“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
– The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
Today, the UK Labour Party’s ruling council approved a concocted definition of anti-Semitism called the IHRA “working definition,” which defines anti-Zionism and comparisons of Israel to Nazism as Jew-hatred. Over the past few weeks, I’ve written three articles about the witch hunt within the Party orchestrated by a sordid cabal of Tories, the UK Israel Lobby and the Israeli government. One of the articles specifically profiled the IHRA, who created it, their motivations, and the toxic effect it would have if adopted.
Apparently, in order to put this entire controversy to bed, the Party has conceded defeat to the powers arrayed against it. It has accepted the entire definition, including the most controversial aspects, the “examples” offered:
Contemporary examples of anti-Semitism 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:
- 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 behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
Here is my critique of these examples from Middle East Eye:
Though the dual loyalty claim may be used by anti-Semites to disparage Diaspora Jews, the fact is that the most rabidly pro-Israel Jews may legitimately be criticised for espousing views which harm the interests of their native land, while promoting Israel’s own interests. This is not an anti-Semitic charge.
Claiming that Israel is a “racist endeavour” is in no way anti-Semitic. In fact, it is a justified critique, as the most recent passage of the Jews-only nation state law shows.
The final provision forbidding comparison of Israel to the Nazis is equally troubling. Of course, Israel and its Diaspora advocates don’t want to be compared to the Nazis. But the fact is that Israel has become ever more racialist in nature, especially during the 12-year premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Promoting Jewish-only developments, ethnically cleansing Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, forced expulsion of African refugees, proposals to exclude Israeli Palestinian towns from Israel: these are policies defined by their racial character. And that’s not even to mention the Nakba, during which over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in order to make way for the state of Israel.
In other words, some of the same criticisms of the Nazi racialist platform apply to today’s Israel. This example, had it been restricted to an issue like the Holocaust or the claim of Israeli genocide against the Palestinians, might have had some validity. But the sweeping refusal to consider any comparisons to Nazism is appalling and a violation not just of free speech, but of valid historical analysis.
The Party governing body also rejected a statement prepared by Corbyn which fought back against some of the worst IHRA provisions. It included this paragraph:
“It cannot be considered racist to treat Israel like any other state or assess its conduct against the standards of international law. 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.”
In other words, Israel may not be called racist even if it violates international law and its policies are indeed racist.
The only concession made to critics was a statement appended which guaranteed free speech to critics of Israel. But that’s like a man whose house survives a tornado, while all his neighbors homes are destroyed; then suggesting what good luck the Lord bestowed on his town. The right to free speech means nothing when you’ve foreclosed all of the topics which critics might use to criticize Israel.
Though I am not British and cannot join the Labour Party, it saddens me to think that if I was British I could be expelled for offering clear-eyed, careful and precise criticisms of Israel which violate this vague definition of anti-Semitism concocted by Israel Lobby apparatchiks in the past decade. Here are a few others who would also be expelled from the Labour Party: Profs. Yeshaya Leibowitz and Zeev Sternhell (h/t to reader, Deir Yassin), one of whom called Israeli far-right nationalists “Judeo-Nazis.” Former IDF chief of staff, Yair Golan, who noted that Israeli society today reminded him of the period just before and after Hitler came to power.
And why don’t we flip this situation on its head: if comparing Israel to Nazis is anti-Semitic and grounds for expulsion, why aren’t similar ridiculous comparisons of Iran’s leadership, or Hamas, or any Palestinian leader to Nazis similarly proscribed? Why shouldn’t we demand that Israeli leaders be similarly expelled from their parties for making such odious and ridiculous comparisons? The answer of course, is that Israeli racism is perfectly acceptable both in Israel and even outside it. Further, why not demand the Tories expel leaders like Boris Johnson for making such offensive comments about women wearing the hijab?
If we draw out such comparisons to their logical conclusion you can see how IHRA takes you down a very slippery slope. If the Israel Lobby wants to rule Nazi comparisons anti-Semitic then it surely ought to police its own for their outright Islamophobia. Not doing so reveals the level of hypocrisy in the current anti-Labour campaign.
The Party is naïve if it thinks it has put this episode to bed with this bit of hocus-pocus. The Lobby will not be satisfied. It will be only relent once Corbyn is toppled as Party leader. In the meantime, its minions will be ferreting through the membership rolls and social media accounts searching for offenses they can use to demand massive purges of the membership. Then, it will move on to other wedge issues it can dredge up to damage his reputation. And there will be other concocted claims and scandals to come. Mark my words, this is not the end (to paraphrase Churchill). Not even the beginning of the end. Labour must eventually rid itself of this ill-considered definition and stand up to the Lobby. It must be prepared if necessary to tell its critics, most of whom aren’t Labour Party members or supporters, to take their business elsewhere.
We must not permit the Israel Lobby to determine who is a kosher Labour Party member. We must not permit it to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This is a crime against truth, history and justice.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.