Over the past few years, a document that has come to be called the ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working definition of antisemitism’ has insinuated itself into many institutions. Lobby groups have exerted themselves to have universities, states, parties, unions, and countries adopt it and have enjoyed considerable success. In December 2019, US president Donald Trump, for example, signed an executive order adopting it. And just this past October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia, too, would jump on the bandwagon.
Based on a misreading of the 1999 Macpherson report in the 1993 murder of a Black teenager in London, Jewish communal organisations claim that they alone are entitled to determine what is and is not antisemitic. They have univocally embraced the IHRA ‘definition’, which they regard as ‘the gold standard’, and hasten to declare anyone declining to adopt it antisemitic. When the British Labour Party did adopt the IHRA ‘definition’, omitting some of the more controversial examples, even that was evidence of antisemitism. When Jeremy Corbyn promptly came to heel, however, his compliance alleviated none of the confected allegations of a crisis of antisemitism in the party or accusations against Corbyn, himself.
Contrary to the IHRA’s own Handbook for the practical use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (‘the Handbook’), which avers that the ‘“EUMC Working Definition”...is in many ways similar to the IHRA Working Definition’ (p. 21) and the common perception that the ‘working definition’ is a recent development, ‘first formulated in 2016’, the IHRA cribbed it verbatim, with one sentence moved, from a document drafted at the behest of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2004-05, and never adopted, for reasons that should become obvious.
Defining concepts for data collection
In an article in the Guardian in December 2019, Kenneth Stern, lead author of the original EUMC ‘working definition of antisemitism’ claims ‘It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code’ but was drafted rather ‘so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude. That way antisemitism could be monitored better over time and across borders.’
The function of a definition of a concept for statistical purposes is not just to describe it, which is all the Handbook claims, but to demarcate its boundaries unequivocally. A real definition for data collection purposes must be unambiguous. In particular, categories must be mutually exclusive, and marginal or pathological cases dealt with explicitly.
The two sentences of the ‘definition’ itself are too studiously vague to include or exclude anything rigorously. As former British judge Stephen Sedley pointed out, it ‘fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite’. It doesn’t even achieve the descriptive adequacy it aspires to, as the IHRA implicitly acknowledge when they deploy a non-exhaustive collection of ‘examples’ and a 48-page handbook to explain what it’s supposed to mean.
The full ‘definition’ 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.”
A striking feature of this formulation is that it is silent on discrimination and violence, although it does countenance ‘physical manifestations’. It is not contentious to assert that non Jews may experience antisemitism, but it is only antisemitism if they are mistaken for Jews, which is where perception really becomes relevant in this context. When it comes to the attitudes that concern the IHRA, the ‘definition’ does express an important insight, although it’s not clear that it’s deliberate. What makes an attitude racist is not the nature of the particular ‘perception’, but its application to an undifferentiated, essentialised population.
As many have noticed, one of the features of the IHRA document is that the status of the 11 controversial examples, seven of which pertain specifically to criticisms of Israel rather than of Jews, is obscure. Are they intrinsic to the ‘definition’, or just ancillary? Are they meant to clarify how the ‘certain perception’ is expressed, but only ‘taking into account the overall context’, mind you, or do they serve as indicators only when informed by hatred?
From the tenor of much of the discussion of the ‘definition’, and all of its application, it’s clear that the examples are the definition. Since the text of the ‘definition’ itself provides no guide whatsoever to identifying instances of antisemitism, this is understandable. The IHRA’s Handbook doesn’t even attempt to deploy the text of the definition in illustrating antisemitism, but goes straight to the examples.
The ‘definition proper’, the examples, and the rest
But there is more to the document presenting the ‘definition’ than the two sentences of the ‘definition’ per se and the eleven examples whose stated function is potentially to ‘serve as illustrations’ ‘to guide IHRA in its work’. Leaving aside the introductory matter about its adoption, there are two paragraphs introducing the ‘examples’ whose status is even more obscure.
‘Manifestations’, it states, ‘might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’ Antisemites do defend Israel based on the erroneous conception that it is ‘a Jewish collectivity’. ‘However’, the IHRA go on to clarify, ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’. But Israel, as the self proclaimed State of the Jewish People, and explicitly not of its citizens, is unlike any other country, as I will discuss shortly.
In the following two sentences,
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.
there is a curious alternation between anthropomorphising antisemitism, attributing to it the agency to charge Jews and to employ stereotypes, and reducing it to the passive vehicle ‘used to blame Jews’ and ‘expressed in speech’, etc.
It is alarming that the first acknowledgement that antisemitism even exists in ‘action’ outside the realms of speech and ‘perception’ – that there are potentially concrete actions that might be of concern – is as an aside wedged among various media of expression.
The second paragraph introducing the examples enumerates a variety of social contexts where the examples could occur, oddly excluding some of the more obvious loci, including sport, the military, politics, and law enforcement.
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:
It goes on to hedge the utility of the examples. Antisemitic utterances – the only entities of concern to the IHRA - ‘could...include’ the eleven examples, but presumably might not, and there are others, because there is explicitly no limit on the number of unmentioned forms of antisemitic expression. This is apparent when superficially innocuous and unexceptionable observations, like ‘Campaign contributions can influence legislators’, are excoriated as unambiguous antisemitic dog whistles.
Antony Lerman, who has been articulating cogent observations of the ‘Working definition’ since it first appeared, has pointed out the glaring omission of ‘“support for the existence of the state of Israel”, since there have always been antisemitic advocates of Zionism’.
It is doubtless prudent to take the overall context into account, as that could theoretically avoid attributing antisemitic motives where it is otherwise clear than none exists. But it is not sufficient simply to make that assertion. If the definition were really intended to serve as a guide for data collection, it would specify contexts. In practice, however, those applying the ‘Working definition’ and those advocating its application systematically ignore context and always regard enunciating any of the views that ‘could’ be antisemitic as conclusive evidence. The actual function of the ‘context’ hedge is to exonerate the likes of Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, who remarked in 2016, ‘We have influence; we have great power, we have tremendous resources…’ in apparent contravention of the second example, ‘Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective...’.
Turning to some of the examples themselves, a general criticism is that all eleven examples deal explicitly with forms of expression, some of which are genuinely atrocious. The fourth example, for instance, reads
Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. 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).
Of course Holocaust denial is abominable, and stupid, and may even sometimes be motivated by antisemitic sentiments, but those who are serious about the right to freedom of expression would want such forms of atrocious speech protected.
The very first example is indicative of the IHRA approach,
Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
Alarmingly, actual killing or harming Jews isn’t the concern. It’s only antisemitism in the IHRA view to call for, aid, or justify such harms, and then only when done with the specified motivations, although the Handbook, departing from the text, creditably recognises that it is also ‘antisemitic to inflict bodily harm on Jews’ (p. 11).
Another purportedly antisemitic form of utterance comprises,
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
It is all very well to demand the right of self determination for Jews in Palestine, even if it does beg the question of whether the Jewish people are a people of the kind that enjoys the right to self-determination. But that right is not exclusive of other human rights. To deploy the right of self determination to establish an ethnically exclusive state that deprives the indigenous population of their rights, including, significantly, the right to self determination itself, is an exercise in the crudest cynicism.
Beyond this, it is obscure how a claim that Israel is racist denies the right to self-determination. In any case, it is surely plausible to argue that it was ‘a racist endeavor’ to establish the Jewish majority it required through the permanent expulsion of at least 750,000 indigenous people simply because they were of the wrong ethnicity. Surely it is understandable to perceive the application of one set of laws to Jewish settlers and another to the Palestinian inhabitants of the surrounding area as an expression not just of racist attitudes, but of systematic, institutionalised racism. As Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported in 2021, Israeli policies both in the West Bank and in ‘Israel proper’ comfortably meet the definition of the crime of apartheid.
The Anti-Defamation League itself, a US Zionist organisation, does not resile from describing ‘The Great Replacement’ – the fear that non-white people are gradually replacing Whites – as racist. So is it really outlandish to describe ‘The demographic threat’ - the Israeli fear that Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews – in the same terms?
By citing this as an example, the IHRA demonstrates its true aim is to muzzle expression of factual statements about Israel.
The IHRA also deplores,
Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
In 2018, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, enacted a new Basic Law, which is a surrogate for a constitution, enunciating that, ‘The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination. The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.’
In 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu clarified that this means ‘Israel is not a state of all its citizens...’ [my emphasis] This raises several questions: If it is not the state of all its citizens, is it correct to characterise Israel as a ‘democratic nation’ at all? If so, is it antisemitic to require a behavior that is expected of democratic nations – to represent all their citizens? If Israel is the state of the Jewish people, don’t the elementary principles of democracy require it to enfranchise every Jew of voting age?
The last example is,
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
When social justice organisations decide to support Palestinian freedom by embracing their call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, those who support The Jewish State may feel uneasy, offended, even threatened. Such feelings can only arise when they strongly identify with the Jewish state and feel personally responsible for its actions and safety. If Jewish ‘progressives’ pack up their principles and flee antiracist movements on that basis, aren’t they ‘holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’? When the Executive Council of Australian Jewry claims ‘To represent and speak officially on behalf of Australian Jewry’ and ‘To support and strengthen the connection of Australian Jewry with the State of Israel’, are they doing anything different? When in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu said, ‘I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people’, wasn’t he holding us all responsible for his actions? Indeed, when the IHRA identifies it as ‘a certain perception of Jews’ to make the unexceptionable observation that Zionism is racist, aren’t they, themselves holding all Jews responsible? But of course, ‘taking into account the overall context’ provides the Zionist antisemites with a get out of jail free card.
As Joel Beinin put it in 2016,
Paradoxically, those who insist that there is no distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism actually promote anti-Semitism. If there is no distinction between Zionism and Jewishness, and the prime minister of Israel claims to speak as “a representative of the entire Jewish people,” then ignorant or malicious people have a free pass to consider all Jews responsible for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
Finally, three additional paragraphs follow the examples per se. The first two mention the relation between ‘antisemitic acts’ and criminal law, ominously inviting application of the ‘definition’ in identifying crimes and meting out penalties. The very last paragraph defines antisemitic discrimination as ‘the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others’. Because instances of discrimination against Jews in employment, housing, education, etc. are perishingly rare, it’s not surprising that the IHRA relegates it to an afterthought. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which ‘supports the use of the IHRA Definition', explicitly excludes ‘Instances of discrimination’ from its Annual audit (p. 30). One of the reasons so many allegations of ‘antisemitic incidents’ are reported on university campuses is that discrimination against Jews in either admission or employment has been virtually unheard of for a very long time.
Many of the ‘antisemitic incidents’ that outfits like the ADL do include take the form of pro Palestinian activists articulating such unexceptionable views as ‘Zionism is unquestionably a racist, sectarian, exclusionary, Jewish-supremacist political ideology’. A couple of the 2020 incidents were graffiti reading ‘Free Palestine’ (p. 28). Such collections restrict reports of incidents potentially causing concrete harm to Jews to assaults. In 2020, the ADL reported a total of 31 such incidents in the US, or roughly one assault per 183,000 Jews. Only five of the assaults involved a weapon, and there were no fatalities or reported injuries. Similarly, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s 2020 Report on Antisemitism in Australia, which also explicitly excludes cases of discrimination (p. 8), reports eight incidents of assault, or one per 15,350 Jews, none involving weapons (other than eggs), with no reported fatalities or injuries.
All things considered, it’s hard to construe Kenneth Stern’s protestations as anything other than disingenuous. The two sentences of the ‘definition’ per se are utterly otiose and the eleven examples and ancillary text can only function as brakes on freedom of expression. If Stern imagined that he had produced a reliable method for identifying instances of antisemitism, he was ignorant of the relevant principles of definition. If he truly believed that his ‘working definition’ would not be ‘weaponised’ to chill academic and other expression, he was wilfully, culpably naive.
Responses to the IHRA ‘definition’
The Jerusalem Declaration (JDA), published in March 2021, is the work of over 200 ‘scholars working in Antisemitism Studies and related fields, including Jewish, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine, and Middle East Studies’. It explicitly aims to replace the IHRA definition and is admirably succinct.
Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).
There is much to like about the JDA’s attempt and accompanying guidelines, particularly that it gives pride of place to discrimination. Tom Suarez’s cogent critique described the text of the definition itself as ‘concise, coherent, unabridged’, while the Palestinian BDS National Committee called it ‘a coherent and accurate definition of antisemitism’. In reality, the JDA shares some of the drawbacks of the IHRA.
Significantly, none of the scholars appears to claim expertise in defining concepts for the stated purposes, which goes some way towards explaining these. One of the issues that confronts those tackling antisemitism is the lexical, conceptual, and historical confusion between Judaism, the religion, and Jewish ethnicity. That the ethnicity ultimately derives from participation in the religious community, if not in the here and now, then in a prior generation, amplifies this. The religious oppression Jews have experienced in the Christian world goes back much further than contemporary racism. Although Wilhelm Marr coined the term antisemitism in 1879 specifically to differentiate the ‘scientific’ racist form of anti Jewish discrimination from traditional religious discrimination, few recognise the distinction anymore. Evidencing the confusion is that most violent attacks on Jews select identifiably religious targets - either synagogues or the most visibly observant Hasidim.
The undated Nexus Document offers this definition,
Antisemitism consists of anti-Jewish beliefs, attitudes, actions or systemic conditions. It includes negative beliefs and feelings about Jews, hostile behavior directed against Jews (because they are Jews), and conditions that discriminate against Jews and significantly impede their ability to participate as equals in political, religious, cultural, economic, or social life.
As an embodiment of collective Jewish organization and action, Israel can be a target of antisemitism and antisemitic behavior. Thus, it is important for Jews and their allies to understand what is and what is not antisemitic in relation to Israel.
While wordier than it needs to be, this again recognises the centrality of discrimination.
Independent Jewish Voices – Canada proposes,
Antisemitism is racism, hostility, prejudice, vilification, discrimination or violence, including hate crimes, directed against Jews, as individuals, groups or as a collective – because they are Jews. Its expression includes attributing to Jews, as a group, characteristics or behaviours that are perceived as dangerous, harmful, frightening or threatening to non-Jews.
Locating antisemitism in the context of racism is particularly welcome, as is the recognition of the centrality of violence and discrimination.
Stephen Sedley begins his article on the IHRA with the terse, ‘anti-Semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews’.
While these definitions are not as meticulously cryptic as the IHRA ‘working definition’, they share the descriptive approach and consequently fail to delineate the concept with enough specificity to identify incidents without recourse to prolix ancillary explanation.
The first problem with these definitions is conflating concrete manifestations of antisemitism with prejudice and hostility. If the objective is to facilitate identification of incidents, this is a liability. One of the reasons all the definitions fail to accomplish this is that they are trying to define the wrong concept. As mentioned, antisemitism is complex and elusive. What they need to be able to identify reliably is actually an antisemitic incident. Attempting to define antisemitism exclusively or partially in terms of mental constructs like perception and emotion obscures the concrete harms that are fundamental to understanding any form of racism.
One thing that the IHRA manages, albeit clumsily and without the required precision, and that these four omit, is to acknowledge that non Jews can also be the victims of antisemitism when they are mistaken for Jews, although the JDA does acknowledge it in an FAQ.
Like the IHRA, these definitions decline either to define Jew or to reference such a definition, although an FAQ accompanying the JDA does attempt to specify the scope of the term.
In my analysis, like the JDA’s and IJV-C’s, antisemitism is a form of racism. Since races are social constructs identified by their oppressors, it is the racists who are best placed to offer definitions. Accordingly, it is instructive to consult the Nazis’ notorious Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which define a Jew in terms of descent from ‘grandparents who were, racially, full Jews’, who ‘belonged to the Jewish religious community’.
Third, all the definitions insist that antisemitism only exists where attitudes are negative or hostile. The definitions that acknowledge discrimination are only concerned with discrimination against Jews.
The Jerusalem Declaration points out in the first of its 15 guidelines, ‘It is racist to essentialize (treat a character trait as inherent)’ and I concur, whether or not the trait is negative. It is no less racist to attribute characteristics regarded as positive to a racially defined population, than those regarded as negative. It is just as offensive and dangerous to believe all Jews are intelligent, or have a good sense of humour, than it is to believe all Jews greedy or insidious. Apart from anything else, it is demeaning. ‘It’s not to her credit that she’s so funny. It’s just because she’s a Jew!’ But more importantly, once an identified population is essentialised, it is but a small step to treating them differently from others. It’s not the adjective that makes an attitude racist, but the quantifier.
It is no coincidence that a proud antisemite like the notorious alt-right white supremacist, Richard Spencer could opine in 2016,
Jews are a coherent people with a history and a culture and a future. It’s because you had a sense of yourselves. I respect that about you. I want my people to have that same sense of themselves.
Similarly, it is obviously antisemitic to refuse to employ anyone perceived to be a Jew, or to rent them a flat, or to admit them to university. But it is just as racist to refuse to employ, or rent to, or admit anybody but a Jew. In the context of an affirmative action program aiming to redress historical negative discrimination, we might be prepared to tolerate this kind of racism, but it would still be essentially racist.
Zionism is fundamentally racist
Finally, and most importantly, the three definitions that respond directly to the IHRA and aim to replace it are explicitly defensive about criticisms of Israel and Zionism.
The JDA seeks to clarify when criticism of (or hostility to) Israel or Zionism crosses the line into antisemitism and when it does not. A feature of the JDA in this connection is that (unlike the IHRA Definition) it also specifies what is not, on the face of it, antisemitic.
IJV-C wants to make it clear
...that the State of Israel is a political entity like any other state. Its policies, actions and history can be judged and criticized, even harshly. Such criticism is not, by itself, antisemitic.
And the Nexus Document states,
As a general rule, criticism of Zionism and Israel, opposition to Israel’s policies, or nonviolent political action directed at the State of Israel and/or its policies should not, as such, be deemed antisemitic.
Even contentious, strident, or harsh criticism of Israel for its policies and actions, including those that led to the creation of Israel, is not per se illegitimate or antisemitic.
Opposition to Zionism and/or Israel does not necessarily reflect specific anti-Jewish animus nor purposefully lead to antisemitic behaviors and conditions. [my emphasis]
The JDA in particular criticises the IHRA for ‘undue emphasis on one arena’ by devoting 7 of the eleven examples to Israel, while 11 of its 15 guidelines, an even higher proportion, relate to Israel. In fact, the concern that negative portrayals of Israel ‘can be a coded way of racializing and stigmatizing Jews’ and the care to stipulate that criticisms are not antisemitic ‘in and of themselves’, ends up identifying Jews with Israel in exactly the same way as the IHRA, violating the guideline against ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct’ and thereby manifesting an antisemitic trope.
Protestations like these place principled objections to racism on the back foot. As mentioned in relation to the IHRA example, the state of Israel discriminates against non Jews in the West Bank by literally applying a separate legal code, in addition to extrajudicial executions, home demolitions, other forms of collective punishment, and a wide variety of other ways. Israel also systematically discriminates against non Jewish citizens in housing, employment, schooling, and health care, among other things. Israeli and international human rights organisations and experts have conclusively demonstrated how Israel commits the crime of apartheid, as defined in the Rome Statute and the Apartheid Convention. So it is not contentious to describe Israel as racist, as an ethnocracy, or as an apartheid state. It is simply a straightforward statement of fact and there is no reason to be defensive about it.
Nor is it a question of the extreme right wing colouration of recent Israeli governments. No Israeli government since 1948 has addressed any of this discrimination. Nor is it that the Jewish state has departed from its founding principles. Zionism has been a racist ideology from its inception.
It is true, as some Zionists will aver, that there have been strands of Zionist thought that imagined a more inclusive polity, but they were never hegemonic, and more importantly, are utterly defunct. Indeed, anyone espousing such radical views as those of Judah Magnes supporting a binational state with equal rights would nowadays face branding as an antisemite.
The idea of ‘transfer’, or what is now known euphemistically as ‘ethnic cleansing’, is fundamental to Zionism. Theodore Herzl, himself, wrote in 1895,
We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country.
Liberals who are appalled at the thought of an exclusivist Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or white state, much less an Islamic state, somehow find the Jewish state not just acceptable, but laudable. It’s no surprise that white supremacist Richard Spencer in 2016 reduced Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, promoting ‘a message of radical inclusion and love’, to a state of mute aporia simply by asking, ‘Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel?’.
Germany...is meeting the demands of the International Zionist Congress when it declares the Jews now living in Germany to be a national minority. Once the Jews have been stamped a national minority it is again possible to establish normal relations between the German Nation and Jewry... (No. 75, September 17, 1935)
Liberal Zionists who advocate partition – ‘The Two State Solution’ - on the basis that both Israeli Jews and Palestinians are entitled to exercise the right to self-determination are doing nothing more than endorsing establishment of one or more Palestinian bantustans, and indeed, are parroting the very argument adduced in apartheid South Africa in establishing the original bantustans. Their motivation is transparently racist – the only reason to divide the area of Mandatory Palestine is to sustain a Jewish ethnocracy with a Jewish majority on the principle of hafrada, Hebrew for ‘segregation’, or as they call it in Afrikaans, apartheid. As Ehud Barak put it in 1998, ‘Us here. Them there...Leave them behind the borders that will be agreed upon, and build Israel.’
To accept a Jewish state implies embrace of an undemocratic ethnoreligiously exclusive state based on the racist conceit that Jews and non Jews are inherently incompatible and can never join forces to combat racism. Moses Hess, for example, wrote of the Germans’ ‘inborn racial antagonism to the Jews’ (Rome & Jerusalem, 1862). In his seminal 1896 work, Der Judenstadt, Theodor Herzl, ‘the father of Zionism’, asserted that Jews carry ‘the seeds of Anti-Semitism’ ‘in the course of their migrations…’ where ‘...our presence produces persecution’.
Tolerating Israel in particular also entails endorsing settler colonialism, as well as ethnic cleansing and terrorism as nation building strategies, and permanent exile of absentees and expropriation of their property.
It goes without saying that these principles are directly antithetical to the kind that support class solidarity, or even bourgeois liberalism. The alternative is to claim to reject these principles except in the case of Israel and brand oneself a hypocrite.
That is why there has never been a possibility of a just partition of Palestine – it requires acceptance of abominable principles or gross hypocrisy.
Most of the Christian Zionists and neo Nazis who really are hostile to Jews support Zionism and admire Israel. But even if antisemitic animus ever motivated criticism of Israel, it would do no actual harm beyond offending Zionists who, at least implicitly, do ‘hold Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions’. ‘Characterizing Israel as being part of a sinister world conspiracy’, in the words of the Nexus Document, may actually evidence such animus, but most of the examples definitions offer do not help identify antisemitic motivation without further interrogation of the alleged antisemite’s thinking.
When the Anti-Defamation League shrieks about ‘a 105% increase’ in assaults, to 39, numbers too small to indicate a trend, and magnifies offensive graffiti and unflattering tweets to the status of violence, while ignoring actual discrimination, if it exists, they trivialise antisemitism. When they condemn criticism of Israel and Zionism as antisemitic, they risk elevating antisemitism to a virtue. And when those who define antisemitism bend over backwards to allow interpretation of antizionist expression as antisemitic, they contribute to enabling such dilutions. Indeed, the whole point of these attempts to define antisemitism is precisely to distinguish it from more virulent forms of racism and amplify its significance. While the JDA creditably avers that ‘the fight against it [antisemitism] is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender discrimination’, it is alarming that they have declined to cut to the chase and define a racist incident, which is the real issue.
For those who reject racism on principle, opposition to ethnocracy and apartheid is not optional. It is counterproductive to offer apologies or justifications for adopting a position based on human solidarity, and definitions of antisemitism have to reflect that, if we need them at all. It is those who are prepared to tolerate ethnocracy, whether in general, or just in the case of Israel, who have much to answer for. They are the ones who need to explain why they accept settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and terrorism. They need to support their assumption that gentiles are hardwired for antisemitism. They need to justify trivialising antisemitism and show how their kneejerk reaction to criticism of Israel is not ‘holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct’. And they need to understand that those who can do so are unwelcome in antiracist movements.