The Jewish Chronicle

Dave Rich:

New antisemiti­sm definition is deeply flawed

- By Dave Rich Dr Dave Rich is Director of Policy at the Community Security Trust and author of ‘The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel & Antisemiti­sm’

LAST WEEK, 200 academics published the Jerusalem Declaratio­n on Antisemiti­sm, which they recommende­d to replace the Internatio­nal Holocaust Remembranc­e Alliance (IHRA) working definition. You might wonder why: in the five years since the IHRA drew up their working definition, it has been used as an informal tool for investigat­ing antisemiti­c incidents by government­s, police, prosecutor­s, local authoritie­s, football clubs, universiti­es and regulators. It has been endorsed by the European Parliament and recommende­d by the United Nations Secretary General, and in the UK is accepted as the standard guide to defining and identifyin­g antisemiti­sm.

For these academics, though, the IHRA definition is a problem because of what it says about anti-Israel language. For example, the IHRA definition says that when people deny Israel’s right to exist, compare Israel to Nazi Germany or discrimina­te against Israel while using double standards, it could be antisemiti­c.

As its name suggests, the Jerusalem Declaratio­n is largely focused on the appropriat­e language when discussing Israel and Palestine. It mentions Palestine or Palestinia­ns nine times but has not a single mention of hate crime. Ten of its 15 “guidelines” are devoted to Israel and Palestine, despite criticisin­g the IHRA definition for placing “undue emphasis” on this same issue. The Declaratio­n is over twice as long as IHRA and is much less relevant for incident investigat­ors.

The academics who wrote it did not consult with Jewish community organisati­ons, hate crime monitors or other complaint investigat­ors, and it shows. It reads like guidelines for an academic seminar on Israel and Palestine.

Even then, the Jerusalem Declaratio­n has serious flaws. Its core definition tells us antisemiti­sm is “discrimina­tion, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutio­ns as Jewish).” This formulatio­n risks missing all but the most overt cases. The Hungarian government’s campaign against George Soros never mentions the fact Soros is Jewish but it derives its resonance and force from the use of antisemiti­c language.

The Jerusalem Declaratio­n agrees that antisemiti­sm and anti-Israel language sometimes come together, but it differs significan­tly from IHRA over where to draw the line between the two. The IHRA definition’s warning against comparing Israel to Nazi Germany has been removed; instead we are told that “even if contentiou­s, it is not antisemiti­c, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases”. Whereas the IHRA definition says it could be antisemiti­c to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determinat­ion, the Jerusalem Declaratio­n finds a convoluted way to say that it is not, on the face of it, antisemiti­c to argue for the eliminatio­n of Israel, as long as Jews’ “collective rights” are respected in any future arrangemen­t.

The Jerusalem Declaratio­n runs contrary to what surveys have shown most Jews in Europe and the US believe about Israel-related antisemiti­sm. You might expect any definition of antisemiti­sm to prioritise the views of Jewish communitie­s over the interests of those who want to campaign against something Jewish, but that is not the case. It would be bizarre, for example, if a definition of antisemiti­sm went out of its way to protect the right to campaign for shechita or brit milah to be banned, yet the Jerusalem Declaratio­n’s authors felt the need to say it is not antisemiti­c to call for the world’s only Jewish state to disappear.

The academics who have written and signed the Jerusalem Declaratio­n are responding to an environmen­t in which the IHRA definition has been repeatedly misreprese­nted as silencing all criticism of, and campaignin­g against, Israel. The belief that the IHRA definition has a chilling effect on pro-Palestinia­n activism is so widespread that opposition to it has become totemic for many opponents of Israel. Yet even the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has acknowledg­ed that in the UK “there is no known case of any university directly citing the IHRA definition to close down an event that is legitimate­ly critical of Israel and is therefore not antisemiti­c”.

If a bunch of academics want to write themselves some guidelines about how they and their students can discuss Israel and Palestine, that is up to them. They might even consider that it is often Jewish students who are inhibited from expressing their support for Israel, rather than Israel’s critics who are silenced. But calling this a definition of antisemiti­sm and suggesting it could replace the IHRA guidelines risks setting back genuine efforts to tackle antisemiti­sm.

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