The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood attacks a straw man in contextualising antisemitism

Addressing the antisemitism scandal which continues to engulf the British Labour Party, the Guardian published an article today by Harriet Sherwood on the row titled ‘Corbyn’s Labour must be more decisive on antisemitism claims’.

Sherwood, the Guardian’s religion correspondent (and their former Jerusalem correspondent), was critical of the “party leadership’s failure to act immediately and emphatically in response to a string of incidents over the past few weeks”.

She then added:

The problem is defining antisemitism; any expression of Jew-hatred or Nazi sympathy is straightforward but the difficulty lies where opposition to or criticism of official Israeli policies becomes entangled with its citizens, or Jewish people around the world.

Some argue that any criticism of Israel is de facto antisemitism because of the state’s uniquely Jewish character. Others say opposition to the present Israeli government’s policies is entirely legitimate, and has nothing to do with antisemitism.

Of course, next to nobody actually claims that “criticism of Israel is de facto antisemitism”. Rather, most are quite careful not to conflate the two.

According to the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism (cited frequently by those tasked with combating antisemitism), here’s where criticism of Israel crosses the line to antisemitism.

  • 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.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Sherwood has attacked a straw man.

There are certain grey areas when defining antisemitism, yes. But, for Sherwood to suggest that Israeli officials – or anyone of any real stature – frivolously use the antisemitism charge against mere opponents of Israeli government policy represents the height of intellectual dishonesty.


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