Redefining anti-Semitism

The transparent dishonesty of the home affairs select committee is remarkable, writes Tony Greenstein

Anti-Zionism labelled anti-Semitism

The House of Commons home affairs committee has just published a report, ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’. The first and most immediate question this poses is why, when other forms of racist attacks are at an all-time high, the committee should spend its time examining the least widespread or violent form of racism. By the authors’ own admission, anti-Semitic hate crimes, however defined, total just 1.4% of all such incidents.

In the section, ‘Key facts’, the committee informs us that there has been a rise of 11% in anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 2015. Shocking, you may think. But the rise is from 500 to 557. However, 24% of the total - 133 incidents in all - were on social media. And social media accounts for 44 out of the increase of 57.1 Obviously it is not very pleasant to receive anti-Semitic tweets, but it is clearly different from acts of violence.

If one looks more closely at the Community Security Trust’s report, which the committee quoted, it turns out that there were just 41 violent incidents. If one delves deeper still, it turns out that there was actually a 13% fall in violent incidents for the first half of 2015 and none of these were classified by the CST as ‘extreme violence’: ie, involving potential grievous bodily harm or a threat to life. This is good, not bad, news. Why would the select committee wish to exaggerate the incidence of anti-Semitism?

Most involved ‘verbal abuse’ and it is difficult to know how many of these were genuinely anti-Semitic and how many were actually anti-Zionist (‘Why do you bomb children in Gaza?’). Given that the Board of Deputies of British Jews does its best to associate Jews with Israel’s war crimes, is it any wonder that some people take them at their word?

Contrast this with anti-Muslim hate crimes. According to a report from the Muslim Hate Monitoring Group, British Muslims are experiencing an “explosion” in anti-Islamic incidents. The annual survey by ‘Mama’ (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) found a 326% rise in incidents last year,2 while the Muslim Council of Britain group of mosques said it had compiled a dossier of 100 hate crimes over one weekend alone.3

By contrast with anti-Semitism, “many attacks are happening in the real world - at schools and colleges, in restaurants and on public transport. The number of offline incidents rose 326% in 2015 from 146 to 437.” The effect has been that many Muslim women - especially those wearing Islamic clothing - are being prevented from conducting normal “day to day activities”.4 Yet the committee, which was chaired by Keith Vaz, has shown no interest in anti-Muslim racism. Why might that be?

Anti-Zionism

Somewhat confusingly for a report that is supposed to be about anti-Semitism, another of its ‘key facts’ tells us: “Research published in 2015 by City University found that 90% of British Jewish people support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and 93% say that it forms some part of their identity as Jewish people, but only 59% consider themselves to be Zionists.”5 In reality this report is not about anti-Semitism, but the use of anti-Semitism as a weapon against anti-Zionists.

It dips in and out of what it is quoting without any attempt to put anything in perspective. It probably is true that 90% of British Jews support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, but how many of them appreciate that a Jewish settler colonial state is an inherently racist state? What is interesting is that, although the report admits that only 59% of British Jews consider themselves Zionists, 31% do not. Even more interesting, the report states that “in 2010, 72% of the respondents classified themselves as Zionists, compared to 59% in the present study”. As to why that is, the report offers two different explanations:

1. Jews believe that criticism of Israel is incompatible with being a Zionist; and

2. The frequent use of the term ‘Zionist’ in general discourse as a pejorative or even abusive label discourages some individuals from describing themselves in that way.

If the latter is correct, then this is clearly a good thing - anti-Zionist criticism of the state of Israel is having some effect and is deterring Jewish people from identifying with a racist ideology. However the committee draws the opposite conclusion, because it considers Zionism a good thing. Therein lies the problem.

Amongst other ‘key facts’ was the report of a survey of Labour Party members who joined after the 2015 general election, 55% of whom agreed that anti-Semitism is “not a serious problem at all, and is being hyped up to undermine Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel”.6 Clearly, despite the bombardment of the mass media about fake anti-Semitism, most party members are dismissive of this fable. When Owen Smith debated Jeremy Corbyn in Cardiff and claimed that he had not taken ‘anti-Semitism’ seriously, he was booed. In reality very few Labour Party members sincerely believe in this hype.

It is curious that a report on anti-Semitism should start off with a section entitled ‘Anti-Semitism in the political parties’ - before homing in on just one party. Labour is the target throughout this ill-conceived and politically tendentious document. It immediately begins with the suspension of Naz Shah, Ken Livingstone and others for ‘anti-Semitism’. Since no-one has been tried or found guilty of ‘anti-Semitism’, one can only assume that the presumption of innocence has been abandoned by lawyer Chuku Ummuna and his Tory friends. Livingstone expressed an opinion that Hitler supported Zionism. He may be right or wrong, and the comment may even give offence to those who find the truth unpalatable, but anti-Semitic it is not. Naz Shah made a joke about how much nicer it would be if Israel was located within the borders of the USA, as that would mean less death and destruction all round. She borrowed a map that originated with the Jewish Virtual Library, hardly the greatest act of anti-Semitism the world has known!

After noting that the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks come from the far right, the report then speaks about “the fact that incidents of anti-Semitism - particularly online - have made their way into a major political party”, despite not having established any facts to support this. It is this sleight of hand, asserting that which it is supposed to be proving, which runs throughout this report.

It tries to come up with a definition of anti-Semitism, but it does this in a very curious way by aiming to maintain “an appropriate balance between condemning anti-Semitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech - particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the government of Israel”. It is curious in two ways - firstly what has criticism of Israel got to do with a definition of anti-Semitism? The underlying assumption is that such “legitimate criticism” somehow merges with anti-Semitism. Because Israeli racism is based on its self-definition as a Jewish state - ie, a state where Jews have privileges - it is implicitly assumed that criticism of its racism is therefore anti-Semitic. This is the ‘logic’ that the report employs throughout. Anti-Semitism is hatred of or discrimination against Jews as individuals or violence against them. A state is not an individual or a victim of racism. Secondly, what is “legitimate criticism” of Israel and in whose eyes?

The report then dabbles with the Macpherson definition of a ‘racial incident’, suggesting that it is “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.Again this is fundamentally dishonest, because it ignores the context of the Macpherson report, which was the refusal of the police to record as racial incidents those perceived as racial by the victims. But Macpherson did not imply, unlike the committee, that a perception of racism is therefore proof of guilt.

The report quotes a government statement that “it is for the victim to determine whether a crime against them was motivated by a particular characteristic (the Macpherson definition)”. An absurd statement, which is not the Macpherson definition, since that applied to police perceptions, not the judicial process of inquiry. A victim’s testimony may be good evidence, but that is all it is. It is not determinative.

The purpose of the committee’s report is as transparent as it is shallow. It uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, in relation to critics of Israel. IHRA accuses them of “applying double standards, by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”. Here the Committee, along with IHRA, demonstrates its ignorance, since Israel is not a nation, nor does it claim to be so. It is a state of the Jewish people, regardless of whether they live in or outside Israel. Nor is Israel a democratic state, since it rules over 4.5 million people who have neither civil nor political rights. It is an ethnocracy, in which settlers rule over a people who are considered guests at best.7

Apparently “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is anti-Semitism pure and simple. Leaving aside the small fact that Zionists, including Israeli government politicians, repeatedly use the Nazi period and the holocaust to justify their actions, does this principle hold good for other states? Were the demonstrators in France in May 1968 anti-Semitic for chanting “CRS: SS” at the riot police?

The committee states that “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is also anti-Semitic. I have great sympathy with this, but the committee’s attention should be directed primarily at Zionists, who go to great lengths to associate British Jews with Israel’s war crimes! Indeed the report notes that “Sir Mick Davis, chairman of the JLC, told us that criticising Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism”, because, in the words of the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, “Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith”. In that case surely Judaism is collectively responsible for Zionism’s crimes? What a tangled web the committee weaves.

The most blatant attempt to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is the IHRA definition of the latter, which the committee accepts: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination: eg, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

Firstly, there is no “Jewish people”. There are French, British, Argentinean and other Jews, who are members of their respective nations. Only anti-Semites claim that, regardless of where they live, Jews form one seamless nation. It was a proposition that Hitler adhered to. Apparently it also finds favour with Chuka Ummuna’s committee too. As for the claim that the existence of the Israeli state is a racist endeavour, that is a matter of opinion or fact. It has nothing to do with racism.

Zionist ‘democracy’

Without even bothering to examine the question, the report says that Israel is “generally regarded as a liberal democracy”. The question of what constitutes a liberal democracy is an interesting one, but by any normal definition Israel is anything but a democracy, for the following reasons:

  •  Although Israeli Arabs have the vote, their representatives are vilified and demonised: Haneen Zoabi of the nationalist Balad Party has had to be protected by security guards from other knesset members. Arab parties also have no influence and have never been part of an Israeli government.
  •  In a Jewish state policies and laws are drawn up with the intention of benefiting one sector only - the Jewish community. In every area of public life there is entrenched state-sponsored discrimination - be it education funding, local authority grants, land access or police coercion and repression. The Centre for the Rights of the Arab Minority, Adalah, has compiled a list of 50 discriminatory laws.8
  •  Israel is in a permanent state of emergency, even though it faces no military threat. It is a state where torture is legally allowed, where administrative detention is used to imprison (mainly Palestinian) dissidents for repeated bouts of six months.
  •  Israel is a state where all publications have to submit to the military censor, whose remit has extended to cover government archives. The military censors can prevent the unsealing of archives and, even worse, deny physical access to archives which were once available. This is because of digitalisation.9
  •  Four and a half million Palestinians are subject to permanent military rule without any political or civil rights.

To call Israel a “liberal democracy” is to render the term meaningless. By the same token apartheid South Africa could also have been considered democratic.

Threat

Despite allegedly being a report on anti-Semitism, this is really about Zionism, which, it concedes, is “a valid topic for academic and political debate”. Of course, anti-Semites substitute the term ‘Zionist’ for ‘Jew’, but that is precisely why it is incumbent upon us to make a clear distinction between Zionism and being Jewish. Yet both Sir Mick Davies and the chief rabbi gave evidence to the committee that Zionism and Judaism are one and the same. It is a testimony to the committee’s ‘objectivity’ that it never saw the contradiction.

The committee’s report actually becomes a threat to freedom of speech and basic civil liberties in its recommendation (para 32) that: “For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic.” Anti-Zionism, it is proposed, should be made in certain circumstances into a hate crime. This is the criminalisation of speech. ‘Zionist’ or its abbreviation is a political, not an ethnic or racial, category. As we have seen, although 59% of Jews consider themselves Zionists, 31% do not. But there are millions of non-Jews who are also Zionists, especially fundamentalist Christians. Is it anti-Semitic to accuse them of being Zionists?!

The committee quotes the Institute for Jewish Policy Research to the effect that between 4% and 5% of British adults could be termed “clearly anti-Semitic”. In other words, the overwhelming majority are not anti-Semitic, but that does not stop the committee from declaring this to be “alarming”. One wonders what the committee will say when an opinion poll gets around to measuring anti-Muslim racism!

Contrast this with Israel, where no less than 48% of Israeli Jews - a plurality - want to physically expel Arabs from Israel and 79% believe Jews are entitled to preferential treatment. It is clear that British people are remarkably free of anti-Semitic sentiments.10

When it comes to the affair of Oxford University Labour Club, the committee makes its intentions clear. It complains that the Baroness Royall report was not published by Labour’s national executive committee in full. That might be because it contained no evidence of anti-Semitism.

When Royall first reported, she wrote on the website of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement: “I know that you will share my disappointment and frustration that the main headline coming out of my inquiry is that there is no institutional anti-Semitism in Oxford University Labour Club.”

What kind of political clown is disappointed that she could not find institutional anti-Semitism? In fact Royall found no individual anti-Semitism either. By her own admission she was “honoured, but daunted, when asked by the NEC to undertake this inquiry”.11 It was clearly all too much for her. What she found was a remarkably thin gruel. She reported that she was aware of “one case of serious false allegations of anti-Semitism which was reported to the police”.

All she had to say was:

I received a number of complaints of incidents of alleged anti-Semitic behaviour by individual members of OULC. I have also received evidence that members of the club, including past office holders ..., have not witnessed anti-Semitic behaviour by other members ... It is clear to me from the weight of witnessed allegations received that there have been some incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour ... However, it is not clear to me to what extent this behaviour constituted intentional or deliberate acts of anti-Semitism. This is particularly true of historic hearsay evidence.12

We get no inkling as to what this behaviour consists of. In the end she sees “no value in pursuing disciplinary cases against students who may be better advised as to their conduct” - which suggests that whatever she was told was clearly not serious. It is little wonder that the report was not published.

Even the parliamentary report observes that these allegations arose when the non-Jewish, Zionist chair of Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers - a former intern for the Zionist propaganda organisation, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre - objected to the club supporting Oxford University’s Israel Apartheid Week. The committee fails to explain what this has to do with anti-Semitism.

Assertions and lies

In attacking the president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia (a refugee from real oppression in Algeria), for ‘anti-Semitism’, the committee descends into the gutter. It relies on McCarthyite guilt by association and did not have the integrity or honesty to invite her to give evidence.

Instead it quoted the Union of Jewish Students, for whom Israel advocacy is an integral part of its constitutional requirements, which alleged that Bouattia’s statement that the University of Birmingham is “something of a Zionist outpost” is anti-Semitic. Why that is so is never explained. Presumably the UJS and the committee, in conjunction with the British National Party and other fascist organisations, agree that to be Zionist is to be Jewish. There is no other logic. Bouattia’s statement is no more racist than describing the University of Sussex as a ‘radical outpost’.

On the basis of the above the committee concludes that “The current president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, does not appear to take sufficiently seriously the issue of anti-Semitism on campus.” The Jewish students it refers to are representatives or supporters of the pro-Israel UJS. Anti-Zionist Jewish students are, of course, invisible to the committee, as are anti-Zionist Jews generally.

In the section entitled ‘Political discourse and leadership’ the report says:

A number of hard-left organisations, such as Unite Against Fascism, Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, have clearly taken a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli government stance. These organisations hold or participate in marches, some of which have been attended by leading politicians such as Mr Corbyn.

This is called killing two birds with one stone! How anyone can describe the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as ‘hard left’ is beyond comprehension. The attendance of Jeremy Corbyn though is clearly an added bonus for the Chuku Ummunas of this world.

The committee also regurgitates the false allegations of Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush that on some demonstrations “there were ‘huge marches’ in London at which people held placards that read ‘Hitler was right’” (para 99). This is an outright lie. Not an iota of proof has been provided to substantiate this assertion. For a report heavy on pictorial descriptions one might expect a photograph to back this up. It is an evidence-free assertion that typifies the whole thing.

The document is critical - in a nit-picky way - of the Chakrabarti report, quoting the Board of Deputies’ observation that it does not deal with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on the left. Maybe that is because there is none! The report does however mention (paras 103-104) the false allegations of anti-Semitism at the Chakrabarti press conference by Ruth Smeeth MP, whom Wikileaks outed as a protected agent for the US embassy.13 What was the anti-Semitic statement that caused this fake victim to walk out? “Ruth Smeeth is working hand in hand with the rightwing media to attack Jeremy.”I defy anyone to show how this is anti-Semitic, since Marc Wadsworth, the black activist who said it, did not even know she was Jewish.

The committee concludes that the Chakrabarti report “is ultimately compromised by its failure to deliver a comprehensive set of recommendations or to provide a definition of anti-Semitism”. Given that the definition of anti-Semitism has eluded far wiser people than Chakrabarti - perhaps because the very concept of anti-Semitism is now so politically loaded - this is neither here nor there. The committee, after all, also failed to provide one. The best it could do was to say that it is prepared to “broadly accept the IHRA definition” - with two caveats regarding criticism of the Israeli government.

Chakrabarti’s problem was that there is next to no anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. There is certainly criticism of Zionism and the Israeli state, but despite much muddying of the waters, most people still refuse to accept that criticism of the west’s armed watchdog in the Middle East is anti-Semitic.

What the committee does do is try to smear Shami Chakrabarti through hint and innuendo. Her acceptance of a peerage somehow discredits her report - this from the representatives of an institution where the giving of money to a party in exchange for a peerage does not even raise an eyebrow.

It is a measure of the political desperation of the report that it picks up on the Jackie Walker debate, on which I have previously reported.14 It did this without asking her to give evidence. Its comments are inaccurate and frankly malicious. It states that:

Jackie Walker, who was temporarily suspended from Labour earlier in the year for stating that Jewish people were the “chief financiers” of the slave trade, reportedly criticised Holocaust Memorial Day and said that she had not heard a definition of anti-Semitism that she could “work with”.

Since Jackie did not say that “Jewish people” were the chief financiers of the slave trade, this is nothing short of malicious. Secondly, how is saying that one has not heard a definition of anti-Semitism that one can work with, anti-Semitic?

Interestingly though, after much malicious and tendentious commentary, under the title ‘Other political activity’ the committee concludes that “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”. This throws into stark relief the report’s vacuity. And it demonstrates that this is above all a report of the Labour and Tory right. It depends almost exclusively on evidence from pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn sources.15 This alone demonstrates that this report is a one-sided propaganda exercise.

But the most remarkable omission of all is the fact that the one Jewish community which is visible in its distinctive appearance and which does suffer anti-Semitic attacks - the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community of Stamford Hill, London - is not even mentioned! As the president of the Stamford Hill Shomrim (Guards), rabbi Herschel Gluck, states,

While this report focuses primarily on the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, ... it’s important to note that the parliamentary committee did not request any evidence from the most visible section of the Jewish community, the Charedi community, where the majority of the attacks are in person rather than online ... and are usually clearly and unequivocally anti-Semitic. I repeat my call to the home office to understand the real-life anti-Semitism that members of the Charedi Jewish community experience ...

But that omission is not surprising, because this truly risible report was not about anti-Semitism per se. It was about redefining anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism.

Notes

1. https://cst.org.uk/news/blog/2016/08/04/cst-antisemitic-incidents-report-january-june-2016-published-today.

2. http://tellmamauk.org.

3. www.mcb.org.uk/concern-raised-over-post-referendum-division-and-hate-crimes.

4. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/brexit-muslim-racism-hate-crime-islamophobia-eu-referendum-leave-latest-a7106326.html.

5. http://yachad.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/British-Jewish-Attitudes-Towards-Israel-Yachad-Ipsos-Mori-Nov-2015.pdf.

6. Professor Tim Bale, Dr Monica Poletti and Professor Paul Webb, Submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry on behalf of the ESRC Party Members Project, June 3 2016.

7. Twice - in 2013 in Uzzi Ornan v the State of Israel and again in 1972 in Tamarinv State of Israel - the Israeli supreme court ruled that there was no such thing as an Israeli nationality. In Tamarin Justice Agranat ruled that “the desire to create an Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation is not a legitimate aspiration”.It would “negate the foundation on which the state of Israel was established”.

8. www.adalah.org/en/law/index.

9. http://972mag.com/israels-state-archivist-opens-up-about-censorship-digitization/118567.

10. www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society.

11. www.thejc.com/images/Report_OUC_Final.pdf.

12. Ibid.

13. In a cable the US embassy placed “strictly protect” after Smeeth’s name.

14. See ‘Caving in to the witch-hunt’ Weekly Worker October 6; and ‘More than just cowardice’ Weekly Worker October 13.

15. See www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry2/publications.