionist cause.
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
This short article, its title and questions arose from an interview with Roshan Mohammed Salih and Jonathan Rosenhead for Press TV’s ‘The Sun Will Rise’.
 Antony Lerman, The ‘new antisemitism’, https://www.opendemocracy.net/mirrorracisms/antony-lerman/new-antisemitism
Ben White, Shifty antisemitism wars, https://benwhite.org.uk/2016/04/22/shifty-antisemitism-wars
 Frances Webber, Anti-semitism – thought or deed? http://www.irr.org.uk/news/anti-semitism-thought-or-deed/
 Lerman, op. cit.,
 Antony Lerman, cited in Ben White, op. cit.,
 White, op. cit.,
 White, op. cit.,
 White, op. cit.,